Top Recruiter: Reality Bites.

Candidate experience, Top Recruiter Style

Candidate experience, Top Recruiter Style

Well, my friends – I suppose it was inevitable. After all, for years we’ve been hearing recruiters use stupid superlatives and specious self-descriptors like “rock star,” “ninja” or (gag) “guru.” And oddly enough, not ironically, either.

Now, we can finally add “reality TV star” to that little list as well (if, of course, you use a really liberal definition of the words TV and star, that is).

Top Recruiter is here, and well…it’s here.

Is Recruiting Ready For Prime Time?

If you’re not familiar with Top Recruiter, it’s a recruiting based reality show. No, I’m not making that up, swear to God. It’s real. And it’s in its third season, so it’s got some sort of staying power – although I’m not even going to pretend I really understand why, exactly, this show is currently airing its third season. Not only that, but the producers have even more projects in the production pipeline. While the entire high concept is confusing, one thing is clear: Top Recruiter is no flash in the pan.

What’s more, it’s not the internet equivalent of Wayne’s World, some bad lighting and crappy cameras shooting a couple dudes in a basement. Oh, no – it’s a lavish enough production to make Cecil B. DeMille blush a little. Producer Chris Lavoie has clearly done everything he can to make the show look like it’s literally ready for prime time (even if those production values sometimes feel a little over-the-top).

The basic premise is this: a bunch of recruiters get pitted against one another in competition to decide who is worthy of earning the Top Recruiter title, a battle royale that features contestants from both the agency and corporate recruiting sides of the house vying for this apparently coveted crown.

Watching this show as a recruiter over the last few seasons, I’ve had quite a few moments where I’ve watched my professional colleagues on there and wondered to myself, what the hell, exactly, was going on. I mean, even though I know a thing or two about recruiting, much of this left me a little baffled and unable to relate to my recruiting counterparts taking part in the competition. Usually, the first thought on my mind watching Top Recruiter is why these people have the time to drink a mimosa at 10 am, or lounging around some beach house in bikinis but don’t have time to do stuff like, you know, read resumes, call candidates, or make hires. That stuff, stupidly, I had previously assumed was how ‘top recruiters’ probably spent their time, but hey, mojitos in Miami look way more fun than real recruiting.

Of course, that critical sense of cynicism quickly fades away when you watch and accept Top Recruiter as an entertainment product – which is, at its heart, what the production is really all about. How entertaining it in fact is, I’ll leave it to you to decide. But if you don’t watch it in that context, you’re probably going to drive yourself a little crazy, as a caveat.

Top Recruiter: Power in Numbers?

MjAxMy02ZmMwNDY5Y2NlOGI0NzA5Top Recruiter has a handful of extremely vocal proponents who dismiss any criticism or critique levied against the production by pointing to its popularity, the purported millions of viewers who just can’t get enough of this content. This is where it all becomes a little bit murky. In fact, according to various reports, including this season’s media kit used to sell potential sponsors on the series, the show’s first two seasons captured 4.5 MILLION viewers. Which, to give you a sense of what that number means objectively, translates into as many people watching Top Recruiter as your average NBC series.

Say what you will about the programming over at the Peacock, that claim is pretty staggering for a show about RECRUITING, of all things. Hell, it’s an impressive number by Nielsen standards – most basic cable properties would kill for those kind of ratings. It’s what all those fancy big data nerds call a metric f*ck ton, frankly. The validity of these metrics have been called into question, as has the credibility of the show – on multiple occasions, at that. The show’s polarizing effect has caused both supporters and detractors to be guilty of hurling some moderately vitriolic words at each other. But then again, isn’t everyone tougher when they get to hide behind an online identity or anonymized avatar?

Looking objectively at Top Recruiter, where I think things seem to break down is that there’s a disconnect between the viewer data proponents are so quick to point out as evidence of its popularity and the seeming sentiment from recruiting professionals and what you hear/read about it around the industry.

I mean, come on. If it’s this popular, with that many viewers (so many, in fact, that they’d rank among the more popular properties on YouTube, period), than you’d think this would be pretty much a perpetual trending topic. You’d think that there’d be a ton of people talking about Top Recruiter on Facebook recruiting groups, industry blogs and the other online platforms that our industry utilizes to network and talk shop? Sure, there have been a few isolated discussions, but it doesn’t seem to be driving the conversation or content you’d expect in a self-described “Movement.”

Now, I’m no SEO whiz or online marketing geek, so I can’t independently validate whether or not the number of views accurately reflect the organic audience and viral reach the producers claim, or whether those views were paid for, as some others assert. Nor do I really give one single shit. I don’t really decide to watch anything based on how many other people happened to have seen it before me. If the views were paid for, as alleged, than that’s a pretty piss poor waste of money. People sniff that crap out from a mile away, and that deceptive duplicity is exactly the kind of thing that can irrevocably harm any brand.

