What Prospects & Candidate Say About Recruiting Calls

Originally Posted at Bearing Fruit Consulting on Wednesday June 3, 2009

Some of you know I have a Recruiting Call Hall of Shame.Man With Headset Thumbs Up

Essentially this is a grouping of voice mails I have received from recruiters trying to recruit me or looking to network for referrals. Let me tell you they are absolutely terrible.

Embarrassing really.

I really want to post clips of these calls on the blog so that all can join in my complete and utter disgust with how bad so many recruiters are at making calls. My attorney tells me that would be a bad idea because if someone recognizes their voice on the call it could mean legal trouble.

If these calls weren’t real they would be funny.

Late last week I talked about all the candidate data BFC has been gathering since our founding in 2006. From this data I introduced a series of posts on What Prospects & Candidates Say about Recruiters. If you are interested in all the data and the basics of who exactly we gathered the data from please go back and read that introductory post.

There is really no way to cover this topic and the data in 500 words or less so please forgive the length of this post. I think this information is really important to our industry and I want to try and present the information in groupings that have synergy and context regardless of the length. That means there will likely be more posts than just two.

The total survey sample is 2,000 prospects and candidates (500 annually for the last 3 ½ years) across various geographies and industries with salaries over $50,000 annually. Additionally, we requested survey data from prospects and candidates that were or are engaged with us over the last 3 ½ years. This adds an additional 349 professionals (those who responded) to our survey data. The total sample size (for those of you who can’t do the math) comes to 2,349. I think that is a lot of professionals and represents a significant enough sample size to draw some reasonable conclusions from their responses. I am not a statistician so someone may take issue with my assertion here. Let’s get started by focusing on how recruiters are perceived when they first make contact with and attempt to engage a prospect or candidate. We called this the Recruiting Call.

Are you ready? If so, you can get the details after the jump.

Some Basic Information

QUESTION: How many calls (not including emails, texts and social media outreach) do you receive from a recruiter on an annual basis?

On average these professionals received an average of 8.45 calls a year from recruiters. I don’t know about you but I found that average to be shockingly low. I probably shouldn’t be all that surprised given the fact that there seems to be a movement away from actually making calls to prospects and candidates in our business. The growth of social media tools, job boards, expansive use of email and text messaging as communication tools have led to more recruiters shunning the phone and opting for seemingly less intrusive contact with prospects. Most of this is a result of conditioning and a lack of proper recruiting call training. The rest of it is the proliferation of electronic communication mechanisms and social media. See below for more on this.

QUESTION: How many emails, text messages or social media outreach do you receive from recruiters annually?

Here we found that, on average, professionals received 24.5 contacts using this medium. WOW! I always believed that recruiters where heavily reliant on electronic communication, which I deem as more transactional and less relational, when it came to plying their craft. Even with this thought in my mind this number really stood out to me. I didn’t think it was this pervasive. A less formal survey of about 40 prospects and candidates who took our survey revealed that the vast majority of these contacts occur through LinkedIn.

I have talked and blogged at length about the significant difference in output, performance, placements, billings, actual v. contracted time to fill, relationship management, closing offers, building talent pool depth etc. between recruiters who are relational versus those who are transactional so I won’t digress here. What I will say is that this continued reliance on electronic communications as a means to make contact and build relationships with top talent will not result in long term success. Yes, you may have some hits and success here and there but it is not a sustainable business practice for recruiters who know and understand how critical relationships - real relationships - are to success. If you don’t believe me, just read on and see how prospects and candidates feel about being approached this way.

One more point here, I would even argue that the kind of prospect/candidate who, right out of the gate, responds to this form of transactional recruiting is not the type of professional you want to place in your company or with your client. Why? Because they will be open to taking any call from any recruiter about any job at just about any time.

QUESTION: Think back to the most recent recruiting calls you have received. Describe your initial impressions of the recruiters and their calls?

This question was deliberately left wide open and we asked them to give us three words and then just describe their impressions. Ok, now we are about to get into it. This is where it really starts to get ugly for recruiters. It is also where the real lessons are for all of us.

Recall that the sample size is 2,349 professionals. I ask you to recall that number as we work through some (we can’t cover it all here) the findings on this one.

Too Much Salesmanship

63.5% (1,493) of prospects/candidates stated, in one way or another, they felt they were being sold something. The general consensus amongst this group is that the recruiters that called them were sales professionals who were pitching them a job. The comments that were associated with this feeling were somewhat shocking. The general feeling amongst the group is that recruiters call without any reason for entry into the call, without any real knowledge of the prospect/candidates background, experience or results and that the recruiters who call them behave as though there is already a relationship established.

