Recruiter Pet Peeves

A good title for this article would also be “What to do so that hiring managers will always want to use your competitors?and ensure they will never use you.”

Here’s what I’m getting at: Every single week at our office, just like clockwork, we receive some dozen or so inbound calls from recruiters.

Almost always, they drop the ball when given the smallest task to perform as a test of their capability or skill. Nearly 99.9% of the time, they fail to demonstrate competent follow-through skills. So why bother even calling in the first place?

I’ll break down the calls and inquiries we receive into two classifications:

  1. Recruiters calling to recruit the recruiter.
  2. Recruiters wanting to work a split, enter into a joint alliance, or be hired as a recruiting employee of IRES in some form.

Recruiters Cold Calling to Recruit a Recruiter

In nearly all cases these calls are made by those who are rookies, poorly trained, given no Internet-search/reference-checking skills, or don’t have a clue about the “secret pass phrases” or proper terminology/jargon they must use to capture my attention.

This type of call generally goes like this:

Rookie Recruiter: “Hi Frank?it is Frank, right?”

Frank: “Yes, how may I help you?”

Rookie Recruiter: “I learned you’re a good recruiter in your area and have some years of recruiting success.”

Frank: “Yes. Go on.”

Rookie Recruiter: “Great, because I have a job for a recruiter to run a [pick your choice: Desk, Office, department, launch a new specialty, etc.] and was wondering if you would consider making a move?”

Frank: (Sighing) “Hmmm. First tell me how you got my name?”

Rookie Recruiter: “Well ? uh ? I ? er? um ? it’s on this list here and I have no idea where the list came from but it says ‘recruiter’ next to your name!”

Duh. The simplest question from me totally throws this person off every single time. Here’s where it gets fun:

Frank: “So how do you know I’m a recruiter? How do you know what kind of recruiting I do?”

Rookie Recruiter: (Falling deeper into despair for lack of having conducting any modicum of research whatsoever?) “Well, it sounds like you’re really busy. Maybe you can refer someone who might be interested in making a move?”

Frank: “Why would I want to refer someone else? Recruiters are tough to come by and if I knew of someone making a move, I’d hire him or her myself. Why should I refer them to you who I don’t even know?”

And so goes this dumb dance, day in and out. I can’t blame the rookies. It’s their managers that let them loose on John Q. Public without proper education. It shows.

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Attention search firm owners: Don’t put rookie recruiters on the phone unless you plan to train them and provide the tools they need to succeed! If you actually train these poor souls they just might have a chance at pulling a recruiter candidate in for you!

Not one of these individuals ever took one second to click a quick Google search on who they’re calling. Even if they forgot?they could have done so while still having me on the telephone.

Not one bothered to develop rapport, or find out more about their prospect, or determine how to actually succeed in getting a referral. Now for the next category of dumb calls.

Recruiters Wanting to Split, Get Hired, Subcontract, Source, or Form Alliances

This type of call goes like this:

Recruiter: “Hi. I saw your name on?(splits board, Web ad, heard through a candidate, association roster, Monster, HotJobs, or similar ad) and wanted to talk to you about your insurance-recruiting needs.”

Frank: “Great. Tell me something about yourself. How long have you been a recruiter?”

Recruiter: “Well, I’ve been an independent for two years, after five years with another firm?and?”

Usually the response here is quite good. More often than not, these experienced recruiters come across polished and trained during the initial contact. The experience is good. In fact, the employment calls for recruiters wanting to be hired progress far better than the prior type of call. Well, at least during the first call.

What’s frustrating about these calls is not how they start, but how the process quickly falls apart quite prematurely.

As standard protocol whenever the first telephone screen goes well, I always give the individual a small task to perform. If for no other reason, I do it to test their seriousness, sincerity, and ability to get back within a reasonably prompt time to demonstrate follow-through skills.

For example, I ask them to visit our website (which most admit never doing prior to calling, even though all our ads link to it) or to Google my name to check out some of my articles to better understand my approach.

In just these past three weeks alone, I’ve had at least five recruiters vanish when asked to do these tasks. Why do we never hear back? Why would someone take the time to call and send a resume, but then not bother to follow through? Do they expect me to chase them around?

In a business that requires credibility, the easiest way to demonstrate this is by your actions, not your words. I guess I’m too demanding.

