When Recruiters Become Candidates

Just as doctors make the worst patients and teachers make the worst students, recruiters sometimes make the worst candidates.

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Oct 11, 2023

It’s really, really tough to be a recruiter these days.

Either you’re in an industry where it’s difficult to staff to appropriate levels and are blamed for not doing your job, or you’re in an industry that has conducted multiple rounds of layoffs and are a victim of doing your job too well.

Yes, recruiters are victims of layoffs, most recently targeted in a significant layoff at Google. This act was seen as a “canary in the coal mine” moment for several in the industry because it suggests that Google does not intend to ramp up hiring anytime soon, a worrying situation for tech candidates and recruiters alike.

I’m not sure I buy that Google won’t be hiring again in the future. In fact, I’ve written about this very issue multiple times for this publication, mostly because it seems that organizations refuse to learn from past mistakes and overcorrect their hiring strategy every time there’s a change in the economy. But my opinion about the long-term effect of downsizing recruiting teams doesn’t help those who are currently impacted by it.

You probably know a recruiter who recently lost their job. You may be a recruiter who recently lost your job. And now you’re facing the unpleasant, and somewhat scary, reality of having to sit on the other side of the computer screen and become one of the thousands of candidates you used to source and screen.

Just as doctors make the worst patients and teachers make the worst students, recruiters sometimes make the worst candidates. A big part of it is that recruiters know too much. They’ve heard hiring managers justify ridiculous decisions, and they’ve been pressured to low-ball candidates who deserve a higher starting salary.

In short, recruiters have seen how the sausage is made, and it’s ain’t pretty. So here are a few words of advice for recruiters who are now on the job hunt.

Respect the Process

When I led a recruiting team, we always found it frustrating when candidates tried to go outside our process. Not only did we have strict civil service guidelines to follow; we also had HR tech that was held together with spit and a promise. Any deviation could throw the whole thing off. So please follow the stated application process.

Having said that, there’s nothing to keep you from using your network. Reach out to connections about postings you’re interested in and let them know you’ve applied. Use those sourcing skills to find out who’s the hiring manager and send a personal note of thanks. It’s not only OK to do both; it’s essential.

Don’t Take It Out on the Recruiter

There’s a chance that the recruiter you’re working with is overworked because their co-workers were recently let go or not backfilled. They may also be nervous about all the layoffs happening in the industry and are scared for their job, too.

So when things don’t go your way, be kind. Try not to say things like, “Oh yeah, I typically do it this way, but that’s fine, we can try it your way.” There’s nothing wrong with commiserating and using inside terms to help build rapport, but don’t be a jerk.

And if the recruiter ghosts you for some reason, resist the urge to send a passive-aggressive email in retaliation. Chalk it up to karma for past transgressions and move on to the next opportunity.

Accept That Safety Job

Sometimes candidates feel pressure to hold out for the perfect role. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK to do that, but you still need to pay the bills. My unpopular opinion is that if a less-than-perfect job offer comes in, it’s fine to take it while you still keep looking for a better offer. However, you still need to put in the effort and do the job, so if you leave, you leave with grace.

But at least taking that safety job removes some of the pressure, allowing you the space to search with more intention and be more relaxed in the interview process. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to bounce around a bit because of the nature of the work. Take care of the bare necessities while looking for your bliss.

Decide If Your Heart’s Still in It

Being a recruiter can wear you down. Sometimes being laid off makes you reconsider your career options. A recent ERE newsletter poll [editor’s note: subscribe here] asked readers about the best thing recruiters could do during a hiring slowdown. A full 53% said recruiters should look for work in a different internal department. The next closest response was 17% suggesting recruiters build a talent pipeline. That’s a significant pivot away from recruiting.

Whether it’s because of economic uncertainty, increased use of automation and AI, or just general burnout, it might be time to walk away from recruiting.

Ultimately, no one enjoys job searches. But with the right mindset, realistic expectations, and a little preparation, it’s possible to take the sting out just a little bit.

Good luck out there.

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