Life at the Crossroads and What to Do — NOW

“It’s a really unique situation where you have someone who is at a crossroads personally and professionally.” — Elliot Wilson

If living and working in this economy of disappearing jobs, tiny budgets, and little recruiting is getting a bit old, then perhaps you have arrived at your own personal crossroads. This metaphorical location is the intersecting point where what used to work for you in the past ends and what you will need to change in order to be successful in the future begins. As I see it, you have only two options:

  1. You can continue to do what you are doing and wait for the economy to “get back to normal.”
  2. You can make some fundamental changes to your core assumptions of how businesses that survive will operate so you might survive as well.

Personally, I have grave concerns about Option 1 because no one knows exactly what the new “normal” might be, and for all we know, this aberration might be the new “normal” and will remain such for years to come. If you share my concerns, please consider the following thoughts:

Expect Less. It matters little if you work as a contractor, agency, or corporate person. The face and very composition of work is changing radically. As such, the rewards normally tied to work will probably change as well. Consider the work-a-day existence of your past and acknowledge that it is probably going to remain in your past. Perhaps benefits will disappear. Perhaps the concept of “full time” will be based upon organizational need as opposed to “employee” legal standing. Perhaps you will trade value for money to be paid every Friday with both parties reevaluating the relationship every few months. Either way, expect less and smile.

Expect More. This is an opportunity for the cream of the crop to do great things. (It is also an opportunity for those who are not yet the cream to get there.) Regardless of what our flat, highly politicized world becomes, capitalists and entrepreneurs will always need to build great organizations in order to do great things. Those who effectively traffic in the procurement of human capital will always be paid for the talent they bring to the table because that is real value. Can’t get a job with one company? How about 60 hours a week with three or four companies? The time to get creative is now.

Don’t Freak on the Politics. I read a post on ERE saying that if the site went political, “I am out of here.” This thinking will not help your cause, your career, or your wallet. Show me something that affects your profession/business today and I will show you something that was political yesterday. The time to become aware and involved is now, because you can’t benefit from the political aspects of business with an “I-am-just-a-recruiter” mentality. Don’t get me wrong: I hate long, lunatic pointless ranting posts that blame all of this misery on one party/person/group or the other. The time for blame is over, and the time for awareness and action has arrived. Exactly how you do that is your decision, but pointing out the importance of being politically aware is mine. (In all of my years, I have never seen a recruiter with a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Why is that?)

They Told You They Have No Money? Are you an agency or a sourcer or some other vendor selling peripheral recruiting services? If so, let me tell you a little secret; all organizations have money. When they say that they have no money, they mean they have no money for you. That means, that they do not see real value in what you are selling, because if they did, they would find the money; they would stay up nights looking for it. I strongly suggest that all of us dramatically increase our value proposition. How? For openers, lower your price, because as cost goes down, value goes up. As an example, If I were in the agency business, I would reduce my fees. Most agency people hate this thinking for endless reasons but doing placements at 15% a pop is more sensible then non-stop conversations with clients about why your candidates are worth 30%. Those individuals who allow money to stand in the way of doing business are making a grave mistake.

Paradigm Shifts Are Good. Use Them. Many years ago, the Swiss owned the watch industry. Then the Japanese began to make watches using cheapo quartz innards that were far more accurate as opposed to expensive Swiss movements. That was a paradigm shift and all paradigm shifts bring the marketplace back to zero as the race begins again! The Japanese made bazillions of these watches and decimated Swiss domination. The Japanese found a better way, and the world bought. The lesson here? The future of recruiting is up for grabs. Radical new ideas in conjunction with creative, global, and scalable solutions will change everything! If you have an idea, shoot for the moon now or spend your life wishing that you did.

