We’ve Created a Monster – Bad Recruiting

I read recently in a random article that there were 6,900 open jobs within Talent Acquisition in the United States currently. Wow. For the people that think AI (artificial intelligence for those living under a rock) will take over the recruiting industry, might want to consider again. The silver lining for many out there, even the worst recruiters probably have a great chance at being employed. As I have mentioned in other articles, my LinkedIn news feed seems to have become the comment section for a Reddit thread about bad recruiting. Trust me, every single person in the world can come up with the most insane situation in which they had a terrible experience dealing with a recruiter. After all, we are human, and there is little barrier to entry for this profession.

Seeing this over and over again, it got me thinking a bit more about the “why?”

Why are there so many bad recruiters that ignore candidates, don’t get back in touch with them, or even lie to them? There has to be something that stems this type of behavior because I refuse to believe that there are THAT many recruiters out there that would purposely ignore people or just not have the human decency to do the right thing.

So here is an interesting theory that I came up with; maybe we created this monster ourselves? I will start by stating the obvious; everyone knows that you don’t go to college to become a recruiter. There is no “degree” you can obtain (although psychiatrist is probably the closest.) There are a plethora of interesting stories of “How did you become a recruiter” that are amazing and the sheer fact that we are STILL recruiters is even crazier. But I digress back to the theory of why.

Think about this for a moment. There is a vast majority of recruiters that started their career in the staffing industry. I was one of them. You have a meager base salary that barely pays your bills and the day-to-day metrics that you are held to are not geared toward candidate experience or building a brand. There is zero reward for letting someone know via phone promptly that they did not get the job. The staffing industry is very cut-throat, and the metrics you are held to are steep. Until you make a name for yourself, you better be hitting your metrics! Let’s break these down a bit more.

Submittals. Many agencies will judge you on the number of candidates that you submit to your “open reqs” throughout the week. Scenario: Your submittal goal for a week is seven submittals. It is Friday afternoon, and you only have five submittals for the week so far but you have two candidates that you are 99% sure will not get the job or even an interview but hey, “Let’s just throw them over the fence and see if it sticks.” If you have done your job and know they are not going to get the job, the additional submittals have created a mess. Now you have a hiring manager wasting their time looking at profiles that are not correct, and that reflects back on your brand. The entire industry could benefit by getting out of this “quantity” is better philosophy. Those two additional candidates are most likely the ones that will sprint to social media to bash recruiters, and I honestly can’t blame them, especially if they did not get a call back or email letting them know.

Reach Outs. Explaining this to a more junior recruiter is like explaining the floppy disk to my ten-year-old niece. Over a decade ago when I got into the staffing world, I simply had to just reach out to a certain number of people per day. No guidelines around their skills or if they are even qualified to watch your dog, just call (not email) them. I imagine that they are still plenty of organizations that use this as a metric. Don’t get me wrong; there are still scenarios that this may work. If you work in a call center and already have a qualified list of people to reach out to, this can still be a useful metric. But in my weird little technology world, it doesn’t.

This metric goes back to the submittal theory. If I need to call 50 people in a day, it’s 4 pm and I am at 40, take a wild guess what the quality of those last ten people look like? You might as well just call Domino’s ten times. Just like submittals, this metric is rewarding bad behavior. 1. You are leaving a half-assed voicemail for ten people, making yourself and your company look incompetent. 2. Even if they do get back to you, you are probably not even doing them the courtesy of answering/returning their call because they can’t make you a buck that day.

Speaking of $$$…

All About the Benjamins. Staffing firms may have changed their compensation models by now, but it’s been about six years since I was a part of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that many of us grew up and got our feet wet learning a particular way. The compensation model in staffing was this mystery algorithm that no one fully understood, just accepted.

I think my starting salary was somewhere around $30,000 a year. The only way to make commission was to simply place candidates with clients (I ran a full desk but just looking at the recruiting side.) Sounds easy.

