The Brutal Life of a Recruiter


By Jack J. Kelly

If you ever engaged in a job search you probably interacted with or used the services of a Recruiter. Like in any profession, there are some amazingly, fantastic recruiters and some horrendous people. There are also an awful lot of mediocre, untalented folks in between the two extremes. Since I’ve been a recruiter for over 20 years, placed thousands of people, and used recruiters before I was a recruiter to find jobs for myself, I figured I’m the guy to shine a light on what we do.

Here’s an insider’s glimpse into what it’s like to be a Recruiter. By understanding who they are and what they do, it will aid you in your relationship with a Recruiter, which could then better help you procure a new job.

Recruiters generally work on behalf of a company since they are the ones that pay the bills. Recruiters also work for the candidates even though the job applicants are required to pay any fees. Think of them like a matchmaker. They need to make both parties happy (the company and the candidate) to successfully place a person at a company.

The recruiting industry, similar to other professional service industries, such as lawyers, insurance salesmen, real estate brokers, and used car salespersons, tend to have a bad reputation.  Everyone has a story to tell about a terrible recruiter that failed to secure him a job.

Allow me to pull back the curtain, so you can understand the mindset and daily grind of the recruiter. The nature of the business is incredibly competitive and brutal.  The vast majority of recruiters work on a contingency basis. This means that no matter how hard they try, despite putting in endless hours, if they don’t place a person at the company, they don’t get paid. There is no monetary reward for coming in second place.

A typical recruiter is given an assignment from a corporation, along with about three to ten other agencies.  Yes, really. It is survival of the fittest. It’s a race to get the best candidate to the company before your competitors.

You will need to review hundreds of resumes and meet with a large number of candidates to determine fits for the job. For every candidate that you share with the company, you must have called and spoken to at least a dozen people. To get that dozen people, you sifted through 100-plus resumes or LinkedIn profiles. Granted it’s not brain surgery or rushing into a burning building to save children, however, it takes an enormous amount of time, under a great deal of pressure to do their jobs.

Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if the Recruiter had a monopoly on the job assignment. She would still put in the hours, but have the peace-of-mind knowing that she will ultimately secure the winning candidate and get paid the placement fee. Instead, it is long hours of searching for candidates, interviewing people, selling them on the job, getting the person before the competition, preparing them for the interview, negotiating salaries, and then trying to close the person. Oh, they also have to prepare for counter offers and competing offers.

There are virtually no barriers to enter the recruiting industry. Therefore, people constantly drift into and out of the field. There are no academic requirements. No regulatory oversight. But there is a chance to make money.  Therefore, it becomes saturated. The industry creates never-ending competition.

Most people fall into becoming a recruiter.  Growing up, did you ever know a kid who said he wanted to be a doctor, policeman, or recruiter?  They kind of find their way into the industry, usually after trying and failing at a bunch of other jobs. That is not a dig at recruiters. It is a testament to the type of person who keeps trying different paths until he finds the right profession to become successful.  Most recruiters quit within the first year or two, and those who remain recognize that to build a career it takes a hell of a lot of drive, commitment, and effort.

Through this lens, you can make sense of your prior experiences with a recruiter and understand why they act the way they do. For instance, if you get the brush off from a recruiter it is most likely due to the fact that he does not have a current job for you. If he did, I can assure you he would bend over backwards to help you and get your resume to the client company before his competition. If you don’t have the right background at the particular time you are seeking the services of a recruiter, the recruiter can’t afford to spend time with you. It’s cold, but true due to the way things are. The more time she spends on someone who doesn’t fit her current mandates, the more likely it is that a competitor is zeroing in on the appropriate person. It is a brutal and unfair system.

To be a successful recruiter, you have to have blinders on and search for only the perfect person for the job at hand. Any time not spent on this task is wasted time, which could end up in not placing anyone and not getting paid.

If you are not interested in a job that you are suitable for, you can now understand why a recruiter would be pushy. She knows that you could get the interview and potentially the job and she will get paid. If she lets the person get away, it will take many hours and exhaustive efforts to find someone else who also has the suitable background.

I’m not painting this picture to make you feel sorry for the miserable existence of a recruiter. I believe that understanding their inherent dilemma and how the game is played, it will enable you to work more successfully with recruiters in the future.

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