When the Going Gets Tough, the Recruitment PR Keeps Going

I can’t say enough about how important and difficult a recruiter’s job can be. Yes, we have our share of easy-to-fill jobs, and yes there are times when our load is not quite as crazy as it could be. One might even argue none of us have any reason to complain when there is a bevy of qualified candidates waiting to fill our jobs courtesy of the current economic climate … true!

However, candidates don’t know the half of what it takes from getting the requisition off the ground and posted, to selling a job to a candidate at a company that frankly isn’t worth the paper requisition it came on. This is where I am going with all of this.

Companies make good decisions and they make bad decisions. The good decisions are designing competitive benefits and recognition programs to attract and retain employees. That is, as a recruiter I am happy to highlight in an interview and beyond the plentiful and robust benefit offerings my company has to offer in hopes that the candidate will find the overall proposition of working with us enticing. More often than not the candidate considers all that is available to him/her. A deal is made and everyone is happy.

Here’s where our job becomes difficult: when companies make poor decisions. I mean really bad decisions. They mismanage their staff so turnover is high. They refuse to be competitive in their offerings both from a compensation and benefits perspective. Lastly, they make “business” decisions that are merely in the interest of the business and have not accounted for the inevitable impact of that decision on the employee. This results in disengaged, disgruntled, and despondent employees. Despite these factors, jobs are still rolling in, and when the going gets tough, the recruiter still has to act like the best PR agent in the land and sell that company and their jobs.

These bad business decisions makes the recruiter’s job less of an honest, people-friendly job, and more like a dirty salesman job. The dirty salesman knows his product is garbage but will sell it to you with a pretty bow on top as if it is the product you shouldn’t live without. This is a day in the life of a recruiter when bad decisions are a commonplace in an organization

What are the implications? The recruiter sells the candidate on something that isn’t real. Soon enough, and it has happened to me, the candidate gets in and finds out that the deal of a lifetime was no deal at all, but a deal gone bad. The recruiter in turn has lost credibility, the company has lost credibility, and now no matter what you do you have at least one person out there in the world that knows your company’s dirty little secrets. Bad PR travels fast; good PR travels, but not quite as quickly.

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Since I have been faced with this dilemma more times than I would have liked to, I would like to share some insights about overcoming this matter of circumstance:

  1. As a recruiter you represent a brand. You represent your company and you also have a personal reputation to uphold.
  2. Your job is a duel between upholding your company’s brand and your reputation. You need to decide whether the values of the company are aligned with how you work as a recruiter.
  3. Your credibility as a recruiter is built upon being honest, reliable, and being an advocate for your candidates. If you can’t be any of those three things, you’re probably in the wrong business or with the wrong company.

Recruitment and HR in general require us to do some unpopular and undesirable things at times. However, recruiters have a choice in how they approach these inevitable hurdles. You can be honest, reliable, and advocate for your candidates and work around the not-so attractive aspects of your company, or you can be a dirty salesman and destroy careers and give candidates false hope.

Which type of recruiter will you choose to be?

Janine N. Truitt is a human resources professional as well as an HR blogger/founder of “The Aristocracy of HR” blog. Follow her blog "The Aristocracy of HR" at http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ . Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her tweets on Twitter @CzarinaofHR. The opinions shared in her articles are her own and are in no way a reflection of the views of her employer.


26 Comments on “When the Going Gets Tough, the Recruitment PR Keeps Going

  1. Yes, as recruiters we have a choice. A choice to NOT work for companies that you described. Why would you or any recruiter want to place a great candidate with a class F company – class F as in FAILURE. Work with the great companies that want great candidates and workers and treat them as such. Leave the bad companies for the bad recruiters – they’ll even work the search for 15%.

  2. This is part of a systemic flaw in the way people and organizations come together. In the hiring process everyone is playing a role, the recruiter is essentially acting as PR for the company they represent or work for. The candidate is acting to present their experience and themselves as a perfect match and the hiring manager is also acting as the best possible boss. With so little authenticity in the process it not a surprise that the result is turnover, disengaged employees and bad PR on all sides.

  3. Cora,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I have worked for these sorts of companies early on in my career. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fulfilling. The beauty of experience is you learn what not to do as you go along. I can honestly say that I have finally found an employer that shares my values.

    Working for a class F company is not always a choice but a matter of circumstance. If you’re lucky you move on, but if you are tied to it because of your need to make a living then it is not so cut and dry.

    I appreciate your insight.

