Keyword Search HCX for your Favorite Author / Content

Recruiting & Candidate Development

Desk Building… Using the classic technique, THE CONCEPT OF INVERTED CONES

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

altThe phone rings.

I answer.

The stressed voice at the other end sounds a little bit tired. 


“Bob, what do you do when your marketplace has dried up?”

I continue to listen.

“I mean, none of my clients will give me any new Job Orders.  And if they do, they are full of flaws, impossible to fill and they want to pay ridiculously low fees.  None of these job orders would even score above a “D” grade on your Job Order Matrix.  I just don’t have anything on which to work.  I feel like I am losing my edge.  Bob, what am I going to do (heavy sigh here)???”

It’s interesting that this is the same question that I have heard, in increasing numbers, after each of the recessions I have weathered.  And the answer is always the same.

I say…

“You know what?  It’s time for us to do a little Desk Building.  And, in the end, it’s time for you and me to re-visit the Classic Technique, “The Concept of Inverted Cones”!


First, let’s start with desk building.  What I want you to do is to work from a ten point outline.  Here it is:

1.  Study selected specialties

Think about what area you really enjoy.  Go ahead.  Let your mind run wild.  What would interest you so much that you couldn’t wait to jump out of bed each day and rush to your desk just to find out what was happening in your new specialty marketplace?  And, if possible, combine that area with a prior knowledge you possess so that you won’t need much ramp up time learning the lexicon of that new specialty.  Go to the Internet.  Go to the library.  Walk around the lake and think.  Do some research.  Talk to others.  Mull it over.  Are there 1500 company contacts in this specially?  Really think this through. 

2.  Choose one

Now it’s decision time.  After completing your initial due diligence, pick your specialty.  This is the proverbial fork in the road.  When you go to the right, the left branch is no longer an option.  Make a choice, but choose wisely!

3.  Research those periodicals

Now start your more in-depth research by reading the periodicals published for your specialty.  Read them all.  Learn what people do in your specialty.  Become knowledgeable.  You’ll need to be conversant with this new lexicon.

4.  Look at the want ads/job boards

Now pick some of your industry’s bigger periodicals and newspapers.  Go to the want ads/job boards and see what areas are getting the most play.   The want ads/job boards will usually break down into four major groupings:  Technical, Administrative/Finance, Sales/Marketing & IT.  Determine where the largest and most critical needs are.

5.  Find a big display ad (this is your Search Assignment)

Once you have established what seems to be the most critical need, look for the biggest and most complete display ad, in your new niche, that you can find.  This is going to be your search assignment (SA) so you will need as much information as you can glean from this ad for your recruiting campaign.  You won’t be calling this potential client company just yet.

6.  Indirect recruit on it

Now put on your recruiting hat and start recruiting.  Use the Internet.  Use researchers if possible.  Call the competition.  Employ all of your recruitment skills.  Start with the indirect approach.  Your goal here is to cast a big net.  You want to catch as many candidates you can.

7.  Multi-task

While recruiting you must (and this is critical), you must multi-task.  What this means is that you will have the mission of accomplishing five goals on every call:  Indirect Recruit (this is first), then Direct Recruit (if possible), then Indirect Marketing (a must); then Direct Marketing (a must); and finally, Information Gathering (“What kind of person would you like to hear about should I uncover that individual in a subsequent search?”).  In other words, you start by recruiting and end by marketing and start writing Alternate Job Orders.

8.  Recruit your MPC + two others

Recruit your best, or Most Placeable Candidate (MPC), as you work through your day.  Once you find that individual, recruit two others.  You are now ready to approach your hand-picked

Search Assignment client company—even though you haven’t spoken to them as of yet.

9.  Present your candidates to your Search Assignment client company

Call your SA client company and make your standard MPC Feature-Accomplishment-Benefit (FAB) presentation.  As the call develops, you will also be presenting your other two candidates along with your MPC.  The outcome of this call is inconsequential.  Best outcome will be a new JO and SOs for your candidates.  Worst outcome is no JO and no SOs.  Either way will work for you.

10.  And finally, take your new MPC and your two new candidates to your new niche and market them

Now you are ready to approach your newly-minted niche with your three brand-new candidates.  Now is the time to start knocking on doors and sliding down your cone of specialization.


