Job hunters throughout the United States have cited that their biggest sore point in the job hunt is dealing with inept recruiters. Who can blame them? Recruiters typically repost the job ads that the hiring companies post on their corporate sites then only do the bare minimum to screen and prepare candidates. It has been my personal experience in recent
years that, if a recruiter does more than give you a vague description of the job and ask you to tailor your resume to include certain buzzwords, you have yourself a keeper. The general approach seems to be this: collect as many close fits as possible, herd them together, sell the hype, and hope that the candidates can do the rest of the work for you.
The reality is that recruiters are suffering along with job seekers. Job market saturation is arguably the byproduct of overseas outsourcing, widespread “right-sizing”, 1990’s dot-com collapses, and, of course, 9/11. Our economy has taken a hard hit and, as more and more fresh college graduates enter the workforce, it is not getting any easier, even for the most seasoned veterans in their fields. Recruiters are dealing with easily three or four times the workload that was expected in the “golden age” of the mid-90’s. There is also far more competition from other staffing and recruiting firms. The Recruiting Animal blog cites that the typical recruiter handles anywhere from 26-30 projects at a time on average, which is definitely more than recruiters experienced even 5 years ago. It’s no wonder recruiters are spending less time preparing and qualifying their candidates!
The word headhunter has developed a worse connotation than ever. When recruiters collect candidates that are not necessarily matches for their projects, they try to force the fit. On the other side, job seekers tend to embellish as well. It’s hard to tell where the actual cause is and whom is more effected but the truth remains that this reality is very much a double-edged sword. Headhunters, to me, are those that blindly send in massive amounts of candidates to the same clients, effectively frustrating the interviewers and passing on the ugliness to the poor, unsuspecting job hunters.
Now, many clients and friends alike have asked me the same question: how can one make working with recruiters easier? Well, the idealistic answer is this: do not work with them and go straight to the employers. If only it were that simple. The grim reality is that companies like recruiters for one reason, if nothing else: they can pass off the headaches of the hiring process to them and provide themselves another layer of protection from “job seeker spam” such as incessant phone calls and multi-page resume blasts.
If you really look at it, recruiters these days rarely have field experience in their industries of focus (at least that has been my experience) so all they really can do is play the buzzword/keyword game and hope that their loose concept of what a position requires is enough to be a good judge of character. I find that, especially in IT work, technical skills and paper certifications are focused on too much yet those are the easiest skills to obtain. Surely, measuring soft skills is no easy feat but any seasoned recruiter should be able to judge character well while enabling candidates to excel in the areas they are good at. Again, this is just a pipedream as what seems like common sense really is not to the rest of the world.
I have to play devil’s advocate so I will let you in on a little secret which I have used many times before: copy and paste part of a job requirement into a search engine (I recommend Google or Dogpile) and – VIOLA – you should be able to unmask the direct employer. As per CDTV’s “Online Job Hunting” article, Wall Street Journal admits what a select few of us have known since hte dawn of time: if you know the right people, you will have the competitive edge. It’s simple really. The old adage “it’s not what you know but who you know” will always hold true. Recruiters are pesky middle men that offer little or no value, for the most part. In fact, going direct with employers means you can get more money and still save the hiring company money on your overall employment package. It’s a win-win situation yet some employers insist that they do not be contacted directly for certain positions so be very careful trying to trace the vague job posts back to the original posters.
I personally recommend doing this sort of homework on the most attractive jobs simply because you want to make sure that it’s not a previous employer playing “dress up.” I see it all the time. Clever employers use headlines such as “not your average position” or “looking for a better life” to draw you in then, when you follow up, you realize you’ve wasted your time and it is already too late. I believe that the most trusthworthy companies are those that post their contact information, encourage follow-up, and show their metaphorical warts rather than try to cover them up with hype, empty promises, and total bunk.