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Your salary was designed to basically allow you to eat three meals a day and have a roof over your head. If you wanted anything above that, you needed a commission! Think of all the touch points that a recruiter has throughout a process to get a candidate to their first day of work. Actually placing a candidate and having them start is the only point in which you get rewarded. That particular commission model has basically created greedy and nonempathetic behavior. If at any point someone falls out of the funnel before the goal line, you are forced to move on quickly to the next. It encourages you to view candidates as a commodity and not a human. Please think of it from the recruiter’s side too; it is like the Hunger Games in there. Often, we do what we need to survive.

Hunting vs. Farming. I imagine like many recruiters, when I got into this industry, I had zero idea if I would like it or not (or even what the hell recruiting was). It was a job/paycheck, not a career. I actually got into recruiting by going to a recruiting agency for a sales gig, and they flipped the script on me.

My first three years or so in recruiting was just keeping my head above water and trying to figure all of this out. It was all about the metrics and hitting those numbers. All of the metrics were strictly focused on “hunting” though so again, no reward for “farming.” I was still at a point where I did not fully understand the industry or even if I wanted to stay in it. If someone sent me a referral and they couldn’t make me a dollar right away, that paper resume just got put in some folder, and I was probably never going to look at it again. Yes, before ATS’s it was paper resumes and a filing cabinet that is what you worked with. About 4-5 years ago, all of the dots started to connect, and that is when I realized this is something I wanted to do as a career. Once that clicked, that referral that got sent to me, I took the time to jump on the phone with them to have a chat. Even if they were not right for something I needed at the moment, I would try to provide some value to them. It can be as simple as resume advice, introducing them to someone else in your network, or letting them know about an event that may interest them. This was when the “farming” aspect became more clear, and it is also when I got out of a system that only rewarded “hunting” goals.

Final Thoughts. I love feedback and would love to hear other thoughts but keep in mind; I fully understand that this just a theory and one that came about based on my particular upbringing in the recruiting world.

You can see the similarities above though. The reward system was not designed for candidate experience. It wasn’t even designed to do the right thing. I imagine I am not the only one that learned on this type of model (and hopefully it’s changed some). Many of us are managers, directors, or VP’s now. It’s hard not to take some of that thought process with you that was drilled into your head for years. I mean, look at the differences between baby boomers and millennials. A lot is the product of how you learned something early on.

 

Alan is a recruiter at heart and wanna be tech nerd. Currently, a Client Lead & Sr. Recruiter for Amazon. He’s curious about Talent Acquisition/Operations by nature, and that drives him to think deeper around how we can all improve. Also intrigued by how technology plays such a large role in our everyday lives, he loves learning how we can incorporate tech into recruiting seamlessly. Most importantly, he’s a Starbucks Gold Member and firm believer that iced coffee is the real key to success and happiness. 

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9 Comments on “We’ve Created a Monster – Bad Recruiting

  1. Alan,you started off with the right question: “Why?” We don’t ask it enough and it’s what helps us get to the root cause. You mention a focus on quantity metrics which I would agree with. If all one measures is quantity, success will be short-lived because there is no quality litmus. While one can certainly find success in this business by throwing the most amount of sh** against the wall to see what sticks, there is the collateral damage that we see in crappy candidate experiences, as well as a recruiter who never really learns the art of quality recruiting. There’s where I think the bulk of this root cause lies – “learning” and “quality.” At the beginning of one’s career, quantity is important for building good habits and discipline. But if learning doesn’t take place in conjunction, quality will not be attained. At some point along the way, a sourcer or recruiter needs to learn how to analyze her/his quantity metrics and derive some insights. Where am I spinning my wheels? Where am I finding success? and then ask…. WHY. This simple activity I believe can help solve the “bad recruiting” issue. It needs to be encouraged and championed by TA leaders, however. And that’s a whole other topic of discussion.