Recruiter Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Don’t promise what you have no intent to deliver.
  2. Don’t say, “I’ll call you back on Monday” if you plan not to.
  3. Don’t be na?ve about contracts. If you ask to do a split, you will be asked to sign a split contract.
  4. If you are asking to join a company with a multi-million dollar revenue stream, you will be asked to sign a non-disclosure. Be cognizant of what these are: joining an association would give you more knowledge as to what is standard versus non-standard.
  5. Never promise to get back if you don’t plan on doing so. I will never believe anything you say to me again.
  6. Don’t waste hiring managers’ time by not being prepared.
  7. Don’t call if you have not even bothered to follow the link on the ad and at least peek at the website.
  8. Do your homework. Google is free. So why aren’t you using it?
  9. Do undergo training. Understand what motivates your target. This will help your calls obtain greater benefit and return on your investment.
  10. Never say, “I’ve heard of you” if it is not true. This turns me off and makes your lying transparent and approach shallow.

President of & Within two years after leaving the corporate world in 1987, Frank Risalvato was earning $21,000 average fees as a search consultant. Each individual fee equated to almost 50% of his previous annual salary in 1987. In 1991 he founded, the search firm he continues to operate today. Today his fees are more than double that of his earlier years while working fewer hours weekly. Frank's audio download page on provides an opportunity to "be a fly on the wall" and listen in to live calls, messages, conversations with clients and candidates. His recent book, A Manager's Guide to Maximizing Search Firm Success has helped recruiters using it lock up partial and full retainers between $5,000 to $45,000 by helping drive home the concept of exclusive/retained over the usual contingency approach.


7 Comments on “Recruiter Pet Peeves

  1. Frank, I love your article and couldn’t agree with you more. It’s interesting to see you note ‘Rookie Recruiter’ in your dialogue. In my experience, this mentality also persists among some mid-level and sr-level recruiters that simply focus on volume. For example, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard the following:

    I make 100 calls a day. I normally leave 83 messages and talk to 17 people live. At the end of the day, I’ll have a bite to move forward with 3/17 of my candidates/clients, and I average 5 callbacks for the 83 voicemails I left, etc.

    In my estimation, this business is more conducive to the numbers than any other I’ve ever seen . . . however, the focus on volume detracts from the research you speak in reference to, as well as relationship-building. Owners of the larger firms take the stance, ‘Well, you don’t want to work a split with recruiters that will make you jump through hoops – just make 5 more calls.’ In the same respect, you’ll hear the managers state, ‘Do you really want to work with a client that is so ‘demanding’? Make 5 more calls.’

    It all points back to more volume, and an obsession with ‘overcoming objections’ – an example is a recruiter this morning posting a question regarding the most effective staffing objections publications on the market. I pointed the recruiter back to their sales process, first and foremost. Focus on caring about your candidates and clients, re-align your sales process to reflect these values, and then spend 1% of the time on tactics aimed at overcoming individual objections. Recruiting is truly a consultative and trust-crucial sale. We aren’t selling cars or aluminum siding, and I wish more owners/managers would train on these techniques.

    As someone who has a mathematical mind (which does me more bad than good as I’m prone to over-analyzing the data), I am a believer in metrics and key peformance indicators (balanced scorecard), etc. However, what I would love to see is more owners/managers move away from an obsession with the metrics and call-accounting systems and start diving into the actual trust-based selling skills of the recruiters and account managers. I hear many owners and managers speak about their staff as ‘resources’, that are either ‘overperforming’ or ‘underperforming’. This makes me think that the individual recruiters and account managers are looked at in the sense of the Toyota Production Model. Do the numbers tell a story and are they an easy way to keep a finger on the pulse of performance? Absolutely, but my argument is that an obsession with them as the sole indicator often yields incorrect results and perceptions.

    Now, to give credit where it’s due, I understand how hard it is to find great recruiters (for owners and managers). ‘New’ staffing professionals are often left on their own to make the types of calls you reference – many managers I know won’t even start training a new recruiter/acct manager ‘until they’ve made it six months.’ This just lends itself to a perpetual cycle of cut-throat office atmospheres and employees that learn to resent one another instead of team up with one another.

