Failure Precedes Success: How I Got Into Recruiting

Feb 16, 2011
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

This year will mark my fourteenth year in the staffing business.  They say time flies when you are having fun, and I feel lucky to be able to make a living helping people find rewarding opportunities.  But had it not been for some wise advice from my father, and a recruiter I never met in person, I may have never landed in this business.

It all started after I graduated from college in 1994. Almost all of my friends immediately jumped into outside sales. I had a degree in Communications and Journalism, so while I was not sure if sales was for me, I knew one thing – I wanted to be successful.  I knew salespeople typically made good money and I definitely did not want to be short stacked when going out with my friends on the weekend. So, I gave it a shot, unfortunately selling one of the hardest products imaginable – copiers. Not just copiers, American-made copiers during a time when the Japanese were manufacturing them for 20% less consistently.

Recruiters called into our office all the time, so after two years of staying employed but always being under quota, I was called one day by a sales recruiter in Philadelphia about a job in the rental uniform business. Not a sexy line of business, but the recruiter had some great things to say about the position and the company. I will never forget – after my interview with her client, the recruiter called me back and said, “My client thought you were ‘The Man.’” Remember, I was struggling selling copiers and still wondered if a career in sales was even in the cards for me. Talking to her was what I needed – she made me feel confident and I ended up taking that job. Turns out my experience with her was the only good thing that came out of those two years of my life with that job.

Once I realized that selling dirty uniforms was not my thing, I had a great conversation with my father to seek some guidance for my career. He had spent his entire career in Human Resources, and his specialty was coming into new corporations and building entire HR departments. I remember him interviewing people in the evenings at home and talking about recruiting. When I spoke with him, he advised me that there were recruiters that he used in the past who loved what they did, but that it was also a sales-oriented position where the harder you work, the more it paid off.

Bingo! I stopped just looking for a sales position and specifically sought out recruiting firms. My first two interviews were awful, but thank goodness for an ad in the paper (this was in 1997) for a Technical Recruiter. After two interviews, my career was born and I was on the phones. But that was just the beginning.

I had pretty much failed in my first two jobs and while I was excited, I was also very unsure that I was cut out for it – would this be my third job that failed? It was November of 1997 and I was getting married to my high school sweetheart in May of 1998. She was a nurse working nights and had made a lot more money than me. She often called herself the breadwinner to be funny, but I really wondered if that would always be the case.

I was determined to make things happen with this career change, and really loved trying to help candidates find rewarding positions. It was very different from product sales. It took me six months, almost to the day, to place my first consultant. However, it just happened to be the weekend of my wedding. As if that wasn’t good enough, I will never forget at the reception, while I was greeting family and friends, one of my co-workers who was also there came up to me and said, “You did it again, they want to hire your candidate!” Don’t tell my wife, but this is one of my fondest memories of my wedding. Placement #1 and #2, all in the same weekend! Imagine how I felt when my boss called me on my honeymoon in Jamaica to tell me in I was “on fire” and another one of my candidates being hired by our client. Placement #3! There was a rush that I hope others feel when these things happen, and I still get that same rush when it happens today. It is what keeps me going.

I now work a desk in addition to hiring and training recruiters.  I love seeing them go through the same process I did.  People who were once were waiters, bartenders, temps, and mediocre sales reps are now successful recruiters earning six figures at a minimum and, above all, are happy with what they are doing because they are helping others.  I appreciate the failures and relish the successes. In my interviews with them, I tell them that this will be the wildest roller coaster ride they have ever been on. Half of them will be yelling to get off, and the other half will be begging for more. I’ve watched the latter of those flourish to become great recruiters, and I have loved seeing the success. There are no doubt days that I wonder what other things I could be doing, but I always go back to those two failed jobs, that recruiter in Philadelphia, and my father’s advice, and know that I have found the career for me.

What about you? What got you into this industry, and what has kept you in it?

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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