How to Recruit for a Lousy Company

AllysonOne time, at cheerleading camp in Texas, one of the camp counselors asked us, “What do you do if your football team is the worst in the district?” The answer was to cheer anyway, because that is your responsibility. In fact, you have to cheer louder and bigger to motivate the team, the spectators, the alumni, and the students.

A recruiter is a cheerleader for the company. You are looking for the best team, and encouraging them to join because you know that this position at this company is a possibility of a lifetime. So how do you recruit for a company that has the reputation of being as “The 11 Worst Companies to Work for in America!

My suggestions and thoughts:

Stop Recruiting Bad Candidates

Part of the reason people think the company you work for sucks is because you keep hiring bad candidates. Your job as a recruiter is to find the perfect candidate for your company. Skills are 25%. The other 75% falls under soft skills, personality, work ethic, environment, and whether or not the candidate would be a good cultural fit. Stop trying to force square pegs into round holes. Once you hire enough candidates who actually fit in with your company culture, the attitudes of employees and the external perception will change.

You Lied to Me!

Be honest. The odds are the reputation of your company is no big secret. When you are an agency recruiter, you can tell them what you have heard on the streets.  When you are a corporate recruiter, you hear about it (and take it) every day. Let candidates know that you know what the reputation is, and if possible, let them know why you think it exists. The worst thing you can do is sweep it under the rug only to have the employee you just hired leave with contempt toward the company.

Let candidates know the situation as best one can, and allow them to make their choice with their eyes wide open. The candidate who did not get the all of the information necessary to make an educated discussion before joining your organization could very well prevent you from getting your next opportunity. Hell has no fury like an employee scorned!

“Papa Was a Rolling Stone”

Look for candidates with a consulting background. Most consultants cannot stand being in an overly structured environment. Consultants go from company to company fixing what internal employees could not achieve on their own. They are used to going into crazy environments who are crying out for help. Companies with bad reputations are looking for a hero! Get a candidate with the right fit and you are both heroes!

Cheat on the Test

During the discovery process, candidates will give you the answers to the test. When during your screenings, are you noting the red flags? Did you check references?  While there are always exceptions, here are things that candidates bring up that in my experience has always turned out in disaster for companies with poor reps:

  • Asking about vacation and benefits before asking about the company or the position. (Don’t get me wrong: benefits, especially health, are extremely important, and should be discussed early, but not earlier than the company and the job.)
  • Candidates who have not heard of your company or have not done any research on the company culture or employees
  • Candidates who come in with a plan to revamp the entire company before starting.
  • Desperate, I-will-do-anything candidates.
  • Candidates who want work/life balance. In crappy companies, there is either no balance or their policies are too lax (aka no one seems to be working.)

How Come You Never See a Headline Like “Psychic Wins Lottery?”

How do you know that potential candidates will not want to work there? I learned early in my recruiting career not to try to be a psychic. Who am I decide that you won’t like the position being offered. They could love the company! There are people who thrive on stress and chaos. Make sure they have the information but if they say they would love it, let them.

At the end of the day make sure that when someone leaves the company, it isn’t because of something you tried to hide. We are dealing with people’s livelihoods here. If the candidate who you find only has the skill set, but none of the other important factors needed to succeed, keep recruiting. Recruiting is a verb. Keep recruiting until you find the ideal candidate for your company.

Moving Forward

  • Make sure you have an environment that invites employees to share their opinions, both positive and negative. If possible, have the CEO or other top executive address the concern in the company newsletters.
  • Don’t forget retention! You should be getting updates on how employees feel while they are still engaged, not when they are walking out the door. (By then, it is too late.) Have candid conversations with top performers. Find out why people are staying and work that into your pitch. Have your story ready. If the company stinks so badly, why did you accept a position there?
  • Take a look at Glassdoor and other websites where employees review where they work, but take it with a grain of salt. See what is being said on the street about your company, but realize that these are anonymous reviews mostly done by people ask to leave the company being reviewed.

The top things that people complain about are:



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The boss

Not getting a promotion


Work/life balance

Working in a cubicle

No cafeteria or nearby food options.

There is only so much you can do to change the reputation of your company. Stick to your morals and principals. Don’t sell you soul to the devil. Be honest and the truth will set you free. Just keep recruiting.

To the whiners and complainers: Really? Have you been watching the news? People who are out of work are staying out of work. Almost 50% of those unemployed will be unemployed for seven or more months! If you are lucky enough to have a job right now, suck it up buttercup.

Jackye Clayton is a uniquely inspirational speaker, combining hard-earned stripes as a recruiter and a sassy, infectious personality that truly inspires confidence in her message. With acclaimed expertise in recruitment technology and a global network of HR and recruiting professionals, Jackye leaves audiences excited to take her insight and apply new tools to immediately transform their careers and organizations. Previously Editor of RecruitingDaily, Jackye now serves as the Director of Customer Success for HiringSolved, the leader in AI-based talent acquisition software.


24 Comments on “How to Recruit for a Lousy Company

  1. Thanks for this great article Jackie. I agree with your advice about being honest. Our employer branding research proves that the greater the disparity from the employer branded recruitment communications to the actual culture and responsibilities, the greater the disappointment will be upon arrival. You can only sell a bad product once.

