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 andy rouse on October 23, 2011 at 6:18pm

Greg - totally agree with your comments and all the associated sentiments. I will be using this as a reminder to my team of why we are here. It's funny - you can say these things ad nauseum but when someone else commits them in writing they become more believable...human nature I guess.

Comment by Purplelover on October 24, 2011 at 9:08am

I really do not like what I do.  Recruiting really sucks!  And before you ask, yes I am very good at what I do, but I at times I question why I got in this field to began with. The pressure is too much for me personally.  Some of these hiring managers seem to feel that we have special powers to make a candidate want to take a position and blame us for them not accepting, but what they fail to realize is despite of what their bottom line is, we only have so much control, a candidate is going to to what they want and what is best for them.

Comment by bill josephson on October 24, 2011 at 9:23am

Purple, I don't know how long you've been recruiting but back in the early 1980's when the economy/jobs began what ended up being an 18 year boom ending in late 2000 this was one heck of a profession to be in.  Sure, we all lost deals and had unreasonable clients at some point.  But back then there were enough opportunities/companies hiring you could just choose tow ork with someone else.

Today it's more survival mode, at least for me.  The days of wide open business opportunity is passe.  More today of just trying to work with a client doing well, hiring, willing to utilize you, and managing your frustration the hiring process is now open ended--no urgency by the company.  No reason to.  The candidate will likely still be there and available 6 months from now.  Nowhere else for them to go.

Comment by Simon Godley on October 25, 2011 at 9:06am

Hi Greg

Good article, I liked it, and also partly echoing a recent blog post I made re recruiters vs estate agents.

My article has little point to it, but does also point out that there area few more challenging variables in a recruiter's job.

Cheers Simon

Comment by Sylvia Burke on October 25, 2011 at 12:04pm

Great post, Greg!!!  This is the only job where 1 day can bring such great highs and the next day can be a complete 180 - Love it! 

Comment by Paul Lipman on October 25, 2011 at 2:15pm

Great article!  This is what makes Agency recruiting so much more fun...The challenges! 

I don't think I'd be doing this for 16 years if I were working hourly or on the corporate side.

Great seminar this morning - by the way !


Comment by Greg Savage on October 25, 2011 at 5:11pm

So many great comments! Too many for me reply to individually. Clearly we are largely in a agreement. Its the toughest of jobs! But the rewards are there for the resilient few. Thanks all, and regards, Greg


Comment by Cora Mae Lengeman on October 25, 2011 at 5:56pm


I agree with Sandra - it should be required reading for anyone thinking about a job in recruiting and then be re-enforced every Monday morning!  I think I'll keep it around to read every week and when I need the reminder!

Comment by Denis on October 26, 2011 at 9:14am

Attention! English is not my frist language, so...

I really appreciate this post. It's remind me that our job is sometimes very exciting and in other times sort of a nightmare... But, for the last 15 years of very high ups and downs, I could say that I would not change for all the gold in the world... but for platinum may be...

Comment by Olivier Coustaing on October 26, 2011 at 3:53pm

Greg, excellent post, you have summarized the essence of this roller coaster career. Your quick story about selling a car is setting clearly the rules of the game.


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