Who Knows What Client Exclusivity Is? 

Exclusivity is often talked about in the recruitment industry. What is it and how do we define it? Everyone has a differing definition as to what “exclusivity” is. Having worked in a couple of different recruitment businesses I know that different organizations have their interpretation of what “exclusivity” is. This leads to a massive opportunity for miscommunication. Not within our business but with our customers. How do you know what a client thinks exclusivity is?

Picture this:

Recruiter: “I will get straight onto this immediately for you and will have CVs with you as quickly as possible. Are you happy to leave it with me exclusively?”
Client: “Yes OK. Speak to you soon.”

What has been agreed here? Both parties may have very different understandings as to what exclusivity is, yet it appears to have been agreed in principle though unspoken in definition.

Some clients even think it is a discount voucher:

Client: “Are your terms negotiable?”
Consultant: ”If you leave it with me exclusively, I will give you X% discount. Is that OK?”
Client: “OK.”

What happened in the above example? A discount was offered and accepted in return for an undefined clause called “exclusivity” (though it does make the consultant “feel better” for giving away a discount). The client saying “yes” has saved themselves hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds without understanding what the consultant expected in return. Those consultants who think that clients have the same understanding of exclusivity as they do are also the consultants who are likely to find that the requirement is filled, somewhere down the line, by a mystery candidate they didn’t know existed from a mystery source. Another agency though the client may refer to them as “the internal” candidate. Why do we need to use the word “exclusivity”? If we could potentially find a miscommunication happening then let’s avoid it in the first place.

How do we gain exclusivity without saying “exclusivity”?

• Tell them what you are going to do for them
• Gain commitment
• Tell them what you expect in return
• Create exclusivity step by step

Recruiter: “What I am going to do from here is focus my efforts purely on this position. As a specialist in this area I have developed an extensive network of contacts and candidates from which I will create a long list of somewhere in the region of “X” potential candidates. I’ll talk to these candidates about your opportunity, ensuring they match both from a technical perspective and cultural fit whilst gaining additional recommendations along the way. Then I’ll produce a qualified shortlist of three candidates that either meet or exceed your expectations. Tell me, which day next week should we be working towards for interviews?”


Recruiter: “Naturally, as you are already aware, this level of service is time intensive and is going to be a priority for me over the next “X” hours. Given the level of work that this involves, all I ask is that you take no other action to fill this role until you have seen the quality of candidates I produce. If after “X” hours you don’t feel I have delivered the quality of candidates you would expect, feel free to review how you fill this position. I take it you are willing to work with me on this basis?”

Do you see what has been agreed in the eyes of the client? What a deal for the client! Completely hassle free! The client now knows what the consultant is going to do for them so with interview slots booked they have no reason to go anywhere else. Exclusivity created! Once you have an agreement to this then keep revisiting the same situation i.e. once you have a shortlist with the client get agreement to continue on the same basis till the interviews are conducted all the way through to the final decision, step by step.


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Sadly this does not prevent the client continuing to work with other recruiters- accepting CV’s or interviewing candidates from as many competitors as he/she wishes, only to then tell the “exclusive” recruiter that none of their candidates are good enough and proceed to hire the candidate of their choice.



The only way to ensure real client exclusivity is to paid part of the projected fee up front.

Plus, how does the client know that they are going to get the best possible candidate? Because by only using one recruiter who is in all likelihood only going to dip into his agencies database to find ‘obvious’ candidates who are probably actively looking anyway, what he/she isn’t doing is working all of the candidate sourcing channels extensively so that the client will be able to hire confident in the knowledge that they have probably secured the best candidate currently available.

I think the better recruiters out there would have a lot more to sell to the client than what you’ve articulated here.


This is true – the client has the opportunity to go elsewhere. My objective with this is to minimise the clients desire to want to. With recruiters currently “closing” on exclusivity without enough definition with the client as to what it is and what they expect there are many more “exclusive” roles being filled by competitors than most agencies and consultants realise. I am attempting to provide a more robust process to follow without the need for pitching retained work.


Retained business is certainly a solid way to increase the probability of having an exclusive assignment. Having worked for a long period of time in a retained search firm I have experienced first hand the benefits it brings. There are many recruiters out there who are working in different markets where retained is not necessarily the right answer. It is particularly these I am hoping to give a stronger way to define with their client very quickly what their expectations are and give more definition to the “exclusive” job.

I don’t think it is right to assume that recruiters will just “dip into” the agency database and present the most obvious candidates. Again, according to the requirement, there are a great many recruiters who will endeavour to find more than just today’s job seekers. How does the client know they are getting the best possible candidate? By dealing with a consultant who explicitly understands how and where to find the best individuals and can demonstrate clearly how they are going to conduct that search.

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