Is Recruiting Becoming an Unhealthy Profession?

If you took a photograph of the recruiting Industry, it would look like most people you'd see on the streets every day!

Instead of making it better, technology has bloated the recruitment process.  Its a process that now lumber around in HR departments all across corporate America—where the objective of hiring the best talent has been replaced by fast, cheap & easy tactics-with tools that are designed mostly for collecting resumes-administered by recruiters who do not know the fundamentals or have the passion for the work-for organizations that no longer care about their most important asset.

This is an alarming trend and the perfect example of what was predicted back in 1954.  Well, it wasn't exactly about the recruiting Industry; it was about the food Industry-but the same thing has happened to the recruiting Industry!


An individual wrote a newspaper article which in today's standard-went viral.   He was very upset that the quality in foods was declining because production objectives had shifted from taste to saving money.   He said that "science has spoiled my supper" and predicted that this trend of eating low quality foods would eventually lead to an unhealthy American culture.


So, how does the food Industry relates to an unhealthy recruiting Industry?


Back in high school, one of our English class assignments was to read this particular story, formulate our thoughts and participate in a classroom discussion.


After what was written in 1954, discussed in high school and after 20 years of experience recruiting healthcare executives, I have the unique experience to connect our current healthcare crisis to the trend in the recruitment Industry.

Let’s first take a quick look at what was said about foods or you can read the original newspaper article here.  The author stated that food is nutritious and very tasty when prepared with fresh and natural ingredients and by someone who knows what he/she is doing.  The problems with preparing delicious meals however are higher costs; fresh and natural ingredients aren't cheap and have very limited shelf life.  He also pointed out that because humans will accept a lesser taste if it was the only choice available, science played a role in extending the shelf life of the natural ingredients. The products were very appealing to the eye; they came in neat packages with beautiful pictures, but on the inside they lacked quality and taste.   Why?  Because, they were produced with artificial ingredients & flavors, chemicals and freezing methods for easy transportation & storage and to a greater extent-generate larger profits from a longer shelf life.


Why did people buy crappy tasting food that was loaded of harmful chemicals?

Because it was cheap, easy and fast- it didn't require the knowledge of a culinary genius and meals could be prepared by anyone, in little or no time.   When food lacked quality in taste, you’d need to eat way more to satisfy your cravings, was his concern. "A slice of my mother-in-law’s apple pie will satiate you far better than a whole bakery pie" he explained. 

So here we are, after decades of eating unhealthy foods, it has taken a toll on the health of many.  As a result, our current healthcare system is in shambles and in desperate need of reform, just as he predicted in 1954.

The motivation that transformed the food Industry has also taken place within the recruitment Industry,

Recruiting is a $100 billion Industry with lots of unhappy campers.  Over the past 15 years, it too has been transformed by technology to become more efficient, but cost-of-hire has not decreased and quality-of-hire has not increased.   Why? Because most of the recruitment vendors are selling the same solutions-that doesn't deliver on quality hires-are bought for the wrong reasons-used by the wrong people-has frustrated job seekers and discouraged the best talents from engaging in the hiring process.


Also, recruitment strategies are far too often marketed as a one-size-fits-all solution.  For example, if social media was successfully used by employers such as Apple or Pepsi; then just like magic social media would become the universal best practice recruitment solution for everyone.  Vendors are well aware that no two job applicants are alike, no two companies are exactly the same or what works for a large company might not work for a small one or a nationally recognized brand is totally different from a no-name brand; yet they promote social media as the silver bullet solution.  Think about it; what would be the competitive advantage to one employer if all employers were using the same vendor/tactics/tools to steal employees away from each other?

Another reason the Industry is bloated is because the products do not satisfy the need.  The need is to recruit the best talent, but these products are marketed for hiring talent fast, cheap and easy.  Very rarely good is the result when you add fast, easy & cheap to the equation. So why would HR decision makers continue to invest corporate dollars in such products?


