Losing Your Professionalism

“You’re only as good as your last deal” was a common phrase during my agency days. I didn’t just view it as a deal; this was a person’s livelihood by placing a candidate in a new opportunity. But when “deals” are associated with your income, people are commodities.

There’s a perception that productivity equals a good recruiter. We don’t consider the candidate experience, the relationship that the recruiter develops with their client groups, or how well the recruiter represents a client or company to a candidate. After all, the recruiter is the face of the company, and that’s the first impression a candidate will have.

While we need a metric to measure a recruiter’s performance, it would be prudent to avoid the “warm body” notion. That is, do we present and hire just anyone to meet our goals, therefore appearing as productive, or do we focus on the quality of candidates and the candidate experience? After all, candidates could be future clients.

In the corporate recruiter’s case, you may want the candidate to keep using your company’s products. People aren’t just commodities. When we hire, these are individuals who have to contemplate the stress of resigning, possibly relocating, and making decisions among more than one offer.

We all know of recruiters who are very productive but have an unsavory professional reputation. Some of them are known to be unethical, crass, and often considered used car salesmen. During my agency experience, I had a manager who told me to inform a candidate that the candidate should accept an offer because it would “make my numbers” for the month. How embarrassing! Why would this candidate care about my numbers?

Neutral Advocates

Professional recruiters are like Switzerland with a twist. They remain neutral yet gingerly advocate for their client, and have honest discussions with the candidate about their career path and expectations instead of giving them false hope and pushing them into a position that is destined to not be a fit.

I’m not saying that we’re social workers. After all, we do have to be productive. But the recruiters who maintain a professional reputation are not known as body-bagging; instead, they balance the needs of the candidate with the priorities of the client.

Candidates and client groups remember and appreciate this level of candor and professionalism more than a bad hire remembers having been strong-armed into a position that ended up being a mismatched disaster.

While hiring managers are ultimately responsible for bad hires, somehow the finger is always pointed at the recruiter.

The agencies will always focus on metrics. Organizations with corporate recruiters do so as well to some degree. Agencies tend to hire salespeople from all walks of life, and it is a commissioned-based environment.

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Occasionally, there are agency recruiters who believe in the customer-service aspects of recruiting and want to “cross over” to corporate recruiting to take a different approach to recruiting that better addresses their values and interests.

Within corporate recruiting, there is a novel but not widespread thought of a requisition-less environment, encouraging professionalism, quality, and team collaboration, and decreasing the focus on metrics. I was once in an environment that was requisition-less, and hiring committees, not hiring managers, made the hiring decisions. It was a relief to not have hiring managers chase me for candidates and to focus on one profile instead of many.

It was also refreshing to be able to manage candidates better, since I wasn’t overwhelmed by a variety of requisitions. I was providing a positive candidate experience. The downside to this was that I became bored with just one or two profiles and I had no influence over who was hired. I felt like a transactional babysitter, not a true recruiting consultant.

It was also unclear how I was measured. It wasn’t about productivity as much as managing the process and assuring the candidate had a positive experience along the way. However, there was always the background judgment of how productive one was even though one didn’t have influence over the hiring. Thinking about metrics never really stopped.

While I think there will always be a focus on metrics, since it seems to be the one comfortable and conventional measurement used to evaluate recruiters, I think we need to consider other factors besides what our last deal was.

It only takes one unprofessional recruiter to ruin the reputation of those who strive to be professional. Perhaps this means changing the overall recruiting model as far as how we hire and how we are measured.

Let’s figure out how we can be professional recruiters without compromising the quality of service that we are providing candidates and our client groups.

Melinda White is accustomed to delivering strategic and tactical success in entrepreneurial and challenging environments. She is a talent acquisition and university relations specialist who has paid her dues at Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Sun Microsystems, and Idealab. Since having a baby girl in 2011, she has transitioned into a talent advisor/partner role, collaborating with early and late stage ventures as well as Fortune 500 companies. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Scripps College and her claim to fame is being classmates with Gabby Giffords before the Internet was commercially available.


