In 1993, I became the #2 biller from 150 consultants in 9 months… you can do better

Mike O’Flynn, the best manager I ever worked for, gave me a chance in 1993 to be a recruitment trainee at his company. Mike provided a base salary of £8000 and a commission structure that meant you could earn £50,000 quite easily, plus get a Mercedes, Porsche or BMW company car and have a shit load of fun while you did.


In my first three months, I made no sales and was close to getting fired. In month 4, the hard work and the methods they asked me to follow kicked in, and I raced up the leader board of the company and the MRI Network (Humana).


The systems I learned were a mixture of the MRI methodology and the Mick O’Flynn guide to selling contractors.


By the end of the year, I was asked to make a speech to 500 delegates at a Tony Byrne conference and explain my success and my closing ratio of 1 deal for every 1.5 job orders I worked.


So how was it done?


OK, so the first tip I was given was to pick a ‘niche market’; the biggest biller in the company was doing PC Support and so I picked PC support, as room was being made for the trainees to work in the markets of some of the big billers.


The second tip I will give is to make sure the way you divide your niche market is well researched. We worked on the alphabet system, and on reflection, investment banks that I targeted for Novell Netware often fell into certain letters, and well, to say my territory was short of some decent ones is an understatement. The general rule I later looked for as territories for my own team/staff for how to work out a niche was to see how many companies there were, work out the size of the potential workforce, give that a workforce attrition/turnover rate, and then divide the clients out on the ability to support the desks target.




  • 350 investment banks
  • 10 with LAN support teams of 10 or more: allocate 5 each
  • 20 with LAN support teams of 5-10: allocate 10 each, and so on.
  • A bit like handing out Monopoly money, you need a decent way to find your game, and territories with too little to extract from them are one of the biggest things I have seen wrong with the industry.


To job order or not to job order


When I started I was job-order focussed; my daily routines involved 50-100 cold calls per day to find people looking for staff. Then from 6 pm till 9.30 pm, it was spent networking with candidates to find out what they wanted work-wise, where they had been for an interview, the roles they had been offered, rejected for, etc. I found that side of the business a bit tough, I have to say; a big part of me thought it was stealing to take interview leads and job offer info, but it was the culture of the firm I had joined and had made many superstar billers.


Enter Tony Byrne, 30 steps in the placement process, the MRI methodology of getting retainers or don’t work perm roles, and the “market what you attract, then you will attract what you market” approach to candidates. It was, I have to say, for me a lightbulb moment.


Of the three ways to win business, those being cold calling for job orders, fishing for job leads from candidates or taking candidates to market, I did OK’ish at the cold calling, failed abysmally at asking candidates where they had been for an interview and excelled at marketing candidates.


I was able to compensate for the weaknesses in two areas by excelling in the candidate marketing, and candidate marketing had more unforeseen benefits. The first was I got job orders as a by-product of marketing candidates. For example, I might pitch in a LAN expert to an investment bank, and the LAN support manager would say, “Thanks, I can’t use them, but Fred/Rita is head of the WAN department, and they are desperate for x,y,z type people.” They seemed to appreciate I was making an effort to do more than say, “Have you got any jobs?” So they rewarded that effort with tips on how I might get other work. These job orders were easy to pick up, and often could be taken on exclusive and before others had tried to fill them.


The other benefit of taking the candidate to market was that I did not have to ask many where they had been for an interview, as most would now tell me. Some of that came about as we picked the place together I would market them to; most of it came because they could see I was genuinely working as their personal agent to find them work. Which was handy, as one of our KPIs was interview leads picked up from candidates.


The job order, the whole job order and nothing but the job order


So, as I said, the job orders came easier the more candidates I marketed; they were of a higher quality, the clients gave me more engagement, and crucially, they gave me time to take complete job orders.


Now, I was pleased to be asked to make a speech by Tony Byrne at one of his conferences, but I was at the same time ‘soiling my proverbial pants’ with the thought of WTF do I say. I mean, what I wanted to say was, “I just did what you told me and, erm, worked hard, Tony”. The night before I was due to speak, I called Tony to say I was backing out, and with his trademark charm and sage-like wisdom he talked me round (if you are a Tony Byrne hater, good for you, what he taught worked for me so).


On the day of the speech, I was clueless, and as I took the mic and was about to go blank and die on stage, the mic gave up the ghost. I made a joke that I used to sell copiers and it needed my healing touch, and it came back to life. There were a few kind people who laughed at my humour, and while I basked in my moment of Comedy Store fame, it came to me in a flash. Because the clients let me ask any questions I wanted, I was able to take “the job order, the whole job order and nothing but the job order”. With so much data in my bag, I was able to explain the job well to the candidate, and so the job kind of sold itself (or not, as not all jobs were wanted, naturally), but the real key was that when I came to presenting the candidate back to the clients, if I had asked 50 questions, I was able to offer potentially 50 ways the candidate matched the job. If I just had the 5-10 the rest had, then it was in most cases the luck of the draw if the client said yes or no to an interview. So, there it was: “Open the sale as wide as you can, and it closes itself.” You don’t need to do the alternative close, the half Nelson close, the full Nelson close, etc. You just confirm your match, and that’s how I got to 1.5 job orders worked making a sale.


P.S. I forgot one huge benefit of being a candidate champion. Which was the candidates being happy to help me on how to best sell them/their skills for the job in hand. I mean yes, I had my 50 ways to sell the job order, but one of the questions I would ask candidates was… “I am not a LAN expert. I mean, I know my CNE from my ECNE and how a LAN differs from a WAN, but how do your skills translate directly to this need they have? In short, tell me how to sell you best.” Later I would work for and hear about recruiters who gave their staff industry training, so they could converse at a more intellectual level about their jobs/skills. But to me, it was obvious: I am a facilitator and a blunt instrument until I am an industry expert. Make me an expert, and I will be your canvassing champion.


So that is it, my first ‘Recruitment Dinosaur’ post. Some of it may work today, some of it may never work for you. The intention is not fame, ego massaging or self-indulgence – the aim is as always to share (I am the middle child – it’s my job).



My recruitment dinosaur