The Four Bad Habits of Recruiters

Note: I am conducting our annual survey of Global Recruiting Practices and would love to get YOUR input. The survey showcases what organizations are doing in recruiting in Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Will you take a few minutes and complete my short survey? We will make a summary of the results available to all survey participants early next year. The survey link is:

I have watched recruiters come and go over the years, and I am always a little surprised that so very few are ever highly successful. By successful I mean they become well known in the profession and are admired by and sought after by knowledgeable CEOs and headhunters. Few become leaders who have taken command of the recruiting process of a company and have been successful in forging a function that both competes effectively against other organizations and consistently supplies their organization with quality talent without relying on the use of extraordinary measures.

In my many years in the profession, I have only known a handful of these people. Most corporate recruiters become recruiters by accident and leave the profession for some other HR or related field after a short stay. Their stay is a rollercoaster of half-completed technology implementations, high staff turnover, and muddled objectives, and they often leave a legacy of unhappy hiring managers. To achieve even the simplest objectives, they have to use outside resources, employ a large number of recruiters, or seek to outsource the function.

Unfortunately, HR has not positioned the recruitment function as strategic nor has HR realized that the role of talent manager, aka recruiting and development leader, is emerging as one of the most potentially needed (and influential) professions within the organization. Generally, those recruiters who lead the effort to supply scarce talent are filled with bad habits and uncertainty that create a revolving door of leadership and produce lackluster results.

To change this and move toward a position of respect and strategic leverage, recruiting leaders should examine their own behaviors and thoughts and see if they have any of the four bad habits listed below. If so, there is still time to change.

Arrogance about Yesterday’s Tools and Techniques

Yesterday’s successes probably will not be repeated by using the same techniques or technologies. Over-reliance on techniques like cold calling, telephone screening, and resume reviewing are examples of methods that have seen their heyday but are still widely championed and loved. I frequently talk with recruiters who swear that the old ways are the only and best ways, and they insist that everything from interactive websites to LinkedIn are just fads. Sad to say, but I am pretty certain they are wrong.

Tomorrow will belong to recruiters who embrace such emerging practices as video interviewing, online assessment, social networking, and candidate relationship management. Recruiters who have a Facebook or LinkedIn profile and who experiment with building online relationships already have an advantage over the recruiter who is tied to geography and to face-to-face meetings. Labor markets are not confined to single countries, work can increasingly be done anywhere, and recruiting is a virtual, global game.

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Being a Pair of Hands, Not a Strategic Resource

Most recruiters are obsessed with filling slots. That is what they have been taught to do without regard to need or effectiveness. They have a hard time discussing the value of positions with hiring managers who often regard the recruiter as little more than a clerk trusted to filter piles of resumes that are supposed to magically be arriving each day because of the organization’s prominence or brand. They are given a requisition to fill and they dutifully go forth and do so, even if it is a poorly defined job or one that might be done by someone with a different skill set.

To break this habit, recruiters need to engage in meaningful conversation with a hiring manager and be equipped with knowledge about the organization’s strategic business objectives, the needs of the hiring manager, and the state of the talent marketplace. The recruiter needs to present numbers and data and make a case for hiring the competencies and skills that will be most effective. In short, they need to act as a resource and consultant to hiring authorities and show a deep knowledge and understanding of the needs of the business. And, on top of this, they then need to be able to fill the position from a talent community they have built in anticipation of the need.

Competence Dependence

Many recruiters fail to see that the dominant skills of the profession are changing. In fact, over 80% of the skills that made a recruiter successful in 1997 are of less value today. For example, interviewing skills, face-to-face social skills, cold calling, and reviewing and screening resumes are not critical skills. Even less understandable are the recruiters who are competent at interviewing and who then focus on getting even better at it instead of on developing skills that might be more useful. It is very easy to rely on the competencies that made us successful and not notice that times change as do the skills we need.

Being able to build an online relationship, to create a social network, or to enhance an employment brand are more useful skills. The ability to write a blog, influence a hiring manager and a candidate, and identify the value proposition of an offer are the skills that will make the biggest impact.

Competitive Shortsightedness

Perhaps the most dangerous habit is not anticipating who and what may be competition. I see many new recruiters emerging from disciplines such as marketing, sales, and operations. These recruiters are neither afraid to try out new approaches nor are they afraid to experiment with and leverage technology. The most innovative websites and process improvements are emerging from recruiting leaders who have no training as recruiters and who have recently entered the field. They are writing exciting blogs, using search engine optimization techniques, and experimenting with interactive websites and tools like Ning. They never knew the old ways, so they are doing things afresh. Many experienced recruiters who are not able to learn from this competition will end up being displaced and replaced.