14 Comments on “Losing Your Professionalism

  1. ?You?re only as good as your last deal?

    Melinda, an interesting take on a very common statement in recruitment and indeed one I stand by myself. I read your article with enthusiasm because of this. What was really interesting for me is the different perception or use of this statement.

    You have related this statement to money and separated it away from being professional but when I use this statement, it has a very different meaning.

    In any sales position, it is a fact that the primary motivation is to earn money. However, in every sales profession there are different ways of reaching your financial goals. The shortsighted way is to just focus on the money and do whatever is necessary to reach that goal.

    In recruiting this approach will certainly mean being prepared to cut corners, lie to candidates, lie to customers and generally doing anything to get that deal.

    This recruiter doesn?t care whether the job is a better opportunity for the candidate; they just want them to take it so they get their fee. This recruiter doesn?t care if the Customer gets the best candidate as long as they employ them so they get their fee.

    In this sense, ?you?re only good as your last deal? is from the recruiters own employer or sales manager. In other words, you will be sacked if you don?t do the next deal.

    I know that there are a lot of companies run in this way and I?m sure not one of us wishes them success.

    When I say ?You?re only as good as your last deal? it means being professional at all times. It means focus on the quality rather than the quantity. It means the candidate experience is essential. It also means that the Customer experience is essential.

    In other words, if you don?t get all these things right, the customer will not use you again, even if you did place someone with them. For me the statement is ALL about quality of hire and keeps the recruiter focused on these essential points. With this in mind the recruiter will not only ensure future business with happy customers and candidates, they will also make their money.

    What I like about your article is how one statement can mean different things depending on how it is used and who uses it. Interpretation is key and I will continue to believe that I am only as good as my last deal.

    It?s not so much the recruiting model that needs changing, but the attitude towards it. Chase the money and the quality will suffer. Focus on quality and the rewards will follow.

  2. Good article, great insights, thanks! Having made the move from agency to corporate myself, i can certainly relate to some of your discussion points.

    Thanks again!

  3. Melinda,

    You really nailed it on this one. Having come from an agency background, and now in corporate recruiting, this article should be in the Hall of Fame. There is an overwhelming sense of ‘body-shuffling’, and treating people like monthly numbers. Yes it is a lucrative profession, and yes it can be rewarding, but it also can turn off ‘would-be great recruiters’ from the business altogether – not to mention what it does to a candidate’s perspective of us and our respective organizations.

    I left the agency life because although I really developed some strong relationships with candidates and clients alike (many than continue to this day), I felt that management had no support for building rapport with candidates. This is someone’s LIFE here. Not just a ‘deal’ or a ‘free trip to Vegas or Mexico’ on the line. In making the transition to corporate, I feel now that I am involved heavily in the final decision of a hire, as well as working through this life-changing experience with the candidate.

    Yes, metrics will always be a factor whether in Agency life or Corporate life, but let’s start looking at QUALITY vs. QUANTITY. Let’s treat it like the People-Business it truly is.

    Wonderful Article Melinda, and thanks for striving to keep the ethical recruiters in the forefront.

  4. Melinda –

    Well written article, but I came away with some negativity toward TPRs based on your agency experience I am a TPR and my agency is comprised of HR professionals – not salespeople(though we do function work on a commission basis, so perhaps we’ll never be able to say that again).

    I know that I can’t possibly be living on a island unto myself. There must be other TPRs out there where the focus isn’t on metrics but on quality customer services and honest, ethic-based recruiting tactics. As a former HR Manager who used TPRs when the need arised, I certainly did run into agencies who functioned in a manner that perhaps describes the type of agency you were in. I chose to join my agency because my experience with them was so different from ‘those agencies’.

    Rest assured that not all recruiting agency workers have to ‘cross over’ to corporate recruiting to address their values and look ourselves in the mirror every day. We can, and do, maintain that same sense of professionalism you describe on a daily basis. If you are a good recruiter, than you treat people as people – not commodities – no matter which side of the recruiting table you are sitting on.

