Phrases That Lose You Business in Recruitment and How to Avoid Them

In my ten years of working as an agency recruiter I made a lot of calls, and over time I learned (the hard way) that there are some phrases that will almost always lose you business, no matter how convincingly you say them. Now that I’m in an internal role, I hear agency recruiters use these same phrases on an almost daily basis – and it instantly puts me off working with them!

So, what are the phrases that will lose you business in recruitment when speaking with clients, prospects and candidates?

Phrases that lose you clients…

1. “I’ve got loads of great candidates who would be a perfect for this role!”

There are two main issues with this phrase: 

  • If this is the first time we’ve ever spoken, you won’t know what’s important to me beyond the advert you’ve spotted online, so there’s no way you can know whether or not your candidates would be 'perfect'.
  • In a nutshell, the word “loads” is the problem: I tend to recruit for pretty specific roles, not the kind of positions where there are masses of candidates on the market. If you tell me you have ‘loads’ of suitable candidates, I’ll tell you that you don’t understand the role or the business and clearly haven’t taken the time to segment your talent pools effectively…which is a difficult point for you to come back from.  Great recruiters know that presenting me with one excellent candidate will pique my interest.  

    Even if that candidate turns out not to be quite right, I’ll be up for a chat as you’ve demonstrated you understand our sector and want to learn more about the business.

2. “I’ve been working with this candidate for a long time”

It’s entirely possible that you’ve placed the candidate in a role before and done a great job, kept in touch with them and now you’re the only consultant they want to work with. But telling me that you’ve been working with a candidate for a long time will just make me think…

Why won’t anyone hire them? 

Why can’t they stay in a job? 

Why is Firefish so far down the list of companies they’d like to work for?

Right from the off I’m thinking there’s something wrong with them, or that they don’t actually want to work here and are being specced in out of desperation.  Changing the opening statement to, “I placed this candidate in their last role and now that they’re looking for the next step in their career, they’ve come back to me exclusively” will make me think, “ooh, here’s a groovy recruiter who’s doing things right!”

3. “I have a great candidate who’s looking for their next contract role in London”

Good for you!  I’m sure there are plenty of companies in London who will be happy to speak with you, however we’re based in Glasgow…and only hire perm staff.

Going down the spray and pray route is never a good idea, and not knowing the basics about a company is never going to endear you to them (much like, “what does your business do?”; “who deals with recruitment there”; and the good old, “do you have any jobs?”) 

Remember – basic prep only takes a few minutes but makes all the difference in forging strong relationships.  Use your software to identify relevant companies and you’ll be taken far more seriously…and have to make far fewer calls to hit those targets!

Phrases that lose you candidates

And it’s not just about clients! There are things we often say when speaking with candidates that we think are strong and supportive phrases, but are actually just confusing and a bit cringey…   

1. “You’re brilliant – if it were up to me you’d have the job!

It’s always nice to be encouraging but be careful that you don’t put yourself down while you’re bigging the candidate up. 

By using phrases such as “if it were up to me”, you’re effectively saying that you have no control over the hiring process. This plays right into one of the most annoying misconceptions about recruiters:  that we just fling CVs over and hope for the best.

We know that’s not true, but the candidate doesn’t, and if they perceive this to be the case they won’t  invest in your relationship.

2. “You’re in my top three candidates to submit for interview”

In our sector, we’re constantly thinking about targets and KPIs, so we have to be really careful that we don’t make candidates feel like a number on a board. Unfortunately, this phrase does exactly that.

Using a phrase like this, you’re also setting yourself up to look really bad: you’ve set an expectation that the candidate should be invited to interview, but if that doesn’t happen, it’ll just look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

3. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow at 12pm”

There’s actually nothing wrong with this phrase…as long as you actually do it!

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, otherwise this phrase will definitely sever your chances of working with this candidate again. And if something’s cropped up or you haven’t received the feedback you were expecting in time, tell them this! 

Saying you’re going to call a candidate but vanishing instead is a sure-fire way to get you ghosted back in future!

To find out the kinds of positive phrases that actually do work when emailing clients and candidates, download the email template tool below.

hand reaching out of screen holding email

Vicki Moir

After spending almost a decade in recruitment, Vicki joined Firefish in 2013. As Head of Happiness, she's responsible for all things talent and culture.

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