As the year comes to a close, this is a good time for reflection and to see which of these habits you have and decide which to change.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


8 Comments on “The Four Bad Habits of Recruiters

  1. I think this article is very appropriate and I could not agree more with the third point ‘Competence Dependence.’ Too many corporate recruiters throw-up their hands at challenging their hiring managers. As a corporate recruiter I think we need to plan to influence our hiring managers in the talent management arena (i.e., diversity, market intelligence, competitive intelligence and the efficiency of the recruiting process. Interviewing and candidate presentations are basic skills, but the capacity to network (especially outside of the recruiting profession) and live the brand are the signs of a true professional. Cheers!

  2. I thought this article would highlight bad habits, but also contra-illustrate with successes. Do the top recruiters really rely on Web 2.0 technologies? I doubt it highly. As many others have commented, social networks, blogs, and other technologies are enablers and support tools. Writing a great blog, job description, and interviewing all boil down to having excellent communication skills.

    In the end, great recruiters like great salespeople are defined by RESULTS – consistently bringing in the best qualified people quickly regardless. If they create an encompassing process supported by tools, technologies, the right resources, and having good collaborative relationships with hiring managers all the better.

    I would like to see some profiles of these superstar recruiters and see if there are any commonalities. Something tells me it won’t be defined by whether they use LINKEDIN, but whether they know resourcefully how to use the tools available to reach the right people. They likely don’t ‘challenge’ their hiring manager, but facilitate discussions to clarify and understand needs. And, they have excellent well honed communication skills….

  3. Kevin I continue to enjoy your writing. This article epitomizes the recruiting community. Being a person of influence is a necessary trait for recruiting these days, unless you want your organization to be made up of all the same types of people. You have to be able to share the benefits of looking in different directions, trying new things, and engaging in new and innovative practices to expand the vision of the company. The practice of recruiting, and the introduction and practice of research for that matter, is not just a clerical paper (resume)-pushing practice. Not with the increased influence of technology tools into our world. These practices are what help build companies and hopefully we will all work to promote this!
    /off soapbox

  4. Great sourcers and recruiters imagine the most effective way to determine and reach that top prospect. My team recruits enterprise sales executives and consultants who:

    1.Rarely have facebook accounts
    2.Sometimes have Linkedin accounts
    3.Have very limited time to speak
    4.Immediately assess a recruiter’s competency by their verbal communication skills
    5.Can be paranoid about emailing/posting their wins/W-2 info, and performance against quota

    Our technical recruiting team always leads with an email but my team always leads with a call (ideally warm referral but often a cold call)

  5. When I read this article – I thought it was going to be another slam on recruiters.. I was ready to take the defensive. But – I was surprised at the message of this article.

    I am glad that the industry is changing. I have been doing this work for 15 years and for me, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to offer what I know to help my clients rather then they resenting the fees they pay.

    So – hat’s off – I agree totally – and for those who don’t — that’s okay. It’s a competitive industry and that’s a good thing..

  6. Kevin that was very much informative and thought provocking.I personally feel that Recruitment Process is same as it was earlier but the Innovation in technology led to new sourcing techniques which are making them smart Recruiters.We need to fix their Attitude which will evoke thinking and change thier behavior for Good.

  7. Coming back into recruiting after more than a decade, I stepped into corporate side at a growing regional company. Using most of the techniques described in Mr. Wheeler?s article, I enjoyed finding (what I believed to be) the best people for open jobs – especially when working with hiring managers open to a broader perspective. That was the good side.

    The article written by Kevin Wheeler is interesting but perhaps chiding the wrong folks. It ought, perhaps, take aim at those who hire recruiters. Recruiter job posts list requirements that reflect performing routine administrative tasks. It seems more desirable to be able to run an ATS system than possess strong relationship-building and general business skills.

    Perhaps coming from the agency side of recruiting I continue to believe that recruiting is a function aiding business development and not HR – a marketing function rather than production. A good recruiter can bring the applicant into the store; the sale is influenced elsewhere.

    Without the supporting philosophy of the CEO voiced through the HRVP, often recruiters who function as described by Mr. Wheeler are soon looking for another job because they don?t fit into the HR mold.

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