  5. Great article! The two most important people in the hiring process are the hiring manager and the candidate. The traditional model of recruitment with the recruiter in the middle surrounded by tools, i.e. ATS, job boards, email, internet, research, ext… has forsaken the two most important people in the process. In many situations, hiring managers are shuffled resumes and asked to choose the best candidates for an interview. How many times have we seen great resumes and the person is not all he cracks himself up to be? I have also seen people with terrible resumes and they are the perfect candidates for the position.

    I like the fact that you recognize the importance of taking care of the candidate. So many candidates never get any feedback from companies they apply to. That is simply rude as far as I’m concerned.

    I have a friend who interviewed for a mid size well known Computer Peripherals company. They called him on 3 separate occasions to interview for various director level positions. He had 2nd and 3rd round interviews with them and was told he was a leading candidate. In the end of all 3 interviewing stints he never heard back from the recruiter or the company. It was not until I spoke to their VP of HR and let her know what had occurred did he get an email back from the recruiter. The recruiter wrote him, ‘I guess we dropped the ball in getting back to you. Sorry, you did not get the position.’

    The scary part was that my friend was over joyed with the response! He didn’t care that the recruiters tone was terrible he was just happy that someone let him know what happened. I don’t believe he will ever interview with them again. I actually got a call back from their director of talent and he was upset with me for telling his VP about the situation. WHAT is wrong with THIS Picture! Would you not want to know how candidates perceive your company? You may believe you have a fantastic recruiting infrastructure because you get the right people in place but in reality you are alienating 100’s of future customers, investors, and potential future employees by not treating the people who do not get the position with respect.

    I saw an entry on Yahoo recruiters from a director of recruiting who was looking for a position. The director recounted his experience over the last month or so. He was commenting on this very situation. His experience had been horrendous. He wrapped up his comment by saying,

    ?I am puzzled as the lack of response to me, as a candidate for a position with these companies. Several of these companies/HR folks
    are on this forum. When I was in charge of recruitment for several
    years, I recognized the value of building good relationships with
    candidates. I might not be intrested now, but possibly in the
    future. Additionally, I felt it a common courtesy to inform
    candidates that took their time to express interest in my company,
    answer and update of their status as a candidate.

    My recent personal experience demonstrates this seems to be a forgotten art??? What is wrong with our people?

    A recruiter responded to his comments by saying, ?Spell check is a lost art too!? WOW!!! You just made the man’s point even clearer with that type of comment.

    I do realize that in the current model of recruiting that most organizations are practicing it is very very difficult to get back to everyone who applies to their position. My only comment is that the traditional model of recruitment is BROKEN.

    I know that there are a number of great recruiters out there who do make an effort to get back to everyone they come in contact with. Unfortunately they are the few and not the majority. Staffing.org reported that 94% of job seekers never hear anything back.


  6. Hmmn. Having worked in both environments I can relate to your comments. I think however that what you have not said openly is that third party commission based recruitment is a model based on failure, not success.
    Why do I say that? Well do the numbers and it will show that the greater number of assignments undertaken by third party agencies do not end in a hire; the consultant will spend many hours of effort only for the role to change, become surplus to requirements or be filled by the client company through another source; be that an internal promotion, transfer, referral or more likely, via another third party recruiting consultancy. This is true even when an exclusive arrangement is in place. In order to compensate for wasted effort and expense, the agency needs to charge high fees and work on volume activities.
    I don’t believe that people come to work to deliver sub standard effort and low quality services, however while the our industries reward agencies and consultants only for success and not for the actual work undertaken, we will continue to have poor quality outcomes and to drive behaviours that are not in the best interests of either client or candidate. Additionally High fees drive cost avoidance behaviour by client companies and so further adding to a negative cycle.
    Sadly, given that recruitment as a profession continues to have low barriers to entry and therefore a high number of competitors ready to ‘sell’ a body, there is very little incentive by client companies to change their reward model and far too much risk for agencies to look at other creative ways of engaging. Time to shift the paradigm?