    To go back to my roots in the Marines, ‘There is no such thing as a bad Marine; Only a bad Marine leader.’ So many owners/managers are quick to point to ‘underperforming assets’ and waiting to train after the ‘six month probation/mentor period’, while it is they that are the problem. We need more accountability from owners/managers in this industry if we want to improve our ethics, performance, and subsequently our overall perception.

  2. Frank,
    After 20+ years in this business, I’m still amazed at the number of recruiters/sales people that have such poor techniques. If they contact me and try to sell me with such methods, how would they be able to sell me clients and candidates! It does give me comfort when I think of my job security.

  3. Frank,

    It’s good to see all of your useful guidelines for young recruiting aspirants.

    I would strongly suggest these points to all my recruiter friends:

    1. As a recruiter you need to have a strong base/reference before you start making scrap calls to anyone.

    2. Even if you have a dim base or even if you don’t have the proper information about the recruiter/candidate you are calling, just try to make him/her express firstly if he/she is actually looking for specific/recruiting opportunity.

    3. And as per IInd call, if you have called a recruiter to take an interview I think your duty is to speak less and ask candidate to speak more.

    If the candidate asks you how much experience do you have in recruitment industry, I think the best way is to give a straight number e.g 5/6/7 accordingly and strictly move to the next question which you are here to ask to the candidate. It will certainly put you in commanding process rather then making your candidate as your interviewer 🙂

    Moral of the story is: Confidence is the key in this business. We all are good recruiters but sometimes even your candidate behaves as if he/she is a better recruiter then you.. so keep your confidence, always check your references before calling and always stick to your point..

    All the best !

    Sam Chhabra

    Sr. Recruiter,

  4. Great metrics, Joshua – thanks for sharing!

    ‘I make 100 calls a day. I normally leave 83 messages and talk to 17 people live. At the end of the day, I’ll have a bite to move forward with 3/17 of my candidates/clients, and I average 5 callbacks for the 83 voicemails I left, etc.’

    Who wouldn’t love numbers like these? As a names sourcer, I sure do! Those 83 VoiceMails can give off the most amazing information…


  5. Mr. Risalvato, I read your article. I’ve never Googled your name. I have no idea who you are. And I am sure you don’t know me ‘from a sack of potatoes’.

    But I must admit, my experience of your article was somewhat disappointing. being somewhat of a control freak, I love lists of Do-s and Dont-s.

    (In one of past work lives, those lists ensured I retired with all of my fingers and toes.)

    There was a tone in the opening segments of your article that I recognized.

    A friend once described that tone as ‘Talking through one’s teeth.’

    It is the sound of frustration. I know it well.

    But what I also know well is the responsibility of all professionals to help people who have deficits as they survive their rookie years in chosen professions.

    I remember myself as a trained rookie….in several fields of professional endeavor.

    I stunk.

    But I improved. How? By my own efforts to learn from the Pros. There were two types according to my own limited rookie view in Stinkytown:

    1. Winners
    2. Their Competitors

    The winners were typified by their charismatic style, a force emanating from a place of deep internal security.

    They were never outwardly frustrated with me or their own progress in life.

    They were free with their advice and counsel without ever reminding me of the price they paid to get it.

    They never spoke to me in a way that pointed out my deficits, of which there were legion in bright screaming colors.

    They took me right where I was and, before I could go on and remove all doubt as to how bad I stunk, they would tell me something useful, giving me a chance to save face in the conversation, to be able to express my gratitude for having learned something new and valuable.

    They always spoke *with me* and *about me* as if they wanted to see me succeed; first as a person seeking to better himself; second as a professional who could one day improve the profession.

    This kind of professional growth was possible because the winners didn’t speak through their teeth.

    And because I always felt like calling them back.

    I hope your message is being better received by others than I for the reason mentioned .

    It has value for me. The list is useful.

    Thank-you for articulating some time-tested standards for us to remember.

    Perhaps we will meet some day.

  6. For a nation that promotes itself as prosperity based upon merit, we have more organizations set up to promote prosperity by relationship than ever before.

    In terms of credibility and dysfunctional rhetoric, this aspect of recruiting and matching employees to employers makes little sense, and actually undermines incentive.

  7. It seems like a combination of poor training and development on behalf of the rookies and the misconception that ‘anyone’ can be trained to be a successful recruiter making 6 figures. Most seasoned recruiters would no that this is not the case.

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