    Best Regards,


  4. From “The Great Game of Business” by jack Stack…

    “Shit rolls downhill” (good morning ERE censors)

    First and foremost, as a person you represent yourself first; if you don’t have any issues with selling snow to Eskimos then that’s the epitaph you’ve chosen for yourself – if you can sleep well knowing you’re one of the reasons many people hate recruiters then more power to you.

    Second, while you also have to represent the brand to be able to sell the company effectively, it is quite easy to convince oneself that tapioca tastes like caviar when you have to pay your bills. The economy and other factors sure are potent condiments to spice up a bland dish.

    However, my experience has taught ME that focusing on the brand is a Fool’s Gold; the failure that most experience in recruiting is not that they aren’t personally and professionally aligned with the brand it’s that they simply don’t know the real job especially the specific problems to be solved. If you’re targeting “the best and the brightest” it’s fair to assume that many know about your company’s good, bad, and ugly. Let the adults make their own decisions – think about marriage if it helps as a metaphor: Many couples might not see eye to eye at the onset but learn to love each other over time. Bottom line – recruiters and hiring managers suck at being psychologists.

    Of course if you’re employer is engaged in some surreptitious or illegal activity or is under investigation by a ubiquitous government agency, you MUST tell the candidate; to do otherwise is not tell the person to whom you’re proposing that, um, you’re married.

    In most cases, HR and recruiting actions are predicated by the law or by the desire to prevent the possibility of a litigious course of action (for example, simply not telling a candidate the real reason why they weren’t selected) or simply the headache of dealing with bad PR.

    Either way, dishonesty is dishonesty. If you expect your young child to be honest 100% of the time, why doesn’t this apply to YOU?

    Janine – REALLY great post.

  5. Janine,

    Didn’t realize you worked inside a companmy! Totally different side of the story!

    I’m a third party recruiter with my own firm so it is easier to say no. And after 20+ years in the business I have run into all types of people and companies – but let’s be clear people make up the company. Early on I decided to pick and choose which companies I would work for. I turned down many companies that other recruiters were trying very hard to work for, but decided that I wanted to work with honest people so that I could always be honest. Plus I like to work my way (recruit my way) so I stay far away from companies that want to build their candidate data base and present only one or two candidates per engagement. Yes, I have done work for troubled companies and presented the opportunity as the challenge it would be. I still pick and choose my clients and have no problem saying no to those companies I decide I don’t want to represent. Has worked well for me.

    Yeah, I might be considered a snob.

  6. Having worked for and with such companies a’plenty, I can unequivocally say you do NOT need to be a sleazy salesman to sell these companies. The best sales people in the world are HONEST about their product, its benefits AND its deficits, and you need to match the person to the job. Those bad decisions the company makes are a part of that company’s culture, and potentially a part of its success too. Not every ‘bad’ decision management makes is what it seems.

    Find someone who has thrived in that kind of environment, and who doesn’t see a need to change that particular part of things, and then see if the positives the company offers, and there are always some, match what they need and want for a good career move. It’s called job congruence. Every company has positives and negatives. Find people who are responsive to the positives and not so responsive to the negatives, and you won’t regret any of your ‘sales’.

    It’s much easier to do this on the corporate side. On the agency side you need to embed yourself in the company. You need to interview people and possibly even anonymously survey them if you can to get a true temperature of the place, and a feel for their actual culture as opposed to what they present as their culture. And you have to be brutally honest with the HMs and clients and the candidates about their relative positives and negatives. One of the major changes I implemented at my current company is to get HMs to stop glossing over the negatives about our culture, because you’re just setting yourself up to fail if you do.

  7. Lisa,

    Thanks for reading and for your comment.

    You are correct. In the companies where transparency of practice and intent is low on the list of priorities-it is all about keeping up appearances and hiring for the purpose of quantity not quality.

    It is a poor business strategy and in my previous experience has caused an inevitable failure of the that company-at least from a recruitment perspective.

    I appreciate your insights.

    Best Regards,


  8. Steve,

    I can’t elaborate on your comment any further because you are spot on. Dishonesty is dishonesty. I believe that an honest recruiter can enjoy the fruits that credibility bears. Conversely, dishonesty does not make for credibility and while you are likely to still make placements; they are far and few in between and not quality.

    Thanks for your insightful comment and for reading. If I could tag you for the best comment of the day I certainly would.

    P.S. Thanks for the “Great Game of Business” quote. It certainly rolls downhill and you know can smell it a mile away. Honesty is the best policy!

  9. Cora,

    I applaud you for sticking to your values when choosing the companies you work for. Everyone of us recruiters should be of this mindset, but as Steve stated “it is quite easy to convince oneself that tapioca tastes like caviar when you have to pay your bills.” Few people get the opportunity to make sound career choices. That is to do what they really love whereever and for whomever without considration of their financial circumstances.

