Why So Many Recruiters Burn-Out or Fade Away...

Here is an Irony for you: The Contingency Recruiting Industry has the Highest Turnover Rate of any industry. It is a well-kept secret because of the obvious implications. With an approximately 90% recruiter turnover within the first year, recruiting has to be one of the toughest things in the world to do, intellectually speaking. So, I’m not comparing it to the military or being a fireman or police officer, but in terms of the amount of disappointment that a person experiences at work. Many smart and capable people who attempt it end in ruin. I actually had a grown man who worked for me for 6 months run out of my office in tears due to the continual defeat that he experienced! It is not for the faint of heart. Not only are you making hundreds of “cold calls” each day, almost no one wants to talk to you on either side of the desk, company or candidate. As you dial over and over and over repeating the same pitch, which is often read from a script, your mind grows more numb with each voice-mail you leave. “Smile, because they can hear your smile.” “Don’t be too monotone.” “Don’t ramble on too much.” “Leave your phone number twice.” “Don’t unload the truck, just give them enough to whet their appetite.” and the list of thoughts goes on and on as you drone on with call after call. You already feel less like a professional recruiter and more like a “Telemarketer” in a “Boiler Room.” Is there any less respected job? Before long you feel like no one wants to talk to you, unless they’re unemployed, and those folks can’t help you reach your goals. If all you do is talk to the unemployed, before long, you’ll be one of them.

Out of every 100 calls, you hope to catch 25-35% live so you can actually have a conversation. Of those, very few will have any interest in what you’re “selling.” When you crunch the numbers, for every 100 calls you make, strikingly few are meaningful. You finally have some good things happen and get a Job Order. Now you work on your pitch so you can start recruiting! You’re so close and yet so far away… After putting together a long list of potential candidates to begin the recruiting campaign, you’re ready to start down the list. Voice-mail after voice-mail goes unanswered until you finally get someone on the phone. You’ve made 50 calls, spoken to eight living people and none show a sincere interest or are close to the mark. Day two, three, four and five of the same pitch and the same voice-mail left 200+ times with little to no results. The only people interested in the job don’t meet the minimum requirements for the role and you’re beginning to feel despair. Another week goes by and you can’t figure out why it isn’t working. You’ve changed your pitch around to see if it will produce different results and yet nothing meaningful happens. Three weeks into the search and you finally have two to three people who are qualified and somewhat interested in the role. You waste no time calling and presenting your top three candidates to the hiring authority and what happens?

A. They inform you that they already have a finalist candidate even though there was no mention of anyone in the process during your 30 minute call when you go the job order

B. They inform you that the position is now “on hold” indefinitely

C. They inform you that an “Internal Candidate” is now slated for the role

D. They never return your call

Sound familiar? All that work and you never even got to present your “body of work.” Bear in mind that you never even got to the interview stage. The interview stage has within it a myriad additional opportunities to fail. But you were Dead on Arrival and so was the last three weeks of effort on this search. This is one of the reasons that recruiters are so darn “pushy.” You have to make sure that you are not going on a wild goose chase that will cost you time and money and perhaps even their job. I have observed recruiters to be some of the most emotionally resilient people in the world. At least, the ones who survive. If you are still a recruiter after a year, then you are in the great minority. Assuming that you didn’t come into the business on the retained side as most people don’t, you are working on contingency. This means that for every successful placement you make, you were also working on another five to ten, or perhaps even more, that failed to close. That means that a whopping 80-90% of your entire daily work ends in failure. You must also have developed coping mechanisms to handle all the negativity that comes with that much failure. Sadly, I have seen people who recruited for more than 25 years hit a wall and burn out. These are people who after so long in the business shouldn’t have to work that hard. Their reputation and network should feed itself to a point that they have their pick of clients. Why then do so many come to ruin? I believe that it is the cumulative effect of the incredible amount of failure that their psyche endures.

