Publisher’s Corner

People continue to try to convince me that recruiters and the recruiting profession are headed towards extinction. Of course, I’ve heard this doomful and gloomy conjecture for some decades now. The pessimists all claim that the ability of candidates and employers to network through the myriad of web ventures makes our profession obsolete and valueless. I asked several of our readers the following:

Over the past few months, I’ve received calls and Emails from a few people whom I suspect have some rather questionable motives. Aside from the fact that some of them are heavily involved in providing services connected with or peripheral to the Internet, they have predicted that the recruiting business as we know it will evaporate within the next few years because of the rapid advancements in technological tools which they say will obviate the need for recruiters.

Thinking back over my 40+ years in this business and looking back through our archives, these negative notions crop up as regularly as dandelions in spring. Although the recruiting business has had to respond to the ever more sophisticated technologies, they have, for the most part, been as helpful as hurtful. Sure, some things have changed and we have had to adapt, but for the naysayers to predict a total collapse of the recruiting business is, in my humble opinion, nonsensical. What do you think?

“In the mid 80’s, I attended a demonstration of a new product that would definitely eliminate a company’s need for recruiters. The product was Resumix. In the demonstration, the Engineer who developed Resumix (and started the company) explained how Resumix combined a data base with an artificial intelligent tool and was able to match job requirements with resumes and thus produce qualified candidates. He was also very proud of the fact that it scanned in resumes from every source possible: newspaper ads, resumes that came through the mail, resumes found on the street, etc. During the question and answer period, I said it seemed to me that the system was putting a lot of garbage in thus garbage out…He pooh poohed me and said eventually this system will hold every resume that’s available which will match up with the appropriate job requisitions thus Managers will be able to very easily find the candidates they need and thus totally eliminate the use of recruiters both in house and from agencies.

Over the next few years I was really surprised at how many companies bought this system at a price tag of $2.2 million. It seemed that every large high tech company had and used this system. During those years, business was great for my consulting and recruiting firm.

You can imagine my surprise when, sometime in the early 90’s, I received a call from the President of Resumix asking me to contract at Resumix; to find the hard to find candidates (his definition of hard to find was every opening he had, about 20 ranging from admin to VP but mostly engineers) I consulted to them for about a year and I filled most of the positions (including a CFO). It’s amazing that I filled those positions the old fashioned way…using the phone not Resumix. It seemed very ironic that this company needed my recruiting skills to fill their positions.

In some respects Resumix worked very well; as a data base for managing job descriptions, monitoring the employment process, generating all kinds of letters etc., but not recruiting. So, to answer your question about recruiters becoming obsolete…I don’t think so.” Jerry Marymont, Corporate Search

“I’m a new subscriber to your newsletter and enjoy it immensely. With regards to a collapse of the recruiting business, yes, it might collapse for the untrained, unskilled, and for the recruiters that can’t recruit in tough times, but it’s the relationships built with your clients that will continue to be very bright for the true executive search consultant. There will always be a need for excellent search consultants. When times slow down you just have to adjust. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You’ve seen change over the past 40 years, and we will continue to have change the next 40 years. You just have to adjust. No different than any other industry. I specialize in the envelope and printing industry. They say envelope companies should have gone out of business 10 years ago because of Email. I’m extremely busy right now, so that statement isn’t true as well. Bottom line, you must adjust and be flexible.” Dave Fisher, The Fisher Executive Group LLC

“As long as there are people who need people, it will be incumbent on professional recruiters to find them, persuade them and bring them together.” Mike Flamer, The Dorfman Group

“Coincidentally I was speaking to a manager I’m currently recruiting for the other day and he said without prompting: ‘You know, your business will never become obsolete. Never! I just don’t have the time to find candidates myself. And I’ve had just one CV from HR and that wasn’t very good.’ Therefore, it seems however advanced the Internet becomes and however slick search technology becomes you’ll always need the grafters and deal makers, i.e., professional recruiters. I welcome these changes only the serious pros will remain in demand and remain standing.” James Hadden, London UK