    Here’s to sticking to your guns!

    Best Regards,


  10. Richard,

    Thank you for your comment. I like your resonating theme of job congruence. You do have to hire people that are as adept to dealing with the positive aspects of a company as they are do with the negative aspects.

    I still think that there is a fine line between the doing your job as a recruiter and becoming that sleazy salesman; when you work for a company that does not make the connection between their poor business practices/decisions and their ability to attract and retain talent.

    For instance, when I worked in staffing, I had a client that used to curse at employees and argue incessantly with his brother in front of customers etc. In addition, he had a habit of throwing things during his temper tantrums. Did I get people to interview there- yes! Could I be totally honest about the work conditions there and/or tell my boss I no longer wanted him as a client- another yes! However, in doing so I risked not making a placement and/or being seen as insubordinate if I made any the moves I described. This makes me seem like a weak character of sorts. I was fresh out of school and didn’t know better. Plus, the word aroung town was I “had to play the game”. You live and learn, but I digress.

    In the end I left, because my values and ethics were not in “congruence” to the way this company did business-but make no mistake there is no putting a spin on that kind of mess.

    I appreciate you reading and your insights.

    Best Regards,


  11. All,

    I am busy, busy and trying to respond to you all in a timely fashion. I apologize for any grammatical or typographical errors. It is simply not my style.

    Thank you all for reading. I appreciate you.

    Best Regards,


  12. Thanks, Janine and everybody. Assuming we’re not sociopaths, each of us needs to determine how congruent we need to be between our own values and the values of the clients we represent, and how we convey those values. Sometimes it’s an easy choice, sometimes it’s not.
    It’s not for me to judge your decision. Fundamentally, it’s we alone who look ourselves in the mirror and say: “I feel good about doing this today, or I feel bad about doing this and I won’t do it anymore, or I feel bad about doing this and I have to make this month’s mortgage payment.” My limit came when I was working as a free-lance (not contract) sourcer, a long time ago. I was rusing and I got to the point where I didn’t want to be paid for lying. Fortunately, I found a better opportunity- contract recruiting…



  13. This is such a timely piece for me. I was lamenting to a recruiter friend about having to turn down two searches today because of what I learned about company management. Long story short but much of upper management had been involved at another company and they were all fired for dubious practices. And the Chairman of the Board I knew from a previous company and he was not so stellar there either , to say the least. I wondered why the management was not posted on the web page when I started to investigate the new potential client. I told the company I was withdrawing from consideration as I knew in good conscious I couldn’t recruit candidates without letting them know about management. And even if I didn’t tell them I certainly couldn’t be a good cheerleader for the company and woo them over knowing what I know. The candidates would have sensed something was wrong from my voice. In this market, it is hard to give up searches, but I can sleep tonight with myself.

  14. Keith,

    You make a good point about how congruent our values need to be to the values of our client for us to our job.

    One of my mentors once said that every practitioner has to decide whether their values and its congruence to the organization is a more important factor than doing the task at hand. Her point was we all have a decision to decide whether your values are more important than the job you do. If they are, then it is important that you find a company that shares your values. If not, well then it’s much like what I am speaking about in the article- anything goes.

    Thanks for reading and for your insights,


  15. Ellen,

    I’m glad this topic resonated with you. I love that you stuck to your values and made it abundantly clear that you could not in good faith do your job with the work conditions as they are. You are to be admired and I wish more of us could or would do the same.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Best Regards,


  16. Janine,

    From your article, what comes out very clear is that, you’re a novice in recruitment’s.

    What you have described in your article is a perception based upon your exp – but instead of the article sounding like an opinion of yours, it’s sounding like a Statement !!!

    Any fresh MBA graduate from HR stream, if he / she reads your article, they would end up getting a skewed picture of a recruiter / recruitment field as such !

    It’s as simple as this: A recruiter’s idea/ perception about recruitment is quiet different in different sectors:

    Like a recruiter’s exp in BPO is different from that of a recruiter working in R&D’s / Manufacturing etc…

    Why go so far, exp of a recruiter working on ‘contract-staff’ is diff. from that of a Perm / Exec-search etc…

    So your article is specific to your individual exp – pls don’t generalize & make a statement / pass a judgement out-of-it !

    Your story looks like a complaint from a person who was a square-peg and tried to fit himslef in a Round-hole !!!

    Hope u see & get what I say… ?