If you cannot make the transition to retained search, you will likely become Marginalized and burn out, probably well before your 25th year. Some “burned-out” recruiters become trainers because they cannot bear the pressure of the “desk” anymore. You don’t have to end like that. If you transition your business into a “pure engagement” practice, and work exclusively on a retained basis, you will eliminate the vast majority of the failure and negativity which you currently endure. It can be Life Changing!    What have you got to lose?


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Comment by bill josephson on February 23, 2012 at 10:36am

Drue, you took a lot of abuse on your last piece about recruiters--from me included.

However, this piece is a gem--a keeper, IMO.

Only other option for a 25 year+ recruiter, as I'm in my 32nd year, in today's market the jobs you get are "Mission Impossible" jobs, meaning jobs corporate HR can't fill cause they're extremely difficult or impossible.  The quality fillable assignments thus success far less frequent.  You're competing with technology, internal HR, unemployed, H1-B's, and offshore outsourcing with a lengthy checklist the company wants in a 100% perfect candidate for a desperate job seeker's price....or they keep looking.

How's this sound......you get a position for a Technical Lead Quality Engineer requiring machining expertise and leadership skills.  Candidate meeting the criteria is interviewed and manager determines they're missing the right personality, next candidate with the personality is nixed missing a 4 year degree, next candidate is nixed lacking re-organization skills (didn't I tell you I was thinking about a re-org?), and when you find the person who has it all literally going across the street to do the exact same job earning 110K with the company with the 120K range excited to offer only up to 115K that candidate basically says "buy me."  I'm looking for 130K, otherwise I have no reason to leave as I can do 100% of that job thus there's no reason for me to leave other than money.  Manager blasts you for sending an "unrealistic candidate."

That's why recruiters get burned out.  Excellent piece, Drue

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 23, 2012 at 5:10pm

The hole in this little ditty is so big that one could drive a convoy of Mack Trucks through it.

Not sure how you would explain the hundreds of thousands of successfull, well respected, thriving, trusted, knowledgeable, contingency recruiters who are doing very well in our industry, have for years and continue to enjoy more business than we can say grace over.

I guess lightening struck a tree and all hundreds of thousands of us stepped out full grown.  A force to be reckoned with by many retained search folks.  We get paid for successful efforts.  Millions of jobs filled and millions of candidates placed.  Pax Vobiscum.  My thnks yer full o crap.



Comment by bill josephson on February 23, 2012 at 6:48pm

Well, I'm not going to argue with Sandra.  There may be 100's of thousands of successful recruiters out there.  The ones I've known for a long time as a 31 year recruiter are either earning a fraction of what they once did or fixing airplanes/running dating services for high end corporate women who can't find suitable relationship material.


My clients all have savvy internal recruiters adept at using technology.  I get no easy assignments.  I cold call as any technical tool I can use, they already use.  They work with me solely cause I find passive/invisible candidates they can't.  And even when I do in this job market the hiring criteria are steep enough to the point often neither an aggressive visible or passive invisible candidate meets enough requirements to receive an offer.  Those that do tend to want to be "bought" placing them outside the comp range.  Or the candidates flat out don't exist.


Recruiting is much easier of course if in a dual income family situation.  Then less income is managable, depending on one's cost of living.


But I'll say this.  Used to belong to MAPS (Massachusetts Personnel Consulting organization).  Membership is way down.  Large agencies gone.  If you're working with clients on fillable positions, count your blessings.  The reality I see is much resistance to working with recruiters unless it's a "Mission Impossible" job they can't fill.  Otherwise, "Bill, we're good and have our positions covered."

