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Recruiters, toughen the f*** up!

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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Views: 108188

Comment by Sandra McCartt on October 11, 2011 at 11:59pm
I love this post. Should be required reading for every person who ever thinks about being a recruiter and required reading every Monday morning for working agency recruiters.
Comment by pam claughton on October 12, 2011 at 6:40am


Great post. Recruiting is one of the most exciting and often frustrating jobs, full of ups and downs. Best advice I can give to new recruiters, any recruiters, is to always have tons of activity going on so that when you have a day where several deals evaporate unexpectedly, that's not the end of your month. One of the best things about what we do is that you can turn things around quickly, going from having no activity to plenty of it, and even multiple placements in a very short period of time.


Comment by Greg Savage on October 12, 2011 at 6:41am

Thanks Sandra

Pam, your comment about activity and multiple action going on is exactly right. Too many recruiters pin all their hopes on one or two deals making their month or quarter. When they go belly up it really hurts!

Comment by Tim Spagnola on October 12, 2011 at 9:26am
Thank you Greg! The type of read I really needed this week.
Comment by Tami Brittain on October 12, 2011 at 10:38am
This is awesome. Thank you so much for sharing it... being a somewhat seasoned recruiter myself, I see many, many greenhorns burn out within months of starting this career. It takes a certain personality to do it - it's not for the weak at heart!
Comment by David King on October 12, 2011 at 10:41am
Excellent!  This is a very nice prescription that fits nicely with a healthy dose of humility.  We are recruiting people and offering their talents, not inanimate things we can pull off the shelf or cook up in the back kitchet.  Both candidates and clients can always say "NO" (at any time: pre-, during, and post-placement).  Thanks for this!  I will be sharing this with my team...
Comment by Elvie Pope on October 12, 2011 at 10:42am
Thanks for saying it like it is, Greg! I appreciate the encouragement as well!
Comment by Brian K. Johnston on October 12, 2011 at 10:47am

Bingo!  Process, Process, Process... When things happen good or bad, we stick to the Process... LOVED LOVED LOVED reading this post!

Comment by Dona Menton on October 12, 2011 at 10:48am
great article - I've been doing Healthcare recruiting for just under 3 yrs now.. Love it and am frustated by it at times!  It's great to place a doc in a job they love, it's very frustrating when you find just what the candidate asked for with a perfect spot, the perfect offer, the client keeps negotiating and they still turn around and say no!    it's keeping the relationship strong either way with both candidate and client, that ultimately makes the difference.
Comment by Darryl Dioso on October 12, 2011 at 10:49am
Recruiting is sales. Repeat that 3 times. So many consultants I have seen that haven't survived were stuck with the notion that this is an HR role. Uh, nope. If you want Labour Relations, Employee Reviews, HRIS, etc. then become an HR Generalist. Different ball game.


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