    Further,in this social age, bad news travels faster, making your recruiting work that much harder.

    There are always reasons why great employees stay. Find them and promote them.

  2. Thanks Jackye. I liked your article.

    “Skills are 25%. The other 75% falls under soft skills, personality, work ethic, environment, and whether or not the candidate would be a good cultural fit.” Sounds plausible. Where did you get your numbers from…

    “Your job as a recruiter is to find the perfect candidate for your company.” With respect, I think this is incorrect. Our job as a recruiter is NOT to find the perfect candidate, bur rather to find the best candidate that our employer can afford to hire who is willing to work for them.

    Also, all organizations have problems of some degree or another., some more- some less. If the company is majorly dysfunctional and you’re trying to get people who “fit in” you may need to hire other majorly dysfunctional people to work there.

    I think there is one big and very rare exception to what I have said.
    This is where a highly dysfunctional company is making a sincere and concerted effort at all levels to become more functional, not just more profitable. (A hint that this may be happening: substantial numbers of powerful but unpopular executives are getting/got the “boot” and are being replaced by folks who seem to “walk a good talk”.) However, I think such things are unlikely to happen in large centralize organizations unless there’s a major disaster in the organization’s circumstances.



  3. As a candidate that experience the “cover up our reputation” routine and now seeing the employer side of things, this was a fantastic read!

    You provide great insight on how to try to recruit “all-stars” who can turn the team/organization around.

  4. Keith,

    Thank you!
    I got the numbers from Book author Peggy Klaus. She says: “Research, conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs by the Stanford Research Institute International and Carnegie Mellon Foundation, found that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25% on technical knowledge. Another study of headhunters hiring CEOs ranked the ability to communicate and motivate as necessary attributes for positively affecting the bottom line. And when they do provide these soft-skills training, the programs are often exclusively reserved for “high-potential” employees or senior executives.

    And you are right. There are no perfect candidates but I was referring more to perfect for the company you are recruiting for. Our definitions I think are very close if not the same! 🙂 And so maybe the arrogant jerk is the perfect candidate! 🙂 This new over sell under deliver mentality can be painful!

  5. Excellent article, I agree with almost everything you wrote. This idea strikes me as impractical in some situations though: “Make sure you have an environment that invites employees to share their opinions, both positive and negative.” Sometimes the perceived negative is the lack of, and the near impossibility of implementing just this kind of feedback. I think speaking to potential and current employees like that isn’t the way to go in my opinion and is the opposite of cheer leading. Also, I myself could be seen as one of those whiners, but my gripe is not with my job or company because I chose to work there and I believe such companies can and do have massive opportunities. That’s why I’m there.

    My gripe is with sites like Ere and ‘thought leaders’ who often give great advice… for people who are working in multi billion dollar corporations with endless access to data and resources to implement every best practice idea ever conceived. The articles often seem completely detached from the reality many of us deal with, not often having access to the necessary reporting, the necessary resources, or top level monetary and non monetary compensation to offer to entice top performers.

    Opportunity cost is an issue not often dealt with, and articles more often than not present Great Idea X, but with little to no data to back up its effectiveness, and so little to nothing to use to make a decision on whether or not it’s worth pursuing if it means you would have to forego another option, and that’s what it always means.

  6. It’s also worth noting, though my company doesn’t meet the criteria for being included on that list of worst companies to work for, our rating on Glassdoor so far is 1.9.

  7. Jackye – great article! Finding myself at a company that was once at the top of its game but due to economic circumstances is no longer, I have adjusted the pitch considerably. My company is located in an area where there aren’t a lot of jobs and people usually have to commute somewhere – this continues to be a plus for us and a motivator in attracting good candidates. We also have more work/life balance, continue to have good bene’s, etc. – you see where I pick out the good things since we have uncertainty and very little “opportunities for growth”. However, I am frequently surprised when I talk to people how little they know of what’s going on with us. I am honest and informative – it does no one any good to not be this way up front. Nothing is worse than having a candidate pull out along the way due to concerns about the state of the company – what a waste of time! By being informed up front, they are able to weigh the pros/cons in the beginning and if good, we can move on from there. It’s a challenge, but I appreciate the affirmation you give me in your article and reinforcement of other ideas as well to keep in mind. Thank you!

  8. Great article, Jackye! I particularly like your first two points, stop recruiting bad candidates and don’t lie.

    What I think is missing, however, is an explanation of what the company is doing about their situation. Sure, you may find that candidate you mentioned that likes the chaos, but you’re sure to find many more that won’t give you the time of day. If you want to recruit top candidates, you have to be an employer of choice. On of my favorite stats: 75% of Americans wouldn’t accept a job at a company with a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.

    Yahoo has had this problem – nobody wants to work there, and employees frequently leave to work for top companies like Google, Apple or Facebook. Melissa Meyer has a plan to change that – and I’d bet she’s sharing it with recruits to get them to overcome objections. It’s a slow and arduous process, but a necessary one. You can’t expect candidates to walk into a disaster of a company, and actually stay put – you need to do something about it.