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Leave Recruiting. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Please remember that recruiting has no bar to entry. If and when recruiting “comes back,” regardless of how good you might be, your competition will be every 24-year-old kid with capped teeth and greased hair looking to make a buck. What’s that you say? They will recognize your years of experience and talent? Hmmm … Some will, but more will not, as their lower pricing will be a strong lure. Tired of being part of an industry that gets squished ever five or so years? Are you an agency person who is beginning to hate the grind and 75 cold calls a day? A corporate person who despises the politics and the games? If so, perhaps now is the time to realize that recruiting does not have to be a life sentence. Good recruiters have terrific skills and they can do so many other things. As an example, about three or four years ago, I was with Dave Lefkow doing a presentation in NYC for a fortune 100 client. Look at Dave now. Who knew? Hopefully, you can see there is more then one way to bring home the bacon.

These ideas are but the tip of the iceberg in looking at new ways to think, act, and do business. I do not see any real option to making these changes, because either business will adjust to you, or you will adjust to business. Which one do you think will happen?

(Hanging around Minnesota this Friday? See Howard Adamsky speak at Best Buy headquarters in Richfield. The presentation is entitled “Brave New World/The Emerging Role of Tomorrow’s Recruiters.” Cost is $12,500 per person but it’s free if you mention Howard’s name. Donuts included of course. Register at )

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


29 Comments on “Life at the Crossroads and What to Do — NOW

  1. I’m gasping from the thrill of cold water thrown on my face. I hope others feel the excitement as well.

    Thnaks Howard for saying what needs to be said (as you always do)!

  2. No recruiter with a copy of the WSJ? What the heck have I been saying all my years here on ERE?!?!?!?

    Actually I now prefer FT and CFO magazine.

    I love you Howie and will call today.

  3. Refreshing, common sense advice. A wake up call for those without previous experience living through an economic downturn and a reminder to change with the times for we veterans of 4 (or is that 5?) recessions. Thanks!

  4. Howard – SPOT ON as always! We have the ability now to become true partners, expanding our knowledge base across the HR spectrum, and those that do will reap the rewards at the end of the tunnel. This is the time to revolutionize your process, the way the company/client views your worth and makes you priceless later on.

  5. Howard is on the money. Bottom line today is a 3rd party recruiter to survive has two options.

    Find a niche where demand outstrips supply (not many of those left), or work in a competitively supply and demand balanced market making a minimum of 40-50 cold call connections per day working harder and smarter.

    I’m not expecting corporate private sector hiring to pick up any time soon for a number of reasons and have been in survival mode since 2001 adapting my recruiting approach.

    Howard is a gem and a voice of real world reason. Had the pleasure of doing business with and meeting him when he was at CCA in Cambridge, MA back in the 1990’s.


  6. “capped teeth and greased hair looking to make a buck” . . . Although I never thought of my direct competition in this way, I should definitely start thinking about changing hair style. Yikes.

  7. Great post…I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    You are right….The Recruiting Industry is going through major change. Your post reminded me of something Charles Darwin once wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
    Especially in this economy, if we are to survive, Recruiters will have to change as well.

  8. My sentiments exactly!
    Wonderfully written article.
    I often believed that all the statements about, “how things would come around” and “just sit tight” are just nice, complimentary things to say…so everyone “feels good”. I believe that the recruiting landscape will be changed forever. One of the hardest things to do is CHANGE. We ask our candidates to do it all the time. But as recruiters, we quiver at the thought. Many people I talk to seem to think that the rug was just pulled from under them. But that in actuality is not true, the changes and dynamics have been going on for quite some time.
    Great straight talk. It’s time to innovate, create, reevaluate or move on.


  9. Howard- I look forward to you speaking at the MNTRN at the Best Buy HQ this Friday in Minneapolis. Should be a great turnout and this article will surely generate some lively discussion. See you then!

  10. Great article (as usual) Howard. I especially enjoyed the piece about Dave & Bacon Salt. Today more than ever we need to be passionate about what we are doing or move on to something that WILL stimulate us!!!

  11. Nail on the head! My response is to go higher end and specialize even more. This is my 4th recession and likely not the last. One thing everyone seems to forget is that the Baby Boomers are still going to retire and we are going to continue to have a talent shortage! Demonstrate your value and you will get your fees.

