The Haunted Man: Lies, Damn Lies and Recruiting.

Charles Dickens“To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.”

Charles Dickens, Master Humphrey’s Clock (Vol. 1), 1840

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….and no I’m not quoting Dickens, I’m just talking about the wretched state of talent acquisition today. Never has one industry been so despised, respected, wretched, admired and cursed all at the same time. Small wonder, really.

Recruitment is an emotional roller-coaster and the highs can make you feel like a god sitting on Mount Olympus, while the lows will throw you into the depths of Hades.

There’s no safe middle ground, no shades of gray. You’re winning or you’re losing, you’re billing or you’re not, you’re either a hunter or you’re dead meat. You’re constantly shifting between polar extremes because the game can change in a hiring manager’s heartbeat, and those extremes will always attract a certain type of person.

Bleak House.

dickens quoteUnfortunately for us, that person normally comes with a host of lies in one hand, and a God complex in the other. Which incidentally, is a God awful combination and should be avoided at all costs.

In the halls of academia, they call this the Dunning-Kruger effect. In recruitment, we call it being a dickhead. It’s the idea that you’re hot shit at what you do and you’ve probably billed in the millions this quarter alone while building a red hot desk and simultaneously helping executive leaders at blue chip clients build their staffing strategies and talent pipelines, to boot. Bollocks.

I hear things like this all the time and while I’m politely smiling and nodding, I’m really rolling my eyes so hard it’s sending me into some kind of seizure on the inside.

It’s not just recruiters who are guilty of this either. Our clients suffer from this and pitch us jobs that any average worker out there would be jealous of. They promise beanbags and Foosball tables, lunch clubs and training, puppies and massages, and all with the ‘autonomy’ (I loathe that word) to innovate.

As you’re taking down the job spec you think you’ve hit upon some kind of recruiting rainbow, complete with a pot of gold at the end, because in their right mind wouldn’t want this role, right?

dickens gameYet as you start to send resumes across and as screening, slating and selection begins, you realize that those beanbags are full of holes, that slaving away all day leaves little time to play Foosball, your millions in billings put you at break even with your outlandish draw, the training consists of a bunch of bullshit PowerPoint presentations, your boss’ dog is the only puppy they allow at the office (and that mean little guy really smells quite foul), the massages only were offered once at the annual Christmas party, and that “culture” has evaporated into productivity metrics, KPIs and call times – the exact sort of stuff that kills innovation.

No one has the time to try untested waters when they’re struggling just to stay afloat.

Suddenly, strip away the shit and you’re left with a “dream job” that’s more or less a nightmare role when it comes to attracting candidates.

The candidates can really suffer from this affliction too, and they spend a lot of time telling you how they built Rome in a day, invented the Internet, taught leadership to Jack Welch, launched and sold a startup and they’re definitely the person for the crap job they’re deigning to interview for.

Either that, or they go to the opposite ends of the spectrum and don’t say much at all, and that’s not good for someone in an interview setting. These tight lips may sink ships, but they also sink candidates, their resumes discarded or ignored along with the rest of your rejects.

Then, as often happens, you realize some months later that your colleague at another recruitment company placed him for a six figure salary because actually, he was shit hot at his job but was just humble, soft spoken or thought you’d take the time to at least Google him before bringing him into process.

This lack of self-promotion and humility, of course, is something no one is completely used to, so in all fairness it can’t easily be recognized as easily as a “guru,” “expert,” “thought leader,” or whatever else it is incompetent people with few skills and a lot of ego call themselves these days.

The Old Curiosity Shop: A Look at Lying Recruiters.

Dickens liesWhile clients and candidates do fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect, however, for some reason, it’s almost always the recruiters themselves who are the poster child of this particular phenomenon.

You’ll find it mostly in big multinational, enterprise kinds of employers where the methods are old, the coffee stale and the mindsets (particularly the executive leaders, who got their jobs by hanging around long enough) somehow even staler.