“I agree — that’s totally nonsensical. And yes, I’m familiar with Zoominfo, Linkedin, etc. The reality is that most very good recruiters provide a service that companies can’t . . . which is the ability to recruit top, passive talent. There is nothing like a recruiter getting on the phone with quality people they already know to start a search. The names provided to recruiters by quality people in our database beat out Zoominfo and any other passive recruiting tool by far. We track where EVERY placement comes from and by far, our most successful way of recruiting is by referrals from people with whom we already have relationships. Additionally, candidates are much more likely to speak with us, initially, over a company, as they know that we will treat them professionally and confidentially. And, no one handholds and coddles these candidates like recruiters. We spend hours making them feel comfortable by answering questions they may be uncomfortable asking companies directly.” Adam Slone, Slone & Associates

“I think this is like any other idea that seems flawed. You are polite, you listen briefly, say thanks for the information and wish them well. Then do nothing. To the degree people want to depend upon the Internet and do their search work online without much human contact, it helps the rest of us who dig deeper and earn our money by getting people that the clients can’t get by the Internet. If they want to muddy the waters, let them.” Charles Bamford, Rockwood Associates

“In my opinion, the search and placement business is here to stay for this one reason: Fear! Fears such as 1) identify theft, 2) the notion that our name can be entered into multiple search engines and come up with hundreds if not thousands of ‘hits,’ and 3) as hiring decisions based on discovering someone’s questionable high school blog entry, and other Internet driven activities continue to rise, astute passive candidates will attempt to go further underground. The most innate aspect of the human condition is that one day each of us will be discovered (for who we really are). This inherent fear will continue to drive the perpetuation of the passive candidate market and will also drive new technologies to protect us, especially on the Internet. The heart of true search and placement is the maintenance of confidentiality and the Internet does everything to invade that concept. So, as in all things, change is inevitable and the more invaded upon we feel, the greater the measures we will take to maintain our privacy, including our career aspirations.” Anonymous

“There is no doubt that technology has changed and has had a dramatic effect on the recruiting business forever, as it has had on most other business. As you say, some positive and negative. But for anyone to say the recruiting industry is going away is just like the coming of the paperless society. It will never happen because, although the Internet is a meeting ground for candidates and clients, there is still that group of candidates that are in demand such as specialty people and high performing sales people that will have to be contacted directly and recruited. That’s just plain reality. Yes, if you don’t really recruit and are just slinging resumes from the Internet or from wherever, your days are probably numbered, because as we all see, Companies can hire these folks at very reasonable salaries.” Roger Bakken, J. Rodgers & Associates

“I hear you, and I hear the naysayers as well. I first heard this around ‘97 and ‘98 when Monster was taking hold and some of the others were coming and going. They have carved a spot for themselves and they have probably driven the lazy, lowhangingfruit pickers out of our business. These and other technologies have been great tools for those of us who might have slipped into the fruitpicking business. Mostly, since I started differentiating what we do from our clients and potential clients, other sources of people, things have improved for me personally. If I actually go get top talent from my client’s competitor they seem to understand the cost structure.

I just really don’t worry about it anymore. I think if any of this was true in any real sense then we’d already have no more accountants due to computers. Their mission is a lot easier to port over to computers than ours is and I am betting there are actually more of them and more accounting headhunters than before the Internet was ubiquitous. Danny Cahill recently wrote an article about how “everything is better”…. Not just in headhunting but just everything. I agree with him and would say especially in headhunting. I can reach and touch more people now in less time than I ever could. I remain excited about where all this is going and I look forward to adapting to my needs the next big headhunterkiller app.” Dave Staats, S e a r c h P a r t n e r

“Essentially, to rely on the Internet is similar to relying just on advertising. Granted, candidates can crop up through announcements or general blurbs which exist on the Internet but, in reality, to really find those “hard to find” candidates, good old fashioned sourcing, networking, calling and recruiting is what is needed. This is true especially with the supply of candidates rapidly diminishing. But let them believe that the Internet is the only way to find candidates; it will help keep my business prospering!” Larry Barlow, Tax Advantage Personnel, Inc.

“There is no known technology and never will be that can make the value judgments that one can only make with a real conversation with a candidate. Plenty of folks have great resumes but are very average employees. And just as many have iffy resumes but are amazing fits for certain roles. Only live interaction by a skilled interviewer will ever be able to ascertain if someone is truly a solid fit for a job.” Matt Becker, Becker Professional Services

“My experience is that the Internet has been a good source for occasional candidates, but not good most of the time. Medium and smaller employers are not positioned to use it effectively, so it’s better for them to use us, even to get candidates, not to mention the other ways we are valuable to them. On the other hand, it’s an excellent way to get quick information for our business development efforts and for candidates to get company information in preparation for interviews.” Mary Sue Short, Placement Solutions

“I have two responses to your question. The first is an analogy that may seem odd, but here goes anyway:

A good bird dog is quite a resource for a hunter to have in his ‘tool kit.’ When a bird dog finds a bird, he freezes and holds a foot up in the air. The dog stays still like that until the hunter fires his gun or gives the command for the dog to move on. Dogs are not very good with guns. Just a few reasons::

1. They usually are not very knowledgeable about safety rules as far as shooting in the direction of people, housing, or cars. (They don’t know the market or current conditions.)