Comment by Drue De Angelis on February 23, 2012 at 7:18pm

Thanks Bill. Seems I've gotten under Sandra's skin again.. There is still room in my blog for contingency folks who last, but let's not make this a personal fight. As Bill stated, technology is making it increasingly difficult for contingency recruiters to thrive. In fact, technology offers many benefits but it also encourages laziness. Anyone calling himself a recruiter can spit resume's out and accept any type of fee that they want. Recruiters are being marginalized whether they admit it or not. I have many colleagues and clients who are in contingency and none of them do it because they love it. They ALL do it, because they cannot get out of it.  Believe it or not, I don't blog just to make people mad, but to help recruiters get paid what they're worth. But all recruiters are not EQUAL or worth the same fee either. Many contingency recruiters do great work and are discounted and disparaged by their "clients." Much of their work ends up on the trash heap. (20% close rate is typical) It is disheartening to work hard on a search and end up getting paid nothing, but this is standard fare in contingency search. This is why over time, we hedge our bets. 

I guess that I had my "Jerry Maguire Moment" and just wanted to do it differently. It is true that I don't make a lot of placements, but that is the beauty of it. I get paid on every search that I do, which enables me to do careful work.   Go easy now...  

Comment by bill josephson on February 23, 2012 at 7:35pm

"technology is making it increasingly difficult for contingency recruiters to thrive.  Recruiters are being marginalized whether they admit it or not. I have many colleagues and clients who are in contingency and none of them do it because they love it. They ALL do it, because they cannot get out of it.  But all recruiters are not EQUAL or worth the same fee either. Many contingency recruiters do great work and are discounted and disparaged by their "clients." Much of their work ends up on the trash heap. (20% close rate is typical) It is disheartening to work hard on a search and end up getting paid nothing, but this is standard fare in contingency search."


Absolutely spot on, Drue.  Work like an SOB, find the impossible to find candidate, and for a myriad of reasons there's no offer or a counter offer or a flat out turn down with the money not being enough for a candidate able to do 100% of the job and the end result is 1-2 months of work..........no commission sale.


This would be okay in normal times as opportunities are plentiful--but that isn't the case today.  Now they're fewer and farther between.

Comment by Barbara Goldman on February 23, 2012 at 7:42pm

It's true, there is a lot of turnover in recruiting. Like any profession with large rewards, (professional athletes, etc) there is a reason we make money. FEW CAN DO IT.  It takes business sense and horse sense.Anyone with a cry button attached to their forehead should go into another profession. Whiners,  nine to fivers, and people who do just enough to sit on the bench instead of get into the game should not apply. If they do, they are part of the turnover. Sigh. Hello Sandra! I'm with you!

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 23, 2012 at 11:59pm

@Bill you have been whining about the same thing for years.  For God's sake if your old clients don't need you go find some different clients who do.  With the years of experience you have, evolve.  Quit making 100 mindless cold  calls a day.  Find another industry, there are companies out there begging for help who do not have internal recruiters. Technology is  utilitzed by  outside recruiters the same way the internal kids use it and a lot of the time better.  YOu are working defeated before you start which is why this clap trap appeals to you.  It's reinforcing your defeat and convincing you that it's impossible to make placements.  It's not.  There have been times when there were so many jobs that clients would pay a fee for a warm body who could walk and carry a pencil.  There were times before when there flat weren't many jobs.  Nothing new except right now there are jobs and there are people who want them.  If you are too beat up at this point to find them and sell them then go internal with somebody.  Half the damn world is looking for internal recruiters. You certainlly have the street cred to go that direction.


@ Drue, in my opinion you don't have a clue what you are talking about.  Good recruiting is not the boiler room bullshit you described in your blog.  That is obviously where you came from so you don't know any differently.  You throw around ridiculous percentages that who the hell knows where you get them.  OUt of your butt i suppose.  I am in touch myself with many, many contingent recruiters on a weekly basis.  None of us cut fees, if our close rate were 20% we would be asleep or on an extended vacation.  None of us are burned out except maybe Bill who just needs to pick his ass up and do something differently instead of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  It's obvious to me that you burned out yourself.  You moved over into retained search so you can whittle and diddle around and get paid for it while not making many placements.  Good for you.  If that makes you happy that's dandy.  There is certainly a place for retained search and the people who like it.   You remind me of a born again druggie who is convinced because he hit the wall everybody else has and is convinced that everybody else needs to climb on his bandwagon cause it's the only truth and light.  Rat Crap. My thiks You are just preaching your "drunkalog" to convince yourself that not making many placements is ok because you get paid to try.  That's all a steer can do. 