I have been teaching the Concept of Inverted Cones since the early 1980s.  It has morphed over the years and become a true recruitment ‘Classic’.

By the way, what will follow is how I train a new recruiter on how to first approach their new marketplace.  But, it is also how I train the “stuck” tenured recruiter when I am doing Desk Building.  I do this because it works!

Visualize, if you will, two cones (or funnels), transposed onto one another (*graph below), lying on their sides.  The first cone has the wide part to the left and the narrow part of the cone (or funnel) to the right.  The second cone is superimposed onto the first, with the narrow part on the left, and the wide part on the right.  They are actually lying opposite, on top of each other.

The cone with the wide end to the left and the narrow end to the right is entitled THE SPECIALTY CONE.

The superimposed cone, wide end to the right and narrow end to the left, is entitled THE MARKET AREA or LOCALE PENETRATED CONE.

When I teach a new Recruiter, I want them to begin in a general, or wide-area, specialty.  The wide part of the cone will be their "specialty".

For example, let’s say that the Recruiter is going to work in a "technical" discipline—let's say engineering.  Their "market area", or the locale they're calling into, is very narrow . . . San Francisco, the Bay Area.  They will call into all of the "technical" companies in this area where they can place technical Candidates.  They will do this for about three months.

They are going to explore their marketplace.  They are going to develop their marketplace.  They are going to develop rapport with their companies and discover which areas are hot and which ones are not. 

After about three months (this varies dependent on the marketplace penetration reached by the recruiter), they are going to flow down this SPECIALTY CONE . . . it's going to narrow, depending upon alternative Job Orders and hot areas.  The narrow part of the cone, where they are calling, is going to widen.  So, after three months, they may be only working Electrical Engineering-type companies.  They will now be calling a wider specific region – let’s say the three western states of California, Oregon, and Washington for example.  They are now in the second stage of their cone.

After a year or so in the business, they will have come even farther down the cone.  They may be calling Electrical Engineering companies, but now they may be calling with Electrical Engineers who have microprocessor backgrounds.  Because of this increased specialization, they will now be calling the eleven western United States.  They have come even farther down the cone; their specialty is even narrower, and the locale they are calling (the other cone) is getting wider.

At the final stage, these Recruiters are going to be very specialized, perhaps calling into an industry where there are EE's with micro processing backgrounds, but only working in robotics.  Their specialty has become very, very narrow.  Now the locale (where they are calling), has become very wide.  They are now calling the entire United States.

They have reached what is called the "POWER BROKER" area of the cone.  They are calling throughout the world, but only in a very specific marketplace.  The companies they are now dealing with, and the Candidates with whom they are speaking, know them as knowledgeable resources in their specialty.  They truly are "Power Brokers".  They may be called and asked questions regarding robotics or about what areas seem to be hot in that marketplace.  A company interested in trying out a new product might ask this Recruiter what he thinks of the potential success of this new product.

This is a great ego booster.  But keep in mind, that what the company is asking is "what is the competition doing?"  “What does the competition think?”  Since the Recruiter is in the industry all the time, and has this kind of knowledge, the company is using him as a “sounding board” type of resource.

Here’s the graph:




The Power Broker area is a good place to be.  The Recruiter can make lots of money here.  But he must understand that should this area dry up, should he stop writing Send Outs, stop writing Job Orders, stop getting Decisions, stop recruiting Candidates . . . that he is in a flux situation and he better be able to back out of this cone.


A little ancient history.

Here is what happened during the energy crunch in the early 1980s…

There were a slew of energy Recruiters in the "Power Broker" stage of the cone.  You could get almost anybody placed in oil and gas, especially in certain areas of the United States.  These Recruiters were making a ton of money.  They were winning awards right and left.  They were riding the crest.  And then the unthinkable happened.  The oil and gas industry hit the wall.  And this was the Mother of all Walls.  One day everything was great and the next day all of the activity had disappeared.  The energy Recruiters who were stuck in this specialty, in the "Power Broker" area of the cone, didn't know what to do.  For the most part, what they did was fail and their recruiting offices went out of business.  This should never have happened.

