The Excruciating Job of Being a Recruiter in This Economy

Most recruiters I communicate with have two things in common:

  1. They are feeling enormous pressure from all sides as they struggle to justify their existence or stay in business.
  2. They are happy to be employed but have serious concerns about the future.

Recruiters have good reason to feel this way. As Kris Maher, a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, reported in a July 8 article, “Last year alone, some 500 headhunting firms ó about 10% of the industry ó went under, according to consultants at Kennedy Information… Heidrick & Struggles International, one of the world’s biggest headhunters, laid off 1,000 people, 40% of its global staff, in the 12 months ended April 2002.” This is not good news for any of us. Recruiters of all different shapes and sizes, corporate and agency alike, are feeling the anxiety of putting one foot in front of the other and waiting for a better day. My conversations with recruiters remind me of how difficult it is to hire the right person for the job, assure role fit, and support not only the organization’s strategic objectives but the details of tactical recruiting on a day-to-day basis. Furthermore, as a result of the downturn, recruiters increasingly have to deal with the misguided notion that because they can now cull through six hundred resumes for each job posting, they will somehow find that elusive perfect candidate (really now, did you ever meet the perfect candidate?). Most recruiters I know are somewhat frayed around the edges, feeling unappreciated and generally hoping those they support will work more effectively with them in ways that make their job more manageable, and, as a result, more successful. One of the most significant problems recruiters have is people that waste their time. They do it for a host of reasons ó many of which are well intentioned. But wasted time benefits no one. If you happen to be one of these recruiters, I urge you to consider the following ideas on how to make your recruiting more productive ó and hopefully your job more secure:

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  • The only types of requisitions you should work on are those that have been signed off on by people with a budget. It is not practical to include the requisitions that will be signed off on next week or the day after tomorrow. Only those requisitions that have been signed off and approved for hire right now should be worthy of your valuable time. Anything else is wheel spinning.
  • Don’t assume a requisition has been signed off on because the hiring manager tells you it is so. Hiring managers, bless their little hearts, have been known to tell little fibs on rare occasions. Get a copy of the paperwork and keep it in a file. Not that you don’t trust the little darlings, but if the CYA mentality is good enough for the U.S. Marines, it should be good enough for you. Besides, insuring that the sign-off has taken place is comforting for both parties and prevents misunderstandings.
  • Make sure that you get the best position profile possible. Beware of those that have been scribbled on napkins during lunch. Napkins are best for wiping the food off of your face after eating, not for developing important work documents. Furthermore, beware of hiring managers who tells you they are not sure of what they need, but they will define the position after the new employee is in place (or worse, hiring managers who don’t know what they want but will know it when they see it). This is a fool’s errand. Define the information provided by the hiring manager as clearly and concisely as possible. Ask questions if you do not understand something. A one-minute explanation can save you a lot of time down the recruiting road. At a minimum you want the following information for your position profile:
    1. Position title
    2. Position summary
    3. Position responsibilities
    4. Desired qualifications
    5. Core competencies

    There are, of course, other items that would help to define and narrow the position, but space prohibits me from delving in with any great depth.