Side note: Can we please call an armistice in the ‘War for Hashtags’ already? I think just a few less hashtags perpetually promoted in every single shot or social media update wouldn’t be a terrible thing, really. I’m looking at you, #themovement #norules #feartheking. C’mon, guys. There’s using technology and social in a relevant, responsible way – and then there’s this crap. This total nonsense isn’t only off putting overkill, but completely disruptive of the viewer experience. Sorry for the aside, but that one’s been pissing me off in particular.

Top Recruiter: Reality Bites.

youre-notMy primary problem and principle struggle with Top Recruiter is I’m not sure how any of this is relevant to everyday recruiters like me, my coworkers and colleagues. Like, at all. Now, I really think the show has the honest intent to shine a much deserved spotlight on recruiting as a noble profession and as an art unto itself. And anything that helps promote and advance recruiting, I’m 100% behind.

But when it comes to Top Recruiter, it’s got a long way to go before it qualifies as “must see TV.” Most of what happens is only tangentially tied to recruiting, focusing more on the conniving bickering and showmanship than the actual recruiting element that’s supposedly at the core of the competition.

Why? Because this “reality show” is anything but, and the lack of REAL recruiting on the show is really glaring. That’s not to say that the contestants featured on the show aren’t damned good talent pros or world class at what they do, and based on the show alone, I’m not qualified to make that assessment – any more qualified than the producers, judges and online voters deciding which of them is truly the Top Recruiter. All I can say is, that while this show has style, it has absolutely no substance.


Don’t believe me? Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about:

Top Recruiter producers invited sponsors, “VIPs” and cast members to a season kickoff party, an elaborate gala that was somewhere between staffing event and sweeps week (and one in which most attendees were expected to shell out big bucks for the privilege of getting some screen time).

I didn’t get the point of this event at first – it looked like they were basically filming a generic recruiter networking event or tweet up, and doing some on-camera interviews and capturing cameos of various attendees. Then, the soiree was speedily sidetracked to some non-sequitur conversation about assessing who has the “upper hand” so far. No matter that there is absolutely no explanation or context for this seismic shift in conversation.

Spoiler alert: it turns out that the first competition was, in fact, designed to judge their efficacy at networking at the event itself, and the impression each attendee made on other people, chiefly Alex King, the final judge, shot caller and ultimate arbiter behind choosing the winner. Where this all jumped the shark for me? That proverbial wrong turn at Albuquerque for me came when praise and platitudes were heaped on the contestant who claimed their success could be attributed to researching the attendees in advance.

WTF? A few weeks later, I’m still trying to figure out what was so novel there that it was worth gushing about. There seemed to be a subtextual insinuation that this due diligence was, in fact, a generational thing. That somehow, it takes the wit, cunning and tech savvy of Gen Y to know that the best thing to do before meeting someone is to look them up.

Which, apparently, is worth a ton of props on Top Recruiter, although I basically think that it’s one of the first lessons you learn in Networking 101. I mean, come on – if I research people prior to meeting them, even if I’m not Gen Y, I get bonus points (or, I guess, a trophy)? That’s just basic business, and has nothing to do with generations and everything to do with professional courtesy and common sense.

Why People Hate Recruiters: The TV Show

recruiter1The aftermath of this black tie gala was when it transformed into an ongoing confrontation about the kinds of things that will get you guaranteed placements or beaucoup bucks from placement fees, like who has the most LinkedIn recommendations or Twitter followers.

I’m not sure exactly how this is in any way indicative of how good a recruiter you really are, but again, reality has no part in reality programming. And some of the catty behavior and bitch fighting are probably at least partially influenced by the omnipresent cameras and slick postproduction.

But I really can’t see how this puts our already shaky professional brand and industry reputation in a better light or advances us in any way. This is the show’s purported purpose, and unfortunately, where Top Recruiter most widely misses the mark.

It veers way off the recruiting road and down the reality show path, subsequently confirming many of the stereotypes out there about recruiters – like we’re stupid, greedy or lazy. In fact, if this was anything like what we were really like, all those haters out there would have a pretty valid reason for their antipathy.

So, assuming the 4.4 million viewers the show claims is, in fact, the real number, one could probably safely assume that a significant portion of that audience comes from recruiting and staffing practitioners or industry professionals. If that’s actually the target audience, then where is the actual recruiting content? More importantly, where’s the uproar for the show missing the epicenter of the issues and challenges confronting the recruiting profession? I mean, networking competitions and job fair advice don’t exactly rank high on any recruiter’s list, really.

