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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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Comment by bill josephson on January 11, 2013 at 9:59am

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Lots of excellent comments on this topic.
To Dyll--you've hit the essence of what recruiting's become--commoditized.  Wasn't that way back in 1980 when I began--it was more like the wild West as cowboys.

Today, IMO, recruiters need to be able to perform a role HR is unable to.  They have social media, web sites, doing Google/Boolean searches, some have dedicated teams of 50 recruiters solely scouring the Internet, in this economy scores of people hitting those web sites with a surprising number being good enough to be considered.  So we are definitely competing with HR, the resistance to working with us greater, and the assignments we receive are usually "problematic" jobs--if you're lucky your contact will truthfully share what the "problem" with it actually is.

Being indispensible is the key.  Having a niche where you're valued by your client being the "go to" person.  Finding passive/insivible candidates companies absolutely can't.  Dyll's doing it the right way.  But any financially rewarding/attractive business (or personal) relationship/situation we can always count on competition as someone else will want it--as Dyll expressed.

Being relevant in the marketplace is crucial to survival today.  Finding out what that relevance is--even for this 32 year recruiter--isn't always easy and I'd get long winded explaining why.  But if your client can do it, they likely don't need/don't want you.

Ashley, you raise an important point.  That was my experience.  I changed going from a small to a national chain agency for 10 years before becoming self-employed.  Your environment experience counts for a lot.

Comment by Mahesh Karwa on January 11, 2013 at 10:51am

Hiring teams of employers too  experience the same - candidate saying no after all the effort. Professional recruiters can address this by changing their mindset, from 'seller of a thing' to 'manager/adviser of a talented human being'. Think like the manager of a star spokesperson or an actor. Now, it's impossible for recruiters to act like manager for hundreds of candidates. But even couple of steps walked in that direction will help the recruiter find a job that the candidate is more likely to go for. A car that can't say no for its sale also can't come back to you later asking to be sold. A candidate can come back to you for next job if she knows you understand her well enough to find her the right job and you are representing her to the employer, not the other way round!.

Comment by bill josephson on January 11, 2013 at 11:01am

Assuming the position's a match, Mahesh, much is driven IMO on candidate timing, whether there's something driving the candidate out of their present employer, and/or if the opportunity is clearly a differential step above their current situation.

If a candidate's pretty happy and nothing driving them out the door the closer the position emulates their current one the less chance of a hire from what I've experienced.

And in this economy the employers seem to demand a candidate have close to 100% of the skills required or they keep looking.  In a good economy the norm is 70-80% with that 20-30% the candidate doesn't have being a motivating factor in their being interested in the position.

Comment by Barbara Goldman on January 14, 2013 at 11:53am

What a great post. Thanks, everything you said is true. There is no crying in recruiting. One of the big problems when hiring the 'sales personality' is that everyone wants instant gratification. You have to be in this for the long haul. It takes emotional stability, and maturity. It knocks the daylights out of you, yet the successes are highly satisfying. 

Comment by Kate Parkyn on January 15, 2013 at 9:39am

Woo - hoo.  Saying it how it is once again Greg!

Comment by Drue De Angelis on January 16, 2013 at 3:04pm

Strong work, Greg!  But one question for you; Why not refuse to accept this statement "Sure, a tiny percentage of our work is retained," Retained is an option, and it removes the vast majority of the headaches. It is , without question, more rewarding to remove the risk and work only on "a sure thing." I know it isn't easy to sell the retainer, but its VERY MUCH worth the effort! 

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