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Recruiters are people too

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You have no doubt gotten that generic email that pitches a job based on some keyword in your resume. Oh come on, you remember that part time job you had in college? That’s right, the one at Java Express. Well guess what? According to that recruiter you would be just perfect for that JavaScript position they have open at a top-tier client.

Or perhaps you actually had a chance to work with a recruiter to find that next opportunity. The relationship in the beginning was wonderful. The two of you were constantly on the phone. Volleys of emails would fly back and forth.

Ultimately an interview is arranged. You go. You don’t get the job. And then crickets. You never hear from that recruiter again. In fact there is a song parody called “A Recruiter that I Used to Know” (check it out, it’s funny!) that sums up the experience of the jilted job seeker quite nicely.

With all that said, there are times I would rather admit to being a politician than a recruiter. I am amazed at the glassy-eyed stares I get when I share with someone that I am a recruiter. Unless that person is looking for a job! Then of course, I am as popular as Brad Pitt and twice as good looking.

Are there recruiters out there that aren’t good at what they do? You bet. Like any profession there are always those folks that shouldn’t be in it. Some have the best of intentions, but recruiting is truly not their forte. Where others are just plain clueless (these are the ones that should go on to be politicians).

Please allow me to give those of you looking for work some idea of how that recruiter on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the computer screen got there.

There is no academic degree for recruiting. No four year course of study where a person can major in recruiting. Very often recruiting or staffing as it can be called becomes a subset of a Human Resources Management degree. And more often than not, staffing is treated as just a legal subject. You learn what you can ask and can’t ask in an interview. And while it is true that employers today have a host of legal obligations to consider when they hire, that is still not recruiting.

Recruiting is something you learn by doing. So it is very likely that the recruiter you’re talking with is degreed in some other subject or perhaps doesn’t even have a degree at all. In this way recruiting is very much like a trade skill.

Many recruiters started off in an agency environment. That environment can be a pressure cooker. It is a sales driven environment where the amount of your paycheck will be determined by your sweat equity. This is where recruiters can start to master their profession and become Obi Wan or go evil and become a Darth Vader (and to keep the analogy going, yes some recruiters will become Jar Jar Binks).

An agency recruiter is graded on the number of positions they fill. The less experienced or the unorganized ones can succumb to the notion that mass email fishing for someone with Java makes sense. Or that cutting off a candidate that bombed an interview can become standard practice for a recruiter that has fallen to the dark side.

For an agency recruiter, it’s all about balancing speed with credibility to the client. The tempo is fast and you need to be able to deliver qualified candidates quickly. And sometimes in that race to close the deal, a job seeker becomes just another number.

My goal here is not to alibi such behavior, but rather give insight in to where it comes from. I can tell you from firsthand experience that having some placements fall through and then having to beg family and friends for rent money was a humbling experience.

Those recruiters who survive the forge of the agency world often decide to move in house as a full-time employee or a contractor. Either way the move is like going to a country club. Recruiters that are internal do not get paid on placements. Instead they draw a salary or get paid an hourly rate.

The profit motive may have been removed when the recruiter went from external to internal. But the pressure still remains. Recruiting is often viewed as a transactional process by companies, especially larger ones. That means the pressure has simply shifted to how quickly you can get the position filled. And typically in-house recruiters carry multiple requisitions, perhaps as many as forty plus, depending on the size of the company.

Even though a recruiter no longer needs to worry about making rent, the pressure to perform in a timely fashion still exists. So an internal recruiter can still make all the same poor choices as an external one.

A recruiter is a sales person. And like any sales person, we want to make the sale. But the best sales happen when it’s a binary process. There should be an exchange of information where you learn about the role, the culture and the company. That is the recruiter’s role and responsibility. And you should be prepared to be clear on what you want, because in doing so this will make you both partners in the hiring process.

And approach the interview as an investigation. You may learn that this is not the right role for you, but then again this could be exactly the role you’ve always wanted. Be prepared to share honest and timely feedback. And you should expect the recruiter to do the same.

Finally for those recruiters that you make a real connection with, find a way to keep in touch. Recruiters can be your eyes and ears to the marketplace. And who knows, maybe we won’t become a recruiter that you used to know (I wish I could get that song out of my head!).

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