  2. Alan, interesting read. I think Amybeth’s comments nail a lot but as a 25 year pro, I wanted to throw out my unsolicited thoughts as well. First, a good place to start understanding current state is to understand history. The majority of 3rd party recruiting firms (even if they don’t know it today) operate under what is called the Morgan Methodology developed by Pete Lefkowitz in the early 90’s. It is the numbers based method you noted above. It has existed for longer in truth, but Pete codified it. It is a pyramidical structure, and at heart an adversarial methodology that is easy to execute with few resources and offers a high return on investment. Is it “right,” “moral,” “nice”? Not for me to say, but that’s what it is and leads us to our next place to look to better understand the industry (third party and corporate) and that’s economics. Since companies that “do what’s best for others” and are profitable and successful are outliers and companies that are profitable by doing what is “best for themselves” are the larger group, then until it no longer profitable to operate in a, let’s call it, low touch or poor candidate experience environment, then it’s not going to change. There is an old adage about not fixing something that isn’t broken, and all though we feel candidate experience is “broken” until it is clearly shown to have a negative impact on share holder value, greater than the cost of repairing it, it will not a priority to fix. Which leads to my next point, facts vs. feelings. I am firmly in the camp that a better candidate experience and adhering to the golden rule will be a net positive, but guess what, I can’t prove it. Do you know why? Currently the majority of the companies that have the highest economic performance and value have dreadful candidate experiences. There can be cases made that it’s purely driven by companies that are high performing attract more candidates, and those candidates will tolerate a broken system to have the chance to work for a high performing company, or maybe the bar has just been set so low for candidate experience that there is only an expectation that you will have a bad experience in the market…I don’t know, but dollars to donuts it’s one of those two.
    Let’s look at an example that you may be able to relate to: Let’s use a fictional company, say a large public ecommerce company that employs roughly half a million people world wide. Let’s call them Rainforest.com. Rainforest operates a large number of distribution centers. These distribution centers employ low skill workers, so low barrier to entry. In order to be cost effective, they open distribution centers, which have a large physical footprint, where they can secure land at good price and where there is enough low skilled workers available to staff their facility and keep up with turnover. The good news is Rainforest pays well. So let’s say prevailing wage for low skilled roles (say fast food, CNA’s, etc) is $12 per hour, well Rainforest pays $16 an hour, and if you stay for a few years you can even get stock! That’s hugely exciting to low skill, low educated employees. a 30% increase is life changing for them. They will do whatever they can to get those jobs. But it’s low skilled work, so if they don’t work out, they are (in theory) replaceable, quickly. So what is the economic incentive for the company to invest in a high touch candidate experience? I get the moral argument, but I’m asking about the economic. Which leads me to my third and final point. If you have not read Mark Huselid’s work on work force differentiation (i know your employer carries the book), I highly recommend it, because it helps put into perspective the economics of where to start in differentiating process’s.
    I know this was a long rant, but this was a smart well written article and I love the thought you are putting into TA, truly, which is why I took the time to craft such a lengthy and rambling comment. Please keep up the good work!