2. Dogs can’t aim very well even if they did know about safety. (They aren’t able to plan their efforts based on what they know.)

3. Other birds may flush out along with the game birds, and even if the dog had a lot of confidence in his aiming ability, he might devote all his firepower to shooting at the wrong bird. (They make no judgment as to whether any specific action or set of actions is most likely to result in the desired result.)

4. Dogs do not like to network with other animals to pinpoint the birds. Squirrels are just a distraction, or worse, they are ignored. The fact is, it would probably help a little if the dog had some squirrel buddies up high in trees to tell him exactly where the birds are hiding. (If I was a hunter, and my dog was a hunting dog, I’d be training him hard on this.)

Despite these limitations and other psychological issues, any hunter will tell you that a good bird dog is a wonderful help.

Second response:

This week I received a mailer containing an article by a guy proclaiming that if you are counting on phone calls to get referrals then you are in the dark ages. He was explaining why Emails are the best for generating referrals. I read the article. I was almost persuaded. I got called out of my office for a few minutes and came back thinking about a hot job order I had taken that morning. Sat down and wrote two names, called them, got a referral from each, and had both of them sent out in less than an hour. In my last placement, the referral was given by the first person whose name I wrote down within 5 seconds of completing the JO. He was hired so fast I did not have time to ‘look’ for more candidates. Now, I’m not a very good recruiter, but I have been creeping along at this for 23 years. The way I have stayed in the game is I learned before the end of my first year the true value of knowing where all the best market info is: out there.” David Stadnick, Stadnick and Associates

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“I too think that notion is nonsensical. Let us not forget that this is a REFERRAL business, amongst people not computers. No matter what technological advances arise, the client and the candidate need a skilled broker to facilitate the process, negotiate items such as compensation, etc. and ultimately close deals. With the recruiting profession having a relatively low barrier of entry, the Internet allows a broader spectrum of people to hang a shingle and ‘try’ recruiting. That said, I don’t see this profession or the need for it diminishing at all. In fact, I feel it will continue to thrive.” Rick Dionisio Director, Northeast Executive Search Staffmark

“People still want to deal with people. The same negative comment can be made for clothing, autos, shoes, cosmetics, etc. What can’t you get over the Internet today? However, there is almost always a loss of service at some level, returns, warranty, etc. You get what you pay for. The doomsday people need to get into a different industry. I, for one, think the future is extremely bright.” Anonymous

“I think it’s crazy to predict we are going to disappear. Anyone who is predicting that doesn’t have their sleeves rolled up or is not really, REALLY in the game right now. They may think they are but they are simply processing papers, finding active candidates only – and have no understanding at all of how much hand holding and process management it takes to make sure an offer that is extended is accepted and that it’s a good fit. That ‘Impact player’ is a person that is going to be loyal, have a long career and the ‘burr under the saddle’ issue has been resolved. Ask any one of these naysayers if they even know what that means? (The late Larry Nobles training). If they don’t know – then they show their cards as to the unrealistic thinking that high touch recruiting is going to go away. I have done more executive level search with engagement fees involved than ever before. Many MRI offices, including mine – are having some of the best business times ever! These businesses are way too busy to do this on their own anymore and are eager to get outside professional help to find the top talent to build the business. It’s hogwash!” Mickey Kampsen, President –Management Recruiters of Thousand Oaks, Inc.

