Top 10 Dumbest Things Recruiters Do: And the Winner Is …

by John Sullivan and Laureen Edmiston

Several weeks ago published an article that asked the question “what are the dumbest things that recruiters do.” After surveying recruiters on, Twitter, and at the recent SMA symposium in Seattle, it is clear that most feel the dumbest thing recruiters do is…

Not managing the candidate experience — the candidate experience is the perception of the sum of interactions with an organization throughout the hiring process. It includes every communication, the design of the process, the fairness of process elements, the quality of information exchanged, and the honesty with which questions and concerns are addressed. Providing a poor candidate experience can have many negative consequences, including an increased candidate dropout rate, negative word-of-mouth, and decreased loyalty to the overall brand.

The rest of the “Top 10” are…

Expecting dull position descriptions to attract — potential applicants assume that the company puts its best foot forward when it describes a job. So when they compare your dull, legalistic description with your competitor’s more compelling description, they will simply apply elsewhere. The net result is that you lose candidates unnecessarily, harm your employer brand, and you will eventually frustrate your hiring managers.

Not taking advantage of employee referrals — the best-practice firms approach 50% referral hires (the percentage of all external hires who come from referrals). Failing to fully use referrals means that you will miss out on a large number of high-quality, prescreened, and presold candidates. Because employees are no longer doing some of the recruiting work, your recruiting workload will increase.

Not learning the business — obviously if you can’t speak “their language” and you don’t understand their problems, hiring managers will be less responsive to your requests. Your lack of knowledge will also make it more difficult to communicate with, to sell, and to build relationships with candidates.

Using the same recruiting process for different level jobs — higher-level jobs require a different level of service, knowledge, and relationship-building. So using the same process that you use for lower-level jobs on more sophisticated, technical, or management jobs will result in fewer returned calls, a higher candidate dropout rate, and lower-quality hires.

Making slow hiring decisions — the very best candidates are gone quickly, so a drawn-out process or slow decision-making will likely mean that candidates with multiple offers will be gone. Managers will also become frustrated if a slow recruiting process means losing the best.

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Assuming interviews are accurate — interviews are traditionally weak predictors but poorly executed interviews dramatically increase the chances of making a major hiring error. Poorly designed interviews may also screen out innovators and turnoff top candidates, because they have not felt challenged.

Using active sourcing approaches for passive candidates — posting your jobs using active sourcing approaches like job boards, newspaper ads, and job fairs means that the 75% of the workforce that is not actively looking for a job will never see them.

Not prioritizing jobs — focusing on low-value jobs with little business or revenue impact will anger your managers and reduce their business results. It may eventually lead to lower recruiting budgets, after executives see that your hiring is not prioritized and in line with their business priorities.

Not identifying job acceptance criteria — if you don’t proactively ask for their job acceptance criteria, you can only guess about what it will take to get a top candidate to say “yes.” Although it is ranked as #10, not tailoring your recruiting marketing and candidate-selling approaches to the decision criteria of top candidates almost guarantees that you will lose these candidates. Because these individuals have choices, they will simply wait until an opportunity comes along that precisely fits their requirements and expectations.

Final Thoughts

Nearly 80% of CEOs select talent management as the business area that requires the most change. As a recruiter, if you are going to dramatically change, you have only two basic choices, 1) stop doing the dumb things that negatively impact your results or 2) start doing smarter and more effective things. The “stop doing dumb things” choice is probably the easier of the two because it doesn’t require you to learn anything new.

So if you are recruiter or recruiting manager with limited time and resources, we recommend that you use this “dumb things” list to begin the process of changing and improving your recruiting.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



24 Comments on “Top 10 Dumbest Things Recruiters Do: And the Winner Is …

  1. Agree that not managing the candidate experience is number one. Over the last several years, poor candidate experience has been prevalent, especially experiences received from the more ‘transactional’ recruiters dealing in quantity of applications – the era of the jobboards and quantity of en masse CV responses. Recruiters need to get back to quality over quantity.. else otherwise they will not have time to improve anything!

    That being said, social media will put the conversation back into recruitment as the currency of the candidate is to debut back to being king. Those recruiters then not redressing that balance in candidate experience will not be in business into the future hence all others on the list won’t matter!

    But regarding the final thoughts, indeed I think recruiters will need to make improvement to the dumb things listed, but also must be innovative as a new era is upon us where some of the things that used to work will not work in future. The ‘differentials’ in recruiter brands are required now as we move from just finding people to the next era of opportunity ~ in ‘engaging and pipelining’ with more ‘relevant’ potential candidate audience in advance, before they are even looking. All people are potential candidates, not just the actives – so recruiters will have to do more listening as a tremendous start..

  2. In the highly leveraged recruiting environments of many large organizations, offering a great candidate experience does not seem to be goal worth achieving. While the candidate that interviews has a great experience, the also runs usually do not have an enjoyable experience. Until the there is enough candidate backlash or there are metrics illustrating a lost ROI to the bottom line, I do not believe things will change much. No pain, no change.

  3. Thank you for the great article. As the owner of a boutique recruiting firm I understand how easy it can be to mishandle the candidate experience. There are so many parts to that equation that it can be easy to forget or miss pieces. In our firm, we remind ourselves consistently that a candidate’s experience begins before he or she even meets us. Often times, they find us through social media, word of mouth or networking. So first and foremost, it is imperative that our reputation is as flawless as possible. Everything follows from there.

