The Mastery of Recruiting?

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 8.40.18 PMMy wife and I watched a fine documentary on TV called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It was about an 85+-year-old master sushi maker named Jiro Ono who has a 10-seat restaurant in the Tokyo subway. He probably makes the best sushi in the world, and maybe ever. He only serves sushi, and it costs about $300 for 20 pieces. He’d been doing it for about 75 years. The documentary talked about his life, his approach to work, his family (his two sons were in the business), and people who knew/interacted with him.

Here are some interesting quotes (with some editing from me) from the movie. After that, I’ll tell you what this means to you, the recruiter or human resources professional. 

The quotes are from various people throughout the movie and not all can be attributed to Jiro Ono.

Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve upon yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.

Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.

It really comes down to making and effort and repeating the same thing every day.

He always worked incredibly hard. He would only take a day off if it was a national holiday.

The way of the shokunin (master craft[wo]man) is to repeat the same thing every day.

There’s a great deal to take from these quotes, and the movie, too. I bet you’d expect me to say something like:

“To master recruiting, we should view it the way Jiro views sushi making.”

To paraphrase a movie ad: “You might think you know where this is going, but you’d be dead wrong.”

Article Continues Below

I think there are very few people (and I am not one of them) who have the basic ability combined with the obsessiveness to totally devote their lives (at the expense of much else) to mastering a given art/work As I mentioned, Jiro had (two) sons, and they’re both in the business. He joked that when they were growing up, he’d often come home from the restaurant only occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings. Jiro joked that they’d say: Who’s this strange man sleeping in our house?” To be a sushi shokunin, Jiro had to sacrifice his family life. (It was interesting that there was never a single mention of a Mrs. Ono, either present or past …)

My wife and I have had the opportunity to know to some degree two MacArthur (aka “Genius”) Grant winners. While they were doing very noble things, they were both quite obsessed. (In one case, it damaged their physical and mental health, and broke up their family.) Two examples do not a strong case make; at the same time, I’ve found a number of work-obsessed people to be rather difficult and/or unpleasant, especially to work for.

In summary: I think there are few people who are obsessed enough to become masters of their art, and even fewer who don’t delude themselves into thinking they can “have it all” without any consequences. Maybe you can, but most of us can’t, and demanding to get that from someone who doesn’t share your obsession isn’t right, and neither is burning out someone and then tossing them away like last week’s garbage.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I were half or a third my current age, but I‘ve chosen the course to be more of a moderately well-rounded, fairly competent, not too-unpleasant human being who views his life as something to experience and not just a bunch of things to tick off a “to-do” list on the road to being some type of superstar/guru/shokunin. I can’t really speak for you (only you can do that), but I think for most of us, that last one is a realistic course to follow.

Keith Halperin is currently working as a senior contract recruiter and performs additional sourcing work. He has worked in recruiting, placement, search, and research for highly diverse clients (from startups to Fortune 500 firms) throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986. He conceived, designed, and implemented corporate recruiting strategies, and developed a white paper for a $70 million, five-year NASA CS recruiting project. He developed the Recruiting Process Methodology, a comprehensive open-source roadmap of recruiting. He co-founded MyIPOJob job fairs for pre-IPO companies, and founded Recruitersforum, an online job site for all types of recruiting positions.


11 Comments on “The Mastery of Recruiting?

  1. Nice little article Keith.
    I have on my Twitter profile the words ‘(healthily) obsessed with Recruitment 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0’
    Obsession can be good and it can be bad, but I think it is necessary to some degree in whatever one does to become good at it, just look at the world’s greats in art, sport and business for examples. ‘Obsession is what makes you never satisfied and always seeking more and better answers, keeping one from becoming complacent and for striving for better/more.
    Personally I think there in recruitment is far too little of it, many take the path of settling with mediocre and that in turn leads to mediocre results. I would like to think that my own personal records in people placed over the years is down to my own healthy obsession with the industry and the role that I love doing, – I suppose that is ultimately what drives Mr Jiro Ono.

  2. My husband and I were in Japan for two weeks in Nov and it is a fascinating culture. So many extraordinary people with admirable characteristics that we were honored to meet and know; yet, there is a an unpleasant undercurrent of which you speak. Your article reminded me of what the Japanese call karoshi,or death from overwork. It is a real thing in Japan and sometimes one of many costs of the obsession. A great book to read on the Japanese corporate culture is The Accidental Office Lady by Laura Kriska. She was the first American women to work at the Tokyo Honda hdqrts. I agree with your honest article, grasshopper. It is true. Mastery has its misery.

