Most people who become recruiters do not last. There are many reasons for that. Poor hiring decisions and inadequate training being high on the list.

But there is another key reason why so few people actually last in the hurly-burly world of agency recruiting.

It’s a frigging hard job!

So I know that sometimes you question why you do it. There are times you hate what you do. There are days you go home feeling deflated, worn-out and frankly, useless.

The world is littered with ‘ex-recruiters’, burnt out, scarred and resentful about their all-too-short recruiting career.

Seriously, the guy who cut my hair last week told me he had ‘been a recruiter once’.

It’s true too that being a recruiter can be the greatest job of all, but even so, to survive you have to know the pitfalls, prepare for them, minimise their impact where you can, and push through the inevitable challenges this job will throw you.

  • Recruiting is uniquely tough because it’s the only job that I know where what you are selling can turn around and say ‘no’. Think about it. I sell you my car. You agree to buy the car. I agree to sell the car. We agree a price. The car does not then jump up and say “Hey you know what, I am not going to go with this new guy”. Don’t laugh. That happens to recruiters every day. We do everything right. Take a great job spec. Impress our client. Recruit great talent. Make the match. Manage the process. Architect a fitting deal for all parties. Secure a great offer. Get everything agreed and at the last minute – our product – the candidate – says, “ Nah, I changed my mind, I will stay where I am”. And that is it. All over red rover!
  • Recruiting is a killer because for us, it is all or nothing. Sure, a tiny percentage of our work is retained, but mostly recruiting is first prize or nothing. Our business is not like the Olympics where you can pick up a respectable silver or bronze for competing well. For us it’s gold…or its donut! We do all the work, spend huge amounts of time and expertise, and manage the process with skill and diligence. But if our 5 great candidates get pipped by a late runner from another recruiter, or an internal candidate, then it is big fat zero for us. That’s tough. Hard to take. Especially when it happens often. And it does.
  • Recruiting grinds you down because you do so much work you don’t get paid for. When you hear the words “I am feeling burnt out” from a recruiter, what that actually means is “I just can’t stand doing so much work for so little return”. Contingent recruiters are lucky to fill one job out of 5 they take, and place one candidate out of 10 they meet. And combined with the ‘all or nothing’ fee model most work on, it means lots and lots of hours for which we don’t get paid, and equally importantly see no tangible success. And success, in the form of happy clients and happy talent, is the bedrock upon which our self-esteem is built. And once that crumbles, it is the beginning of the end.

So what to do?

  • Firstly recognise that if you are going to be a recruiter, these challenges come with the job. In the memorable words of my Under 16 rugby coach, ‘Toughen the f*** up’ and prepare yourself for plenty of disappointment.
  • Secondly, work hard to mitigate the risk of these things happening to you. Hone your recruitment skills, your talent management skills, and your job qualification ability. Build trusted advisor relationships and work to get exclusivity on orders to increase your job-fill ratios. Great recruiters, who move from transacting to consulting, start to win more than they lose.
  • Finally,  never forget that if you choose to be a recruiter, you have made a Faustian bargain. You have chosen a career fraught with pitfalls and sometimes it feels like a living hell, But do it right, and the fun and money we need for a great job is within our grasp, because being a recruiter can really rock too!


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Comment by Donna Brewington White on October 12, 2011 at 4:31pm

Thank you for a great post.  We are in a profession with a lot of hard days.

I must admit that sometimes it feels good to know I am doing something that few people can do really well and do successfully -- especially over the long haul.  But even more, it helps to know that the work we do truly does matter.  We make a difference.   

Yet, it also makes all the difference in the world to have enough work and to get paid.  

Thanks for the pep talk.  Got my mojo on.  Back to it.

Comment by Michael Teta on October 12, 2011 at 4:55pm
Great I tell newbies in my office...."Keep Chopping Wood"
Comment by Will Branning on October 12, 2011 at 4:56pm
Good read...I appreciate the encouragement since its been a challenging week for me. @Brian - that's my recipe for success - keep doing what I know will work and eventually it will...
Comment by bill josephson on October 12, 2011 at 7:27pm

John Kreiss is exactly right.  Call a client's competitor enough times and you get their attention from HR or Security.


Key thing is recruiting is an endurance test.  How much rejection and frustration are you willing to undergo to reach your goal of a sale?  Every day we get our "uniform dirty" in our jobs approaching people who often weren't looking to be found.  The reaction/response we receive could be anything forcing us to be quick thinking and adaptable.


Good post, Greg.

Comment by Steven G. Davis on October 13, 2011 at 9:38am


Wow, between Amy's post yesterday and yours, it confirms my daily belief.."opportunities don't just happen, you need to make them happen"..Plus in general it is a good slap in the face if nothing else..It will be front and center at my staff meeting this week!!! As usual, I love reading your blog/insight etc..etc.. My last thought, If you can't ride a roller coaster everyday, don't be a recruiter!!! Thank you..

Comment by Nick Lagos on October 13, 2011 at 9:42am

Excellent post Greg!  “Nut-shelled” that one and spurred exactly the right discussion regarding how if one “refuses” to give in to the temptation to “run for the hills”, mitigating with the right kinds of recruiting activities can make recruiting rewarding, fulfilling and let’s not forget my favorite, Lucrative!


Comment by Jenna Beeson on October 13, 2011 at 3:11pm

Excellent post!  Will definitely be sharing with my team.  Pam's comment about keeping activity up is essential!  I've found success in persevering with tough orders or through the highs and lows of this business and not getting too emotionally invested in every deal. 

Comment by Ken Forrester on October 17, 2011 at 8:46am

Preach it Greg!

I'm a little late on this one, but I really like  car analogy.  Recruiting is very difficult, because the product that a recruiter sells are humans. The last time I checked-no two humans are the same.  Humans are unpredictable-they have a mind of their own as well as their own agenda.  How they view the recruiter is also adds to the challenge-some see recruiters simply as an app to assist them in accomplishing their goals.

Comment by Ryan Harding on October 20, 2011 at 9:07pm

WOW!  Talk about hitting the nail on the head.  I could not imagine doing anything else, but at times want to jump through a window. 

Comment by Kathy Stokes on October 21, 2011 at 12:12pm

Greg,  Well said!  Thanks!


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