Recruiters: Do You Suck? (Hint: No)

Two recruiters meet at a conference:

  • Laura gets 30% of her hires from referrals, has used only one headhunter in the past six months, and has a 42-day average time to fill. She filled 11 jobs last month.
  • Jerry gets 20% of his hires from referrals, uses headhunters regularly, and has a 65-day average time to fill. He filled eight jobs last month.

Is Laura better than Jerry? Does Jerry suck? 


What if I told you Jerry has 300 more Twitter followers than Laura? Ha. Now who sucks, Laura!? 🙂

I love — love — to hear provocateurs speak at conferences. I love to hear opinionated people make a case for doing stuff better, pushing us to hire better, faster. But I get tired of the measuring sticks we use to decide if we’re nailing it.

I spent most of my career in corporate recruiting, as a recruiting director with Amazon and Expedia. And now as a consultant, I get to work with some great companies. As we work to help them with sourcing strategies, recruiting process and systems improvement, or even recruiter and hiring manager training, we learn a lot about how they do what they do. And what we find is that there are a bunch of recruiters out there that don’t suck, but who think they do suck. That’s a problem. People who think they suck don’t usually do great things. And we need as much “great” as we can get.

Our team gets asked, “How does our [time to fill, source of hires, recruiter productivity, employer brand, candidate experience] compare to other clients you work with?” And we can share averages and help them to see what they do better and not-as-well as others. I completely get why we all want to know this stuff. But can we really compare one company to another? One team of recruiters to another? Along some dimensions and some standards, sure, probably.

But as many before me have pointed out, comparing cost per hire, time to fill, recruiter productivity … it’s not silly to benchmark, but I’m not sure the results are really that helpful. Why?

Geez, just start to make a list of all the things that may be different between two companies or two recruiting teams. Here are several:

The type of people hired

  • Entry level customer service vs. software engineers vs. outside sales people

The number of recruiters

  • This usually drives req loads/recruiter, which can almost dictate what a recruiter can/can’t realistically do

Access to scheduling and sourcing support

  • Some of you have teams supporting you, and some of you are one-person, ass-kickers with a phone, Outlook, Google, a free LinkedIn license, and Excel for your ATS

The role of the HR generalist

  • Friend or foe? Manager (or maybe they think they’re your manager ?) or peer partner?

The engagement level of the hiring managers

  • Are they sourcing? Do they drive quick, quality hiring decisions? Do they help close?

Your brand

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  • Do you have a strong consumer brand? A strong employer brand? Or, do you have to spend 10 minutes of your sourcing calls just to explain what your company does?

Your location

  • Do people want to work where you have jobs? (In the late 1990s, before everyone knew who Amazon was, 50% of our sales pitch to software engineers was focused on Seattle, since we ended up needing to relocate the majority of our hires — much harder for my recruiters to source people from sunny California than companies who hired locally.)
  • Are you in Europe, with practices and laws that slow down your process, even though you’re ready to move fast?

Your compensation packages

  • Do you pay 50% of market? Or, 70% percent of market? Do you offer equity?


  • Do you have — and use — Linkedin Recruiter, Avature CRM, Job posting distributors … even an ATS?

Even the basics of how things are measured vary wildly. Take time to fill …

  • Does your clock start when the position was budgeted, when the incumbent quit, when the req was approved, when the req was posted, or when you led the strategy kickoff meeting? I’ve seen it so many ways.

It’s almost never apples to apples. Req loads in retail and healthcare are typically much higher than in tech and corporate functions, so comparing results across industries is hard. And even within the same industry — take retail — you may have a model with a lot of centralized sourcing support, or one with field HR generalists who own recruitment, or one with only foundational field support (where hiring managers are largely on their own, with support from their district managers and a three-ring binder from HR).

And I find the same to be true when I’ve interviewed recruiters, trying to compare them to each other. I’ve probably interviewed 50 recruiters from Microsoft in the past 15 years, for example, and it’s even hard to compare Microsoft recruiters to each other!

My point is that very few of us will get a lot of value from comparing our performance to other companies. We’d likely get more from comparing ourselves to our internal targets, to goals that make sense in our resource model, and to goals that come from our unique business and talent needs.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t benchmark externally. That can be key to making business cases, key to executive influence, and key to getting your raise. And don’t get me wrong — I want more from the folks at the Corporate Executive Board,, CareerXroads (great, transparent Source of Hire reports), not less. It’s very helpful. You just need to … Put. It. All. In. Context.

I want you to hear it from me first. You don’t suck.

  • I’d love comments from those of you who have worked in multiple environments, to share with everyone what kind of differences really help — or hurt — you.
  • I’d love to hear people share how they gather external benchmark data that really helps them.
  • And I’d love to get a halleluiah from people who are kickin’ ass despite the fact that they have little budget, little support, unrealistic req loads, and systems that make their job harder, not easier.

