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that now lumber around in HR departments all across corporate America—where the objective of hiring the best talent has been replaced by fast, cheap & easy tactics-with tools that are designed mostly for collecting resumes-administered by recruiters who do not know the fundamentals or have the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 4:56pm

@Steve--doing my own research, most days 200 outgoing calls, target to speak with 40-50 new people daily.  Still can find people companies can't--but that world/advantage seems to be slowly shrinking.

Comment by Steve N Odell on May 17, 2012 at 5:00pm

@ Bill- That is a recipe for success. If there is a position that you come up with that you are convinced you can fill, how about asking for a 2 -4 week exclusive. Then work like heck to deliver.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 5:13pm

@Steve--I can get the exclusive, no problem.  It's the job, itself, which is either a needle in a haystack or unfillable.

Example--a company gives me a list of 5 companies they want an engineer from.  I source and call everyone in the department of those companies.  There may be 2 potentially interested.  Neither get hired due to position stringency candidate missing something making them less than a 100% fit or "your candidate just isn't good enough" for a typical customary variety of reasons.


So after draining the ponds, there actually are no fish to eat.

Comment by Steve N Odell on May 17, 2012 at 6:06pm

Bill- I hope I can say this w/o pissing you off which is probably safe since you are a veteran recruiter - Welcome to the recruiting business. I do understand though. Some assignments are like that. This business can sometimes be the most frustrating demoralizing thing in the world. We validate our self worth by how our business is going. Why do we continue to put ourselves through it? It's the thrill of the hunt and the exhilarating high that we get when we have a successful hire. I then realize how much I have positively affected someones life and made my client happier too. This industry can provide a great living if folks are willing to do what is necessary to be successful. It is a mentally tough business. For me, I have carved myself a nice life and I am not going to let a job board or LinkedIn or an internal recruiter take it away. I am willing to fight for it.

Comment by Ken Forrester on May 17, 2012 at 6:43pm

@ Bill & Steve,

It good to get into the head of veteran recruiters that are still thriving in the game.  Bu t I do have a question for both of both of you:  Do you see a lot of younger people entering the business from the TPR side of the table and can the art of headhunting exist without young recruiters?

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 6:50pm

Steve--no offense taken whatsoever.  My attack is simple.  Work on the best job you have, even if a difficult one, providing you think you have a chance of success.  You take risks taking assignments out of your comfort zone if your area is cold (defense engineering).  The risk is you may not know that marketplace as well, the advantage is your confidence in your ability to recruit.  It doesn't work.


You get an assignment from a VP which isn't real.  You get another assignment where it ends up being predicated on winning a contract, which doesn't happen.  Another the company goes you said, it's recruiting.  It requires mental toughness.  However, there's a real mental and financial residual effect.


Many of my contemporaries getting into recruiting when I did in the 80's advised me to get out 10 years ago with the onslaught of Information Technology offshore outsourcing to Bangalore, India.  That it was the first of the exodus of many corporate sector jobs leaving.  The fight continues till unable to get back up.

Comment by bill josephson on May 17, 2012 at 8:02pm

@Ken--I see fewer recruiters. period.  Far fewer large agencies.  So far fewer young recruiters.  And they recruit using more technology than phone.  Twittering, social networking, Internet.  They don't recruit like many of the old dinosaurs--talking about me, of course--primarily cold calling via phone.


Ken, I'm really in turmoil as to the future state of TPR's.  I know it's unpopular to state or think this way, but when a company has access to all the professionals a TPR does what relevance in the marketplace does a TPR have justifying their fees? 


If I'm recruiting Immigration lawyers and they all start joining LinkedIn.  What prevents an Immigration Legal firm from googling all Immigration Lawyers on LinkedIn plus grabbing the spider lists on each person (those who viewed this profile also viewed these people), coming up with 100 names, and individually contacting them?


Sandra McCartt made a good point about finding the fit.  But if you contact even 25% of those 100 lawyers you're likely to find a fit on your own saving the TPR fee.


I worry about this, Ken.  To get paid I believe we have to justify the fee.  If companies can access everyone on their own with internal recruiters, even if you're not impacted today, what about tomorrow and how do you justify geeting paid the fee paid out to you?


My friends advising me to get out of the business?  They're all out.  One sells software, one in a department store, one fixing airplanes, one driving a bus, one woman runs a dating service for high executive women having trouble meeting men, one's a building contractor, one who never married no kids a paid for condo and no debt retired, and one's a Walmart greeter.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 18, 2012 at 1:59am

Bill either get in and quit whining the same thing over and over or get out and find something else to do.  Technology is not killing recruiting.  Thousands of young recruiters are joining TPR firms daily.  Look at just the membership of this site 35 40 thousand and there are thousands who are not members here.  Yes for god's sake a law firm can do a search themselves on linkedin for immigration attorneys.  Who do you think is going to call the 100 they find.  An attorney who is seeing clients all day, a paralegal, an internal recruiter who is also worried about the support staff and doing all the other stuff internal recruiters do that does not entail being able to connect with 199 attorneys on linked in.  Instead of trying to do what you did 20 years ago the way you did it 20 years ago, quit whining and worrying about technology and learn how to use it better and faster than the younger internal recruiters because the advantage an experienced recruiter has is being able to review all 100 of those profiles, pick out the best four or five and go get them while the internals are still going down the list beating the phone trying to call all 100 of them.  Doing the same thing (mindless cold calls all day long) over and over expecting different results is the definition of insanity and it also spells depression and defeat.  Four warm calls into four qualified candidates will get a referral to a client faster than most internal recruiters can check their facebook page and text five of their friends about which Starbucks they went to on the way to work.

