How to Choose Your Clients

Having the luxury to choose who you work with has been on our aspirational whiteboard since we set up INGENIA. And this is a tough one… especially if your company is in an early stage and your brand name is still in its infancy.  Being a newcomer to the recruiting industry, I published a post declaring our intention to be treated as partners, not as vendors (“Vendors, Partners & Cassandras”); it seems that most of the CEOs, HR teams and Hiring Managers of the 25+ companies we have worked with in 2015 read the post, as in these 12 months, we have been treated and talked like partners do. We are truly grateful and blessed for that.

In 2016, we have to make further progress. Saying “no”, putting on hold a business relationship, stopping the chase of a business opportunity or ultimately, leaving a client in an elegant way, require several things:

  • Long term view on where you want to bring your business;
  • Short term sacrifices, as you may suffer some sort of cashflow stress;
  • Courage to acknowledge you and your people are going to be better off not serving a particular organization.

In a professional service business like talent acquisition, it is quite relevant to invest time upfront to learn about the companies you will work for. You must feel proud representing them: for us, it means partnering with organizations with a good purpose, with values and beliefs you can explain and ideally, share; companies led by an executive team you believe in, with the competencies to build solid stories, projects and plans you can passionately transmit.  And on your side, you have to be brutally honest about your capabilities and the client’s expectations, as promising the moon and not delivering ends up damaging your reputation and the brand you are building.  In our case, throughout 2015, we found that companies valuing our approach of selection rather than name generation, fall into three buckets: strategically, (a) international companies expanding their presence in the US market, with limited local resources; and (b) mid-sized organizations, with proven concepts, that have already crossed the chasm and are in growth mode with minimal support infrastructure; and more opportunistically, (c) large multinationals with immediate middle management recruiting needs that cannot be fulfilled through internal resources.  A priceless learning.

Equally important – once the exercise of defining a level playing field is completed, it is time to develop the skills to identify toxic clients (I don’t mean difficult clients, which we love to deal with!). Much has been written about bosses you have to avoid in your career, but not so much about clients you should not have in your list. How can we identify toxic clients?

  • They do not inspire you and your team to run the extra mile
  • They ignore your advice and complaints about results
  • They are never satisfied and can’t decide
  • They approach the relationship as purely transactional
  • They drain your energy and irritate your team
  • They negotiate every single penny on the table


And once identified, be humble but firm in your beliefs –  if I may say, choose not to work with anybody with a pulse.

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