All you have to do to spot the Dunning-Kruger Effect at work in the workplace is sit on the sidelines with the staffing sales and biz dev guys and you’ll figure out who’s suffering from this affliction almost immediately.

It’s in the way they walk and the tilt of their head. It’s also the absolute oblivion they have to their own incompetence, and because they played the time game, and won, they truly believe they’re the Rain Man of recruitment. Obviously they do not seem to understand that Rain Main had severe autism, which might be another mental malady they share in common with this character.

Pro tip: if you want to find people who are too stupid to realize how stupid they really are, you’ll find them the fastest in the recruiters specializing in Finance and Banking, for some reason.

I don’t know what it is about finance recruiters and bankers coming together, but it’s a terrible mix of ethically challenged, self-aggrandizing shysters and unbridled, unconscionable capitalism that is more or less a codependent relationship that’s about as healthy as acute cirrhosis, but with more booze.

Great Expectations.

Great expectationsNow that all sounds pretty damning, but here’s the thing – it’s not always true about recruiters (there are many wonderful exceptions to this rule), nor does the sweeping stereotype about staffing even need to exist in the first place. We basically all just need to calm our shit down and stop swinging from such intense emotional states because it’s slowly, but surely, turning us into lunatics.

If we continue like this, very soon we’re going to end up blowing up in a ball of flame from all the hot air we’re letting out all the time, and all that will be left is a bunch of recruiters rushing for the exits once billings dry up and the boom times turn even a little lean.

It’s not just going to be the shit recruiters who suffer, either – the stench clings to all of us, as does the stigma. Recessions are a crap time to be a recruiter.

And winter is coming.

Hard Times.

And here’s the thing, and this is the special ingredient we’re missing, we don’t actually need to tell lies to be great at what we do.

Recruiting and talent acquisition will always be necessary. People will always need a job, and take it from someone who hates job hunting, people will always pay other people to do it for them – just as employers will always pony up a fee to let someone else deal with shit storm that is front line recruiting and hiring.

Truth dickensHere’s a way we could cut the lying without a whole lot of effort, systemic change or strategy. Just a thought, but would it be the worst thing in the world if someone – a client or hiring manager, likely – just took the time to do a job spec right, without all the sprinkling of fairy dust and scattered  superlatives that are noxious to read and impossible to believe?

Look, if it’s a decent job, someone qualified will want it – as will tons of people who don’t even come close, but then again, it’s a decent job, and those aren’t easy to come by.

We blame candidates for dishonesty or hyperbole, but how can we blame them for not telling the truth about themselves when we don’t reciprocate the favor from even the first point of contact? You want an honest answer, you’ve got to be honest in the way you’re representing your reqs, too.

Here’s another thought: honest job specs make for quicker screening for both sides. Either they fit or they don’t, but both sides know up front what they’re getting instead of dancing the talent tango for weeks or months before figuring out you’re both not just that into each other, which happens all the time, and is an epic waste for everyone.

dickensMost recruiters justify their bad behavior because a placement, at the end of the day, represents a person for whom they helped find work or a job and therefore, their shadiness and scheming are in fact altruism and “tough love.” Please.

You get paid, don’t have to suffer what happens to a candidate who was mislead or cajoled into a job that’s not at all what was promised, and the second a job seeker stops being placeable then they stop hearing from you, because their utility is spent. That’s not altruism, that’s being an asshole.

Closing a job order or requisition is often the fruition of months of work and effort, and should be commended in most cases, but still, placing someone in a role doesn’t make you an upstanding individual who should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize or anything, so let’s just chill out for a second.

We’ve probably all been guilty of being a dickhead, douchebag or dumbass at one point or another. Even me, and definitely you. I don’t care what you say, it happens to the best of us. Still, it’s our ability to realize we’re being awful or screwing up and making the proper amends that sets us apart. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, as they say.

Self-awareness in recruiting is the absolute key to self-preservation. Either you can address your actions or someone else will for you, and that likely isn’t the resolution any recruiter wants, since it normally means losing a client, candidate or job.

