A Rebuttal: 10 Things That Smart Money Didn’t Bother to Find Out About Employment Recruiters

Nov 15, 2010

We recently ran an article entitled Speaking of Perceptions… outlining a piece written in Smart Money about the 10 Things Employment Recruiters Won’t Say. One of our readers, Tom Keoughan, had an opinion on the Smart Money article he wanted to share. Below is his response….

I don’t know where you got your information, but it paints a highly distorted view of the way executive recruiters work. Certainly there are good people and bad people in every profession, but a lot of the weak recruiters have been washed out of the business during the current economic downturn. As someone who has been a successful executive recruiter for almost thirty years, I will tackle your points one by one. 

1. There are better ways to find a job.

Every job seeker should work their network. Employee referrals are the number one way that companies find new employees. The second best channel for a jobseeker to use is a strong executive recruiter who specializes in their field. Specialization is paramount in the recruiting business and can’t be overemphasized. You will have a lot more success using a top recruiter who specializes in your niche than answering internet job ads and then never getting a response.

You are misusing the statistics when you state that recruiters have only a 2.3% to 5.2% success rate. Recruiters don’t work on the majority of low level jobs in the American workplace. They are called in to work on mid and senior management jobs and hard-to-fill technical spots. The percentage of all external hires is a different thing entirely than recruiters’ success rate which for a good one runs 85-90%.

2. We don’t work for you.

That’s absolutely true but it affects candidates in a much different way than you describe. Some, mostly desperate jobseekers, apply for jobs that they are only marginally qualified for and can get very angry when a recruiter doesn’t move their candidacy forward. We are supposed to save time for our client companies, not waste it by sending them people who do not fit their parameters.

As far as salary negotiation goes, like all professional negotiators our job is to bring both parties together. A good recruiter will know a company’s give and take parameters and will also discuss candidate priorities. Sometimes all parties end up being happy and sometimes we will arrive at a compromise where neither side is 100% happy but that everyone can live with. That’s the way life is. If we don’t negotiate to reach a level of happiness for the jobseeker, then they don’t take the job and we don’t get paid.

3. Until a year ago I used to be a car salesman.

I can’t speak for the other states but I’m based in New Jersey and New Jersey does have laws, rules, exams, and licensing requirements. As in all professions there are good people and bad people. In fact, I would slice them into three groups. First, there are the recruiters that just aren’t very good at what they do. This comprises about fifty percent of them. The good news for jobseekers is that not only can you tell that they’re not very sharp just by talking to them but most of these have been forced out of the business during the recent economic downturn. About twenty-five percent of recruiters excel and are very professional. They have long and successful careers in the recruiting business. Obviously, these are the ones you want to work with. Unfortunately, another twenty-five percent are what I call journeymen and these can be dangerous. They generally do well enough to make a good living but just barely. They are the ones who sound fairly knowledgeable but are really living from deal to deal. While a strong recruiter will take a long term perspective on dealing with both clients and candidates, a journeyman is desperate for the next deal to close and may be less scrupulous. Many of these journeymen have recently been forced out of the industry but those that are left are more desperate than ever. All clients and jobseekers should do deep reference checks before using a recruiter. Stay away from the “Discount Daves”.

4. The job advertised may not exist.

This is again a question of doing your homework. A top recruiter will be far too busy working on current specific search assignments to be fooling around with busy work. Also, keep in mind that strong well-known recruiters already have unsolicited resumes pouring over the transom during the current economic downturn.

Do your homework and avoid the “Discount Dave’s” who don’t have current job searches generally because they don’t have a good track record filling them. They have the time to post phony jobs in the hope that they get a few strong resumes that they can email blast to every company they know. Generally they’re just throwing as much mud on the wall as possible to increase the chances that something may stick.

5. We already know quite a lot about you.

This is just plain wrong. Almost no recruiter runs credit and legal checks on people just because they received their resume. In fact, recruiters would much rather have the hiring company run these checks so that the liability is theirs should anything go wrong. Sometimes a client will ask the recruiting firm to do this either in an attempt to shift liability or just out of plain laziness. So the reality is recruiting firms may do this sometimes but they would much prefer not to.