“Interesting! As the advent of the Internet threatened our business on the one hand, it also brought with it the opportunity for instant research results, instant communication, instant people locator, instant telephone numbers and on it goes! Golly! What more could you ask! Well, perhaps one more thing . . . yesterday, I received a call from one of our clients who gave us three job orders. In the course of conversation, she made the comment that no one in their company (multiple locations) would think of using any recruiter other than our firm because the others do nothing but send resumes that they’ve gleaned from the Internet. Our clients are not interested in public domain candidates so the Internet is only affecting our own business with numerous amazingly positive results. And, yes, we use the Internet, but NOT to find resumes! We still do things the old fashioned way we recruit! When people ask what business I’m in, I tell them that I call men all around the country every day & get paid for it how wonderful is that?” Kacie Morgan, MorganCollier International

“I’m in my 18th year as a franchisee of an international search organization, I started out with 3X5 and 5X7 cards and the famous Desk Planner that is still in use by many recruiters today. I’m in my fourth generation of computers and software. Having said that, I have never seen a market as Candidatedriven as today. I service the Architectural and Engineering field Clients with a workforce of 50 to 750. They usually don’t have a recruiter in their HR department, if they even have one, and can’t afford the time or inclination to recruit as opposed to billing their clients at an hourly rate 3 to 5 times their pay rate. My small network of partners representing about 30 recruiters are at 142% of cash in as of 15 May compared to where we were last year. We see nothing but growth and we’re hiring and training people at a rate we haven’t done in ten years. Is the Internet going to doom us? I don’t think so.” Anonymous

“I wanted to give you my 2 cents regarding the demise of the recruiting industry. Those who believe the Internet will eliminate the need for recruiters have a limited understanding of the profession, as do those recruiters who think job boards are the only tool to finding candidates. The tried and true methods of relationship building and networking will stand the test of time in recruiting top performers, however, if a firm or a recruiter only wants to represent low hanging fruit, that is their prerogative. I also agree that the Internet has helped as well as hindered communication with job seekers and hiring managers. There is so much more to recruiting and placement than finding a resume with the keywords your client has told you to look for. The Internet is merely another tool we have to use.” Beth DeWilde, Paragon Recruiting

“Without any further details on the types of questions these suspects were asking, I’d have to agree that it appears to be another case of ‘Chicken Little.’ However, if these suspects have developed a tool to allows our clients and candidates to transact seamlessly (i.e., inexpensively in hard costs and time), thus changing the paradigm on how placement and staffing is done, they might be on to something. My guess is that these ‘solutions’ will be too cumbersome for most buyers of our services. I have access to all the resources needed to detail my car (look at the latest convenient powerwashing gadgets pitched on infomercials), yet I choose to outsource that function…

Look at the vendor management systems. From my perspective they’re basically webbased VOP’s (managed services). The benefits are clear – more clarity on how staffing and search services are used, pricing/contract compliance, streamlined billing/reporting, etc. All these things were somewhat available with a VOP, but at a price that was too steep for some buyers. The VMS allow mediumsize buyers to accomplish the same objectives at a lower entrance fee. While evolution hasn’t eliminated the staffing business, such a tool does shift the power pendulum closer to the buyer.” Anonymous

“What’s the empirical evidence that technology has ever TOTALLY replaced human intervention? Technology changes the human experience. Humans walked before climbing onto a horse for transportation, and they used litters for moving larger loads before the wheel was invented, and people traveled in carts and wagons powered by beasts of burden before the invention of the horseless carriage, and mass transit started with ships and then, to rails, before gravity defying air travel which is now converging into suborbital space excursions. Telecommunications moved from drums and smoke signals to telegraph then telephone and radio, and on to fax and the Internet. What about artificial intelligence … manufacturing still requires human input … and onandon. Technology is an enabler, it changes the way things are done, changing processes that speed the pace.

What process has been dreamed up that’s going to identify, contact, present, persuade, and convince (close) the passive candidate who’s not contemplating a move? Recruiters may have been slow in adjusting from paper to technology, but they’re now complementing Email with a phone [rather than the other way around]. For goodness sake, corporate recruiters still can’t find [the right] candidate in their own database, that is, until a headhunter first makes the presentation; which is, of course, the turning point in the relationship that breeds fee avoidance tactics by the inhouse recruiter. There we are [full circle] the rationalization that RECRUITERS ARE OBSOLETE—but which recruiter?

