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  • September 1, 2011

Fix Recruiting

A recruiter emailed me recently. I was selected for a role because I had experience with the software “Adobe”… Recruiters. Decorative Illustration Such a disaster. AMIRITE?!?!?

Hold on there, let’s pump the brakes on the generalizations a bit. Recruiters, like designers or developers or content strategists, hail from a variety of backgrounds, have a wide range of capabilities, and deliver varying degrees of value and results. For many people, a relationship with a recruiter is the catalyst for opportunities that reshape a career.

Now, to all you recruiters out there slowly nodding your heads in silent agreement, not so fast. Having worked previously in interactive recruiting for five years, I can say with conviction, most recruiters don’t fit that bill.

This is not recruiters’ fault. The staffing industry as a whole is to blame, and don’t get me started on HR departments (btw, recruiting should live in Operations, not HR). The problem is that the pervasive strategy behind staffing as an industry is:

More + more = more

More calls and meetings, lead to more jobs to fill and more people under contract looking for jobs. These are often ‘Dialing for Dollars’ environments built around a ‘Fill It, or Kill It’ attitude. This is genuine staffing vernacular. Need a shower? I’ll wait. We’re not talking about folks selling widgets out of the back of a van here. These are people shaping other people’s careers. As a result, staffing companies experience amazing rates of turnover, so opportunities to find a recruiter willing to slow things down and have a human conversation are rare.

As a guy who has been on both ends of that recruiter call, here are my thoughts on how we can all get along and generate the best results.

To all the people leading recruitment strategy out there…

Take the tragedy out of your strategy (that kinda works)

Information is everywhere. It’s amazing when a recruiter emails me listing a freelancer’s job history and skills, but doesn’t include their last name. It’s called “LinkedIn” people. If someone wants to reach out to that resource and cut out the recruiter, leaving off their last name won’t stop them. What is going to prevent them from going direct, is a relationship with said recruiter. Most people will not screw over people they actually know.

Build relationships

Recruiters need to spend more time learning about the industry they are staffing, immerse themselves, and spend less time on the phone pounding out sales calls. Twitter, Quora, Google+, conferences, meetings for professional organizations—this is where you earn your bones, and the trust and loyalty of your community.

Hire people adept at building relationships, not people eager to make 75-85 phone calls per day (yep, 75-85 phone calls, EVERY DAY). A recruiter friend of mine was told by her manager that she was not fit for a promotion at her staffing company because she didn’t care enough about money. Great recruiters solve problems, build teams, help people. Crap salespeople chase a dollar. Reward people that drive meaningful relationships. In a market competing over the same pool of resources, give both clients and job seekers a reason to choose to work with you.

I owe my role at Happy Cog to the relationships I cultivated. I can say from experience, it’s well worth your time.

To all those pros out there fielding calls/emails from recruiters…

Wear protection

If you have a profile on LinkedIn, you are in the Yellowpages. Further, I bet most of you list yourselves as interested in ‘career opportunities’ or ‘job inquiries.’ Go ahead and check. Back? Don’t feel bad, all but three of the people in my office fit this bill too, including @hoyboy, and he has a pretty sweet gig. Absent a role that requires eating bacon while on an airplane, I think he’s staying put. Similarly, I’m sure most of you intend to indicate you are looking for freelance work or side projects. This is a big green light to recruiters. Take two minutes, and add “I am not interested in partnering with recruiters regarding new positions at this time” to the first line of your Summary. If someone chooses to ignore that explicit request, you then have my permission to hang up on them when they call.

If you wind up on the phone with a recruiter, manage the call, don’t dodge it. Hanging up on someone sucks. Don’t be that guy/gal. Explain you are not looking at this time, explain you do not have any referrals to offer to a recruiter you don’t know, explain they can check back with you in six months if they’d like, then wish them a nice day and end the call. If the recruiter on the other end is worth their salt:

  1. They’ll still be around in six months to follow up
  2. They’ll listen to you and not call back until then
  3. They’ll let you say your piece rather than steamroll over you with a sales pitch

If they meet these criteria, and you see them at your favorite networking event, and one or two of your peers seem to dig them on Twitter or Facebook or whatever, keep them in the back of your mind. There are always rainy days.

If they don’t follow these basic expectations of civil discourse, you may now begin with the hanging up. Now that I’m on this side of the conversation, I have heard some true horror stories about recruiters from my colleagues. Scare tactics, slimy emails, and more. In these instances, hang them out to dry. A public Twitter flogging may just be in order.

Manage your reputation

If you are working with a recruiter, work with one recruiter. It’s easier, trust me. The addition of more recruiters does not yield more opportunities (please see my snide equation after paragraph 3). In fact, adding more recruiters creates confusion, overlapping conversations, and more opportunities to screw up. For them, and for you.

If you agree to interview for a role with one recruiter carelessly, then pursue that job on your own (or through another resource without thinking), you just burned a bridge with someone who spends most of their professional life talking to people in your industry, about the people in your industry. Screw over a recruiter and they’ll remember, forever. Trust me. Trust. Me. Better to stay organized, work with one recruiter as long as that relationship is successful, and avoid looking like you ‘slimed’ someone. You keep that bad karma forever, like luggage.

Also, make sure you treat each opportunity like an opportunity. If you sulk your way through an interview you’re not 100% excited about, or drag your ass through a contract gig, you can bet the folks you intersected with are telling the people they know about it. “Bad news” is a hard reputation to shed.

Do unto others

If you’re working with a recruiter driving great results, let them know it. Referrals are a good recruiter’s lifeblood, so tell a friend. Better yet, sing it from a Twitter or LinkedIn recommendation mountaintop. Shine a light on great recruiters and help set the bar for the industry.

Similarly, police the bad behavior. Warn the folks in your network away from a bad experience, but let’s keep the generalizations about ‘recruiters’ to a minimum. Just because one or a few people come off as ‘le douche,’ that doesn’t condemn every other professional in that industry. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen someone tweet about what a pain in the ass recruiters are, what an unwelcome inconvenience and intrusion. Loads of times, those complaints are from people I know for a fact owe their last job, or a recent gig, to a recruiter. Don’t say anything about recruiters as an industry that you wouldn’t say about information architects, or designers, or office managers.

So where does that leave us? Do you work with a great recruiter you’d like to recommend? Tweet ‘em up. Have a war story you want to share? Vent, let’s get it off your chest, put it behind us and move forward. Have any insights into improving the recruiting industry? Good recruiters want to hear it.

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