  • Be on the lookout for anything that has changed from the perspective of the hiring manager. This is a critical point that needs your full attention; I can’t emphasize its importance enough. Regardless of the type of recruiting position you possess, there are times when something has changed from the hiring manager’s perspective but has not been conveyed to you. How many times have you heard something in their voices that leads you to believe things have changed? How many times did you see it in their actions but choose to close your eyes because things were going so well that quite frankly, you were afraid to ask? Perhaps, for example, they used to see candidates at a brisk pace and provide immediate feedback, but now response time has slowed to a crawl. If you get that sinking feeling something is not right, there is an excellent chance that you are right. The time to find out is right now. If you wind up in this position, ask the following question using these exact words; “Has anything happened that has in any way changed the status of this position?” Then be quiet and listen. If there is an uncomfortable silence, just sit quietly and wait. If you do not get a clear answer, ask until you are satisfied. If something has changed, you as the recruiter have to know as soon as possible. (By the way, the same rule applies to candidates. If something feels different, ask the same question. The sooner you find out, the better for all concerned!)
  • Choose sourcing methodologies carefully. If you put the position out on the boards, you will get endless responses. If you request no phone calls, you will get them anyway. Advertising a position can be a dangerous thing to do today. If you spend corporate dollars on the advertisement, you will be expected to screen all of the resumes in a prudent and comprehensive manner as you look for the “perfect” candidate. This is not a fun endeavor. Before you hit the boards, I suggest that you tap into your own employee referral program big time and start doing some networking on your own as well. In many cases you will be able to come up with several excellent candidates who can perform the job function effectively. This is the essence of quality recruiting.
  • Teach the hiring manager how to work most effectively with you. If you do this you will most likely be assured a better ride than if you just hope for the best. An educated hiring team is the best partnership arrangement you can develop to make life run smoother. In order to do this you should call a meeting of the hiring team for each new position and spend fifteen or twenty minutes reviewing the following:
    1. The position profile
    2. The team’s interviewing process (number of interviews, etc.)
    3. The team’s feedback and decision-making process (how they will evaluate the candidate, what metrics will be utilized, etc.)
    4. The methodology for communicating results back to you in a timely fashion

    Look and listen to voices and body language in this all-important meeting. If someone is not on board because they do not agree with the position profile or politics or any other of five hundred reasons, you must know all of this at the meeting and work to resolve that issue. If you gloss over it, it will slow down the process and make your job harder, as all the world wonders why you can’t seem to fill the position. (As an aside, if someone is not on board, their interview will be off, which can confuse the candidate.)

  • Be sure there is a sense of urgency to fill the position on the part of the hiring manager. If there is no sense of urgency, your job will be that much harder as the hiring manager continues to interview endless candidates. Providing a steady stream of qualified candidates is a large part of the recruiting function, but we also have to keep an eye on the number of candidates being seen. If you have presented fifteen candidates ó or worse, if the hiring manager has interviewed fifteen candidates and does not like any of them ó something is wrong. Go back to the hiring manager and determine what is causing this problem. Do whatever you have to do to resolve it. Filling a position is a task; it is not a lifelong career. Ask this question exactly as worded before you put any time into the recruiting effort; “If I find a candidate that fits the agreed-upon written position profile, will you work with me to hire that candidate?” Unless the answer is close to a resounding “yes,” something is wrong. In my career I have been amazed by how many people said things other than “yes” to this question. Beware of any answer that is not in the affirmative. If the hiring manager is not going to hire the candidate, why is he or she having you work on filling the position in the first place?
  • Communicate regularly and consistently with your hiring managers when you are on the hunt (candidates as well). If you do, you can be assured that the ship is on course and you can catch small problems before they become big problems. Stop, look, and listen.
  • Come close to your computer because I have to whisper this one to you ó some people might see it as politically incorrect. Come a bit closer now. Perfect! Beware of the biggest time-waster of all: the crazy hiring manager. We have all seen and worked with them. The havoc they bring to our lives can be enormous. They change the position profile endlessly; they do not respond to resumes; they do not communicate with other members of the team; they do not tell you the results of their interviews. In short, they make you crazy as well. My best advice in dealing with the crazy hiring manager is to manage the recruiting process very carefully and do all that you can to take whatever action is necessary to be in the driver’s seat as opposed to the passenger’s seat. These situations require a great deal of hand-holding and diplomacy if the task of filling the position is to be successful. Buying the large size bottle of ibuprofen for your office is a good idea as well.

There are, of course, many other ways to make your life as a recruiter more productive, meaningful, and effective. I have only touched upon a few. I suggest that you utilize the summer to identify the things in your professional life that need to be changed, and then work on the tools, metrics, methodology and relationships it will take to get it done. Labor Day is just around the corner. If you make good use of the summer, you can go into the fall with a renewed sense of purpose and an easier road to travel.

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


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