One of the hardest things to do as a recruiter is to deliver on expectations. Notice that I didn’t say delivering on promises. Say this out loud: “But you promised!” Did you hear that in a child’s voice punctuated by a mini-tantrum-induced foot stomp? That scenario comes from a common memory that may have been an actual broken commitment or just an expression of disappointment that the child did not get her own way. We grow older, but never really escape from that scripted vision. We become more sophisticated in our thinking, but there is always a need to have our promises fulfilled and to keep the promises we make. It is human nature… and recruiters are mostly a human bunch.

Fed by a constant discussion about candidate experience and personal branding, we talk about this problem more than we act on it. Yes, the job involves putting fannies in seats, but somewhere inside of us is the hidden knowledge that experience and branding does really matter. The fake façade of thick skins are easily penetrated when business reversals make you want a do-over. Fix it before it needs fixing.

  1. Set clear expectations – Communication is the key to getting it right. Dealing with clients or hiring managers involve a dialog of getting directly to the root of the problem to be solved and the characteristics of the person that will provide that solution. With candidates there may be a little bit of amateur shrink-work involved to insure that there is not a case of “selected listening” going on. You can control the message you are sending out, but it may take some “active listening” to get feedback on what they actually heard. It is always better to correct the expectations early rather than do damage control later.
  2. Under-commit and over-deliver – Whittling down the expected deliverables only works if it is not seen to be a shallow attempt to cheat the system. There will always be unexpected problems in any recruiting campaign because dealing with real people introduces unpredictability that will be difficult to manage. Anticipating them and building in slack time is a reasonable methodology in the beginning and a fallback position to offer explanations (rather than excuses) for delays at the conclusion. Likewise, going above and beyond the expected requirements builds good will for a continued relationship… aka, our brand.
  3. Over-communicate and avoid speculation – Verbal agreements as well as written contracts must have formal methodologies for explanation of variances. Silence is not golden; it is naïve. Avoiding confrontation may be another childhood leftover emotion, but putting your head under the blanket never kept the monsters away. They were never there. Being observant, identifying, and addressing problems helps in finding solutions. Avoiding them only makes matters worse. Acknowledging missteps to find a better way is not a weakness. Gibb’s Rule #6 only applies if you work for NCIS.

This is not a comprehensive list of rules to avoid promise-breaking situations. It is a pretty concise internal script that is probably automatically invoked in all of us. The reality is that the perception of broken promises, whether or not they are true, can just as damaging as intentionally breaking promises. Don’t go there.

Image credit: Broken Promises eric1513 / 123RF Stock Photo

Views: 1613

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on March 11, 2014 at 3:02pm

Well-said, Tom.


Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 12, 2014 at 11:45am

IMO, Tom, "Under-commit and over-deliver" is a combination of manipulation of the client (under-promise) and showmanship when providing more than was promised.

Exceeding delivery expectations is never a bad thing but I refuse to understate my promise to deliver so as to build in an unnecessary safety factor for myself.

In my mind, under-committing at the outset only leaves my offer to perform subject to losing out to a more competitive offering by another executive search firm.

I know I am in the minority when I say this but nonetheless, deliberately under-committing smacks of manipulation.

Comment by Linda Ferrante on March 12, 2014 at 12:46pm

Paul, I agree with you on this point.  We NEVER 'under promise' because some WILL see that as a manipulation whether we intend it or not.  I am always honest with my thoughts on a project.  Always.  Consistency and honesty are what our clients can count on from us.  I won't sell out for anything less.  

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 12, 2014 at 1:15pm


Coolness! I believe we are in the minority on this; it seems all my life I've heard the opposite and each time I do it seems the person saying this is understating their abilities in advance.

It seems to me that if I can make a promise that is competitive or, better said, perhaps...promise that I can perform to a higher standard then I have no reason not to say so.

Comment by Linda Ferrante on March 12, 2014 at 1:51pm

I also don't remove Master's Degrees from candidates (as some recommend) so they don't seem 'overqualified'.  If we do our job right, we can use it to our clients' advantage!

Comment by Tom Bolt on March 12, 2014 at 3:28pm

I think we are more in agreement than comments would indicate. Perhaps it would have been better to focus on always trying to exceed deliverables. The part about "...only works if it is not seen to be a shallow attempt to cheat the system" is saying that it should not be used as a tool to manipulate. People are too smart for this to be a plan of action every time.

Comment by Tom Bolt on March 12, 2014 at 3:31pm

For the record, over-commitment or under-delivering is flirting with disaster... do the other one.

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 12, 2014 at 6:05pm


Re Master's Degrees and the 'danger' of being perceived as over qualified....

I am the same; I never suggest dumbing down a resume.

Comment by PAUL FOREL on March 12, 2014 at 6:11pm

Tom, Hello...

My point is simply that if I know a search will take about six weeks, what is the advantage to telling the client it will take eight? or ten?

So you know, my comment about this is more about the use of the phrase then your intent, Tom.


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