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Where Have All the Recruiters Gone?

by
Paul DeBettignies
Apr 9, 2012, 1:24 pm ET

This past Saturday an event was held at Best Buy headquarters in Minneapolis called MinneBar. No, not that kind of bar, although there was some of that after it was over.

This is a BarCamp style event with 1,000+ Minneapolis and St Paul tech folks gathered for a day-long structured unconference to talk about techie, geeky, and nerdy things.

The event is free, including parking, lunch, and post-event beer.

Number of recruiters or HR folk in attendance: less than 10.

WHAT???

All I hear is that companies of all sizes and varieties are having a hard time hiring tech people and the “war for talent” is being tossed around again in our area.

So I wonder … where were all the recruiters?

Some of you may be thinking, “But Paul, it was Easter weekend.”

True. But last year this event was held in May and the numbers were the same. And the year before that too.

Last year I wrote this article for the Fordyce Letter: Get Out From Behind the Desk and Network.

I just don’t understand why I see few if any of my corporate and search firm colleagues at user group meetings, associations, and meetups. This seems like an obvious thing to do to me.

We can have talent communities, YouTube videos, online chats, the best candidate experience and (enter here the next shiny tool to come along) but at the end of the day what we do, at least what I think we should do, is create relationships.

Have we forgotten how to do it in person?

Or are we just lazy?

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Heather Kinzie

    Paul, I agree with you…recruiters and HR folks challenged with “recruitment like” activities need to get out from behind their desk and network.

    I often ask my clients who are struggling w/ “hard to fill” positions “where would the ideal candidate be hanging out?” Once they answer that question, I ask them, “then why aren’t you hanging out there too?”

    In this case, I’m willing to be that many recruiters were intimidated by a room full of geeks! I, too, find it hard to understand these folks as I’m a lowly end user. :-)

    However, we need to get over it and immerse ourselves in these gatherings if we want to build our network!

    Thanks for the post – keep it up!

  2. Nancy Robin Gillman, MBA, SPHR

    They are hibernating…waiting for companies to do some real hiring.

  3. Keith Halperin

    @ Nancy: Well said.

    Keith

  4. Steve Levy

    Nancy & Keith…if you truly believe that they’re hibernating, you’re sadly misinformed about how hiring takes place in technology. It’s not surprising that recruiters cower and run in the other direction when techies pretty much tell them to “die recruiter scum” and call recruiters douchebags on their LinkedIn profiles (incidentally, they’re also deleting their profiles because recruiters have pounded them in the past).

    Technology and software development are the new economic gold and (Google “developeronomics”) and the bulk of the recruiting profession has failed to evolve and adapt to the changing power roles.

    As Paul knows – because we talk about this over the phone often – the telephone and the handshake are truly the 2 best social media tools.

  5. Jerry Albright

    Dude – how are they supposed to have time for events like that (far less glamorous I might add….) in between SXSW, ERE, TNL, TRU…….you get my drift.

    Why meet candidates when you can hang around thought leaders and gurus? If you aren’t learning about the next big staffing pipe dream – what’s the point in learning about real people you could do real business with?

  6. Paul Tseko

    Heather, when is the last time you went to one of these “recruitment like” activities? If you have ever been a non-invitee, like myself, you will realize what a TOUGH way to recruit it is. Steve Levy nailed it! (“die recruiter scum”). That is EXACTLY what experienced recruiters will deal with at these events.

    Heather, apparently you have never attended one otherwise you would never say to a client ‘well, why aren’t you there’. Leave the recruiting to the pros!

  7. Steve Levy

    oh Jerry, you’re such a cynic..

    Paul…I love going to tech events…I get to wear cool t-shirts and show my tattoos and tell funny jokes about recruiters. I never hunt but I do develop relationships…

  8. Jerry Albright

    What I meant was – is anyone actually recruiting or just traveling the US talking about it…..which is far more fun I’d guess.

  9. Paul Tseko

    Three recruiters walked into a bar. The fourth one ducked!

  10. Laurie Ruettimann

    Congrats! Great article. I never went to a weekend meeting of *anything* in my life when I worked in HR and recruiting because my FT was exhausting enough. Only in HR does it seem realistic to go the extra mile for your job when everyone else in America is focused on the things that matter: kids, family, etc.