Those foolish enough to think the entire recruiting process can be turned over to a piece of software or a department of administrators are not being realistic. Technology and administrators are support to operations, marketing, sales, etc. The question that should be asked, is whether the Internet [or any technology] is a solution or a tool? Look at the process step requirements in both marketing a job to be filled and acquiring an employee, including administration, research, marketing/sales (real recruiting/closing), etc. Technology is an aid to [people], not a replacement. So the day that administrators (with the title of recruiter) and busy line managers are equipped with the talents and experience in the trenches, the domain of a third party recruiter, that’ll be the day that headhunters will evaporate into the mist of the Internet, becoming legends in dustbin of history.” Brandon Ebeling, American Incite

“The recruiting profession as we knew it has evaporated. Gone are the days of 3×5 cards with all of your candidates’ information and a Rolodex of client companies, yet still here are the days of a phone, pad of paper, and pencil. It will change again but to say that the recruiting profession will go away as a result of new technology is similar to saying that people will stop getting married at church because you can get the marriage license on line. Every deal needs a broker to go smoothly. I often use the idea of marriage to drive home the level of commitment that a candidate is making when they are accepting a job and I think that this instance is no different. Any new technology will have companies to capitalize on it and make money with it. As soon as there is competition between companies in a particular technology space they will need us to attract the best and brightest to them and not the competition. They will need us to drive home the commitment that they are making to each other. We enjoy the only true job security.

Sure you can use another service to recruit your employees and I will often encourage my potential clients to do just that. Go see what my job is like and if you can do it without my help, then save yourself the money. They come back; they pay my retainer and they pay my fee. There are currently 45 million Americans on Monster a full 25% of the workforce. If you are going to say that you don’t need a recruiter because you use Monster you might just as well say that you never needed a recruiter because you had a phone book. The search becomes harder with each day as more and more names are added to the database of candidates that you use and without the dedicated network of trusted advisors for a real search, the task is extremely difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most recruiters quit before they ever build that network of advisors.

I have noticed recently an increase in the number of recorded messages via automated telephone dialing systems. Perhaps the people who are calling you to tell you that recruiting as we know it will evaporate should be replaced by one of those auto dialer prerecorded message systems.” Thomas Gray, the Director of Military Search Partners, a division of International Search Partners

“Your comments reminded me of the clip we see on TV occasionally where the people are asking where is the future we were promised? No flying cars, no self cleaning kitchens and no robot recruiters. Recruiting is a people business – person to person. I suppose at some point Artificial Intelligence may advance to the point where you don’t know if you’re speaking with a person or a computer, but I doubt it (or at least I’ll be long gone). There will always be a better mousetrap for finding the unhappy or the unemployed quicker but, as recruiters, those should not be the people we are speaking with. The more recruiters who use that technology, the better our firm does. Let technology help companies warm chairs but they will still appreciate and rely on the Recruiter who can bring them top talent not to be found anywhere else except in our private network.” Anonymous

“My personal opinion is that the recruiting profession is here to stay. I recruit for substantial global companies who can afford the best technology available. Nonetheless, my clients value my opinion on the candidates I send to them. They know I call their direct competitors for candidates ‘not’ in the job market. They know I take advantage of technology, but do not rely on it for the majority of my candidates. They know that I will only send individuals who, whether they are hired or not, meet the basic qualifications, are in the salary range, will be reference checked prior to the facetoface stage and are serious about making a job change. My clients know I understand their industry and manufacturing processes. My established clients do not have to spend a lot of upfront time with me when they have a new position opening because I already know their company and industry. My clients trust me and know that I have done my homework on their company and the industry and homework on candidates I send them. Let a technological tool do all that!” Cynthia Simpson, J.T. Nelson & Associates

“True recruitment is a people to people business. We all know that no sophisticated technology can replace ‘talking to a candidate’ to determine probable fit. However, I think there is a deeper issue behind these negative comments that crop up from time to time. The issue? Rapidly changing recruitment technologies that perhaps make us feel uncomfortable. People basically resist change and that includes successful recruiters. But, the fact is, the basic tools we use to gather and sift information are changing exponentially…just look at what has happened the last 10 years! I listen in awe as some old timers talk about yellow pages and 3×5 cards. So, in my opinion if anything, the requirement for a savvy recruiter that talks and talks to prospective candidates is increasing, not decreasing. But, the data we had to go through to generate that possible list of 50 candidates was generated and sifted often with efficient high tech means. Am I keeping up with these tools?” Ken Selzer, Defense Placements

“Regarding your naysayers: If the market continues in an applicant driven cycle, the recruiting business and good recruiters will be strongly needed. The numbers are in our favor, as the talent pool is aging and there is simply not enough talent to go around. The Internet is not yet able to replace hard core referraling.” Gary Richards The HVACR & Energy Recruiter

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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