Why Recruiters Leave Recruiting

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Apr 28, 2021

I fell into recruiting. I didn’t know what a recruiter was when I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree. Then during my first professional job after college working in a credit union, I quickly realized that I didn’t like the work. Thankfully, a coworker’s spouse worked for a temporary staffing agency and referred me for a recruiter opening. I applied, got the job, and my career as a recruiter began. 

It was a natural fit from the beginning. I loved interacting with a diverse group of people looking for work and finding them jobs. It was rewarding and energizing work. Since then, I’ve had the good fortune of being a recruiter for more than 20 years now. 

As an observer of people and careers, one thing I’ve noticed is how many recruiters don’t stay in recruiting. Why is that? What causes my fellow colleagues to leave this challenging and interesting career field? 

Tired, Devalued, and Hated

As I was considering possible reasons, I received some great insights when I spoke to Keirsten Greggs and communicated with Amy Miller through LinkedIn. Powerhouse TA professionals themselves with a wealth of knowledge and experience, they both mentioned burnout as the top reason that people leave recruiting. 

We’re Tired.The work can be extremely taxing. You’re told “no” routinely. You tell people “no” repeatedly. Your results depend on candidates, and candidates are unpredictable — such as the one who accepts an offer then rescinds it a week later. Our field is not for the faint of heart. It’s tough work, and thick skin is a prerequisite to be a successful recruiter. 

We’re Devalued. Another reason individuals leave recruiting is that the work can be seen as entry-level. Many people become recruiters without any previous work experience or background. There’s little recognition for the expertise a recruiter can bring to their role in some cases. 

For example, I once applied to a well-known national staffing agency after possessing more than five years of recruiting experience, including technical recruiting of engineers and scientists, and the company flatly turned me down. I didn’t even get an interview. I learned later that the organization was looking to hire only people right out of college with no recruiting background or training.  

Similarly, career development may seem limited or nonexistent, so people may leave the field to advance in a more defined path, such as business development, operations, or human-resources management. 

We’re hated. And, of course, people often dislike us. We’re perceived as disreputable and unethical, people who will do anything to get that next person hired. Such a reputation does nothing to elevate our profession. 

And now I’m just going to say this, as cringeworthy as it is to admit: I don’t like a number of recruiters. There are some whom I’ve met over the course of my career that I wouldn’t refer for a recruiting job. Why? Because they are disingenuous and dishonest, and I don’t want to be associated with them. So the perception that people have against us is not without merit. 

I met a recruiter over a decade ago at a local recruiting event; I’ll call her Stacy. We quickly built rapport with each other and stayed in touch. When a former colleague contacted me for a referral for a technical recruiter, I referred her. Stacy interviewed for the job and got it. 

A few years later, Stacy and I worked together as fellow technical recruiters for two different sister companies with the same boss. Stacy referred a former coworker of hers for a HR generalist position; I’ll call her Monique. Our boss interviewed and subsequently hired Monique, who had the technical skills to perform the work but was a difficult coworker. She’d fly off the handle and rant over small issues. She was disruptive and difficult. She caused a lot of unnecessary drama in the office. You’ve probably worked with a Monique or Marcus before and can relate. 

When I asked Stacy a few months later if Monique had acted similarly in their former company, Stacy admitted that it was common Monique behavior. I stared and asked, “Why on earth did you refer her?” Stacy just shrugged her shoulders. 

I was shocked! Recruiters know the power of employee referrals. Stacy didn’t seem bothered that she’d referred a toxic person who was then hired to work with our team. (Stacy reached out to me several years later when I was hiring a recruiter for another company because she wanted to be considered. I didn’t interview nor hire Stacy. I didn’t even consider her, which shocked her.) 

Lastly, as Keirsten expressed so eloquently to me, there is no playbook for recruiters. Recruiters are normally hired without training, and companies don’t often provide much along the way. (I learned much of my craft in that first recruiting job I held with the national temporary staffing agency, after which I accepted a technical-recruiter role in-house with numerous tools in my professional tool belt.) 

Point is, training elevates a profession and provides credence for the job. Without it, people can become disinterested or unsuccessful. 

Why Would Anyone Stay in This Job?

Therefore, the million-dollar question becomes: How do we retain recruiters? How do we keep them in the fast-paced and exciting world of recruiting? Here are a few key retention strategies: 

  • Appreciate and recognize our efforts
  • Compensate us for our results (bonuses and base pay) 
  • Train us 
  • Provide advancement opportunities within recruiting
  • Lead us with managers who understand recruiting 

We need to feel valued as recruiters. We want to be included in strategic conversations about the business to help it grow. We want our work to matter and be recognized. When organizations and leaders acknowledge our efforts and compensate us accordingly, we feel appreciated. 

We want to develop and grow professionally, too. What career paths do companies offer to incentivize us to stay? What training opportunities do they provide to help us hone our skills? 

When we feel appreciated, we often stay in our fields and with our employers. We feel energized in our positions and we thrive. 

I once had a position that offered annual incentive trips for recruiters who met specific financial goals for the company. Over the course of four years I went to Park City, Utah; Orlando; and San Diego, due to my recruiting efforts. I was treated to wonderful excursions and recognized for my achievements during these amazing long weekends. That was incentivizing! 

Recruiting is a calling for me; it’s not just a job. I’m passionate about working with candidates and hiring managers to find that perfect match. I never tire of extending an offer of employment to a candidate! What I do matters. It matters to each and every candidate with whom I interact. It also matters to the company for which I work that sees increased revenue with every new hire. 

Recruiting is a great career, fulfilling, challenging, and interesting! 

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