“You don’t have any experience. You know what you need to do? Come work here so you can get your nose bloodied a few times.”
I don’t remember how I responded. I think I said “okay.” The subject changed and a few minutes later his time was up. The interview ended, and they walked me out of the office. As I walked down the hall, I was still sweating, exhausted, and kind of angry.
I felt like the last interviewer asked questions that were illegal to ask in a job interview.
On the drive home as I replayed the interview and the words he said, I couldn’t believe someone talked to me like that. Who does he think he is?
I wasn’t sure I did well enough to get the job or if I even wanted to work there.
“Get my nose bloodied.” He couldn’t be serious.
My savings account was bleeding out, and I needed to pay rent. Some nights I’d wake up thinking, “What if I can’t find a job? I’ll be a huge failure and have to move home.” Then I’d fall back asleep.
A few days later my phone rang. Either I did okay in the interview or the first candidate they made an offer to didn’t accept it. It doesn’t matter. The company extended a job offer that I quickly accepted.
I accepted the job of a recruiting coordinator with a 45 minute commute (one way). But it would pay my bills and stop the bleeding.
The first day on the job, my new boss said, “You won’t make it six months with that commute.” Just what I needed to hear. I made the commute every day just to prove him wrong.
A few years later I realized the interviewer was right; I didn’t have any experience and I needed to get my nose bloodied.
You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to do any of this.
This is what I did; this is how I would start again from the bottom.
1. Start at an agency
Go to work in a staffing agency - do not start in corporate recruiting. There are pros and cons to corporate recruiting vs. a staffing agency (third party recruiting) but they don’t matter.
The reason you need to start at an agency is it’s more difficult. You do not have a corporate brand behind you. You must work much harder and learn to kill.
In an agency, if you do not kill, or add value, you will be killed. Once you're dead, you can’t pay rent or eat, and then you are truly a failure.
2. Be authentic
Some people hate the rapper Drake. He sings the lyrics, “Started from the bottom now we’re here.” The people who hate him believe he isn’t authentic because he’s a middle class kid who had a TV show.
He didn’t really start at the bottom, they say...
Watch the music video from his song, “Started from the Bottom.” The entire video is parody gangster rap about his childhood. As the video begins, upper and middle class kids are playing soccer in their soccer jerseys. Kids just like Drake.
It’s true - he was a middle class kid from the suburbs with baggy hip hop clothing and awkward dance moves.
He was being authentic! But his authenticity didn’t match people’s perception. People wanted to believe he came from the streets, to most people “the bottom” is the streets. Everyone has their own definition and truth.
To be authentic, you don’t have to share everything; just be honest with what you share.
. . .
Be honest and learn the recruiting business from the ground up. It won’t match your family and friend’s perception of who you are or what you should be doing with your education.
It doesn’t matter. Start at the bottom in the lowest possible position, even if it is the janitor role.
3. Learn what everyone does
Learn what each person does inside a staffing agency. Pay attention to the sales people, listen to the account managers, take notes from the senior recruiters, pay attention to the good coordinators.
Learn everything about what each person does.
A coordinator role is a perfect role to start in. You work closely with recruiters, candidates, and everyone else at the company - this is critical access for learning. Scheduling teaches you customer service and how to manage your calendar if you decide to become a recruiter.
The role also keeps you humble so you can grow. Treat people how you want to be treated.
4. Always do your best
If you do a bad job, you never get promoted. Or if you do get a promotion, it is delayed. You don’t want to waste too much time in each role. Stay hungry and do your best.
It shouldn’t take you five years to become a recruiter, you can do it in less.
Work your way up from the bottom: recruiting coordinator to sourcer/researcher, junior recruiter, recruiter, account manager, etc.
My parents taught me not to steal. But they were wrong. While you are coming up, you must learn to steal. Pay attention to everything and everyone around you.
Steal from other people’s experience, routines, and skills. But only steal the good habits or best techniques from each person.
If someone is a bad recruiter or lousy salesperson at your agency, don’t steal from them.
Steal from top performers.
Take their best skills and learn to do them better than they do. Notice their weaknesses and then develop yourself in those areas as well. In less time you can be better than they are - this is the benefit of stealing.