As job seekers, you are all in a brave new world so arm yourself with knowledge. Do not let the desperation of finding a new job force you into the wrong job. Do your homework and make sure the corporate culture, overall benefits, work environment, growth potential, challenge, and other details align with your personal goals, driving principles, and ethics. It’s easy to let recruiters bully you into feeling insufficient. They’ll have you think that it’s all about what their client want and your needs are merely optional. That is exactly why the ideal situation is to work with recruiters that you can have as retainers. These are the people that will help you understand their client’s expectations, prepare for the interviews, and know what skills to brush up on.
I don’t see the job market changing for the better any time soon so that means that we, as professionals, must adapt. The most successful people in the world take weaknesses and turn them into strengths. They also see dire situations and find optimistic hope and opportunity therein. We have to remember that many of our competitors have probably thrown in the towel or slowed down their efforts due to discouraging experiences. Job seekers and business owners alike have to be ready to take on the chaos and make sense of it all because, really, no one else is going to do it for you. I take great pride in extending the TGAP service offerings because I see that there is a real need out there for people to have advisors that take a real interest in their success; sadly, recruiters are not the go-to people anymore, not for career builders, at least.
All things considered, most of the working world still has to deal with recruiters in some form or other so let’s at least try to understand them better. The root cause of poor recruiting practice often starts at the top. I am sympathetic to those that have micromanaging bosses that force recruiters to meet quotas rather than focus on customer satisfaction on both sides of the recruiting funnel. I won’t make an excuse for them because, really, we are masters of our own destiny but it’s understandable that a major portion of the recruiters out there are fresh out of college, have little or no marketability themselves, and/or come from a very strong sales background.
I’d like to delve into the psychology of recruiters a bit more so that you can avoid some of the headaches I have gone through in the past, when I was a naive, insanely-optimistic “computer guy.” I would say that these are the driving forces for recruiters today, in order of importance:
- Meet their quotas (dials, interviews, placements, etc.) and keep their jobs.
- Get candidates placed and get paid.
- Ensure that candidates tailor their resumes using the buzzwords provided on job requirements.
- Keep conversations short, talk to as many people as possible, and go home on-time (for once).
- Check in with placed candidates a few times until the probationary period is over and bonus money is paid.
- Submit the “really good” candidates to the clients before competing recruiters can do so.
- Maintain client relations to get “first dibs” on new job openings.
- Bombard job boards and forward any positions that do not stipulate that third parties are not allowed.
- Keep up with the latest industry trends, including the hotest buzzwords and mass marketing/recruiting tools.
- Help candidates prepare for interviews, if time allows it.
As you can see, recruiters live a life of necessity so many look at common courtesies and extra work as “babying” their candidates. These priorities may shift around a lot and there are others, I am sure, but the point here is simple: they don’t have time for the individual candidate. You’re on your own.
One of my favorite reads regarding the diminishing value of recruiters was on a more obscure site, idunno.org. The article seems to be one of two spots focusing on the under-handed ways recruiters use their candidates:
Add to that the “hungry” recruiters that ask “Where have you interviewed? Can I have the company name?”, or need your references up front. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to hand you leads. If you are so concerned about not wanting to put me forward to companies who already have my CV, then tell me who the companies are before you push my CV out to them, I’m not going to let anyone know who they are.
The operative word in that text is “hungry” – recruiters are just too hungry these days. It’s that desperation that leads to poor business practice. It’s the very thing that makes people dislike the typical salesperson or network marketer: a lack of sincerity. People do not like to be lied to, especially when you pretend to be helping them but only seek to turn a profit. I will reiterate once again that recruiters, more times than not, use the same tools that job seekers are using so they bring very little to the table for their clients and prospects alike. This is not always the case but, really, I have found it to be true 95% of the time.
As the quote from idunno.org indicates, there is a very real risk working with recruiters these days. They will farm your natural market and spam potential employers with your resume, which is quite the disturbing realization, especially if you are one of those good-hearted, trusting folks like I once was many moons ago. I am not saying that one should look to avoid working with recruiters completely but you definitely need to be wary of their scare tactics, scams, and other tricks. Take what they say with a grain of salt.