  7. As a member of an organization focused on the measurement and improvement of candidate experience, I greatly applaud your article. Love the fresh and ‘real’ way you describe the way we as recruiters impact the candidates’ experience. The 1% I would challenge you on is with the following general statement:

    ‘But the recruiters who maintain a professional reputation are not known as body-bagging; instead, they balance the needs of the candidate with the priorities of the client.

    Candidates and client groups remember and appreciate this level of candor and professionalism more than a bad hire remembers having been strong-armed into a position that ended up being a mismatched disaster.’

    I have had the pleasure to speak on an interactive basis with groups of people in the Southwest about their experiences as candidates and, by far, my own experience in hearing their stories tells me that people remember much longer and much more intensely the bad experiences they have (whether as a candidate or just in general). Not the good ones. I’m not sure of the psychological reasons for this, but I would guess that the emotions behind the negative experiences just could be more intense and leave a stronger memory train than those associated with positive experiences.

    All the more reason we should provide positive candidate experiences…all said to endorse your article.


  8. I would make the point that sleaziness can be encountered for reasons other than productivity as well. But just because some recruiters only have eyes toward hiring for dollars, that in and of itself does not mean productivity doesn’t count. I find that the errors and dogma surrounding productivity and metrics criteria is that many agencies and companies measure every recruiting project under the same metrics, which is simply misguided. Recruiters working on executive recruiting projects should not be measured under the same criteria as recruiters working on call center projects, for example. One key hire for the executive office or the sales team can take as much effort as hiring a whole staff in another division.

  9. My last personal job search included this question ‘How do you feel about the statement Your only as good as your last deal?’ The people that stood behind that statement were not people I wanted to work with ever again.
    To me it is a difference between those firms that use the revolving door scheme, have 4 or 5 senior recruiters and a constant stream of people coming in sourcing candidates, building a pipeline and then when they not meet their numbers they are shown the door and the senior recruiters are handed all their hard work. Its a typical business model for the shysters in this industry.

  10. I’m with Cathy on this one. There are a number of factors that make a Third Party or Agency recruiter successful, and sales skills are only part of the picture.

    Successful Recruiters are a blend of sales people and ‘people-people’ I always like Barb Bruno’s phrase ‘Social Workers who like money’.

    I believe that like selling is the art of accurately identifying needs and providing effective solutions, recruiting is the art of connecting the right people with the right companies. Successful recruiters have the drive, tenacity, and focus of great sales people, combined with the desire to be a powerful positive force in both the lives of candidates and the success of our clients.

    There are a number of firms, like mine, that hold themselves to a standard of excellence that includes operating with integrity at all times in all situations, and nothing bothers me more than over-arching indictments of the TPR industry and culture. Yes there are bad recruiting firms out there that don?t care about the people the represent, but many do.

    I can?t help but feeling that the author had a bad experience with one or more ?bad? firm, and that?s unfortunate. But generalizations like these are one reason even the good agency struggle to attract good recruiters.

  11. Any agency that only works for the deal and not in the interest of their clients and candidates won’t develop long term relationships with either. This is a relationship business. In good times, unscrupulous companies can ‘slam’ deals because there are so many requirements and companies may be desparate for people. In bad times, those agencies don’t do well and may not last. Only companies with strong relationships make it during lean years. In my opinion, the business just isn’t as fun and rewarding if you don’t establish long term relationships. My company just doesn’t do business any other way. There are some third party firms that absolutely do work in the best interest of their clients / candidates. Otherwise, we just wouldn’t have long term customers. Bad things occassionally happen in the business (your latest placement resigns/gets fired, does something bad on the job, doesn’t show up, etc) and only ‘the strong’ (relationships) survive those issues. Lumping all agencies as ‘only working for the deal’ just isn’t true just as it isn’t true that all corporate recruiters work in the best interest of their company instead of their metrics/last placement (of course some do/some don’t).

  12. There are changes coming in our industry being driven by the mobilitiy of recruiting, transactional management and a reduction in the supply of candidates. I think we’ll see a healthy re-focus on the candidates. Maybe that ‘Gingerly Advocate’ comment will change from the client and TO the candidate.

    The day is coming when the recruiter’s role will be on being a true talent agent for the candidates.

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