And a little bit more credibility for all of us out here trying to be better than the “recruiter” everyone thinks of when they think of recruitment.

Our Mutual Friend.

dickens funnyThe other difference recruiters can truly make in staying truthful is pretty obvious: honesty really is the best policy. The recruiters and talent consultants I’ve fallen in love with personally, who are the most exceptional professionally (and there have been many) all share one rare trait: they tell the truth, even if it’s an inconvenient one. Most in this industry are.

The best recruiters aren’t afraid of honesty – they embrace it in every facet of their work and their interactions internally, externally and otherwise. These are the good guys, and good thing is, there are a whole lot of them out there already. It’s not impossible to be a recruiter and a decent human being at the same time, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary.

They tell it like it is, they’re straight up with facts and they get right in your face with their honesty. They’re honest enough to know how good they are and what they can and cannot do.  In other words, they’re self-aware.

This should not be the exception to the rule, but then again, the rules of recruiting tend to favor duplicity over transparency. This might make placing candidates and collecting billings easier, but at what cost?

In a post-recession world, we no longer have time for business jargon, buzzwords and bullshit. We’re making way for a new generation of candidates with different sensibilities and a desire for brutal honesty and continuous feedback.

The emerging workforce doesn’t have time for lip service or patience for the corporate games and company politics that used to proliferate in every profession. Nope. Their refusal to do business as usual usually means you’d better change the way you do business if you want to keep doing business at all.

When recruiters call me, I cut off their scripted, specious Shakespearean style soliloquies because honestly, these validations validate that there’s a reason they have to sell their shit job so hard up front.

I just want the facts, because that’s really going to determine next steps for both of us – yet too often, they just keep on telling a fable while I bang my head on my desk before hanging up on them.

Hey, you had your chance to sell me on a job, and instead, you sold me on an ideal of a job that’s so far removed from reality that it’s not even fabrication, it’s fiction (fantasy, at that). Well, reality bites, but not as bad as this crap, I promise.

The Uncommercial Traveler.

humbugI know that as recruiters we’re born to sell. It’s in our blood and we eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it’s a little hard to step away from the sell. But people ultimately want what we have, will always want it, and now they want it in a way that’s best for them.

It’s fine that the job you’re pitching me isn’t the job of my dreams. I know that it’s probably just a stepping stone to a happier place, and that’s okay.

The sales pitch that’s full of self-importance and sprinkled with lies about how many lives you’ve changed or livelihoods you’ve improved, how the job is ‘just like working at Google’ and the millions you’ve billed out this year might be an expedient short term way to fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. And the people are onto recruiters and their lies by now.

It’s time to start giving recruiting a bad name today if there’s going to be a tomorrow. There’s nowhere to go but up from here, and the better we can make our reputation, the better we can do our jobs, the more we’ll bill and the better off we’ll all be. Seems simple enough, I’d think.

Here’s the thing: recruiters, start giving it like it is, not how you think it should be to sell the candidate on saying “yes.” And maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop hearing “no” so much from candidates, clients and colleagues – and that would be a good thing, since one can only handle so much rejection before one realizes the problem isn’t them – it’s you.

Recruiters, you can do better. No lie.

About The Author

salmaSalma El-Wardany, Head of Marketing, Recruitment Entrepreneur cut her teeth in recruitment at a global Plc, working in business development to win new clients and accounts into the company. She gave up corporate life in favour of the startup world, specifically recruitment startups.

Salma spends her days advising recruitment companies on their marketing, digital and branding strategies, and how to make their voice heard in an industry that is already overcrowded and full of voices clamoring to be heard. By night, she writes about many things, mainly all the things in recruitment that vex her.

Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.



  • derdiver

    Damn good read. I think I have found a partner in crime! Can not wait to read more!

  • maureensharib

    Well well well – a provocative spirit. Welcome Salma!

  • Bravo!


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