How to Say No to a Prospect

A job comes in from a prospect you've been chasing for months and you get excited, thinking: 'At last, this is my opportunity!' Until... you realise this is a left field job role and you're not sure you have the right networks to assist. So, how do you say no to a prospect you want to develop a working relationship with without losing the opportunity they have presented you with?

Get Your Positioning Clear from the Start

Sign saying no The important thing is to be upfront and honest from the word go. Communicate that this is not really your area of specialisation but you really appreciate them coming to you. Then suggest that you run through the job brief to see if there is something you can do to help. Or better still, point them in the direction of a recruiter that could help them. 

This approach will at least show the prospect how you work, without having the expectation that you know the specifics about the job, location, specialisation, or the network of people that the candidate could come from. You are also building a reputation as a trusted advisor which is exactly where you want to be. 

Top Tip: If you direct your prospect to another recruiter, consider splitting the fee. The TEAM network is the largest group of independent recruiters in the UK and it provides a safe environment for recruiters to split fees. 

Get to the Bottom of the Brief

Before you say no, make sure to talk through your prospect's brief and find out why they're looking to fill this specific role. Get all the usual information you would need to establish a strong role profile. It will quickly become apparent to both you and the prospect if this is going to be a role you can help them fill.

Similarly, as this will be the first time you both have the opportunity to work together, it is your opportunity to assess how much time they'll spend with you. So, find out more about their recruitment process and why they have the vacancy in the first place. For example: Are they growing? Is this a new role? Will they have other roles more aligned with your area of expertise in the future?

Establish Who Worked it Previously

It's nice to think that the prospect you've been chasing for months has noticed all those missed calls and messages from you and decided you're the best recruiter for the job. However, it's very unlikely you were their first call. It's far more likely that their normal supplier has let them down or is coming up blank. Be direct and up front with this assumption and politely ask who else has had a go at recruiting for the role and ask how they got on. This conversation allows you to get to the crux of the prospect's and the previous recruiter's pain.

Sense Check the Market

If you feel the conversation went well and there's definitely a relationship here that's worth developing, there's no harm in volunteering to do an initial review of the marketplace. However, the important thing here is not to give the prospect the impression you're going to work the role and provide a short list. This is not your area of expertise, so don't set yourself up to fail. You'll only waste the good foundations you've laid down.

A quick online search, narrowed down to the prospect's target location, will instantly give you a feeling for whether this type of candidate exists. You'll also see what the candidate supply looks like, the salary banding, and lastly, the key recruiters working this niche.

Providing Solutions, Not Problems

When an opportunity you've been waiting for lands in your lap, it's important not to jump at it before you've established if it's the the right opportunity for you. Saying no to a prospect doesn't mean saying no to a future relationship. If you do it with honest, integrity, and as a consultant, you won't rule yourself out of getting future jobs. In fact, you'll position yourself as someone who is respected and by providing good reasons for saying no, you'll boost your reputation as an expert recruiter who really knows their market. 


How to Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Clients

Wendy McDougall

Wendy McDougall is Chief Fish of Firefish Software. In her spare time, you'll find her playing squash or feeding her inner geek with the latest technology!

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