 The contingency recruiters i know have about a 70% close rate, they like having skin in the game.  I am confident that i can speak for thousands of us, we don't want out of contingency.  We'll take a retained if we want to kick back and play for a while.  Most of us like the competition.  We like selling and we sure aren't marginalized.  Ask our clients , we have a lot of them.  And for the record, your comment, "If you are talking to unemployed people you are going to end up unemployed", is about the most arrogant, condecending remark i have seen in print in 35 years. of recruiting.  I won't even go there to explain why, it's obvious.


Yo, Barb, I'm with you girlfriend.


Comment by bill josephson on February 24, 2012 at 7:56am

Sandra, I don't know how companies without internal recruiters exist in today's market with their competition killing them on cost savings.  We must live in parallel universes.  I see less requirements for people in Corporate America, technology making it easier for internal recruiters to access qualified candidates, a smorgasboard of required interview criteria, fewer quality opportunities, and internal recruiter outreach receiving from them the "flawed" jobs to work on.  The moment I start sending resumes of candidates via Internet recruiting my clients already have, they won't work with me.

The point you make about whining is accurate.  Recruiting has always been tough and if you can't take it, find something else to do.  With far fewer quality fillable opportunities to hit or miss with I believe there's also been an environmental paradigm change since 2001-2002 when offshore outsourcing ramped up.  Whether you want to hear or believe it, or not, we've lost 5 million private sector corporate jobs since 2001 while creating 5 million overseas.

What I see happening is beyond recruiting.  It's impacting putting financial pressure on 'middle men' across the board, of which recruiting is but one function. 


In our business, when our clients' internal recruiters have the capability to access all employees through technology are we still relevant in the market place?  Amy Alaa has written some very telling pieces on exactly when she uses external recruiters, and the frequency.  She's in the internal recruiter arena having been on both sides of the desk.  I take her opinions seriously as what she says, and Drue's above piece, resonate exactly to my daily experience.  A few positions, which could be unfillable, released to 3rd party recruiters and intensive recruit outreach. 

My question to Drue, Amy, or others.......Is 3rd Party recruiting becoming obsolete?  If not, what relevance will we have to the marketplace?   As peoples' functions become more commoditized and easier to access through the Internet what does that ultimately mean for TPR's?


And finally, my posts aren't critiques or griping about the difficulty associated with recruiting.  I know all about that score.  But about recognition of a changing recruiting environment I've been observing easily for the past 10 years.  Are we part of what's commonly known as "creative destruction" in the economy?   Or should jobs make a comeback will recruiting dynamics shift with it? 

Comment by bill josephson on February 24, 2012 at 10:32am

John, which comes with the territory.  However, more frequently now receiving corporate HR's "reject" jobs due to what I see is a reflection of both the jobs market and technological paradigm changes the rejection frustration mounts with fewer quality/fillable opportunities.


In the "old" days the rejection was shrugged off as part of the job with opportunities won and lost ongoing.  My point being the rejection seems different since the last recession "ended" in late 2001.  Is it me?  Market place changes?  Technological?  Jobs creation?


Looking to succeed making money looking for trends and paths to remaining relevant in the recruiting world.

Comment by bill josephson on February 24, 2012 at 10:42am

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John,  Recruiting is a LOT less personal due to technology, and corporate HR access to both the aggressive visible and passive invisible candidate pool, IMO, bears watching.  I maintain that if/when they can technologically access everyone then are TPR's still relevant in the marketplace?


That's my question, as it seems we're needed much less and for "flawed" jobs.


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