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Working As A Team: How Recruiter and Client Are Like A Jazz Band

2nd June 2021

The great jazz musician Wynton Marsalis once that “a musician’s life is to listen”. What he meant by this was that, especially in order to play a piece of improvisational music like jazz, musicians need to pay close attention to each other: if they are to make music worth hearing, they need to be able to understand each other.

In this sense, recruitment is in fact a lot like jazz. It’s not that we’re making it up as we go along – of course! Good recruitment isn’t improvised but planned carefully. It requires relationships built up over time and accessed at just the right moment.

But those relationships are important because they encourage understanding – and in this recruitment is exactly like jazz. A recruiter needs to know their client inside-out. They need to have a deep appreciation of the client’s company, culture, goals and needs. In order to recruit well, you have to know a client very well indeed.

Jazz bands traditionally tend to be small, and there’s a reason for this, too: the sympathy between soloists that makes the music so great becomes noisy and muddled if too many musicians get involved. In trad jazz, the soloing is largely handled by just two instruments – the clarinet and the trumpet. Any more and things get messy.

Similarly, in our experience, the best recruitment happens when there aren’t too many recruiters joining the scrum. It’s especially the case that agencies like ours work best when we can operate independently of any internal teams.

Internal recruitment is fantastic, and for many businesses absolutely essential; but where external agencies are brought onboard – perhaps for specific or senior roles – internal teams should take a step back. The aim, after all, is to avoid disharmony!

It very often makes sense for a firm to engage an agency to handle its board-level or executive appointments: leadership roles are sensitive and specialist, after all. If that’s the direction a firm goes, in our experience a client should commit to the decision and give the agent sole responsibility for the search.

That’s not to say internal teams should be frozen out – far from it, they should be routinely consulted and involved. The search is ultimately owned by the client. But the understanding that a good agent will build with a client means that they will operate as if they were an internal team, but with the additional knowledge, or contacts an external agent brings. The best of both worlds, in others words.

Marsalis has more of relevance to say on this: “The best way to be, is to do.” Let your recruiter do what they’re good at, and the result will be music to your ears!