Why Do Some Recruiters Have a Bad Reputation?

Updated February 2021.

Let’s be honest – every industry has its bad apples, and recruiting is no different. 

Most recruiters are ethical and hard-working. But the stories of those who aren’t as great tend to make the biggest impression. And that’s understandable. 

When you work with a recruiter, you’re trusting them with your job search — which can be one of the most delicate relationships. And if someone falls short of your expectations, that’s going to stick with you. Unfortunately, those stories can prevent many great candidates and great recruiters from making a great connection.

It’s understandable that job seekers aren’t interested in working with a recruiter who only cares about their own self interests. They want someone who will do right by them, who will treat them as an individual instead of a number, and who cares about their long-term career development. I’ve worked with a number of clients who were nervous at the outset of our relationship for this reason. They’ve been burned by recruiters in the past and weren’t sure whether they could trust me. 

This distrust is especially an issue in the Bay Area. The strong job market here has brought recruiters out of the woodwork, and many companies are taking a chance on different agencies. Some of these agencies have a churn-and-burn mentality. They want to push candidates and clients through the hiring process as quickly as possible – not a great environment for building relationships.

4 Reasons Recruiters Have a Bad Reputation (And How to Avoid the Bad Apples)

The good news is bad recruiters are the exception. Let’s look at some examples of bad recruiters in our industry and how the best recruiters respond instead:

Dishonest Dave

fingers crossed behind back
Dishonest Dave over-promises and under-delivers, knowing full well that he’ll never be able to meet a client’s full spectrum of requirements. He’s so concerned with filling one job order so he can move on to the next that he disappoints clients and even disrespects them with his lack of candor.

Dishonest Daves don’t set their clients’ or candidates’ expectations appropriately. When a candidate’s job order is tough to fill, the recruiter’s job is to tell them. We’re not just there to take job orders and fill them by whatever means possible. Our job is to serve as consultants, bringing our market industry knowledge to bear on the search. If a candidate’s expectations are unrealistic, we need to tell them so and then help them craft an approach that will get their needs met successfully.

“I’ve worked with a number of clients who were nervous at the outset of our relationship for this reason. They’ve been burned by recruiters in the past, and weren’t sure whether they could trust me.”

One of the things I love about recruiting is working with clients on their hiring mentality, what types of backgrounds they should consider, and what strategies will help them build their dream teams. At BVOH Search & Consulting, we view our client relationships as partnerships, so we don’t turn a blind eye when we see that clients aren’t thinking clearly about their recruitment process. We want them to succeed, and we’re willing to tell them hard truths to help them get there. 

We must show candidates the same kind of compassionate honesty on the candidate side. For example, if someone comes to me and says, “I’m a controller at a venture capital firm, but I want to be the director of finance and do all the forecasting and modeling at a tech company,” I have two choices: 

I can say, “Sure, that’s reasonable,” and allow them to believe that’s the next logical step in their career trajectory, even though I know it’s not. 

Or I can say, “I’m not sure if that’s actually doable without an interim step. Have you considered X, Y, Z? Or have you considered other steps that will put you on a real track for a role as Director Of Finance?” 

The advantage of working with a recruiter is that you have access to our expertise. We do clients and candidates a disservice when we “yes” them to death and then fail to deliver on their needs.

Self-Interested Sam

Self-Interested Sam is motivated by his own bottom line. He’s under magnifying glass over MEpressure to place as many candidates as possible, and he’s more worried about his own performance numbers than he is about helping his clients build out their teams.

Imagine being a hiring manager and explicitly describing the type of candidate you’re looking for to a recruiter. Then, a week later, the recruiter calls and says, “I know this person lacks most of the essential qualities for this role, but I think you should give them a shot anyway.” Would their audacity amuse you? Or would you be frustrated by their disregard for your needs? 

At the other end of the search, imagine that you’re a candidate and you’ve clearly spelled out the type of position you want. But your recruiter repeatedly tries to persuade you to take interviews for jobs that are entirely outside that realm. 

I’m guessing that in either of these scenarios, you’ll feel confused and irritated that the recruiter is wasting your time. In some cases, the outlier candidate or opportunity makes sense, but we always take the time to understand their needs before making a match.

Short-Sighted Sally

Short-Sighted Sally can’t see past her next client meeting. She’s concerned with delivering results now, even if that means burning bridges or creating deep-seated problems for the future. If a candidate isn’t a perfect fit, so what? The client can always hire her again in six months to start the search all over again.

holding eyeglasses

When companies hire new talent, they want to find people who will invest in the organization. Unless they’re hiring for consulting positions, they’re hoping hires will become valued, long-term members of their teams, likewise for candidates. They work with recruiters to find better growth opportunities than they would on their own. Recruiters who hurry clients and candidates into decisions that aren’t the right fit reveal their own short-sightedness. They lack a deep understanding of the clients’ and candidates’ values and goals and are solely concerned with hitting their numbers.

“If you’ve been burned by one of these bad recruiters in the past, know that there are many more great recruiters who will be there for you throughout your search and beyond.”

Not only does this hurt the people they work with; it also damages their own reputations and that of the recruiting industry. Great careers are built on relationships, so people known for short-sightedness flame out pretty quickly. Great recruiters take the time to learn their clients’ and candidates’ ambitions and motivations and then tailor the search accordingly.

Opaque Olivia

Opaque Olivia doesn’t like to ruffle feathers, so she errs on the side of non-transparency. Instead of telling a candidate that a prospective employer won’t meet their salary request, she encourages them to take the meeting. “If I just get them in the door, they’ll walk back their non-negotiables!” 

wooden blocks spelling fake and fact
As far as this type of recruiter is concerned, they just need to get people in a room and strong-arm them into a healthy compromise. But, in reality, a lack of transparency wastes everyone’s time. For example, a candidate supporting a family and repaying student loans is unlikely to accept a significant salary cut, so asking them to meet with a small startup that can’t afford their asking price benefits no one. Likewise, manipulating a client to see candidates who lack many of the core skills they’ve requested is also a waste. 

These interviews will go nowhere, and they’ve set back the search for everyone involved. A great recruiter always breaks tough news upfront and lets clients and candidates decide whether they’re willing to take an interview anyway. 

Don’t Throw Good Recruiters Out With the Bathwater

If a recruiter has burned you in the past, know that there are many more great recruiters who can help you throughout your search. So when you meet with them, give them a fair chance. I’ve experienced firsthand how difficult it is to regain someone’s trust after they’ve had bad recruiter experiences. And I understand how disappointing those situations must have been. But for all the Dishonest Daves and Short-Sighted Sallies out there, you’ll find a wealth of recruiters who will have your back. Trusting your recruiter enables them to go to bat for you and make up for all of the aggravating encounters with recruiters you’ve had in the past.

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