These so-called Recruiters didn't understand that we operate most efficiently when we operate in a flux situation.  What they needed to do was back out of their cone, but, because they had not proceeded down the cone correctly in the first place, they had no place to back up to.  They had never been taught the basics, as most Recruiters are, by entering the cone at the wide end, calling in to a local, diverse area and developing themselves and their desks.

Here’s something to take to heart.  If you are in the Power Broker area of the cone - making a lot of money, arranging a lot of Send Outs, getting a lot of Job Orders and Candidates - and, suddenly, the market dries up, the first action you need to initiate is to back out of your cone. 

First you back out to the point before the Power Broker stage.  If that area is also "dry", back out to the point before that.  If that works, then stay there.  But you may, after a certain amount of tenure (say, two to three years in the industry), continue backing out of the cone until you are at the place where you first started.  Then you will move down the cone once more depending upon what types of alternate Job Orders you are writing.  If Electrical Engineering has dried up completely, and Industrial Engineering is the hot area to go into, you will be going down a different cone, specializing in placing Industrial Engineers.

There is even the possibility that you may back completely out of your Technical cone and start working Sales or Administration . . . a brand new cone.  This is unlikely, however.  Usually Recruiters back out into certain areas where they've been before, uncover new hot areas and then go back down this cone into those new areas.

So, remember that one of the lessons we can learn from the Concept of Inverted Cones, is that we live in a flux situation—our marketplaces ebb and they flow.  You just need to be wise enough to understand where you are in your cone, and bright enough to understand that, if things aren't working, you need to back out of that cone until things start working again.

In past recessions, many of us didn't understand the Concept of the Inverted Cones.  We were plugging away in an area of the cone where we had become Power Brokers, and then everything suddenly dried up.  What did we do?  Whether by idea or design, we merely worked harder.  Well, working harder in an insolvent marketplace just doesn't work.  All you do is beat yourself up.  You will always make some placements in a "down" marketplace—but you won’t make many.  Top Recruiters can work in "down" marketplaces.  They have less competition because everybody has left that marketplace, and so it's possible to make some money.  But, if you're going to work smarter in our business, you need to gravitate to the areas where the needs are the greatest.


Don't get caught in the scenario where you just work harder and beat yourself up needlessly.  Always keep in mind where you are in the cone and remember it's a flux situation.  Don't just work harder in an area where you're not making money.

If things are going wrong (i.e., no Send Outs), there are usually only five barriers that are preventing this:

  1. You're in the business of marketing Candidates - using a Candidate to create interest on the other side.  You might have a "non-door opening" Candidate . . . a Candidate who everyone else knows is marginal.  For instance, I once had a Candidate who was of less than stellar character.  I was breaking into the Geology marketplace, and I had called perhaps 100 companies with this Exploration Geologist.  I never said his name, but everyone knew, by his background, who I was talking about.  And I couldn't arrange a Send Out.  Finally, the 101st Hiring Manager who I talked to said, "Bob, I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but Joe has some serious personal character issues."  I had completed all the reference checks except one - Joe's current employer.  I hadn't been able to get through to them.  They would have told me about the situation.  So, I was marketing someone that I shouldn't have been marketing and, therefore, I was destroying my credibility in a brand-new marketplace.  So, having a bad Candidate, for one reason or another, could be the first thing that could be wrong.

  2. A bad presentation.  You do not know how to make a good, solid FAB presentation.  You don’t know how to close for the interview.  Your words are wrong.  You don’t understand the marketplace.  For example, instead of presenting a Systems Analyst, you're trying to present a Systems Analyzer.  You are perceived as an amateur, a rookie.  Check your industry knowledge.  Check your presentation.

  3. A bad marketplace.  Your marketplace has dried up, but you are still trying to get some juice from this dehydrated fruit.  You are taking the POLR (Path-Of- Least-Resistance) route and it isn’t working.  The only thing that is happening is that you are freezing to death.

  4. Bad rapport building.  Your Hiring Managers don’t professionally like, believe, trust and/or understand you.  Or, at the other extreme, you’ve become a "professional visitor".

  5. You are presenting to the wrong person—to a non-hiring official.  Making great presentations to the receptionist is just not going to work for you.