6. Our jobs aren’t so hot either.

Again do your homework and check multiple references. You also have it exactly backwards. The big national firms are the ones with huge overheads to support and they have lots of recruiting desks to fill with fresh shiny inexperienced faces. The small boutique firms have lower overhead, fewer mouths to feed and are not desperate to fill desks. In fact, most of them have cut their dead wood.

7. You’re at the mercy of a computer, just like online job board users.

You are describing what happens at the big recruiting machines with lots of desks filled by inexperienced recruiters. Strong, experienced people in the specialized boutique recruiting world eyeball pretty much every resume that comes in.

After years of experience, it takes them all of ten seconds to decide if a resume gets put in the review and interview file or the “why did this engineer send us a resume when we specialize in accounting file? Delete.”

I quickly eyeball every resume that comes through our office. What I look for is:

  1. What company did he work for?
  2. What did the company do? A lot of people don’t include this.
  3. What was his job title?
  4. When was he at the company?

I look down the resumes with those four questions. It takes fifteen seconds and sometimes less. Then I file as interview immediately or put into the “we don’t have anything today but could in the future queue” and interview them as I get to them. The completely off target ones (about a third) I delete. We do triage every single day.

8. The “temp to perm” carrot is rotten.

The temp to perm carrot is rotten. It is a marketing ploy but it’s not directed at candidates. It’s a marketing tool used with stingy hiring companies who want to try everyone out for an extended period of time without paying the full recruiting fee up front. Some hiring firms use it to lure in “permanent temps” who they never pay benefits to.

Whenever a potential client company approaches me with this sort of scheme, I point out to them why it’s against their own interests. When a hiring company wants to hire temp to perm they are only going to get unemployed people as candidates. Some of them will be good and some won’t but the company has immediately eliminated the candidacy of everyone who is currently working a full time job. No full timer in his right mind is going to take a flyer on a temp to perm gig. The company therefore has a severely weakened candidate pool. Hiring the best person out of a weak candidate pool is not a strategy for moving your company forward.

9. If you have a job you could get fired.

This is again a question of doing your homework. Find en experienced recruiter in your field. They will happily agree not to send your resume anywhere until the two of you discuss a current specific opening and you ask them to pursue it.

It is not in the interest of a strong recruiter to just email blast resumes around. If a company says they would like to interview a candidate and then the recruiter finds out that candidate is not interested, then he will look pretty stupid in the eyes of that employer.

Top recruiters spend their time working on current specific and usually exclusive openings. Due to their poor track records, the “Discount Daves” are increasingly desperate because they have few, if any, loyal clients. They may shotgun resumes around just praying that anything might stick.

10. If I’m in Virginia, I probably won’t help you find a job in Nebraska.

Gee, you almost got it but not quite. In the age of the internet (or really even the age of the fax machine or telephone) there is no reason for recruiters to be limited by geography. At a big national recruiting machine filled with inexperienced recruiters, each office may have a territory which is pretty much what they exclusively focus on. That said, the top recruiters are specialized in one of two ways. Many focus on a specific industry (for example, I focus on the toy business) and they will tend to work nationwide or even globally. Others focus on a specific job type (for example, IT or finance and accounting) and they will typically have a regional focus. Strong recruiters will tell you that they are next to worthless outside their area of expertise. A weak recruiter will tell you he’s an expert at everything.

So, to wrap up – find yourself a top experienced recruiter in your field. Check references! Tell him the companies that you have worked at and ask him for references from some people that you may already know. A top recruiter should be able to provide these. Ask him how he works with candidates and also tell him what you expect. If the references check out and he seems reasonable and honest – you probably have your guy. If the references are sketchy and he then promises you the sun, the moon, and the stars; look out – he’s probably a “Discount Dave”.

Lastly, as a Smart Money subscriber, I must say that I am disappointed. I always thought that the “10 Things” column was a helpful peek behind the curtains. Now that I’ve seen the hatchet job that you did to an industry that I’ve been involved with for nearly thirty years; I’ve learned that instead of getting the inside scoop, I’m just getting “the general myths and complaints of the obviously misinformed”.

Journalism is about more than just pumping out controversial headlines. Then again, controversial headlines sell more magazines which allows you to sell more ad space and at a higher price. Perhaps, you should write a “10 Things Your Magazine Publisher Doesn’t Want You to Know”. Please let me know if I can be of help.


Tom Keoughan, President

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