    I recently did a webinar on how to get better quality candidates through your employer brand – check it out and let me know what you think!

    Increase your Quality of Hire with Employer Branding


    Jen Picard
    Marketing Director,

  9. @ Jackye: You’re very welcome. I think that when writers put out numbers, they should cite their sources, as you’ve done.

    @ Richard: you’re stealing my thunder! My beef with the so called (and possibly “self-proclaimed) “thought leaders” is just like yours- they work in a very rarefied environment far from “the real world of recruiting”. They get healthy fees to speak to and advise high-level staffing execs at wealthy companies, by basically telling them what they want to hear so as to make the execs feel that they are really doing something, when very little meaningful is actually done. (If the staffing execs REALLY wanted to do something, they’d work closely with those of us actually doing the staffing, listen to what what we suggest, and implement the best of those ideas. THEN, they’d go to the high-level consultants if additional help were needed.) After awhile, many of these bogus “TLs” start believing their own hype, and utter “pronouncements on-high” with only casual relationship to fact-based results. Their entourages of sycophantic followers keep them carefully oblivious of how divorced from reality they actually are, as does the continuing stream of well-paid talks and consulting engagements…Of course, none of these fake “TLs” are ever to be found on ERE.


    Keith “Wish I Got Money Like a Thought Leader” Halperin

  10. Ouch, Jackye, I bet that was a hard article to write. Everyone wants to work for #1, right? Good for you for being realistic and give some down-to-earth, practical advice.

  11. “Ouch, Jackye, I bet that was a hard article to write. Everyone wants to work for #1, right? Good for you for being realistic and give some down-to-earth, practical advice.”

    I think everyone defines #1 differently though, Tim. That’s the key: find the people who do consider your company #1 or one of the best, or at least tolerable, and try and target them. Definitely scoop them up when they happen to come your way too.

  12. @ Everybody: I think we’re portraying a sense of false choice. A recent BLS report ( shows about 3.5 job seekers/open job, so if we’re not talking about the “Fabulous 5%” or folks with some much-in-demand skills, the vast majority of people don’t have multiple offers to decide from, so (in most cases) you can get some quite good people happy for the work. “Quite good people happy for the work” are in the fact the people most companies should go after and expect to hire…


  13. Thanks Jackye for this article.
    Stop Recruiting Bad candidates and Don’t lie were the best which i liked.Also while retaining an employee “If the company stinks so badly, why did you accept a position there”.

    Thanks again for this excellent contribution.

    Anmol Singh

  14. It’s interesting, a recruiter from Dish took the time to answer a question via LinkedIn and did a very nice job. I can tell they are using these techniques and differentiating themselves in a positive way.

  15. @Richard – Well y’all are sure stealing my thunder!!

    I agree with you Richard and you bring up a good point. In fact most recently I was chastised for suggesting to do exist interviews because the company stated, “we did that before and employees just got mad because we did not implement any change from the suggestions and exit interviews and it just caused more grief!) I did the research and have changed my stance a bit on that. In realizing that I could only change myself, because of my honesty, the 100+ candidates that I brought in came to me and let me know their challenges and personal wins and I think that counts.
    I am a bit unclear on what you mean by speaking to employees like that. I did, however, want to reflect that once you find the ideal candidate, who likes the environment, support them and cheer them on! A smile goes a long way in retention!
    To me saying “my gripe is not with my job or company because I chose to work there and I believe such companies can and do have massive opportunities. That’s why I’m there” is why you are an ideal candidate / employee for environments such as yours. You are not a whiner rather a survivor an a good mentor to those who may question what they are doing at the company!
    I have the same gripe with thought leaders who do offer almost an “in a perfect world” scenario. You bring up a great point. I hope you checked out my profile – I am the real deal. Check out my LinkedIn profile and go to I do get it! When I read stuff from some thought leaders, it is like Madonna telling me how to get my before children body back. Believe me, if I had chefs, trainers a gym in my house and a plastic surgeon I would! What I can do, like Ghandi said, “be the change I want to see in the world” and do the best with what I have. Sometimes, money is not the incentive but rather a smile and a pat on the back.
    Richard, thank you for your opinion and insight! Also, thanks for being real! I would love to connect and hear more of your opinions. It looks like I could learn a great deal from you.

  16. @ Anmol:
    Q: “If the company stinks so badly, why did you accept a position there”.
    A: “I had no other offers and needed the job” aka,

    “The usual answer most people accept jobs.”



  17. Thanks, Jackye. I’ve been told that before- often when I’m asking for a raise….

    “So what should I call myself?”
    How about a “Solid, Decent, and Competent Recruiter”?
    For many of the “Recruiting Thought Leaders” (not those here on ERE of course), if that description was EVER in their pasts, it was so long ago- “that boat hasn’t just sailed, it sailed, sank, and got filmed in IMAX for a documentary by James Cameron!”


    Keep up the Good Work,


  18. Not bad advice. I think you forgot to offer the most important one: find a job at a company with a good reputation ASAP before your reputation takes a hit.

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