  3. Keith,

    Your article influenced me to think of the talent code by Daniel Coyle. Really good book.
    Mastering a skill is a life’s work of deliberate or deep practice.
    While I do believe that we have to dedicate massive amounts of time to mastering skills (researchers indicate that we need to practice 10000 hours to reach the level of genius in our field), I do not believe that we have to sacrifice our relationships and family to master our craft. As long as there is quality time at work and home, both will have a place in our lives but that I believe is based on our priorities and what we define as quality time.

    I also believe that this world is filled with people obsessed about mastering their craft to the level of genius status but few are disciplined enough to do it.

    About mastering the recruiting craft. With all the information sharing going on in the media these days, I got to wonder what the recruiting craft is coming to?

    Recruiters are being led here and there with every new wave of new doctrine so to speak.

    I’ll keep practicing, applying and improving on the basics that I know work for me and continue to witness the never ending; mind boggling evolution of the recruiting profession which I believe will circle back to the basics anyway.

  4. Recipe for good recruitment: 2/3 mastering the basics, the understanding of the wider holistic aspects of what ‘good recruitment’ is/looks like (that in itself something that the 10.000 hour rule take a substantial part of)
    Sprinkle that with 1/3 of healthy critical assessment of new tools, channels and solutions, and mix together, however make sure that the initial 2/3 part ingredients remain highly visible and applied at all times!

  5. It is a nice article Keith; one that sent me to Wikipedia looking up the word “workaholic” just as I’ve been thinking all morning about how badly my ass and back hurt from sitting in this damn chair.

    “Workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem leading to early death, often on the job, a phenomenon dubbed kar?shi. Overwork was popularly blamed for the fatal stroke of Prime Minister of Japan Keiz? Obuchi, in the year 2000.”

    Why do we do it?
    What are shutting out?
    What are we trying to prove?

    Questions some of us dare not face.

    Articles like yours help put a handle on that Pandora’s Box so we can lift it and peek in.

    It’s pretty dark in there.

  6. Pretty much speaks to the old maxim about finding something you love doing and it won’t be like work. Gallup’s most recent workforce engagement study found 70% of Americans are not engaged or inspired by their work. My guess is Jiro Ono was doing what he loved.

  7. In the U.S. we have our own masters in various crafts. Michael Jordan is the most recently renowned. His relentless obsession with practice and winning, combined with his physical talent propelled him to be debateably the best ever in his craft of basketball.

    But in my opinion, good Jiro. But is that really the secret to ‘success’? If you define success as repeatable sushi I guess.

    I love recruiting, I LOVE it, but I also love my family, the Seattle Seahawks etc. as well.

    I’d like to think that while we can hold up a Jiro and a Michael Jordan and reverently admire their attainment of some mystical level of mastery in their craft, that the quest for success isn’t necessarily to be wrapped up in that obsession.

    So while I admire Jiro, and good on him, makes a mean sushi, and I’ll always argue Michael Jordan was and is the best ever (sorry LeBron) that road just doesn’t sound all that balanced …. but that’s me.

    Loved the article …


  8. Great article Keith. Now I am hungry for sushi and it is 1:00 in the morning and everything is closed. Thanks a lot Keith!

  9. I’m back from Jury Duty- dodged the bullet!

    @ Jacob: Thank you. I believe that “healthy obsession” is a contradiction in terms. While it is noble to work to improve what we do and who we are, there are only so many hours in a day, and if we spend more time on something, we will need to spend less time on other things. There’s a price to pay for being a master at something. Are YOU willing to pay that price, “*Dr. Faust”?

    As far as mediocrity in recruiting: there’s mediocrity in most paying professions. I’m a bit of a Neo-Behaviorist: you can get many people to do what you need them to do by various types of reinforcement (“gamification”) and by not reinforcing what you don’t want them to do. As long as we have low bars to entry, minimal/ineffective training (on an ongoing basis), discouragement of questioning the recruiting status quo, and hiring controlled by the GAFIS (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, Ignorance/Incompetence, and Stupidity) of those doing the hiring, there will continue to be LOTS of mediocre recruiters.