    The field of recruitment’s / consulting is a vast occean, you learn a lot about usage of words, punctuations, right use of emotions, expressions, even right use of emoticons u see… 🙂

    Cheers & Good luck

    Phaniraj Bhatt

  17. Phaniraj…

    Like you, I am an engineer who discovered the topsy-turvy yet fun field of recruiting.

    No one who has participated in this discussion is a novice in recruiting – you can check our LinkedIn profiles if you have the time. In fact, with Janine’s employer being one of this country’s top R&D labs, she and her fellow recruiters there are faced with the challenge of recruiting for positions where the candidate pool often is 10 or less people; in cases such as this, the engagement period can often take longer than one year – and the ability of the recruiter to keep someone in play is of paramount importance.

    No complaints here about recruiting – only the reality of what the great recruiters have to address on a daily basis to counteract the actions of far too many novice recruiters.

    One of the largest problems that the function has struggled to overcome IS the perception of the field by novices and the damaged done by body shops. There’s a reason “customer experience” has finally become the heated topic it is…the inexperienced, poorly trained, poorly managed recruiters who are more like used car salesmen and could care less about the candidate.

    Great recruiters have many things in common despite the recruiting environment – and Janine has done a great job of pointing out how bad recruiters mess things up and create a PR nightmare the rest of us struggle to overcome.

  18. Steve…

    Nice to see your profiles on linkedin & comments here !

    Going thro’ the article, it doesn’t sound like Janine has written an article: “how bad recruiters mess things up !”

    It sounds like her own story & the way she has dealt with the situation at her end – again doesn’t mean, that is the only way / ultimate way to execute! – right?

    Also, re-read this para below from her article & tell me she’s not on a complaining mode or she isn’t cribbing here !!!

    ” These bad business decisions makes the recruiter’s job less of an honest, people-friendly job, and more like a dirty salesman job. The dirty salesman knows his product is garbage but will sell it to you with a pretty bow on top as if it is the product you shouldn’t live without. This is a day in the life of a recruiter when bad decisions are a commonplace in an organization”

    Also Steve,

    let me mention here that, we’re doing recruitment’s only for R&D’s in niche fields, and as you mentioned, assignments that take an year long time and above that the available talent-pool is too bleak !!!

    But I don’t think it’s right to use the phrases like “dirty salesmans job’ / selling garbage etc… and if thatz the situation… why be in it at the first place?

    Don’t u have a choice like others have highlighted here !?


  19. Phaniraj,

    Thank you for weighing in. Here’s what I think- this is a column for opinion, how to, and factual information therefore I have every right to share my story and/or opinion. Novice I am not nor am I the alpha and omega of Recruitment. I have learned lessons over the course of my career that I know could help someone else or can validate that despite our different industries we all face the same struggles and triumphs.

    As an engineer, I am sure you pride yourself on empirical data so scroll up and read this entire dialogue and also take a look at the amount of times this article has been shared. When you do that- read your comments and see if you still think you are being fair in what you just said.

    Concurrence or the lack thereof is not why I write so I appreciate you reading and your opinion- bu repectfully disagree with your delivery.

    Best Regards,


  20. Phan-

    I read the same article as you and took no issue to the metaphors…because they’re spot on. That’s what candidates say and this I what recruiters discuss at local and national recruiting conferences. The entire “customer experience’ movement was born out of these discussions.

    I’ve been involved in pro-candidate efforts for some time and here too discussions about body-shop recruiters is commonplace. The messages coming from candidates is clear: Bad recruiters and bad recruiting processes denude a company’s brand and make them less desirable employers.

    Argue with this if you want but with the barrier to entry into recruiting so low it’s easy to see how the profession’s reputation is not very good.

  21. @ Janine Truitt

    I’m in a similar situation, and you just have to be honest with your candidates and your clients, which doesn’t necessarily mean being confrontational with them, though sometimes with some behaviors that seems like the appropriate and proper resonse. Unfortunately many businesses succeed in spite of some of their principals’ more destructive behaviors. But in the end, they will be limited in their growth by their own disfunction. So, they do pay for it in the end. The market is nothing if not karmic.

  22. @ Steve Levy,

    I think that’s because people treat it like a sales job, when it’s really not. Getting the REQ might be a sales job. Finding the right candidate to match a company’s needs was an art and is turning more and more into an art heavily informed by at least some science. Which is why I think the profession is so biased against data, much like sales people. The last thing a sales person wants to share with you is their actual numbers. Rather you get endless BS about how what they do is hard to quantify. No, it isn’t. The micro details might be hard to quantify, the macro trends should manifest in steady and/or increasing sales revenue. The ‘art’ of what we do as recruiters may be difficult to quantify, but the end result of top performers with decent tenures isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to measure, and if there’s a glitch in the numbers it may not be your fault, but at least with some data you can spot when something is going wrong.