    I wonder — is there any sort of academic research out there that demonstrates that recruiters who network at ‘recruiting’ events are much more effective in their jobs? Or is it more effective to network at industry events? And if HR/recruiting networking events really make a difference, what’s the benefit of having it on a weekend?

    Lots of Qs.

    Continue writing, Paul. Good stuff!

  11. Paul DeBettignies

    I should probably explain more about this event:

    - there is no invitation, anyone can attend. While dominated by IT there are marketing, PR, sales, operations, investors and others who attend.

    - The event is free… saying that 1,000 tickets were “sold” in 4 hours. Another 200 were “sold” at a similar pace. It appears that this is the largest US BarCamp like event.

    - Maybe it is “Minnesota Nice” but our IT community is not as harsh as the one Steve Levy deals with in New York. It may be that they do not say what they are thinking but I have never had that extreme of a reaction.

    - If any of my Minnesota colleagues reading this attend events I do suggest that you go to learn and meet people. Recruiting happens as a natural progression of the relationship process.

    - I presented twice this year: Recruiting for Startups (second year doing this) and Career Maintenance (fourth year doing this). Rather than be an outsider to the community find a way to get involved.

    - I get the “fear” of being in their playground but there were many sessions for non tech folks. Click this link http://sessions.minnestar.org/

    - You will note that (and this was a first) that there are two recruiting related sessions put on by tech companies. It was a fascinating look into what they think about. Most of which I already, some was new and a little of it made me cringe.

    I’ll stop here for a moment…

  12. Paul DeBettignies

    Laurie:

    Lots of questions: my attempt at a few answers.

    I can’t speak to “academic research” but can give you my perspective which is if people see me online and then see me in person they already know a little bit about me and the conversations happen easier.

    The reverse being true too. People who met me on Saturday for the first time have reached out online via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

    One blessing about my last name is that no one can say it. So I am frequently referred to as “that guy with the recruiter blog” or “hey, MNHeadhunter is hanging with us today” but they don’t know my name. For the record… I am OK with that.

    Is it more effective to network at industry events? I don’t know but I will say in MSP and in IT there is likely not a “best way” or more effective “tool”.

    As an example, the number of folks who said they only look at their LinkedIn inbox weekly or monthly skyrocketed from last year. They say the Spam (what you and I call job opportunities) has become more than they can handle.

    Rarely are user group meetings on the weekends. This one is because it is 1,000 people invading a corporate space for nearly 12 hours. Best Buy (anyone) would likely not be able to handle it during the work week. And, a lot of the 1,000 have day jobs and would not be able to attend.

  13. Steve Levy

    Laurie…”I wonder — is there any sort of academic research out there that demonstrates that recruiters who network at ‘recruiting’ events are much more effective in their jobs?” tells me quite a bit about how HR views recruiting. I would hope that HR recognizes there’s a world of difference between networking and engagement.

    Events are held when events are held; I go to nightly events at just enough regularity to enable me to meet the people I need to meet but not too often that it impacts the quality of of me and my loved ones (I also shut the phone off when I get home at night).

    The issue here is that if you want to be a recruiter you have to meet your quarry on their turf from time to time and know how to engage them without coming across as bloodsucking used car salesman (nothing against used car salesmen). The really great people aren’t swayed by your knowledge of buzzwords but rather knowledge of issues and challenges.

    Holding the occasional event on the weekend is actually a pleasant ad low key diversion to weekday events…

  14. Steve Levy

    I’ve moved on from quick shot “are you interested?” emails to fully functional let me tell you how I found you and why you’re experience has inspired me to contact you. The results are in the “this is best email I’ve ever received from a recruiter” category; it’s not creative writing at play but knowing how people think and act. I use the same approach when meeting IRL.

  15. andy brudtkuhl

    Thought I’d chime in from the other side of the table (I’m a contract web developer that works with recruiters daily) …

    Paul and Steve hit the nail on the head – recruiters that show up to events like hackathons, barcamps, startup weekends, user groups, etc are instantly noticeable.

    However I wouldn’t discourage recruiters from going to them at all … just approach them differently. Don’t go there with the goal of picking up some of the local talent. Go there with a desire to learn about the technology or community. Forge relationships. Join teams at hackathons and startup weekends. Work alongside the talent to earn their respect. In doing so you’ll learn a lot more about that potential candidate than keywords on a resume.