    @ Cheri, @ Mighty Mo: Good points. IMSM, there’s one country where the people tend to work even longer than the Japanese, and that’s the USA. *Germans are more productive than we are, and get a lot more vacation which they feel entitled to and actually TAKE- none of this “you can have as much vacation as you want just don’t TAKE any or we won’t like it” BS that we’re starting to see here.

    @ Gareth: I agree. As I frequently point out, recruiting is fundamentally “quickly and affordably putting quality butts in chairs”. While the tools and techniques change, what we do remains essentially the same. However, tis hard to make money selling the “same old, same-old” so we will continue to see slick hucksters with high-level connections ready to sell the latest recruiting snake oil or “magic bullet” to desperate and not-yet insolvent recruiters and their superiors who fail to recognize that in most cases they are futilely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” of their companies’ ill-conceived, over-blown, grossly-dysfunctional hiring practices. The hucksters make money, the recruiters (heads) show to their bosses they are keeping up with things, and the fact that quite often *nothing gets better is a very minor consequence.

    @ John H: “Gallup’s most recent workforce engagement study found 70% of Americans are not engaged or inspired by their work.” This doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps we should get over the “Now Generation/Me Generation” expectation that work should provide passion, actualization, and transcendence, and instead expect that work will pay the bills and not ****destroy our bodies, minds or souls. (I bet a lot of those 70% have jobs which DO destroy their bodies, minds, or souls).

    @ Robert: I agree with you, too.

    @ Howard: Thanks. Adamsky-san, our most esteemed friends at Chowhound ( may help you in your quest.

    @ All you “All You Need to Have it All is Positive Mental Attitude and Hard Work” Types: Where are you?
    Out making $1M+/yr. on straight commission, training for your Ironman Triathalon, and being “Parent of the Year”? What do you have to say?




    “Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?”: America’s misguided culture of overwork
    Germany’s workers have higher productivity, shorter hours and greater quality of life. How did we get it so wrong?

    *** Maybe I’m WRONG. Perhaps recruiting HAS improved over the past few decades; say, since 1995 when the internet starting getting big. If it HAS: why aren’t we always trotting out the stats (quicker time-to-hire, lower cost-per-hire, better quality-of-hire, etc.) and talking about it all the time? If it HASN’T: what the hell are we doing wrong?

    … The issue is not that jobs used to have meaning and now they don’t; most jobs in most periods have undoubtedly been staffed by people who would prefer to be doing something else. The issue is that too little of the recent gains from technological advance and economic growth have gone toward giving people the time and resources to enjoy their lives outside work. Early in the industrial era real wages soared and hours worked declined. In the past generation, by contrast, real wages have grown slowly and workweeks haven’t grown shorter.…

  10. @Keith In my comment and use of word’ healthily’ I imply that I attempt as much as possible to strike a balance between work and leisure time. At times it does become too much (that is when my wife at week-ends will hide my phone from me, and demand 100% presence!)
    Point is if you truly like what you are doing then the work/life balance becomes fluid, – however there has been times when it has been too much, agree.

    As for Germany, a country I know in depth culturally and as having worked with over many years. Yes they have a healthy ‘balance’ and not least due to their social democratic model ( a mix of socialistic, market driven democratic system) Basis is what ground work their unions put down over many years, equally accepted by employers and employees, based on mutual respect and understanding that ‘we are all in this together’ (try analysing German driving culture, it is exactly that, mutual respect and playing by the rules)
    The AngloAmerican model work for some, and less so for others and is not always built on understanding and respect.
    In my opinion much has been lost on the basis of letting too much capitalism rule, not having a ‘counterweight’ in the form of unions or the like and the relentless and continuous onslaught of bigger/better/cheaper now driven by China and India. Under such circumstances it is difficult to keep a balance especially if all that rules are market forces, then it all becomes one big race for profit and survival.

  11. @ Jacob: Thanks again. With few exceptions (and I can’t think of any right now) you can have too much of a good thing…

    “The Anglo-American model work for some, and less so for others and is not always built on understanding and respect.”
    Except for the very wealthiest here in the U.S. (I can’t speak to the rest of the English speaking world, which after all has some form of universal health coverage and other social benefits that we lack), exactly how well IS the Anglo-American Economic Model working for things like economic opportunity/social mobility, wealth equality, quality of work life, health statistics?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *