I, Recruiter

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

If you’ve had the dubious pleasure of engaging with a recruitment agency in your search for employment, a lot of what I’m about to discuss might resonate with you. It might not, because there are some terrific recruitment agencies out there. However, the industry overall does not have a very good reputation, and it’s worked damned hard to earn it.

I got a message from a candidate (that’s my preferred term for the people I look for work for, but feel free to pick your own) a little while ago. It was a friendly message, complimenting me, but it made me sad to receive it.

“Thanks. You have a lot of class to take the time to notify me about this. There are a lot of recruiters who only contact you when they want something from you. It's refreshing to see in 2019. Have a great day!”

So, what had I done to be the recipient of such unusual warmth from a virtual stranger? What incredible act of courtesy had I so indulged this job seeker with?

I had let them know that the client we had been discussing had decided not to pursue their application.

That’s it.

The candidate had engaged with me over a period of days. We had discussed his background, the role, his ambitions going forward and I felt that he was good enough to be considered for the job. The client didn’t agree (I still think they were wrong, but this happens) and had let me know that they felt they had better candidates for the role.

So, I sent out a brief email explaining, and wished the job seeker well. It really wasn’t much, was it?

And this, apparently, is so unusual that I got the grateful reply above.

How appalling is that? This cautionary tale, unfortunately, sums up certain aspects of the industry I find myself in. An industry that bites the hand that feeds it all the time. Yes, the clients are very important. Yes, the clients pay the invoices (most of the time, but don’t get me started here) and yes, without clients I don’t have a business. But you know what? Without people looking for work, I don’t have a business either.

Of course, the equation is not equal. If the industry treated clients in the manner with which it often treats candidates, the sector would implode. Customers – the ones who pay the bills – will always be afforded a certain level of courtesy, and that’s understandable. It's the way of the world.

And trust me when I say that those looking for work don’t always make it easy for recruiters to maintain cordial relations. When I first started i-Recruit, I was determined to have very high standards when it came to dealing with people looking for work. I was absolutely emphatic that I would always afford anyone who had applied for a job the basic courtesy of a response. I kept it up. For a while.

The problem is that I get a fair amount of applications from people that aren’t remotely qualified for the jobs that they are applying for. I mean, really, not even close. I suspect that there is a core of bored internet users that drift across job sites, randomly sending in applications for anything that catches their eye on the slightest of whims.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not up in arms about this; it’s the nature of what I do, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff (disclaimer: I wouldn’t know chaff if it banged on my door and slapped me in my face) is very much the role of a recruiter.

I don’t have the time to respond to such applications though, and I’m now at peace with that. I’m not throwing away my good time after their bad time. I’m just not.

There are other aspects to this as well. I get dropped like a stone by job seekers all the time. Someone has applied – or I have directly contacted them – and after many conversations, they have clearly decided that the role is not for them, but they don’t feel the need to convey that to me. I’m not complaining, you understand. I am not trying to elicit sympathy. It’s a part of what I do, and I have grown a thick skin over the years. I’m just trying to paint a balanced picture.

Sometimes, however, I do get to know someone who severely tests quite how impenetrable my epidermis is. The fella that I found after four onerous weeks of headhunting, who, upon finding out who the client was, applied directly to them and then ghosted me. Or the gentleman who would send me texts like “Call me NOW!” and then shout at me because the client was dithering on a decision. In his favour, he would apologise afterwards. And then do it again, a day later. I think he was going through some stuff and I was a convenient outlet.

I have the hide of a rhinoceros these days.

My point is that this is a two-way street. Agencies often treat people looking for work badly, and people looking for work often treat agencies badly. I’m sure there’s a chicken and egg metaphor in there somewhere.

I have always had a chequered relationship with recruitment since I stumbled into it, *coughs* years ago. I nearly missed this calling. I had a sliding doors moment where I saw an agency advertising for a database administrator, decided not to call them because they already had my CV but then changed my mind. From there I became the supervisor of the data take on they were doing. The manager (soon to be sacked for misuse of expenses but still got a good reference, go figure) saw something in me and here I still am *coughs again* years later.

It’s been a choppy ride.

But…when this works, it’s wonderful. See, when I do my job really well, I change people’s lives. Yeah. I’m aware that you may have just told me to get over myself. It’s true, though. I often get to know my candidates quite well. It’s the advantage I have of being *coughs yet again* years old. I understand that I am dealing with people who have complicated lives, and that the decision to change jobs can have massive ramifications going forward. And often, a new job and a new opportunity puts their life on an entirely different trajectory. And you know what? I did that. Okay, I did a part of it. They still have to, you know, get the job.

It’s something that a lot of recruiters don’t consider. Recruitment is often proliferated by (over) confident twenty somethings who are bonus hungry, and having the eye on a financial prize can lead some of them to lack a little empathy and forget that the people they are dealing with are, well, people. I’m not being harsh; I was such a twenty-something creature back in the day.

These days, I do my best to never forget I am dealing with individuals with their own problems, their own motivations and their own complicated lives, even if I might not get the same consideration, because I am a service provider, and that’s the lot of service providers everywhere. Imagine being a GP, listening to people complaining all day about whatever ailment has led them to your door without any consideration for the fact that this is all they do all day. I don’t know how they do it.

If someone is providing a service, we can often forget that they have their own, complicated lives. I think medical providers get it the worst, but it happens everywhere.

My advice to a job seeker would be to choose your recruitment agency well, but’s that’s naïve and vapid advice because the destination – the new job – is the endgame here. We don’t get to pick and choose here because if we want a particular job, we have to take the path offered by the universe.

Do I have a message at the end of all this? I suppose it’s empathy. We all need to be nicer to each other, don’t we? Whatever we do, just remember that the people we are dealing with are people. Whatever we do, the chances are that we have to interact with other people.

So be nice.