If you want real career advice, work with a career consultant or someone on the field that can afford the time to show you the ropes. I could use this as an opportunity to plug the services that my own company, TGAP, offers but I’ll let you see what else is out there – just keep us in mind! In all seriousness, arming yourself with knowledge will make the job search easier for all seekers. Recruiters are more concerned with their perks and numbers; they are, after all, salespeople at heart.
If you read the “Recruiters Suck, Reloaded” article on idunno.org, you see that there are still some good recruiters out there. If you find one, do all that you can to keep the relationship going and build trust. When you can speak openly with each other, the recruiter-candidate relationship really works; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of lies going back and forth. I think the main reason job seekers load their resumes with keywords these days is not to oversell themselves but to bring recruiters to them. Their gamble is a risky one: they hope that maybe, just maybe, the recruiters will take the time out to dig deeper and see what they are really all about, rather than just go on some quick assumptions.
Due to many questions I have received about this, I will clear up this matter: you are NOT required to disclose any information beyond salary history, job titles, employment dates, and references. Such data is what recruiters are allowed to verify with past employers and provided references. If you are asked for any other documents, you have the right to say no. Be polite about it but stand your ground because identity theft strikes in many ways, not just by way of online shopping, as many people incorrectly assume. As the idunno.org articles indicate, some recruiters are just trying to milk you for leads and may not ever follow up with you after you give them the information they really needed. Don’t allow yourself to be used by these monkey-grade recruiters.
I have been particularly anal when it comes to sharing confidential data when I am dealing with recruiters that are cryptic in everything they do. If all I get is a very general job requirement, I am going to give you a very general skill overview. I understand that sometimes our clients do not provide that much detail so we can only relay what we are given but things such as target industry, general duties, and overall client expectations should be part of the first-data script when a recruiter calls, in my humble opinion. If a recruiter does not have such data, I can only assume that they are a scammer or are job board miners that simply dig up what anyone that has ever used a search engine can find for themselves. I’ve had my identity stolen and people still try to scam me; believe me, I know the signs! Really, if it smells funny, it’s probably BS – trust your gut!
SIDEBAR: There are countless tell-tale signs of a bad recruiter and I can easily write another article on that alone (I think I just might), but the best advice that can probably offered there is what I said: trust your gut. Do not succumb to strong-arm selling tactics just because you need a job; worst-case scenario, there is unemployment, freelancing, manual labor, and other things that at least will not compromise your privacy and, possibly, your identity. I had one gentleman not too long ago offer me a part-time writing gig. He provided company, full name, location, address, and phone number. I was still suspicious. From the moment we spoke, he wanted a copy of my Social Security Card and W2. He had a terrible Indian accent and could only answer my questions with “yesh” which was frustrating in itself. Then he was pushy, calling me many times before I finally was able to take his call. This smelled of scam all over so I only gave him very basic information and told him about my experiences with identity theft. He was only able to pull up a simple job requirement, something an eight-year-old could have written, and disappeared when he realized he was not going to get any other information from me until he gave me something to work with.
Was he a scammer or just a bad recruiter? Who knows, he definitely was not someone I wanted to work with! The lesson here is that recruiters are getting more and more ballsy while the communication barriers, cryptic rhetoric, and lack of professionalism continue to increase. Good luck asking a recruiter something beyond what the job requirement provides. It’s a scary world so be ready for a real ride – job hunting is no easy task!
In the end, you are your best advocate but preparation along with some extra “fishing lines” never hurt. I would never rely on a recruiter to do their job right unless they really proved to me that they care about my career. A better way to invest your job-seeking hours is to join professional networking sites, affiliations, and events to meet key company contacts, people on the inside. Once you have a nice little Rolodex of fresh business contacts, you’ll find that it is much easier to get your resume to the top of the heap and have an extra fighting chance. Generally speaking, the bigger the company, the more resumes they receive for an opportunity. That means you must be that much more proactive in your efforts because, quite often, it’s simply “first come, first serve” for most large corporation recruiting efforts. Focus your time with the right people and the right opportunities and don’t try to force the fit. As competitive as the job market is, there is something out there for everyone. Don’t let recruiters smash your dreams or steal your steam – they’re definitely good at that!
Honestly, I wish that recruiters were more like this…