I am working on a global IT director for an international company as we speak.  They have about six internal recruiters.  I don't have to justify getting paid.  I find what they want.  There is no needle in the haystack, technology has made that haystack easy to filter.  I would never fill anything if i spent my days cold calling into companies the way i did it before computers.  Many of my peers like many of yours fell out of the industry because they could not turn loose of the fax machine and the phone long enough to realize they were becoming a dinosaur.  They bitched and whined about the same things you are whining about  until  they disappeared in their own methane cloud of 100 cold calls a day.  There are 480 minutes in an 8 hour day.  Do you really think that a 4.8 minute phone call is going to create anything but the sound of a fly buzzing through somebody's phone .  Leaving 50 messages for somebody to call you back is a waste of time.


However the bottom line is if you don't feel like there is any reason for a company to pay your fee.  If you really think that a batallion of internal recruiters armed with laptops and ipads renders your experience irrelevent  and the whole damn third party industry is gasping for breath then for God's sake get out.  i heard this same depressing grousing in the early 90's when the internet was still waiting for the MSN guy to quit talking so the dial up would finally let me sign on. While i was having the time of my life digging around for candidates in chat rooms my peers were still afraid to turn on the computer because they might get a virus so they were hammering the phones until they died a slow lingering death all the while bemoaning the fact that any secretary with a computer could now find candidates on the job boards.  I went on the job boards because i knew more about recruiting than any secretary with a computer.  I didn't have to justify fees then and i don't now.  If i find what a client wants and i get the candidate to them prepared to interview with all the knowledge i can provide them my clients are delighted to pay my fees.  There is not one damn thing noble about hanging on to the past and being in constant turmoil about the future of anything.  But, if you can't do a better job than someone with half your experience it's time to find something else to do.  and it has nothing to do with your industry or my industry or anybody else's industry.  All industires are using TPRs  but they are not using the ones who piss and moan about only getting the unfillable or hard to find.  They are using the ones who hit it and get it.  Misery loves company but it doesn't pay the bills.

Comment by Bill Fitzgerald on May 18, 2012 at 8:13am

Technology will continue to drive changes in the recruiting industry - we've only see the beginning.     Think of it as process improvement and how you eliminate steps in a process to improve both speed and quality.  I'm certain there will still be a need for some TPRs but more and more I see TPRs as a temporary solution for helping talented people "find" great opportunities.  In time, those connections will get easier and easier to make eliminating the need for a middle person.  The real estate industry and the travel industry are good examples of what will happen in the recruiting industry.

Comment by bill josephson on May 18, 2012 at 9:10am


So in essence, just better use of technology combined with superior experience.

The internal recruiters I compete against are mostly other experienced TPR's who became internals.  They're on the Internet working with me solely cause I don't, uncovering candidates they at present still can't.  They get irritated if a TPR constantly duplicates their efforts with the same candidate. 


@Bill--I agree, and excellent insight IMO.   There will likely remain a need for TPR's. 

It's about market relevance as Ken Forrester's money savings angle piece is the crux of the issue.  With increasing technological capability going forward what can we do as TPR's that companies can't?  Directly recruit into competitors?  I've read about prominent business people ready to toss out ethics in a "war for talent" attacking competitors directly, recruiting wise.  Don't know if they're willing to risk it at present.  Confidential searches/replacements?  Purple Squirrel jobs companies have quit on? 

I know Sandra McCartt gets miffed at my bringing these issues up but, as you mentioned, this impacts all "middle men," not just recruiting.  I raise it expressing concern for the industry and my vocation, and look for comments/reasons dispelling my point of view, as Sandra does.


But one I read closely here is Amy Alaa.  She's been on both sides of the desk and very astute.  Listen to what she looks for in a TPR partner, how frequently she uses TPR's, and the positions she releases to TPR's.  The answers I've heard--and I hope she'll correct me if reading this thread if I'm in error--perhaps 3-4 recruiting outfits seemlessly easy to work with, uses them perhaps twice a year, and for positions she's unable to fill and unsure if they're even "fillable."


That's much closer to my experience than Sandra's.  So, as Sandra has stated, staying in the game finding market relevance providing services a company can't provide on its own in order to justify a fee is my only focus.   She's able to beat her clients at the technological game prospering remaining market relevant. 

Today.  A technological race to stay ahead of clientele.  She could well be right.


@Bill, how about the insurance industry? 

Used an agent paying $3200 a year insuring 3 cars.  Went online to Geico now doing so for $1900.  What did that agent do I couldn't do, myself, using technology?  Just coming full circle posing the question


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