Self interest!  Humans make buying decisions based on emotions and are later supported by logic.  In this case the buying emotions are personal gains through internal recognition that leads to faster career advancement. The logic is buying a recognized solution from a reputable vendor that will save a bundle; specifically dollars saved by hiring internally compared to the amount it would have cost if outside agencies were utilized.


At the end of the day, a dollar saved is a dollar earned; but the hidden cost of hiring marginal talent greatly out-weighs the savings and will ultimately deteriorate the health of that organization in the long run.

And one more thing: With more reliance on technology, most of the skilled human interactions have been replaced with automation, so the need for skilled recruiters has diminished.   As a result, the engine now behind these recruitment tools are junior recruiters-managing heavy req. loads-with very little time for the warm and fuzzy interactions (which is of very little interest to them) that job applicants demand. So basically recruiting today consists of robot-like recruiters-using robotic type tools-to process a bunch of faceless robots-to select & hire one robot.


We are included in the group that is adversely affected from the shift in food production from quality & taste to costs & profits.  That’s because our choices are limited; we must buy whatever the food manufactures are selling.  The end result is the bloating of a healthcare system and the poor health of the people who rely on the system.

The shift from quality hires to fast, easy and cheap recruitment strategies has caused the bloating of the recruiting Industry by building employers with not the strongest, fittest and the brightest employees, but with the most active job seekers who may not be the best. And with billions of dollars spent to fight this war for talent, it is unfortunate that what is considered an organizations’ most important asset is treated like a commodity-brokered at the cheapest cost.


Fast, easy & cheap is not just about food or recruiting-it has become our expectation and the culture that we live.

If this is so, the process may well begin, like most human behavior, in the home—in those homes where a good meal has been replaced by something-to-eat-in-a-hurry. By something not very good to eat, prepared by a mother without very much to do, for a family that doesn’t feel it amounts to much anyhow”  Philip Wylie, 1954


Views: 1814

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 8:26am

Ken, a most provocative and sage post regarding our industry. 

As your piece saliently mentioned, the current speed/cost savings process works against a quality hire process.  By the time I can consummate an aggressive over the phone intensive direct recruiting effort seeking invisible/passive candidates my efforts are either utilized solely as a comparison to other "free" internal or external candidates companies have in the loop and/or my "quality" recruiting effort process will be too late as they'll quickly pluck someone off an Internet social media site.

The clients I work with acknowledge that they prefer invisible/passive candidates as they're likely the top performers, treated well with challenging work assignments, and mentally employed.  But, the process to find these people is methodical/time consuming and likely too slow for companies looking for quick/low cost.


But a long time criticism of businesses in the US has been they look at things daily/quarterly and not long range.  I believe within 5 years the looming question in third party recruiting is if we're really obsolete?  Which is the question of our market relevance based on what I see currently---and after 32 years recruiting.

Comment by Doug Washington on May 17, 2012 at 11:43am

This couldn't be more true!

Comment by Steve N Odell on May 17, 2012 at 12:22pm

Ken, Great comparison.

@ Bill - I appreciate your comments but I don't think the need for what we do will ever go away. 42 yrs recruiting. We still have many clients that sign up for us to find talent, even in this market. Yes, we have to negotiate fee %, guarantee time frame, and no refund EVER,  replacement only. Yes, some will not sign up but the vast majority will because they can't find the type of talent that we can deliver. And with our tenure in the industry and specialization(health care) we do it pretty fast too.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 12:34pm

Steve, perhaps healthcare recruiting is different from Corporate America recruiting.  Not sure how savvy the internal healthcare companies' recruiters are.  In the Corporate sector they have a few to an army of recruiters scouring the Internet including social networks where more and more professionals are becoming visible. 


The technology over the past 10-11 years has created a new recruiting paradigm, with all the old lessons about jobs/recruiting "always returning" irrelevant.  The lessons learned 15 years ago no longer applies today--as the technology that dramatically impacts our business today didn't exist then. 


