Few professions are as hard on newcomers as the recruiting industry. Entry-level, or just oblivious, recruiters have a tough row to hoe and the challenges involve more than the responsibilities listed on their job description. Included in the struggle is how junior practitioners are treated by senior practitioners. There may be other vocations where hazing is the norm—perhaps erotic dancing, bar tending, or tattooing—but as a whole, professionals in the realm of talent acquisition ridicule and abuse rookies in ways that are both unnecessary and counterproductive. This is arguably less prominent in other professions. Recruiters, it seems, just love to poke and prod and tease.
There’s no better evidence of this than time spent on a barstool with other recruiters. After nearly every recruiting conference, within hotel bars, the ills of the industry are discussed. The dialogue is simultaneously entertaining and horrific. The common theme: recruiters bashing other recruiters. More specifically: veterans lambasting the newbies, the wannabes and the clueless. While these conversations may voice some truth about upholding standards in our profession, it’s important to recognize that all recruiters start somewhere. Perhaps it’s time for more knowledgeable practitioners to reach out to novices, refrain from bullying, and extend the desire to raise the industry bar beyond the barstool and into a forum where a difference can actually be made.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
There are few barriers to entry when it comes to recruiting, which is a primary factor in why there are so many bad recruiters. Additionally, there is lack of strictly upheld recruiting standards. Establishing a national recruiting association may be a logical step for remedying the situation.
Numerous senior recruiting professionals exhibit a distinct animosity for inept neophytes. Several contributing factors could be blamed: personal insecurities of recruiting professionals, poor perception of recruiting practitioners by non-practitioners, and the simple fact that when recruiters are bad they are absolutely terrible.
It’s been said that some of the most vocal criticizers in the recruiting industry are painfully aware of their own precarious position in an economy hell-bent on efficiency, innovation, and added value. Job security is hard to come by, and plenty of recruiters hop around the market like over-caffeinated bunnies, even the good ones. Because of this it should come as no surprise that when someone’s perch on a narrow ledge is jeopardized by some heavy-footed newcomers melee weapons are drawn and inexperienced recruiters are bludgeoned and tossed off proverbial cliffs.
For many, these attacks are justifiable, since they are done for the protection of the industry. It’s seen as a type of cleansing and veteran recruiters lament that unsophisticated recruiters make the good ones look bad—and that the bad ones now outnumber the respectable ones 10 to one. Professionals across a vast array of industries are fed up with the recruiting world and are one unsolicited InMail away from closing their LinkedIn accounts forever. Bad recruiters are making it harder for good ones to earn an honest living. Or are they?
When all else fails, try something new
If shaming recruiters (publically or privately) made them go away, this post would be unneeded, but attacking them doesn’t make them disappear and it does little to improve the realm of recruiting. At this very moment, groups of recruiters are passionately discussing the harm second-rate recruiters do to the profession. Outreach messages from mediocre recruiters are passed around, mocked, and every so often used by recruiting managers to give their junior recruiters an example of what unacceptable recruiting looks like. But how much influence is this having on the situation as a whole? To truly impact how standards are upheld, the way peers are treated must evolve.
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Many of the skills in my tool belt I now take for granted. Some of them I’ve figured out on my own along the way, but most of the instruments in my arsenal are things that others were kind enough to teach me. Because of benefactors and mentors, I have been able to hone my abilities in a way that carved out my own piece of real estate in recruiting. To not acknowledge that other people helped me get to where I am today would be insolence, and that’s true for most of us. But so many in our field are missing out on opportunities to pay it forward—even those who claim to be our leaders and gurus. It’s time for the recruiting profession to step up to the plate and raise the bar through teaching and mentoring.
Paying it forward
Recently I received one of the worst InMails ever to grace my inbox. When I looked at the recruiter’s profile I realized she works for a company I used to work for and reports to someone I respect a great deal—a person who took a vested interest in my professional development early in my career. Some may not be comfortable with the course of action I took, but I saw this as a coaching opportunity and contacted my former boss to show him the message. I knew he was someone who wouldn’t use this to belittle the recruiter and he agreed that it was a teaching moment. I had a choice here of how I was going to handle the situation. Rather than taking a path of shaming, I took the course of elevating. Instead of pushing someone down, I reached out in hope that they would grow professionally. It was my way of raising the bar and it didn’t happen by complaining from a barstool.
The worst recruiters are guilty of the same vexing habits: they approach the wrong professionals about the wrong jobs, they ask for favors and referrals while offering little to no value in return, and they engage with communities of talent in ways that are concurrently spammy and slimy. But shaming these individuals out of the industry is not the answer. There are more than a few recruiters out there who could benefit from a little dose of compassion and human decency.
Imagine a place where when good recruiters spot bad recruiters they lend a helping hand rather than slinging mud. For some, recruiting comes naturally, but here’s the thing, for those not blessed with an embedded recruiting instinct, the skills can be taught. Many of us have been in lousy recruiting environments, from being on a crummy team with people who don’t carry their own weight, reporting to an awful leader with no sense of direction, dealing with a completely unrealistic hiring manager, or being forced to carry more requisitions than is humanly possible. The listed scenarios can make inexperienced recruiters do some really dumb things; hell they can make experienced recruiters do some really dumb things. So this is a call for mercy. This industry is precious to many of us and most would agree there is much to improve and we have a steep hill to climb. But as we do so, let’s make an effort to raise the bar from a position of benevolence and credibility, out in the open, not in cliquish and closed conversations that blacklist people who probably mean well but have yet to receive proper guidance on how to succeed in this often unforgiving industry.