    Once a candidate meets us we focus on meeting their specific needs- there is no “prepackaged” plan. Although we are sure to use our 40+ years of combined experience to do the things we know work, each candidate is different. Helping them identifying their uniqueness and establish their needs clearly, we can get to work making those needs and desires into an action plan. With coaching, resume writing, industry introductions and a personalized plan I feel we are able to make our candidates’ experiences pleasant and successful.

    It is extremely helpful to have the above “mistakes” spelled out so clearly. It certainly helps us have our eyes open for landmines that we might not be expecting.
    Ken C. Schmitt

  4. Interesting thought but I disagree.

    In reality, the Recruiter has only a bit of influence over the candidate experience and nothing more as the candidate experience is a group activity. More than that, it is a mindset.

    For example, if the HM is late or has not yet read the candidate’s resume or asks stupid questions like “how many gas stations are there in the United States” to ”see how the candidate thinks” there is little the recruiter can do.

    If no one has the brains to be pleasant, offer the candidate coffee and see they are well cared for, there is little the recruiter can do to affect this. Can the recruiter tell the offending parties for the millionth time of the importance of the care and feeding of the candidate? Of course but this obviously does not fix the problem.

    My opinion of the number one dumb things that Recruiters do???

    Stay employed in organizations where they see that the candidate experience is bad and is going to remain such.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Sullivan.

    @ Stephen: I think you must have said something important, but my feeble brain couldn’t figure out what you meant. Could you re-state it in simple (jargon-free) and direct language?

    @ Marvin: Got it one! If a company isn’t prepared to pay $3.00/hr for Virtual Assistants to make sure the CE is pleasant if not professional (for the non Fabulous 95%”), then you can pretty well say it’s not a priority.

    @ Ken: Well said. Think what a strong seller a very positive CE is, even for rejected candidates.

    @ Howard: I commend those recruiters who have the opportunity to easily pick and choose work from a variety of organizations- wish I were one!


    Keith “Grateful for What I Have” Halperin

  6. John,

    Nice Not to Do list.

    The reverse of a negative does not ensure a positive outcome.

    A “Not to Do” does not specify what  “To Do” makes the most sense.

    Here are results from a candidate survey that define “To Dos” a recruiter can deliver to make a more favorable candidate experience.

    Maybe you can find a candidate suggested action item you can be inspired to deliver.

  7. By the way, it’s not only “recruiters” who make Big Mistake #1.

    A sometimes-client decided to pursue three individuals for a position which they did not clearly define and which was at least one level beneath the (unemployed) prospects. To top it off, they introduced themselves with a short email and a link to a psychological test (MMP knockoff).

    Two of the three immediately broke off discussions. The third is playing them against ‘another offer.’

    ….Must…..restrain…..self…..from making wisecrack about the failure.

  8. The one that resonated most with me is “using the same recruiting process for different level jobs” which strikes me as the dumbest mistake – hiring a receptionist is quite different from hiring a software developer who may need to take a technical test or have a technical interview. There’s also a big difference between hiring an internal candidate vs an external one.

    A lot of organizations have a “standard” process they stick to for EEOC/OFCCP and regulatory compliance reporting. What they may not realize it that it’s okay to have more than one workflow as long as its fairly applied to all candidates for a given position – all the government wants to see is a level playing field.

    And a lot of ATS systems have only one workflow which is even more surprising to me as there should never be a “one size fits all” recruiting process for all jobs. Candidates want to be treated as individuals with respect to the level and type of position; the workflow should support that goal.

  9. While I would agree with the concept that these are dumb mistakes, I have to disagree that recruiters can change or correct these mistakes. Some very interesting points were provided in this article, but, mostly they were unrealistic–and one “making slow hiring decisions”, was completely off target. What recruiter does not try to make a hire ASAP? I would have to say if anything it is the recruiter who would be/is frustrated with the slow hiring process–not the manager.

    As Howard, correctly pointed out, recruiters, only have a “bit of influence” and do not have control of the entire process.

  10. @Merlynn, @Howard:
    Well said. Perhaps we should restate it as:
    “Top 10 Dumbest Hiring Procedures Put in Place by Senior Management”?



  11. This one brought out the star commenters. Great posts on the candidate experience Joe- that’s some quality blogging right there.

    In my (very limited) experience, the #1 mistake business people make (all kinds of business people, not just recruiters) is to overvalue class/status markers, and underestimate impacts of small-group dynamics on motivation and performance.

  12. One could do several things to create good candidate expectations:
    1. Help candidate plan better by helping him gather more & accurate information
    2. Being transparent and setting right expectations
    3. Communicating regularly
    4. Influencing clients wherever candidate experience goes very bad.

    Just by doing things right, and not trying many different things, we were able to improve candidate satisfaction ratings significantly.

  13. It appears, at first blush, that this is an interesting group. However, I need to find individuals that are proficient in speaking the English language. The only way that I know of to screen canditates is to speak to them. The process is laborous, from my aspect, but not insurmontable. Does there exist a “short-cut” to making this determination before the telephone call whereby the determination can be made?

  14. Dr. Sullivan – very interesting article.

    I’m a systems analyst but have been blogging about the hiring process because from a technical point of view the mistakes are many and the process is mind numbing. (Blog:

    Due out shortly on my blog…I’m also working on a top 10 list…not for recruiters only, but for corrections in the process. You hit several points on my list, but missed my top one – “1. You haven’t hired the Google search engine or IBM’s Watson…don’t expect your computer to do it all.”

    I think your points are excellent…and I salute you for working on changing the process!

    PS to…I signed up, filled out the info and then went to read the agreement I had to sign. When I came back to the original page…all my info was erased! (Did I mention technical errors?)

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