Tammy Cline has met many interesting people during 30 years as a headhunter in Des Moines, including the guy who claimed to be in the federal government’s witness protection program and the man who arrived for an interview “dressed to the nines” in expensive women’s clothing.

Not all get placed, but she does listen to them all.

She has found employees for banks and insurance companies. Once she was even asked to find a manager for an adults-only retail chain.

Over the years, Cline has interviewed thousands of job prospects, including several who had been charged with crimes small and large, even murder.

In every case, Cline said, no matter what problems the applicant had in the past, she tried to determine whether the person would make a good employee in the present.

She’s particularly proud of a convicted felon she placed a few years ago. While in prison, the woman had gone back to school and gotten a degree as a legal assistant. “We placed her with a law firm, and she’s still there,” Cline said.

But Cline said she’s also had to rescind offers to qualified applicants when it was discovered they had lied about past criminal histories.

“One was a guy who had shoplifted a $9 stocking cap 10 years ago,” she said. The man thought the crime was so small and so long ago that it would not show up in public records. But it did, and when he failed to disclose it, Cline could not recommend him for a job.

Cline grew up in Sioux City and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1982 with a major in industrial relations.

“I knew I wanted to be in sales, and I wanted to move to Omaha,” she said. But as chance would have it, soon after graduation she attended a wedding in Des Moines, where her future mentor, Gerry Mullane, had just opened Executive Resources Ltd.

Cline called Mullane and asked about a job, but Mullane said her clients would not pay a fee for someone with no track record.

At that point, Cline said, “I did not know that headhunting was even a profession.” But she was interested and met with Mullane for eight hours over two days.

“Gerry and I just clicked,” Cline said.

Her first assignment was to find candidates for commercial banking vacancies.

“I was given a phone book and sat at a card table,” Cline said. “The economy was lousy, but I was a stupid 22-year-old kid, and I didn’t know any better, so I just pounded the phone.”

In 1989, Cline was recruited for a job in California. She liked the job, but California was expensive. After less than a year, she returned to Iowa, and started her own business.

By then, she’d evolved from placing high-dollar bankers to lower-wage, administrative positions. The placements did not pay as much per job, but the positions were easier to fill and she was able to fill more jobs in less time and earn more money.

Cline was among the first headhunters to effectively use the Internet to research clients and jobs prospects in the mid-1990s. But she said LinkedIn, Facebook and other high-tech tools can be as much distraction as they are help.

“The old-fashioned way is still the best,” Cline said. It’s cold-calling people, recognizing talent and matching them with the right opening.

Which brings us back to the guy who said he was in the witness protection program.

He wasn’t.

That was just one of many excuses he came up with when Cline’s associate, Cheryl Lang, was unable to verify his education. ?