When Is It OK For A Recruiter To Say No To A Client?

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It’s in a recruiter’s DNA to say yes to clients. After all, where would we be if we refused every job order that came through?
However, there are some cases where it makes sense for a recruiter to say no to a client. It’s not something we like to do, but sometimes we can tell in advance that accepting the job would not be in anyone’s best interest.

At HorizonOne, we pride ourselves on being open and transparent with every client and candidate. In fact, one of our values is integrity, no compromise – and we follow this in everything we do. This includes instilling in our recruiters not to have a knee jerk reaction every time a client sends through a new job order. Instead, they should properly assess it to determine if they’ll be able to deliver the best results.

With this in mind, here are 4 valid reasons why a recruiter might say no to a client…

1. The client has engaged 20 recruiters

Competition is natural in the recruitment industry, and we’re certainly happy to work on a role that may have a handful of other recruiters working on it too.

But if we know a client has sent their job order out to 20 recruiters, HorizonOne would automatically say no. This is because the commitment we would make to finding the best candidate would be overshadowed by the fact that we would have a 1 in 20 chance of our candidate being successful – often due to the fact that the client has a “first in, best dressed” approach to making an offer, regardless of whether the person is the best fit for the role.

Another fact that weighs heavily on our mind is the ability to engage with the client when it’s clear they don’t value building a relationship. When all that’s on offer is a lacklustre job order and no further communication, it’s difficult for us to get a high performing candidate excited about the role.

Our preferred option is to work any role exclusively, or alongside a handful of other respected agencies. Canberra is a small market, so a good recruiter will be well aware of which candidates are available in the market.

2. The client’s list of requirements for their “ideal” candidate is highly unrealistic

Clients who haven’t hired anyone recently, or does not see the value in deeper conversation with recruitment experts is often not in touch with the realities of the Canberra market. The ACT has the highest rate of skilled vacancies, the lowest rate of unemployment, and the fastest growing job market.

Because it’s difficult to secure top talent, clients need to be realistic about their expectations. For example, a client may write a job description for an administrative role and ask that the candidate has experience in graphic design, project management, or tech support. This is an unlikely skills combination, and probably has more to do with trying to find a quick but unrealistic fix and sees all of these things in one person, rather than thinking that they are realistically recruiting for three different roles.

We work with our clients to re-evaluate their job descriptions (and expectations!) as they evolve over time, to make sure they are realistic in terms of skills and experience. If a client is unwilling to budge and insists on finding a “one-size-fits-all” candidate, we are more likely to say no.

3. The salary is well below market value

We don’t typically say yes to clients when the job on offer pays a lot less than current market value. It puts us in a really difficult position because we can’t go to market and say we have a great job opportunity when it’s $40,000 a year less than they would get anywhere else.

Of course, there are other ways to make a role more attractive – such as better leave entitlements, flexible working arrangements, or professional development. But where the client isn’t able to budge on any of these, it’s unlikely we’ll take it on.

We’re also wary of working with clients who go to market with a high salary and then lower it when making a formal offer. This impacts our reputation and the client’s employer brand, and it doesn’t take long for candidates to share their experience with peers.

4. The role falls outside our expertise

Over time, experienced recruiters develop a strong understanding of certain types of roles or industries. We become known in the space, and build up a great network of candidates and repeat clients.

At HorizonOne, we have a strong team of recruiters who have specialisations in a variety of fields. However, we know other recruitment firms are stronger in some areas (such as construction or hospitality). For this reason, we will almost always decline a job order of this sort and refer the client to another agency so they achieve the best results.

We are not saying no to the client – just the role

It’s important to note that when we as recruiters turn down a job order, we are not refusing the client in general. A recruiter will only choose not to work with a client if they have been badly mistreated or disrespected in the past, and it has jeopardised their relationship with a valued candidate.

Clients are always welcome and encouraged to approach us in the future to work on securing talent for a different role.

The recruiter-client relationship is one of mutual respect where both parties care about achieving the best result. Where we know we can do right by our client, the candidate, and themselves, we will happily accept.

We also educate and support our consultants to make these sometimes difficult decisions. Our consultants are great at rising to the challenge, however, they are never forced to accept these types of jobs.


Andy Batstone
General Manager – Recruitment Operations
HorizonOne Recruitment

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