  3. Alan, interesting read. I think Amybeth’s comments nail a lot but as a 25 year pro, I wanted to throw out my unsolicited thoughts as well. First, a good place to start understanding current state is to understand history. The majority of 3rd party recruiting firms (even if they don’t know it today) operate under what is called the Morgan Methodology developed by Pete Lefkowitz in the early 90’s. It is the numbers based method you noted above. It has existed for longer in truth, but Pete codified it. It is a pyramidical structure, and at heart an adversarial methodology that is easy to execute with few resources and offers a high return on investment. Is it “right,” “moral,” “nice”? Not for me to say, but that’s what it is and leads us to our next place to look to better understand the industry (third party and corporate) and that’s economics. Since companies that “do what’s best for others” and are profitable and successful are outliers and companies that are profitable by doing what is “best for themselves” are the larger group, then until it no longer profitable to operate in a, let’s call it, low touch or poor candidate experience environment, then it’s not going to change. There is an old adage about not fixing something that isn’t broken, and all though we feel candidate experience is “broken” until it is clearly shown to have a negative impact on share holder value, greater than the cost of repairing it, it will not a priority to fix. Which leads to my next point, facts vs. feelings. I am firmly in the camp that a better candidate experience and adhering to the golden rule will be a net positive, but guess what, I can’t prove it. Do you know why? Currently the majority of the companies that have the highest economic performance and value have dreadful candidate experiences. There can be cases made that it’s purely driven by companies that are high performing attract more candidates, and those candidates will tolerate a broken system to have the chance to work for a high performing company, or maybe the bar has just been set so low for candidate experience that there is only an expectation that you will have a bad experience in the market…I don’t know, but dollars to donuts it’s one of those two.
    Let’s look at an example that you may be able to relate to: Let’s use a fictional company, say a large public ecommerce company that employs roughly half a million people world wide. Let’s call them Rainforest. Rainforest operates a large number of distribution centers. These distribution centers employ low skill workers, so low barrier to entry. In order to be cost effective, they open distribution centers, which have a large physical footprint, where they can secure land at good price and where there is enough low skilled workers available to staff their facility and keep up with turnover. The good news is Rainforest pays well. So let’s say prevailing wage for low skilled roles (say fast food, CNA’s, etc) is $12 per hour, well Rainforest pays $16 an hour, and if you stay for a few years you can even get stock! That’s hugely exciting to low skill, low educated employees. a 30% increase is life changing for them. They will do whatever they can to get those jobs. But it’s low skilled work, so if they don’t work out, they are (in theory) replaceable, quickly. So what is the economic incentive for the company to invest in a high touch candidate experience? I get the moral argument, but I’m asking about the economic. Which leads me to my third and final point. If you have not read Mark Huselid’s work on work force differentiation (i know your employer carries the book), I highly recommend it, because it helps put into perspective the economics of where to start in differentiating process’s.
    I know this was a long rant, but this was a smart well written article and I love the thought you are putting into TA, truly, which is why I took the time to craft such a lengthy and rambling comment. Please keep up the good work!

  4. Totally agree. The reward system has to include customer quality metrics, for any stakeholder involved (hiring managers and clients). Good one!

  5. Spot on, Alan. Until we move to measuring ourselves on quality of hire vs quantity or speed (TTF metrics make me BONKERS!) we all lose.

  6. Bad recruiting stems from three things. The over emphasis today by all types of recruiting organizations upon the continuing and growing list of actions that they measure/monitor, daily/nearly constant meetings and too many managers which all equals plain old micro-management. It’s stifling and discouraging and a major reason there’s so much turnover and bad recruiting.

  7. Good article and hit the head on the nail on so many accounts. Some say the entire systemic structure is wrong, and therein much truth, but worse is that the industry itself through lack of vision and lack of people wanting to make the change in fact never grown beyond baby stage and into the ranks of big boys structure and business in line with every other corporate and commercial business line. Despite in fact by now not much we don’t know as to how to apply best practice, trading on at least 10 years of data and insight, we are still for the most part messing around with same old same old, in some instances having to question if we live in the year of 1990, 2000 or at best 2005, as year 2018 by the way things done it sure ain’t. Only tech has really evolved and with that we are on the basis of much at fault in the industry coming to a point where tech better, faster, more efficient and in fact offering a superior service than we humans appear capable of. And with that the industry will over time play itself out, and for that there is only one place to direct the blame towards, …..ourselves!

  8. As I read this i think the point Alan is making is that many corporate recruiters grew up in the metrics driven environment of the agency world and that mentality has transferred to the corporate world. What’s interesting is that on the agency side you need metrics, early on to drive results. The only way agencies make money is by making placements. what i see as the issue is large agencies never move off of the metrics driven approach so the best recruiters leave to go to smaller firms where quality matters then the large agencies recruit a new batch of entry level people perpetuating the problem.
    we on the corporate side have a lot of work to do to break recruiters of their bad habits when we bring them in-house where they can focus on quality but also by holding our search firm partners to KPI’s that focus on quality over quantity

  9. You make some good points here Alan and I agree that crazy metrics produce bad behavior. What are some alternatives that you have heard of or seen? How should success be measured? How should newer recruiters be taught so that they know a certain amount of activity/work will lead to a certain amount of success? Really, the basis of recruiting is the same whether you are internal at a company or working for a staffing company. Finding the right person for the right job at the right company that satisfies the needs of both parties. How should TA Leaders/Recruiting Managers/Recruiting Leads teach and measure the success of their sourcers and recruiters? Thank you for the thoughts!

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