John Vlastelica is the managing director of recruiting toolbox, a consulting and training firm focused 100 percent on helping recruiters and hiring managers recruit better. Startups to big global brands -- including PepsiCo, Google, Nike, Booking, IKEA, Starbucks, and Pokemon -- hire his team of former recruiting leaders to build custom training for their recruiters and hiring managers. Learn more at @vlastelica 


16 Comments on “Recruiters: Do You Suck? (Hint: No)

  1. Well done John. Recruiting is a basic economic process, like law, accounting, engineering…there will never be a singular form/method/organization to accomplish it.

    Also the term “ATS” is unfortunate, although widely used, since “applicants” are a late stage recruiting result. CRM has a similar lack of precision- but “Recruiting CRM” is probably better on balance. “I like good old Recruiting Software”…

  2. @John: Good article. Other things to add:
    Is your hiring process functional?
    Is your company really committed to hiring?
    How much time do you spend doing low-touch, low-value add activities that could be better no-sourced, through-sourced, or out-sourced?
    Do your superiors have “your back”?
    How “political” is your work environment?


  3. One I’d add, which is a bit different than your brand (how you’re perceived … something you did list in your bullets) and I think is perhaps even the single-biggest factor — is your actual workplace, your human resources practices. I think if you do the things that surveys show that employees want, (money, promotions, raises, appreciation, interesting work, the chance to make a difference, opportunities for new skills, work/life balance, recognition, flexibility, health and retirement benefits, nice co-workers, smart co-workers, good managers but not micromanagers, training, and a good location) then your recruiting is totally different from a company that’s a bad place to work. You did mention money and location and Keith did mention some others — but all together I think your HR practices affect recruiting to the point where if you have a strong enough workplace you end up spending more time managing the influx than struggling to convince people to apply. Starbucks can attract people working on a Ph.D. while other coffee places struggle to recruit anyone. The Container Store generally seems to give people a lot of training, leeway, responsibility, and respect (I’ve asked employees), while some other retailers treat people as more disposable, and that has to greatly affect recruiting. An airline that’s a happy and fun place can recruit more easily than one where the burlap seats are coming apart at the seams. The high-stress or dysfunctional family will have trouble recruiting nannies and the cheap massage-chain owner will have trouble attracting massage therapists, but the tech company with a cool CEO can inspire people to quit jobs and work for her and the organization with an inspiring or gripping mission can recruit the best and brightest away with less effort … think Teach for America.

  4. @Martin – Thanks!

    @Keith – Great additions! Especially the comments about how much time recruiters spend on the low touch/lower value stuff. What a difference it makes when a senior recruiter actually spends all of their time doing high value work!

    @Todd – Yes, 100% agree. It’s not just the candy coating (perception/brand), but also (mostly) it’s what’s in the gooey inside. A friend of mine, when talking about employer brands, used to say, “You gotta fix the inside before you fix the outside.” So true. Some companies have invested heavily in creating an exceptional place to work, and it makes recruiting so much easier. And wow, there’s a whole separate article we could write about the power of talent-magnet CEOs.

  5. @John, Nicely done! I’ve worked across industries and with multiple companies in the same industry. Your points are well made and on target. It is important to hear what other companies are doing, but much more difficult to duplicate success because we are human and each situation is different.

  6. Hi John, This is a great article. As a recruiter who LOVES the analytics component to what we do, you put some great perspective on how we should actually be using the data we are able to obtain (internal and external) to improve. I work for a venture capital firm which focuses on expansion stage tech companies, recruiting across our portfolio. Some of these co’s already have 100 employees and an internal recruiter in place which we partner with directly and others have just about 15 employees and we are there recruiting team. Even in this situation – expansion stage tech/start-up orgs, you’re absolutely right – it’s impossible to compare our recruiting results apples to apples, but by comparing the work we do for each organization on an individual basis is definitely more effective in the long run.

    Thanks so much for the insightful post and encouragement!

  7. A rule of thumb/definition:
    If you’re getting hires on time and within budget- you don’t suck. (P.S: Hiring managers should be held accountable to the same requirements.)



  8. @Bill – Thanks!

    @Jessica – Exactly!

    @Keith – Love the hiring manager comment! We spend a lot of time working with hiring manager teams (sourcing, interviewing, closing training and process/systems stuff), and couldn’t agree with you more. When I was at Amazon years ago, I worked hard to change up the performance review form (don’t we just love forms in HR!?) to include evaluating the people manager’s recruiting performance. Hiring Manager ownership/accountability is the secret sauce in many great recruiting organizations.

  9. Thanks again, John. IMHO, if getting quality hires on time and within budget every time without excuses were routinely included as part of a hiring manager’s deliverables, we would see a considerable change for the better in recruiting.


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