Death of a Recruiter? I Don’t Think So

I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. A sob rises in her throat. We’re free and clear. Sobbing more fully, released: We’re free. — Arthur Miller

All too often we as a society forget the classics of literature and are drawn to cinema houses or Netflix for entertainment. We forget the truly talented scribes of yesteryear who penned novels before television or movies. Life was simpler then, though harsher. We used our imagination, not our opposable thumbs with video games to entertain us. That entertainment came in the way of books, radio, and plays … glorious plays that not only entertained generations but taught us lessons about life, love, and happiness. Arthur Miller, one of the greats, penned a tragedy about Willy Loman, an outside salesman whose life was intertwined with his work. That work taken away from him leaves him despondent and unable to care for his family, so he kills himself in order to leave something behind being the sole money provider.

Right now you are saying, “Why bring up such a tragic tale? How is this about recruiting?”

There is something to be said about the Willy Lomans of the world. These are the people who so ecstatically throw themselves into their world in order to make the world a little better by being a helping hand, calling the candidate back, sending an email, or responding to one. AI in all of its glory and shininess cannot replace the one thing that we can and should bring to the table: the human touch. People young and old want to hear from people, not machines. They want to know that we actually care that they took the time to apply to our jobs.

Recently we had a position that was closed because the team felt it would be better to fill next year. There weren’t a ton of resumes collected, and no one had been interviewed, though I had done some screening and gotten some people into the pipeline. I called the few people in the pipeline to let them know that the position had closed. The others, the ones I had not gotten to, got an email from me explaining the circumstance and to the reasoning. Then it happened: they emailed me back thanking me for not being a black hole. It was not one or two responses, it was man.

Take a moment to let that sink in. Multiple people took yet another moment out of their job search to thank me?!


The emails varied. Some just said thanks. Others asked to be thought of for other roles or ones that were possibly pending but not posted yet. Others asked to be kept in mind for the very job that was put on hold, saying they were really interested in if it opened up again. A few simply thanked me, saying that it was refreshing that a recruiter at least chose to let them know that the position was closed.

Article Continues Below

I have to admit, a tear went down my cheek when I read them.

Is it really that way, still? After all the conversations and presentations about candidate experience, nothing has seemingly changed, and that, dear readers, hurts my heart. As a side note, this was a software development role. They are out there  … maybe they remember when you did not send them an email or made a call.

A recruiter’s brand is a thin skin easily cut with careless abandon, and very few have the resources to protect themselves from daggers and cannon fodder fired their way. I suspect many would agree with me that the inevitable phone call or email tears away a little at your soul when you have to give a rejection. I know this all too well, being 50 and single — trust me, I know rejection. However, it’s part of the job you have chosen. And unlike being 16 and the guy/girl you liked rejected you and you feeling animosity, most times the candidate will respect you and the company. There are a number of marvelous companies out there that I have zero interest in helping or working for based on the treatment I received early in my career and even mid-year to senior level. The arrogance was astounding to me.

Frankly, I am surprised I have lasted this long. I suppose that I am a Willy Loman of recruiting, I simply would not know what to with myself if I was not doing the job that I love. Unlike Willy, I don’t have to make that choice quite yet, and I doubt that I would choose the way he went out. I know firsthand what happens when you do. Instead, I will continue the good fight and try and educate those who are coming up the proverbial ladder.

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing in the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliance. Currently, he is the Director of Recruiting Solutions for Engage Talent. He has experience with both third-party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland area. Now, he is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage.


15 Comments on “Death of a Recruiter? I Don’t Think So

  1. Heartfelt and heartbreaking, DZ. Thanks for saying what a lot of us who have been doing this for what feels like forever are feeling these days.

  2. Great article Derek. Being a 30 year veteran I have heard many times how what I still love doing is obsolete, an old way of doing things and just not going to work going forward. Well, I am still here and still care about the people I deal with on a daily basis. Thanks for re-enforcing that I am not the only ‘Willy’ still out there.

  3. Love the article, but it’s sad that 20 years after joining this profession this is still an issue. I just went through a job search for myself. It’s hard to believe, but even after multiple onsite interviews for a senior level role – the majority of companies wouldn’t even place a phone call to let me know they went in another direction!

    1. I have to agree with you there. I’m not one that expects to be notified after an unsuccessful phone interview, but if I invested the time to go on multiple onsite interviews, I would like to at least get an email saying I didn’t get the job.

  4. Derek, I believe majority of the companies are moving towards giving importance to candidate engagement by implementing TAT for responses be it a phone screen reject or onsite reject. But most of the times we keep hearing no update has been provided and few candidates are smart these days if recruiter says will get back to you they are finding the answer in it. Nice article.

  5. Hi Derek, Great article and the same sentiment is felt for recruitment in the UK. I’ve always done my best for my candidates and clients in replying to their queries and questions over the phone or through a message as its the way I’d want to be treated myself if I were them for 24 years now. The positive human aspect of recruitment will and should always be respected and needed – it’s not a numbers game, these are real people and real organisations. I recruit for the Charity sector here in the UK as well as for IT and Digital and though since the Brexit vote things have been tough, we will brave it out and keep trying our best to deliver the service that candidates and clients want and need and have had similar feelings when receiving the thanks for just communicating what is going on in a transparent and real manner. I dislike intensely the CV / Resume Black hole scenario and the lack of feedback for candidates AND that we are sometimes at the whim of the client who won’t / doesn’t provide it, not realising, or perhaps even caring, about the collateral damage they do to themselves and their brands by being dismissive of the efforts candidates (and recruiters) go to when they apply and want to work for a firm. Rejection is part of life, as is its acceptance. It would be good if enough people and organisations remembered that and how they felt with a cold rejection – it’d probably help them get back in touch with the important things about human contact. Look forward to your next piece.

  6. Great article. I think a big part of the problem is poorly trained recruiters. Only a handful in many offices have much experience and the rest are fresh off the bus and given twice as many jobs to fill as a normal workload should be. They never learn to make those calls or send the emails because they are overwhelmed from day one… eventually it becomes the norm for them.

    1. Well said Robert. I think recruiting is too often viewed as an overhead function, and therefore they are overworked. It’s just like when a server is overloaded at a restaurant. The customer service suffers and it is not the Recruiters fault.

  7. Amen to the personal touch. The response from candidates underscores that it does still matter, and candidates appreciate the effort. There is surely no easier way to strengthen and differentiate a recruitment brand with tomorrow’s clients

  8. what the industry in general is missing is personal touch/sort of an Altamira hand print 🙂 both in terms of candidate experience and in posts just like this one.

  9. Behavior is shaped by goals/expectations. Recruiters are often evaluated by how quickly they fill positions and the quality of the candidates they hire, not by how well they treat the candidates. Recruiting departments are often understaffed and overworked, and a ball is going to be dropped somewhere. This is usually the candidate experience ball. Yes, it has long term consequences (brand damage, etc.), but with the turnover in our industry, the Recruiter will likely be long gone by the time it comes back around. In order for things to change, I think the goals/expectations of Recruiters must change and there must be executive buy-in. Recruiting departments will have to make business case for taking the time/money to provide a better candidate experience.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *