When Good Recruiters Get Bad Managers

Frank Johnson was an experienced recruiter who had worked for two previous companies. He had recently started as a technical recruiter for a fairly large, high-tech firm in Silicon Valley. Frank had developed a recruiting process that worked well for him. He was an excellent sourcer, and he found talented candidates even when other recruiters struggled. That was the primary reason he had been hired. The director of staffing had heard about his sourcing skills and wanted him to teach the other recruiters some of his techniques. Frank was excited to work for a well-known organization and have the opportunity to recruit top-notch people.

But, Frank was also very good at closing candidates and had been the top recruiter for his previous employers. He started this new position in the hope that he would be challenged by a more experienced and qualified leader and that he would have a shot at the director job at some point. But, in little less than three months, Frank was ready to quit. His manager was demanding and expected detailed accounting of the time Frank spent on each assignment and what he did each day. He was expected to handle more than 25 requisitions as well as spend a significant amount of time coaching and teaching his fellow recruiters. On top of that, he was learning to use the talent management system and the other tools that were necessary for communicating with candidates and hiring managers and for reporting. Frank’s boss also had difficulty making decisions, and this was driving Frank crazy. One day, the boss would agree to something and promise to get it done and then come back a few days later and say he had changed his mind. During his negotiations for the position, Frank had been promised more freedom and fewer requisitions; he had not gotten any inkling that his boss was such a micromanager or had such a hard time sticking to a decision.

This is a classic situation: A good recruiter with a strong record of achievement runs into a manager who is insecure and is most likely struggling to keep his own job. Frank’s options within the organization are limited, but he should have little problem finding a better position elsewhere. Inside this organization, Frank can wait it out and hope that his current manager quits, gets promoted, or moves on. He can try to negotiate for more room to do things his way, perhaps by getting the boss to agree to some measurable objectives or mutually agreed upon outcomes. He can just ignore the boss and see if his skill and success will cause the manager to ease off on the requirements. But, any of these strategies are risky and unpleasant.

Good Leadership

Hundreds of books are written on leadership every year, and leadership training programs are ubiquitous. Almost everyone who has worked for a large organization and has a leadership role has taken a class or two (or three) in management fundamentals or leadership. Yet, many recruiting functions lack good leadership. And, when that is the case, the best recruiters – those like Frank – tend to quickly leave. I define good leadership as the ability to build and maintain a group that performs well against its competition. If you can hire and motivate a team of people to consistently outperform everyone else, then you’re a good leader. Leadership is not about knowing what everyone is doing all the time, nor is leadership about giving orders or directing work. Those might be useful skills for a manufacturing supervisor, but they are much less useful in a recruiting environment. The four themes that I present below are found in almost all the literature about leadership, even though they sometimes have different names. Good leaders strive to get consistent results through their people by practicing the following:


Effective leaders keep their word and fulfill their promises. In Frank’s case, the manager did not follow through on what he had said in the interview, nor did he and Frank have the same expectations about the job. Without integrity there is no trust, and without trust there can be no real security or commitment. If you make a promise to one of your recruiters, keep it or carefully explain why you can’t. Don’t commit if you cannot deliver.


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Decisiveness is about making prompt decisions, and about making tough decisions which you back up and enforce. Waffling, changing your mind, and switching back and forth between possible solutions are the elements for failure as a leader. One of the things that I hear frequently in my consulting work is that the leader takes too long to make a decision or changes his mind partway through a project without an explanation. Often, the indecisiveness is caused by internal politics or the manager’s own lack of confidence in what his leadership will do, but it doesn’t change the need. Frank’s manager failed here as well, and couldn’t even stick with what he had promised in the interview.


Leaders do not have to be an expert in everything, and usually cannot be. But they do need to have a basic level of expertise and enough wisdom or experience so that they can evaluate issues and make informed decisions. This is why experts are often promoted into leadership positions, but, by itself, it is not enough to make a good leader. We don’t really know the background of Frank’s manager, but he seems to lack wisdom in making decisions and in talking to Frank.


Perhaps the most important of all these is the ability to explain the purpose, meaning, and significance of an undertaking; to generate enthusiasm and excitement; and to build a team with a vision of where it is headed. Frank was looking for someone to challenge and excite him, not someone to watch every move he made. We all want to be motivated to do more and to beat the competition. Without leadership willing to help create this excitement, not much gets done. If you are a recruiting leader or want to be one, these are good themes to incorporate into your daily life. You will find your retention rates go up, your recruiters will be more engaged and committed, and you will make much better hires.

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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


3 Comments on “When Good Recruiters Get Bad Managers

  1. Good article. IMHO Frank is a good sourcer/recruiter but failed himself in not applying the same principles he follows in selling candidates in his interview with his manager.

    I come from a military background and I never had much of a choice in who the Department of the Army was going to designate as my new commander. When I moved into civilian life I viewed it as my first opportunity to have a direct impact on deciding who my boss would be. Was it a good fit, not just for my employer but for myself? I made my share of mistakes along the way but eventually when I got to the level of experience that Frank is at now I looked at the interview process as more of me interviewing them. I knew I could do the work but would this boss be the one for me? Would they get the most out of me? Would they help me learn and grow? Would they be a roadblock or a mentor.

    I highly recommend a book called ‘Career Warfare’ by David D’Alessandro for anyone thinking about what they should look for in a boss. It will open your eyes, help build your brand and help you navigate these types of corporate landmines throughout your career.

  2. Really good article and I can agree with it all, I certainly can relate to Frank?s issues with poor management.

    Apart from poor management skills when a consultant has joined from a different industry or recruitment style, they will always be some kind of conflict and generally it will be down to egos or operational styles.

  3. Hi Kevin;
    As much as I agree with the article and its nuances, i feel there is one more thing that needs to be added. We -the Managers of the recruting fraternity-probably overlook the concept of observation. I guess the most effective way to command respect and gain employee confidence is performance. No matter how good you are at strategizing and planning, but we need to remember one thing: if situation necessitates, we should roll up our sleeves and shoulder the boulder of work.
    A high-level of ground-level (oxymoron!) understanding is required.Hence a part of being a good Manager also says ‘Let me show you how this thing is done in here.’ Command performance, and your subordinates will follow your footprints. Then the need to motivate wont be required as much,because they know how you would tackle the scene in the first place by seeing you through the same.
    This also helps us to be empathic about the bottlenecks faced by the recruiters. What’s more is required is giving an open-playground for a specific time frame.

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