Four Challenges Recruiters Face in Today's Economy

There’s a saying I’ve heard and used over the last several years…

“Making money as a recruiter can be very volatile. When the economy is good, there’s almost nothing better, and when the economy is bad, there’s almost nothing worse.”

I’ve been a recruiter for the last 23 years and have gone through multiple recessions in that time. I’ve been fortunate to begin my career during a recession. It actually taught me how to operate in a difficult environment. I generally find it’s recruiters that begin their recruiting career during boom times that wash out when times get more challenging.

As a job seeker, why should you care? Because understanding challenges recruiters face can help you present yourself in a way that makes you a more ‘placeable’ candidate.

Here are 4 challenges recruiters face in these difficult times:

1 – It’s more difficult to get job orders. You may say, ‘Well No Kidding!’ You don’t need to read an article to learn that! When companies are struggling themselves, and not hiring as many people, they are much less likely to be willing to pay a substantial fee to a recruiter.

Realizing that, as a job seeker working with a recruiter on a position that’s relevant to your background, you can be reasonably certain they are giving it their all to make it happen. A contingency recruiter doesn’t get paid unless they fill the opening, and without a number of orders on their desk they are going to do all they can to ensure the opportunity doesn’t slip away. Be easily accessible, available, and responsive. They need to move fast when the client is ready to see candidates, interview, or schedule follow ups. The recruiter will be most responsive to candidates that are most responsive to them.

2 – More new orders are ‘Purple Squirrels’. A ‘Purple Squirrel’ is an order for a skill set or background that is extremely rare and hard to find… the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’. If a company is going to pay a fee to a recruiter, right now it is more likely going to be for a position they know is very tough to fill. Even though there are a lot of people in the market right now, usually the 'Purple Squirrel’ candidates are still working with a great deal of job security. Their current companies understand how difficult it would be to replace them as well and so take good care of them. Given the uncertainty in the economy, those candidates are often less willing to consider a move.

If there’s something in your background that can make you an attractive ‘Purple Squirrel’ candidate, be sure to point that out to recruiters. A good recruiter will proactively market a candidate that has a unique marketable skill set and presents themselves professionally. If you have experience in a unique software package or tool, a specific accounting practice, a complex sales process, it’s your job to make sure the recruiter understands those assets in you.

3 –There is great pressure to reduce fees. Competition is fierce. Many independent recruiters and small firms in particular are slashing their standard fees in the hope of attracting clients. Cheaper fees aren’t necessarily a better deal for clients if they aren’t getting the best candidate out of the bargain. A good recruiter competing against discounted fees, however, has to prove the value of their higher rates.

In a booming economy, it’s easier to place mediocre candidates. There are jobs for everyone. In this market, good recruiters are laser focused on finding the best of breed candidate for every position. If you want to be one of the people they put effort into, it’s your responsibility to prove you are a cut above the majority of candidates they see. Get good at articulating your unique skills and abilities. Be more professional, more responsive, and have a better attitude than the average candidate they talk to.

4 – The volume of candidates can be overwhelming. A good recruiter wants to feel that they are able to be of value to every person they talk to. The reality is that they can only place a tiny fraction of the people they come across. However, hopefully they can help with advice, leads, ideas, and information. When they are bombarded by calls, resumes, and inquiries from desperate candidates day after day though, it’s extremely difficult to give the individual attention they’d like.

As a candidate trying to get their attention, being ‘Pleasantly Persistent’ pays. Contact them regularly, but add value to each connection. Checking in every 3 to 4 weeks to make sure you are still ‘top of mind’ to them can help. However, alternate your contact between phone calls and emails. Briefly let them know what you’ve been doing for your search, and provide some potential leads or market information for them you may have learned along the way. Let them know any additional information about your background that may be helpful and update them on any additional training or relevant volunteer experience you may be acquiring during your search.

Remember, a recruiter’s primary responsibility is to their client company to find the best candidate for the position. The company, not the candidate, pays their fee. They are not your agent to find you a job. In order to have a recruiter work proactively on your behalf, the onus is on you to prove you can bring above average value to their clients. Prepare for your meetings with recruiters just as you would for a potential employer, because without the recruiters approval, you will never get to meet their client.


Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives and writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search.

Views: 458

Comment by Will Branning on August 5, 2009 at 12:34pm

You made a number of good points. The "purple squirrel" job orders are definitely out is important to have candidates understand the importance of bringing out their "high-in-demand" skills in their resumes (or even better in a customized cover letter).
Comment by Dona Menton on August 9, 2009 at 9:36pm
great article. being new to recruiting (less than a year) I look for any and all tips I can find. All the CVs seem to look almost identical so I often ask my docs to give me a short write up of what makes them stand out. A couple sentences or short letter really gives me a better handle on who they are also. I can already see how all of these relate to my industry. thanks!
Comment by Mat von Kroeker on August 10, 2009 at 6:14pm
Good advice!!
Comment by Padameshwar on August 19, 2009 at 12:31am
These are some of the truths recruiters face today. Well said. More than the quantity of CVs screened, it is more important to have suitable profiles that really fit the bill, as people are not ready to test the waters. Is the scenario same for every sector today.



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