If companies can access now visible professionals in the fields they're searching in using a LinkedIn following the spiders or google searching there and can approach directly recruiting them I maintain this, if not existing now, will one day be the norm in all disciplines.  Still not certain of third party recruiting's market relevance going forward.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 17, 2012 at 1:07pm
@ my take is that healthy eating choices and healthy recruiting practices are a choice we all have to make. If we eat junk we turn into junk. If do junky business we end up being "junk recruiters".

@bill you are so convinced that technology is making you obsolete you seem to be making it a self fulfilling prophecy. I am working in more different industries than I ever have in 35 years and busy to the point that there is no time to sleep. It's my take that recruiting is not just finding a name or making a contact. Nobody is difficult to find and never has been. Putting something together and making it work has always been recruiting in my world and it sure isn't slowing down. I am seeing a stronger need for experienced TPR's than I ever have. All of the mass mailing and cold calling and crush of social media spam is making the demand for real recruiters stronger than I have ever seem it.
Comment by Amber on May 17, 2012 at 1:08pm

Interesting post, Ken. Enjoyed the perspective.

@Bill, I am still new to recruiting so I don't have as much "historical" knowledge. So far, the clients I have worked with are very willing and have a need to work with an outside recruiter. I choose the ones who do not go straight to "bargaining" for our services, I look for the ones who have a reason to need us and a good process to get the hiring done. Most of our clients have internal recruiting departments, but obviously have not been able to get that to work correctly for them. And we don't always just find them "impossible", "high-level", "niche", etc. type people. A lot have also tried RPO type services, but again something doesn't quite work there, either.

From what I have been told by recruiters in the industry much longer then I've been, it's changed a lot, not as "easy" to get clients/orders but maybe because I'm new I still see TPR's as a viable and relevant.

Comment by Ken Forrester on May 17, 2012 at 1:13pm

It more than just internal v. external recruitment model in terms of which is best. 

The bigger problem is that saving money in competing for the best talent has become the objective.  And faster, cheaper and easier is the way to make money today. That is what the experts are saying and what recruiting heads are buying.

But, it’s not just in recruiting, it’s in every Industry.  A good recruiting example is Monster offering the same product to both external and internal recruiters-one pitch is how to make more placements and the other is how employers can save money on placement fees.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 1:21pm

Amber, welcome to recruiting.  I've been at it since 1980.

In the corporate sector they're becoming more and more recruiting self-sufficient using technology able to access an increasing number of professionals, eroding my selling point being able to find invisible/passive candidates they can't access.


So my point is, and maybe this isn't occurring in your specialty, if internal recruiters can access the same candidates a third party recruiter can access, what will be the market relevance of a third party recruiter?


I agree that today they can't access everyone, thus there's still a required role.  However, the assignments companies more allow me to work on are needle in haystack or, unbeknownst at times to me, impossible to fill where they've already tried and given up.


Maybe healthcare is different.  Perhaps their internal recruiters aren't technologically savvy.  Perhaps not enough Recreational Therapists are visible as of yet on LinkedIn.  But, IMO, that day is coming.  Maybe quicker in Corporate America where I reside.  But is incrementally seemingly becoming that way.


The question as a third party recruiter should be...."What can I provide that my client, itself, can't?"  Increasingly, a tougher question for me to answer.  Which is why I pose it here.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 1:37pm

Sandra, in my areas there's a tremendous competition between using a TPR versus doing it themself always coming back to cost savings.  Maybe technology is more widely used in the areas I recruit in.    But if they're more widely used in my area, I have to believe eventually it'll be widely filtered down to work in all areas.


The jobs I see are relos, two skill sets wrapped into one job (hypothetical example--a software quality engineer who can also do software development), inflexible requirement criteria laundry lists, below market salary, wish jobs if a contract is won...basically jobs internal HR has discarded.


Now you might well be in an area that companies still are having trouble finding people.  More and more in Corporate America that seemingly isn't the case.  So perhaps there are fewer niches, or I haven't found a more viable one.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 1:40pm

Ken, I agree.  I wrote mentioning the "cost savings" battle point in my post to Sandra before I read you comment.


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