The Recruiter Who Cried Wolf

Once upon a time there was a recruiter who was bored at his desk and lacking candidates. To amuse himself, he went on to a resume website and typed in a few random keywords to find some lost-sheep candidates.

Once he found a few repeat offenders, he called out to all of his hiring managers and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! Here’s a candidate who is great and probably has multiple offers awaiting him!”

The villagers/hiring managers all ran to the phone to help the recruiter get the candidate an interview and a solid offer. But when they got to the interview, they found no wolf but a disgruntled, opportunistic, and unemployed candidate. The recruiter laughed to himself that he could make the managers jump and thought to himself, “This is easy!”

“Don’t cry wolf, recruiter, when candidates like this are a dime a dozen. We don’t want to hire someone else’s reject or to hire someone who is under-qualified and overcompensated. And please don’t make us compete against our competitors. And for goodness sake, don’t call us with a serial job hopper.”

Later, the recruiter called and called and no one was interested in making a move. So once again he opened a job site and found a “great” resume that had all the bells and whistles that he needed to make the managers jump. To his naughty delight, he once again sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! I have the best candidate on the market. He won’t last one day!”

Once again, the hiring managers canceled their meetings, scheduled a room, and sat through another hum-drum interview of canned answers and a perfectly orchestrated resume. Within minutes, the candidate was exposed as a fraud.

When the managers saw there was no wolf, they told the recruiter sternly, “Don’t cry wolf when the candidate is a loser!” But the recruiter just grinned to himself and watched them grumbling about all recruiters and thought, “I just didn’t fool them this time. I’ll get a placement if I send enough paper! I just know it.”

Later, he attended a users’ group meeting and met a real, live wolf. This was a person who was a game changer who could put a client company on the map, who could lure away top Fortune 100 clients, and who was ready to make a move given the right circumstances.

So he turned on the volume full throttle and sang out as loudly as he could, “Wolf! Wolf! Come quick!”

But the hiring managers thought he was tricking them again and didn’t come. A few weeks later the hiring manager saw the recruiter who was weeping that he lost the wolf.

“There really was a wolf, and I cried out for you! Now he is gone. He left and went to your competitor and now we will never get a single person from his team. We are doomed!”

The recruiter sulked back to his office and cried in his latte.

An old recruiter tried to comfort the boy as they walked back to the vending machine.

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“We’ll help you find more recruits in the morning. Try to remember the cardinal rule in recruiting: no one believes a liar even when he is telling the truth.”

A recruiter needs to ask themselves if they are in this business for the long haul or to get a new house in Saratoga (an expensive suburb of San Jose, California).

Truthfully representing a candidate and working hard at locating the top talent, not just the available talent, takes time, persistence, and skill. It also takes market knowledge, a compelling opportunity, and sometimes sheer luck. In a hot job market, everyone and anyone can throw up a shingle and be a recruiter who throws resumes against a requirement and hopes that they stick.

Before the dot-com bust, it seemed like every Oracle consultant I knew would call into my company to send over a resume and set up an agency agreement. They stammered: “Why should I only get paid an employee referral fee when I can get 20%?”

In some ways, I can’t blame them, because they had only been represented by lousy recruiters who misrepresented the job, rewrote their resume, and told them exactly what to say and do to “get the offer.”

Being optimistic about a candidate can make a recruiter very persuasive to a hiring manager about a candidate’s marketability. We call this “marrying” the candidate. Recruiters who repeatedly “marry” candidates develop a reputation of only telling managers what they want to hear.

One step further, and recruiters may go on to present resumes without verifying a candidate’s background and references. They may even write or rewrite resumes and “prep” the candidates on how to answer interview questions. Once the person starts and falls short of the qualifications, the truth comes out. This gives everyone in recruiting a bad name.

The rule of thumb is that until you are paid a placement fee from a candidate, you work for the client. And the client is paying you a substantial fee to screen a candidate and not re-write a resume to fit the job requirement if it is untrue.

Once you get caught in the snare of scrimping on the details, it’s hard to win trust back. We all need to consider whether we cry wolf too often.

Allison Boyce is a senior recruiter/global field services at Cloudera. She is a former  international sourcer/recruiter at Guidewire Software.