    Bottom line: Don’t go to these events to sell. Go to these events to learn and participate.

  16. Jason Yoraway

    I would have loved to attend…in fact, I had the opportunity to grab a ticket just days before the event. However, I already had committed plans with my kids.

    As far as attending this and other events, as a recruiter, you just can’t go with the sole purpose to recruit. MN nice or not…you won’t get very far. As Paul said, and why I go to other events and user group meetings, you go to develop business/professional, long-term relationships that could be mutually beneficial at some point.

    -Jason

  17. Laurie Ruettimann

    Steve – I’m a trained recruiter in the consumer products and insurance industry who moved into HR. My first job was recruiting people to work in factories for $7.oo/hr by hanging around a Bosnian immigration center in St. Louis. So maybe if you’re nice to me, Steve, I’ll say hi to you at HCI. Maybe.

    Paul, thanks for your thoughtful answer. Good luck with your next post.

  18. Heather Kinzie, SPHR, GPHR

    Great to read the discussion here and thought I’d chime in again. Indeed, being a “non-member” of a trade/craft/professional community and attending events like this is tough.

    I often felt I stuck out…and not in a good way. It was hard and I didn’t like it…and I consider myself fairly social.

    But recruitment, networking, and engagement don’t happen without putting yourself out there and therefore, it needed to be done time and time again. How else could I learn the lingo, how else could I learn who our competition was, how else could I build my network?

    Everyone has made some great points – I think the take away is this…get involved, learn the trade, meet the people.

    My objectives for attending these events were to “get leads” for current or vacant positions but I also knew I couldn’t expect to be welcomed as a poacher. Therefore, I mingled, I got to know people, I offered my assistance and I built my network.

    Whether it was for carpenters, safety officers, engineers, architects, biomedical analysts, radiologists, programmers or accountants, I put my big girl pants on, smiled, ate and typically drank well.

    (BTW, the safety peeps probably throw the best parties but the radiologists had the best food.)

  19. Ty Chartwell

    I am a recruiter and was going to attend, but the event was at nightttttt, after 5pmmmmm, and it’s harddddd to get in my car and drive, park, and then have to speak to human beingsssss. What if they ask me about the businesssssss? I can only tell them for so long the names of two of my company’s products, and/or where the company is located, and of course the name of the CEO. After that, it gets complicateddddddd. EPS, ROI, CAGR, are you kidding me, are those new games on Facebook?

    it is just too easy for me to post my jobs on Linkedin, Indeed, and Professional Association job boards. I also can use Linkedin to send imails, especially with my turbo-charged Linkedin recruiter toolllllll. And, i can scan my ATS and see if anyone has applied on their own. Every once in a while i pick up the phone, but only to oder take-out for lunch, because i may miss an employee referral that has been in my ATS for three weeks.

    Owwwww, i just broke a nail sending out another imail.

  20. Steve Levy

    Laurie…

    1. No you won’t
    2. Different functions and sectors require dramatically different recruiting skill sets – not all are transferable

    My Kumbayah days are OVER ;)

  21. Ty Chartwell

    Steve,
    Recruiting is recruiting is recruiting is recruiting. A good recruiter can transition into any industry, unless he is not allowed to by the hiring executives. Finding talent is easy, it’s convincing them to listen, interview, and leave a good place is where recruiters demonstrate their value, and which is a very easily transferrable skill if you know how to do it right. Unfortunately, most HRBP’s and Talent Leaders have blinders on and won’t let that happen, in-part because they don’t know how to do it themselves.

  22. Steve Levy

    Have to disagree with you Ty; if recruiting was recruiting was recruiting then everyone would be doing it. Sure some mechanics are the same but it’s like saying because you have a driver’s license you can drive a semi or an F-1 race car with similar success.

    But I’m signing off for the night; to be continued tomorrow…

  23. Christine Smith

    Paul, great article. I missed the event, mostly because Ididn’t realize it was going on, I’ve attended it in the past, and other events. I have found the best approach is to be honest, I’m here to learn, and oh yes, I’m a recruiter trying to learn more about the technologies I support. It’s about relationships, if people feel you are there only to get something from them, you aren’t going to get anywhere.