  12. It has taken us a while to realize that eventhough we don’t ‘like’ this new reality, it IS a reality. Off shore recruiting groups are making headway into our recruiting market. The tools and data available are successfully taking out much of the ‘intelligence’ of the recruiting process. Hate it? Yep. Are we making lots of changes to adjust our business to remain competitive? you-betcha.

    Great article – right on!

  13. Great post Howard. I think the majority of us have all had to at least “consider” our direction. Many (including myself) were on auto-pilot for quite a while.

    Funny thing though….As nearly everyone agrees that the “same old – same old” approach may not be the best moving forward, only a tiny percentage make the changes necessary. I’ve seen several of my staffing buddies exit the field and more are on their way out.

    Were they good? Yes. They “were”.

  14. GREAT, GREAT, GREAT Article…

    The 24year old’s will take over where there is no passion for this type of work….

    I LOVE 75 calls a DAY…..every single one of them draws me closer to giving back more $$/Time to my church and community- ITS ABOUT SERVICE GANG! Who are YOU serving today.. YOUR Customers or YOURSELF?

    I don’t suggest ANY of the finest 3rd party recruiter’s to decrease there fees until the ability to find top producer’s increases, which it has not, (They are ALL working and very cautious to jump shift at present times)

    Thanks for this excellent post….

  15. Thanks for the reminder. At times we get so busy doing the every-day-job that we forget to think about the job we’ll need tomorrow. I must make plans! Thanks!

  16. Being forced into option one, I can personally say that is NOT where anyone should be. Making less than one third of my “real working” salary than I was a couple years ago when my IT career came crashing to an end thanks in part to office politics and a hostile take-over. I’m still looking for that new and exciting career opportunity.

  17. As a 3rd party recruiter what it boils down to for me is finding passive invisible candidates companies can’t access for the highly niche specific and Purple Squirrel tough assignments they’ll pay a fee for, and just how much rejection/frustration I can handle targeting a goal of 50 presentations daily in my pursuit of those candidates. Whether it be 25, 40, or the 50 target.

    In this survival mode it’s much like athletes playing in pain in sports to persevere as we get hit in cold call recruiting with every telephone indignity imaginable.


  18. IMHO, our choices are simple but difficult:

    1) Do we decide to offer the high value-add, specialized hiring services which can’t be eliminated, automated, or outsourced away? This may require us to work harder and smarter for less than before.

    2) Do we hope and pray for a return of an already-obsolete model relying on the gullibility and ignorance of many potential clients to using cost-effective alternatives? This is not very sensible.

    Folks, I fear the days when any half-trained, “salesy” Tammy, Dick, or Harriet can make a good living at recruiting are going fast if they aren’t gone already, and may be gone for good. So don’t be overwhelmed: learn, change, and adapt!


    Keith “What Makes You So Special?” Halperin

    “The 21st century is where everything changes, and you’ve got to be ready!”
    ?Jack Harkness

  19. Having lived through a number of recessions, I wholeheartedly agree with Howard’s view. What is different about past recessions and this one is that everyone knows about this one; with the internet it is much more publicized.

    During previous recessions, I always thought it was me–whether I was too young, not experienced enough or just not good enough. One good thing about not realizing others were going through the same thing at the same time, is that it was like running with blinders. I had to be more flexible constantly changing and maneuvering to stay in the race…

  20. You’re a rock star Howard. Another article I wish I had written myself. Bonus points for suggesting some folks consider leaving recruiting -the best thing about a down economy is it separates the dedicated from those who would be happier doing something else.

  21. Good article. I think this is my 3rd recession. To me the mechanics of recruiting do not change, but the industry has changed greatly. There are so many avenues in place that did not exist in the day – just look at all the social media tools, ATS streamlining, niche job boards – ways to make recruiting simpler for corporations. The soft skills such as persuasion and negotiation remain, but you can train individuals easily. Good recruiters grown and perfect with time, something you cannot replace. But there are so many good tools now which are indeed making our jobs obsolete. But the same skills can be used in so many other areas.

    I did not know about Dave – there you have it! There is life beyond recruiting. Thanks Howard.

  22. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is my FOURTH industry downturn, yes we will survive.

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