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 tend to dominate people’s impressions. That’s understandable. When you work with a recruiter, you’re trusting them with your job search. And if someone falls short of your expectations, that’s going to stick with you.
Unfortunately, those stories prevent great candidates and great recruiters from connecting. Job seekers don’t want to work with someone who only cares about lining their own pockets. 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 is especially an issue in the Bay Area. The strong job market here has brought recruiters out of the woodwork, and a lot of companies are taking a chance on different agencies. Some of these agencies have a churn-and-burn mentality and want to push candidates and clients through the process as quickly as possible – not a great environment for relationship-building.
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 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 disrespects them with his lack of forthrightness.
Recruiters of this kind don’t set their clients’ or candidates’ expectations appropriately. When a candidate’s job order is tough to fill, it’s the recruiter’s job 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. BVOH Finance & Accounting Search views our client relationships as partnerships, so we don’t turn a blind eye when we see that a client isn’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.
On the candidate side, it’s imperative that we show candidates the same kind of compassionate honesty. 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 that’s actually doable without an interim step. Have you considered X, Y, Z other steps that will put you on track for a director of finance job?”
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 is primarily motivated by his own bottom line. He’s under pressure 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. A week later, the recruiter calls and says, “I know this person lacks most of the qualities you said were must-haves, but I think you should give them a shot anyway.” Would you be amused by their audacity? Or frustrated by their disregard for your needs?
On 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 completely outside of 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. The better you know your clients and candidates, the more you can trust your intuition about what will work for them, even if it falls outside of their initial parameters. But you need to explain why you’re bringing them these candidates or job openings.
Otherwise it will seem as though you’re ignoring their preferences and just trying to rush them to a decision.
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.
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 so they can find better growth opportunities than they would on their own.
Recruiters who hurry clients and candidates into decisions that aren’t really 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. Instead, recruiters should learn their clients’ and candidates’ ambitions and motivations and then tailor the search accordingly.
That’s how to win long-term business, because the people you work with today will return to you time and again as their needs evolve.
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 be able to 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!” she thinks.
As far as she’s concerned, you just need to get people in a room and strong-arm them into a healthy compromise.
In reality, a lack of transparency wastes everyone’s time. A candidate who is 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 ask benefits no one.
Manipulating a client to see candidates who lack many of the core skills they’ve requested is a waste as well. These interviews will go nowhere, and they’ve set back the search for everyone involved.
It’s always better to break tough news up front and let clients and candidates decide whether they’re willing to take an interview anyway. They may surprise you with their flexibility, but no matter what happens, they’ll appreciate that you respected them enough to let them make the choice.
Don’t Throw Good Recruiters Out With the Bathwater
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. 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 recruiter encounters you’ve had in the past.