You must leave after 18 months. I loved my coordinator, sourcer, and entry level recruiter roles, and the people I worked for. Some loved me back, and they may love you back too. They are lying.
Leave before they fire you.
But you must pick your niche before you leave. By starting at a recruiting agency, you are exposed to different companies, roles, and industries: one day you are recruiting for a nurse practitioner, the next day you are hiring entry level salespeople and software programmers.
What roles do you enjoy recruiting for? Which hires do clients pay five-figure recruiting fees for? Find the overlap of value and enjoyment and then select the industry you want to work in.
Next, find a company that hires for this role. Contact their CEO about growth and a possible recruiter opening.
Before you interview, you will want to research their team. Continue to dig for information during the onsite interview.
You are not going there for a job, you are moving to continue to learn and grow. Early in your career, who you are working around and what you learn is more important than how much they pay you.
Who + what > $
The leadership team, hiring managers, and other recruiters you are working around allow you to continue to learn, practice, and experiment.
7. Keep stealing
Analyze what brought you here, and continue to do the few things that work. Recruiters at your new job have different career experiences and skills; some have better habits or rituals.
Keep stealing the best.
8. Grow your KB
In the past 18 months, you have started to develop your knowledge base in recruiting. You know certain types of companies use specific technologies and hire for certain skills or backgrounds, and you know what questions get you the right information.
Pay attention to this information and continue to expand on your knowledge base by learning from more experienced recruiters.
By becoming a walking database you:
Trust is the foundation of a relationship. If you don’t know something, say so, don’t lie.
Don’t lie to candidates or stretch the truth; don’t lie to your hiring managers and promise something you can’t deliver. No one will trust you.
If you can’t be trusted, you lose access. You cannot continue to grow without access.
Make a list of every person you hire, include the hiring manager’s name, the job title they accepted, and the compensation package.
This is a simple way to track the value you create. It also cements people in your mind. The next time you are interviewing you can draw from an experience or share an example. Later you can call on this list of potential clients.
Create one true fan every day.
11. Started from the bottom -- now we’re here
I can stop now, we’re here, I made it. I make six figures and most of my hiring managers love me. Being a recruiter is not a bad job; send some emails, make a few calls, interview candidates, then go home.
It’s a trap.
You must grow and reinvent yourself if you want to survive. Every three years everything changes, sometimes less. Technologies, tools, skills, everything. It’s probably closer to three months for a new technology to launch and be the “hot” new thing.
If you want to survive, you must grow. You must keep reinventing yourself like a musician.
Drake sounds completely different on his album More Life. Some people hate him for changing his sound. He knows these people. He mentions them in his song Worst Behavior:
“.... still playing my old stuff.”
Some recruiters play the same old songs over and over.
You must change to stay relevant. The fastest way to grow is experience and experimentation, next is reading.
12. Think slowly
You can do this one however you see fit. But not doing it will get you crushed.
In order to separate yourself, you need to think slowly. Take a step back and think about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Is there a better way to write a cold email to get more responses? Is there another website your target candidate uses?
Find it. Become the first recruiter to learn how to source from it. Then teach all of your recruiter co-workers how to do it.
“But people steal my ideas and don’t give me credit.”
When you are the source of good ideas, you are always the source. Let people steal from you, it helps others find their way. It helps others find you.
It helps you.
13. Get your nose bloodied
When you're bleeding, you are silent. There is no arguing and your ego is quiet. You listen and think, quickly trying to stop the blood coming from out of your face.
Your moves are prioritized by survival.
Bleeding teaches humility.
The key to success is to approach every attempt with humility. With each new attempt you continue to learn.
. . .
If I washed up in a city tomorrow with no job and $44,204.44 in student loans, this is how I would start again from the bottom.
“Started from the bottom now my whole team here,
Boys tell stories about the man
Say I never struggled, wasn't hungry, yeah, I doubt it”
Clinton Buelter is a senior technical recruiter, the author of Cold Email Idea Machine, and founder of www.coldemailforrecruiters.com - a popular website for recruiters who want to take their cold email and recruiting skills to the next level.