    Heather is right. it is hard which is why so few recruiters attend. You will stick out, especially if you are a woman. Use it to your advantage.

  24. Patti Yaritz

    Paul I feel the same way about Diversity events. I cannot tell you how many times I am the only person in recruiting at local events and associations yet everyone complains they can never source and attract diverse talent. The talent loves it and if you keep showing up and learn and earn their trust and respect look out cos lots of good starts flowing… I often have candidates seek me out when they start looking passively even if 15 other recruiters call them regularly… I’m a real person… BTW never been called any names… usually feel very welcome when I step out from behind the desk.

  25. Maureen Sharib

    I know I’m late to this discussion but I have an answer.

    Many many people have left the profession.
    I noticed the dearth in 2009.
    It happened fast.
    I wrote about it here: http://tinyurl.com/lhlq8x

  26. Keith Halperin

    @ Steve I: Except for looking for the “Fabulous 5%” and for some specialized skill sets: companies ARE hibernating- that’s why we have 8.2% unemployment.

    @ Jerry I: Well said.

    @ Jerry II: “is anyone actually recruiting or just traveling the US talking about it “The Secret of Success
    What is The Secret? Pretend you’ve already achieved it- Then offer to sell The Secret to others.” from Despair.com

    @ Laurie: Well said.

    @ Ty I: Dirty Little Recruiting Secret- The large majority positions aren’t all that hard to recruit for and the large majority of decent candidates aren’t that hard to find. In fact, if you don’t need the Fabulous 5% people or some very much-in-demand candidates, almost everything is that way. If they are really hard to recruit, that’s what 30% contingency fee recruiters are for.

    @ Steve II: “if recruiting was recruiting was recruiting then everyone would be doing it.” Dude- everyone IS doing it. Most agencies are filled with eager-beaver, early 20-something newbies who’re taught to dial for job order$ and fill positions at 15-20% from job board candidates to clients too ignorant to know of the much superior and cost-effective alternatives, like $6.25/hr virtual sourcers.

    @ Christine, Patti: Very true. At the same tine, who has time to “create relationships” and “build communities? My managers want hires NOW, not some months down the road…

    @ Mighty Mo: “Many many people have left the profession.” Do you know if it’s still continuing, or have we stabilized?

    Keith

  27. Steve Levy

    Dear Lord, I will hate myself for this but some things just require that you dive in…

    Keith-

    The 8.2% unemployment rate has little to do with companies hiring; companies are hiring – voraciously – but they want what they want. Managers want specific skill sets and some even want their admins to have college degrees (gasp). The unemployment rate is more a function of people not having the desired skill sets/experiences and/or motivation (it requires hard work and heartaches to find a job) to not be unemployed than companies not hiring. As for the “Fabulous 5%”, the number is higher but so what? Companies are even becoming wiser and hiring people to solve specific problems and not “fill” job descriptions (another gasp). If you’ve worked in an area with lots of legacy skills and suddenly find yourself in a job search, it’s going to be very tough; sadly, you’re likely to be unemployed for a while.

    Your response in “Ty I” again shows why you’ve been trying for years to peddle low cost sourcing off job board databases; you laughably think there’s a bargain basement solution to all things recruiting. So is your use of the phrase “decent candidate” which in reality is another way of saying “average”; if companies hire only average people, they’ll likely get average results which will over time lead to an average number of pink slips.

    Your 30% contingency fee comment also shows that you know little about how corporate recruiting has evolved – but this is a topic for responding to your comments at a later date. I will agree that positions are not necessarily hard to fill but that is when you’re in an economy where people aren’t afraid to leave their current jobs. Risk adversiveness is a major reason why recruiting is so difficult these days. Recruiting has become a job of managing relationships until such a time passes that people are ready to make a change; this is why recruiting difficulty as measured by SHRM’s monthly LINE report has been going up.

    “Dude”, the really good agencies are moving to relationship building and away from dialing for dollars; they’re relying less on “post and pray” which is what you get from your $6.25 virtual scrapers.

    “Who has time to “create relationships” and “build communities?” Great companies do; great recruiters do. Average companies don’t; average recruiters don’t. If your managers want hires NOW, not some months down the road, then frankly you’ve failed to build a sustainable recruiting strategy and concomitant talent pipelines. You’ve failed at inspiring managers and their teams to be on the lookout for great people and bring them in as needed.