7 Comments on “The Recruiter Who Cried Wolf

  1. Can we add just a smidge of sophistication to these columns and deal with real issues as opposed to lessons from the employers’ Grimm. And PUUULEEEASE– let’s not follow this with what our kids teach us about great recruiting!

  2. Once upon a time…

    There was an HR person who cried ‘Wolf, wolf, we need a wolf’, and all the recruiters she had promised meaningful work to went scurrying to source the best wolf they could find. After days and days spent emailing, voicemailing, and even overnight express mailing the HR person, the recruiters received a mass email. It stated, ‘Thank you for your recent response to our request for a candidate for XYZ. We have decided to promote one of our employees into the position, so no longer have a need for your candidate. I hope to work with you successfully in the future’.

    The next time the HR person cried, ‘Wolf, wolf, we need a wolf’, all the smart recruiters responded with, ‘We’ll be glad to find you a wolf. We will need 30-day exclusivity, a 30% fee, and a $5000 non-refundable engagement fee paid before we start.’

    The HR person thought to herself, ‘These recruiters have certainly gotten difficult to work with…they are so demanding!’

    The moral is that there are more than two sides to any story. There will continue to be a disconnect between HR and agency recruiters as long as both are routinely dishonest about the strength of their respective job orders and candidates. Recruiters should focus on the long term by presenting the most competent candidate they can find, and truly trying to impress the client. Shame on the recruiter who routinely presents file candidates, or people from job boards. HR people should focus on the long term by learning that, just because a recruiter blows in your ear, it does not mean they will be able to perform for you. Shame on the HR person who thinks they have won because they have found an agency recruiter who will give in to their every demand.

  3. Allison,

    What an excellent article. One of the best I’ve read here in a while, for sure. Until the twist in the end, I was starting to say, ‘Hey, I don’t intentionally lie about how good a candidate is. . . who does she think she’s writing about?’ Then I saw the point – well-rounded, professional detachment. The Hiring Managers’ reactions to a candidate will be influenced by the recruiter who presents them, so we had better be sure that the candidate does not fall short of our talking them up. Credibility is on the line. Excellent article. Ignore the detractors who simply didn’t like the ‘fairy tale’ format – it made the point that much stronger. Bravo!

  4. I think the way you wrote this Allison made it more interesting to read. Occasionally it’s good to loosen the tie, unbutton your shirt collar, relax and not be so uptight that you can’t enjoy a nice little story. Being sophisticated doesn’t mean being boring all the time. There were actually several good things to learn from this article, in my humble opinion:

    – surfing the job/resume boards is easy, but it won’t necessarily get you the best potential candidates
    – a little hard work is usually necessary to do your job right
    – due diligence is a good practice before you present a candidate; respect other people’s time and resources! (And agreeing with Jim Cargill, that’s on both sides of the table!)
    – transactional recruiting may produce instant gratification, but it’s not the way to build relationships and develop key accounts

    …and for those of you may be saying ‘What does she know?? She’s ONLY a researcher’….these lessons apply with everything I do on a daily basis as well. If you’re curious how, just ask me.

    Thanks for the lesson, AND the entertaining tale, Allison!

  5. Allison,

    I thought you put the seesaw off kilter. Let’s make ’em shake in their shoes until the hats fall off.

  6. Just a quick comment re: Jim Cargill’s comment – That is EXACTLY right. If you have a Contained or a Retained search you HAVE TO execute on both sides of the agreement. That is the best way to keep everyone sharing responsibility for execution.

    The ONLY time I took contingency on an exclusive was if I was genuinely concerned that I could not fill the position which is sometimes the case in Pharma search. There just aren’t enough people to actually hire. And I loathe giving retainers back.

    As far as the tone and implication about HR people – they are the Client. Period. They pay your rent. You should have the huevos to ask for a retainer or not stab them in the back. It takes two to enable behavior. I bet the Rookie who took the position and got stiffed after he didn’t get a placement probably served up the same people everyone else did and was treated accordingly.

  7. Well put Jim – excellent response. This is something that goes two ways indeed and I believe will be an on going struggle between in house and agency recruiters for all times!

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