HUMAN resource (HR) professionals work with a number of service providers, especially recruitment agencies or headhunters.

Representing the company they work for, these HR personnel are authorised to negotiate with service providers and decide on issues such as the type and scope of services, and their related costs.

From the perspective of a service provider — outplacement and executive coaching services in my case — my ideal client is one who accepts my quotation, and then sends me a reminder the next day saying: “Please send me the invoice so we can pay you.”

In the course of managing my regional business for over 15 years, I can share that there are maybe a dozen such ideal clients I have been fortunate enough to provide my services to.

On the flip side, I still remember a potential client who agreed to meet me and was not in the office when I arrived on schedule. Not once, but three times — all within the span of a couple of months.

He did not have the decency to let me know what happened; nor did he apologise for inconveniencing me. Will I provide services to the company he works for? I would certainly think hard about it, because I would not want to experience the pain of working with someone who is unprofessional.

Clearly, he thought he was entitled to behave the way he did because he was the client, and I was the service provider.

Here are some best practices HR managers may consider adopting:

Be professional at all times

Remember that you represent your company. Yes, appointments sometimes need to be changed, but do notify your service provider as early as possible. Treat him as a fellow professional.

Keep documents

Record minutes of meetings and conversations to avoid misunderstandings. I know of vendors who did not deliver what they promised to their clients, and there was nothing the client could do as these promises were made during phone calls or meetings, and based on so-called “gentleman’s agreements”.

The converse also happens — clients who refuse to pay the agreed fees for services provided by vendors who did not obtain a signed confirmation (for services to be delivered).

Compare quotes from several vendors

To ensure accountability and transparency, you need to obtain a quote from more than one vendor. Do a comparative analysis of all the quotes so you can make an objective decision on which vendor gets the job.

Don’t only look at costs

While managing costs and expenditure is important, the dollar factor should not be the main or sole criteria in choosing a vendor.

In selecting outplacement services, for example, HR professionals should ask questions about programme content, delivery methodology, the career coach’s profile and track record. They should also check the references from other clients before deciding to award an assignment to a vendor.

Negotiate fees fairly

Sometimes, HR professionals need to negotiate a service provider’s professional fees. As your company will pay for the services, it is right that you protect your company’s interests, but do consider the vendor’s as well.

The right approach is to strive for a win-win outcome. Vendors know a company has budget constraints and challenges, but they also need to manage the financial aspects of their business.

Most consultants price their services to reflect their experience and what the market is prepared to pay for their expertise. It is unrealistic to expect consultants to bring down their fees to a level below the market rate. Work out with your chosen consultant a fair remuneration for the services you want, so that everyone can benefit.

Article by Paul Heng, founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, visit