    You’ve failed as a recruiter.

  28. Keith Halperin

    @ Steve: The 8.2% has EVERYTHING with companies hiring or not hiring. Many companies feel they are entitled to get the best, and they can’t even afford the rest. As Patsy Cline said: “People in hell want ice water, don’t mean they’re a gonna git it.” A recent example: a company I recently interviewed with said they didn’t want the best 10% or the Fabulous 5%, they wanted the 1%…nothing inherently wrong with that at all. However, they paid about the top 50% and they didn’t have anything else that a top 1% person would want. If that’s what a “wise” company is like, I’d hate to work for a stupid one…There are far too many companies like that out there.

    I do not and never have said there is a bargain-basement solution to every recruiting problem, and I don’t believe it.
    I think we need more high-paid recruiters giving world-class solutions for things which can’t effectively be no-sourced, through-sourced, and out-sourced. However, much of recruiting can
    be handled this “no-, through-, or out-source” way, by $6.25/ hr or $40/name sourcers instead of 15-20% agencies filled with newbies looking on CareerBuilder, or companies using $3.00/hr virtual scheduler/coordinators to handle the very same things that some company had $25/hr onsite people doing. As far as “decent” being “average”: well, we don’t live in a recruiting Lake Woebegone where all candidates are above average. Most companies are “average” and most of the people they get are “average”; it’s just in times like this the companies can get a higher-quality, larger selection for the same amount of money.

    “The really good agencies are moving to relationship building and away from dialing for dollars”: that’s what my definition of a good agency is, and what I’d pay them to do. However there are a lot of ordinary agencies out still out there looking on the boards…

    ”Great companies do; great recruiters do.” What do you think a mid-level corporate recruiter would hear if s/he said: “I’m not going to work on our current openings which we’re desperately trying to fill YESTERDAY. Instead, I’m going to work on “creating relationships” and “build communities” with highly-affordable, world-class people who may or may not want to work with us in 6 mos. to a year?” ” I don’t think I’d hear a resounding: “Great idea! You drop your current reqs., we’ll divvy ‘em up among your colleagues, and you go do that. Let us know how you’re doing in about three months or so…”

    As I said elsewhere earlier today: perhaps you work in/around functional, well-resourced environments where people are thoughtful, rational, and willing to listen/compromise. I work in places like this far too rarely, and highly value them while I’m there. (I work on contract, so I don’t have a long timeline where I can do things.) Most of the places I work for (and I’ll be willing to say most recruiters work for, too) are NOT like this. They’re places where the the GAFI (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) of the people in charge reigns unchallenged. As far as “inspiring managers, etc.”: I’m paid to put quality butts in chairs quickly and within budget. If I’m lucky, the client might want me to advise them how to make their recruiting processes and efforts more effective and efficient. These things are what I call “recruiting”.

    Happy Passover,

    Keith

  29. Paul DeBettignies

    There are a few comments from the last day I want to reply to and know that my experience may be different than yours because I only recruit, place/hire IT folks in MSP and the surrounding area:

    - Recruiters (corporate and search) are not hibernating here. They are busting their backsides every day. Well… most of them are and that of course depends on industry, the business and what skill sets are needed.

    - MN unemployment rate in IT is believed to be <2%. Essentially we are at full employment and back to the levels of November 2007. We are not yet back to the frenetic dot com days.

    - What I am about to say is “relative”… there were many more women at this event than the normal user group. 7%-9% is my guess. Yes, that is still very, very low but by tech standards that is a good number.

    - I know many recruiters (corporate and search) who are developing communities, talent pools, whatever the phrase of the day is. I call it hunting and farming. If all you do is hunt but can’t find anything that day you will go hungry. But if you have been farming you have some food stocked up. For my 14 years… it has always been about creating a “community”.

    - How many folks have left the business… that’s a hard one. Fordyce Forum 2010 a stat was quoted as 60% of the search firm recruiters were gone. That number was close to what we saw in MSP. The flip side is starting Jan 3rd of 2011 the market for recruiters (corporate and search) has been very steady. Now besides needing programmers and developers many companies are specifically asking for recruiters with tech experience.

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