    At my current job we instituted a simple practice; every HM had to give a 90 day sign off on employees, and recruiting’s job wasn’t done until THAT was done. It’s been extended now to six months. I hope to eventually have it at a year or more, because that’s when the real pay off from making a new hire starts to come in. However, as long as recruiters are so dead set on treating their profession as a sales one, acting like sales people, and remaining hostile to the raw data which will show whether or not they are succeeding, then you’re going to get the sleaze and the pitches for snake oil.

    That’s specifically why I like the corporate side. You can implement strategy and accountability of some kind without the risk of flushing your whole annual income down the toilet by losing a client. I think more companies need to realize that recruitment should stop being outsourced and internalize the function. I can understand why agencies don’t want that level of accountability; bad clients would keep them refilling the same positions in perpetuity for no fee, and the agencies can’t as easily spot internal issues that affect their performance, like mismanagement. Their costs would skyrocket.

    The only companies that should use agencies are the ones who are truly transparent and competent in their management. Or, the ones who have money to burn. Everyone else should internalize the process as part of a broader process of getting their crap together so one day they can be good enough to be able to successfully outsource this kind of finicky process.

  23. @Richard…

    “The only companies that should use agencies are the ones who are truly transparent and competent in their management. Or, the ones who have money to burn. Everyone else should internalize the process as part of a broader process of getting their crap together so one day they can be good enough to be able to successfully outsource this kind of finicky process.”

    Or keep it inside and run recruiting the way it should be – as a talent agency…

  24. “Or keep it inside and run recruiting the way it should be – as a talent agency…” – Steve Levy

    Not a bad idea overall, so long as management acknowledges the differences. For example we floated this idea a few times here and tried it a couple of times, and it just didn’t work. You get criticized for not ‘developing talent’ but then on the flip side, you had twenty open REQs that required specific talent right then, so your priorities for investing time and effort are very different. An external agency can ‘create’ REQs to fill for talent they develop through sales; the only way we create REQs is via replacement or expansion. As an internal recruiter you may find some great people who will never work at your specific company. The ratio of talent you can place to promising sources of referrals is off and not in your favor. Also, internally you can’t do as much specialization. An agency may do IT only, or Engineers only. As an internal recruiter you have to specialize in the company, not the professions or fields.

    Overall treating your internal recruiters like a talent agency is a good idea, so long as you realize that internal and external agencies can be strikingly different. An internal agency is your partner, to an external agency you are a customer. And I don’t and never did buy the ‘internal customer’ argument. You keep customers happy at all costs, you keep partners successful at all costs. A happy customer may have done something not in their short or long term interest, but as long as they’re happy

  25. @ Janine: Thank you.
    @ Richard: ISTM that most corporate and contract recruiters (like the CEOs of where they work), need to concern themselves with how they do this quarter- they may not be here the next one. As far as using agencies vs. internal vs. outsourcing: you should no-source (eliminate), through-source (automate) or out-source (send away) recruiting activities that you aren’t prepared to pay someone at least $50/hr to do. As a contract recruiter who doesn’t do contingency or retained work, I see a vital need for contingency/retained recruiting- for which you should be prepared to pay 30% fees to accomplish what your internal or contract recruiters can’t effectively do. Don’t expect quality contingency/retained recruiting on the cheap, and don’t pay reduced fees for work which you can out-source for a lot less money (and better quality) than you’d pay with reduced fees.



  26. Janine, I loved this article! Thanks for saying what needed to be said so well. As the owner of a boutique executive search and career coaching firm, I am constantly bombarded by potential clients who wish to hire a new employee, and expect us to say yes to any business that comes our way – even the bad business. I have always felt that it is better to turn business away, rather than representing a less than stellar company, risking my own reputation and convincing someone to accept a position with a company for which I have no respect. Case and point, back in the hay-day of recruiting – circa 2005 – I was asked by a local software company to assist them with filling 8 open positions! Most recruiters would have jumped at this potential revenue and commission, however I knew the company was packaging itself to be sold. Moreover, the HR Manager literally said “Ken, we really just need people to fill these seats, but we don’t have job specs and you won’t be able to meet the hiring managers” – I ran as fast as I could from this client and sure enough, the company was sold to its biggest customer within 9 months. I would not have been able to sleep at night knowing I dislodged 8 people from their jobs, placed them with this company, only to be told they were being acquired and laid off less than 1 year later. Self respect trumps commissions any day!
    Ken Schmitt
    Founder/President, TurningPoint Executive Search

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