We heard and read statements like:

“I felt used”

“the experience makes me feel like a piece of meat”

“who do they think they are calling me and trying to sell me to fill their job without even knowing anything about me”

“I have been approached in a more professional manner by used car salesman”

“I would rather get calls from those MCI telemarketers"

I am pretty sure MCI isn’t making telemarketing calls anymore but the point is well made. One respondent’s statement pretty much summed up the feeling of the 1,493 others when she said:

“I have been a CFO for 13 years and I receive about 10-15 recruiting calls every year. Over time I have just accepted and grown used to the undeniable fact that the recruiters that call me have absolutely no interest in me except in as much as I can help them collect a fee from their client for filling a job. Their goal in making the call is to get me interested in a new career in 60 seconds or less by stroking my ego and telling me about how wonderful their client’s new job would be. They don’t know me and they clearly don’t care to know me. It is no wonder the term “headhunter “ has been so closely associated with the recruiting profession – profession a term I use lightly. Unfortunately, they have access to positions I may not be able to identify on my own so it is sometimes a necessary evil to work with them”

Telemarketers No 2 A necessary evil? That is ominous and telling. I don’t know about you but, no matter how successful I am as a recruiter, I NEVER want to be viewed as a necessary evil.

Bottom line is that recruiters are generally perceived as engaging in salesmanship rather than establishing and building relationships that benefit people in their career search. This is something I have been talking about forever but the proof and data hit me like a ton of bricks. To actually read the comments and see the data is sobering.

The recruiting calls, according to the prospects and candidates, are completely transactional and that transaction is a one way street where only the recruiter benefits. Recruiters are not working to establish relationships or really know whether or not the person they are calling even has an interest in making a change much less whether or not that reason for considering a change is valid. Recruiters sell way too much when making recruiting calls and they are demonstrating, by their words and behavior, that they could care less about building a professional relationship.

Emails and Electronic Communication

Unprovoked and without asking a direct question about how prospects and candidates feel about email and electronic communications, 70.3% (1,651) specifically mentioned their dislike for email and electronic communication as a means to make first contact and engage.

These comments and feelings were pulled from the open ended request for information and showed up in the prospects and candidates general comments when asked to describe their initial impressions when receiving a call from a recruiter.

“…not to mention the fact that my company is able to track and read all of my emails. I am not fond of my boss and company knowing I am getting emails from recruiters.”

“Do recruiters, especially those I don’t know at all, really think that I am going to respond to an impersonal email about my career? If they do I am completely insulted.”

“I have no idea who these people are sending me emails asking about my interest in a new job but unless I know then I am not likely to respond.”

“It’s spam to me”

“How impersonal! Emails from people I don’t know asking me questions about how happy I am in my job. Ever heard of a phone?”

“…linkedin messages and emails from recruiters I don’t know flat out piss me off!”

My feelings on sending email and other electronic communication when first trying to engage a prospect or candidate are well known. I believe it is poor form and just another sign of how transactional most recruiters view their role. Sending these forms of communication to talent as your first communication is (as Peter Leffkowitz would say) the equivalent of approaching someone you don’t know in a bar at 3 a.m. and expecting them to go home with you. Sure you might have some success from time to time but what is the real end result?


52.7% (1,239) of the respondents made reference to feeling the calls were far too ambiguous. Essentially they said recruiters are evasive, far too talkative and never really get to the point of their call. There were a significant number of professionals who stated that the recruiters who have called them seem to have a hidden agenda about why they are calling or they have no real clue as to why they are calling so they just talk and talk and talk.

And talk and talk and talk.

The words CONFUSION, CONFUSED, AMBIGUOUS and VAGUE were used to describe the recruiting calls by 54.6% (1,283) of these professionals. From our survey it became clear that recruiters are not prepared to make the calls they are making. They are not able to clearly articulate, in a way that will engage the prospect/candidate, the purpose and direction of their call. Essentially recruiters are very poor in communicating effectively using the phone and the better prospects and candidates are not happy about it.

Too Much Information

48% of the professionals surveyed stated, in one way or another that the recruiters tried to cram a ton of information into the call. Comments ranged from “…I suffered from information overload…” to “I get a call out of the blue on my job and I have to try to process information about a new position from someone who sounds like an auctioneer".

Auctioneer? Really?

Now that is funny but I have to admit I sometimes find myself speaking way too fast. When I went back and listened to some of the illustrious members of the Recruiting Call Hall of Shame a good number of them flat out spoke too fast.

I have been around recruiting leaders who tell their teams “you have a limited amount of time to get out what you have to say”. The training that follows for these recruiters is pitch your client/job, do it with enthusiasm and be sure to hit on buzz words that will excite the prospect or candidate. This leads to fast talking wordsmithing (to my surprise that is not really word) that makes a recruiter sound as though they have something to hide or the opportunity really isn’t that strong to begin with. Given all the other information I shared above, the candidate feels as though the recruiter is thinking:

I have no interest in you or your career goals and I just need to get through this script and make sure you hear all about my client and job so if, by some miracle, you are so miserable in your job and want to leave I can move you and get paid.

I just realized how long this post is and I have so much more information to share. I am going to cut this off right here and see what you all have to say about the information so far. I am also interested in what questions you might have about the survey and findings. I will be checking comments often to answer questions and engage in discussion on this small sample of results. There is more to come on The Recruiting Engagement and then a summary post to pull all the findings together with some more thoughts.

By the way, there have been some really good things that prospects and candidates participating in this survey had to say. I will share those as well but you rarely learn from what you are doing well.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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