Basically, these are the only things preventing you from achieving Send Outs.   If you're OK on numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5, then it might be wise to look closer at number 3.  If that is the culprit, think about the Concept of the Inverted Cones.  Is your current marketplace a good and viable marketplace?  Are you able to smoothly move up and down your cone?  Or, should you be in a completely different marketplace?

Now don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t mean that you should give up too early.  You have to make the daily telephone contacts in your industry to be successful.  You can't work in an industry for one day and decide, "Well, this isn’t working.  I'm going to get into a different industry."  You really have to give this enough time.


You need to work in an industry for at least three months to determine the upside potentiality of the specialty.  Let's assume you're making 25 connect calls per day.  Out of those 25 connects, you should strive for a 50% presentation rate on those calls.  So, out of those 25 connects, you're going to be making around 12-13 presentations.  Out of a dozen presentations, you should be arranging at least one interview.  (These numbers are for the tenured Recruiter).

If you don't accomplish this during a day, it doesn't mean to stop and go into a new section of your cone.  All that means is that, for that day, for whatever reason, something went wrong.  It could have been a bad Candidate, a bad presentation, bad rapport building or a presentation to a non-hiring manager.  It doesn't necessarily have to mean a bad marketplace.  So, give this thing a chance.  Get in your marketplace and discover what's there.  This has to be done over a period of time.  On the other hand, don't spend an inordinate amount of time in an area that's not producing for you.  If you are, you need to analyze your desk and go in a different direction.  It might be time to back out of your cone.


For the new Recruiter, it's important to start in a general area so that you can build the tools that will last you throughout your lifetime in this profession.  Don't try to become a Power Broker your first day on a desk.  All that does is to create an unrealistic set of expectations for you.  Should that Power Broker area dry up, you have nothing to fall back on because you never developed the tools at the front-end.  You really can't treat this inverted cone concept as a flux situation because you were never at the beginning of the cone.

Try to start out as a generalist as much as possible.  Keep your ears open for the hot areas and let yourself be pulled toward those hot areas and make money there.  Keep refining and refining and refining.  By doing this, the locale of your calling will widen.  You won't realize that you are being pulled down this cone, but you will be, nevertheless.  If you're at all bright, you're going to be following the hot areas.  When they dry up, back out.


In conclusion, it's important to learn the Inverted Cone Concept.  By so doing, you will be able to avoid the problems of lower production associated with recessions in our national economy—or those personal recessions that happen right on your desk.  That's when we whine to our manager, "Tom has a better marketplace than I do.  If I had his marketplace, I'd do fine."  For whatever reason, you have fallen into your own personal recession.  It has nothing to do with Tom's desk.  He's probably just doing a better job than you are.

If you are in a personal recession, you might consider backing out of your cone and doing a little Desk Building.  You might have to go into a totally new cone, unlikely as that might seem.  But at the very least, get into the right area of your cone.  Your marketplace dictates the direction.  Listen for that direction.  Listen for the alternate Job Orders.  Ask your Hiring Managers and Candidates which areas are hot and which areas aren't.  It's amazing how much help you can get just by asking for help over the phone.  Ask what areas you should be in or what areas you shouldn't be in without taking their word as gospel.  But get the information.

If you understand the Inverted Cone Concept and use it correctly, you will lay a strong foundation for yourself.  By laying that strong foundation, you'll be more likely to pick up the tools necessary to do our business correctly.  Keep in mind this quote by Abraham Maslow:  "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."  So pick up more tools.  By entering the cone at the wide, or SPECIALTY end, it will allow you to pick up those tools necessary for a long and profitable career in the recruitment industry.



Bob Marshall began his recruiting career in 1980 when he joined MR Reno, NV.  In 1986 he founded The Bob Marshall Group, International, training recruiters across the nation as well as in the United Kingdom, Malta and Cyprus.  In 1996, he returned to working a desk full-time, while continuing to train recruiters.  Just recently he began marketing the ‘unplugged’ version of his acclaimed 2009 43-session Classic Teleconference Series.  To learn more about his activities and descriptions of his products (including The Executive Edition Daily Planner) and services (including the ‘Double Production-guaranteed’ program), contact him directly at: 770-898-5550,,or

blog comments powered by Disqus

HCX Facts

Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

Who's Online

We have 325 guests and no members online