Instead, what’s on the screen comes across as shallow, scripted and superficial. Which is too bad, since there’s so much real drama in recruiting you don’t have to force it – there’s the tension inherent to offer negotiation, for instance, or the manhunt for the missing candidates who suddenly go silent just when they’re supposed to be scheduled for in-person interviews? Where are the emotions from a candidate accepting a new job that improves their career trajectory or quality of life, or the cutthroat competition among sourcers on the hunt for those elusive “purple squirrels?”

Those are things recruiters deal with daily, and all have enough drama (or maybe too much) already without having to go manufacture some more.

Should Top Recruiter Get Renewed?

Fonz-croppedDespite some of these concerns, Top Recruiter has potential. If they can move away from commoditizing crap like “making recruiting rockstars” and focus on the core of the profession and its most critical challenges, there’s a real market for it – particularly if the premise can simultaneously demystify the many myths and misperceptions surrounding recruiters by the candidates and clients we work with every day.

If the format was right, and the content was right on, it could really be a reality show worth watching. But in its current “The Real World” meets “Survivor” format, chances are that it’s going to continue missing the mark, and the target audience for this kind of content. It will, at best, be forgotten, and at worst, a punchline amongst recruiting practitioners and pundits alike – that is, if they’re the exception who actually knows what this show is in the first place.

Most don’t, and most don’t care. Nor do they have a reason to.

I really, really want to like Top Recruiter. I think that there’s a need – and an opportunity – for this kind of content, and there’s some merit to having a property that properly addresses our industry. Top Recruiter nails one thing – recruiting is, indeed, ripe for disruption. The entire industry is in desperate need of a makeover, a shakeup of the status quo and a disruption of the way business gets done, if we’re going to do it better. We need things like a better leadership and mentoring model, meaningful professional credentials or defined career paths. We need to focus on becoming advocates for candidates, and improving their experience – not to mention that of our hiring managers and ourselves during any given search.

To do this, we need to find the real Top Recruiters out there, the ones that are too busy placing candidates, counseling clients and coaching colleagues to take the time to even watch an episode of this show, much less take a sun and sand filled sabbatical so they can get their fifteen minutes of ‘fame’ (or infamy).

We need to look for recruiters who can influence clients and company strategy, interface with the C-Suite and get cross-functional buy-in, who can make the business better by helping employers hire more effectively and efficiently, and leave a legacy of improved candidate experience and helping the job search to somehow suck less. The people who master the basics and ignore the shiny new object for the stuff that works – even if there aren’t any rewards or public recognition, these real are the real Top Recruiter title holders, reality show be damned. That’s the disruption we need.

That’s my hope for Top Recruiter going forward – less glam, more guts, less reality TV, more real recruiting. Now that, my friends, would finally be a recruiting reality show worth watching.

radloff-300x300About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.

With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.

An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.

Follow Pete on Twitter @PJRadloff or connect with him on LinkedIn, or at his blog, RecruitingIn3D




  • Would’ve been here sooner, but I was on Bourbon Street having a mimosa at 10:00 AM.

    I don’t think any of the detractors think a television program can ever adequately represent the recruiting function, nor would anyone watch a webseries about trying to find the last Ektron architect who’s willing to relocate. I think the gripe is primarily about portraying our profession in a way that makes it so easy to despise.

  • jacobstenmadsen

    Credit to you Pete for writing a very well argued and balanced article that is not just a rant and knives out criticism, but an attempt to provide all the nuances and perspectives the world of recruitment hold. Some claim Lavoie having a higher goal with this than just obtaining viewer figures and ratings, however the subject of hardly seeing a n y buzz or talk, discussion debate on a n y of the usual channels mean that one is hard pushed to see this being any more than a TV show made for entertainment.

    • Pete Radloff

      Thanks Jacob. I appreciate you reading it. That’s exactly what I was hoping for. As I said, while I think this endeavor is well off track, I think they could have some value in future projects, with likely a different format.

  • jacobstenmadsen

    Now what w o u l d be of real interest and given the very balanced perspective by you Pete would be if Lavoie himself or any of the contestants current or past would read this and comment. Given that they are totally absent from most recruitment discussion channels I suppose that will remain a pipe dream, and t h a t is exactly where this does not manage to be credible, to add value and be relevant with the real world!

    • Pete Radloff

      Well, to be fair, it was posted in a few Facebook groups from what I understand. I did have one of the contestants reach out last night, and she was generally positive about the review of it. I agree though, they should all be coming to RD to read it 🙂

  • Wow! I saw a pilot for a headhunter show a few years ago, but I had no idea that this was even in existence, and I don’t exactly live under a rock. Nice to know that 4.5 million people somehow get to watch the show I never heard about that I would definitely have watched, had I ever heard about it.

    I went to junior and senior highschool with a VP of NBC, and am in frequent touch with her friend, but no one ever told me about this show, which purportedly has as many viewers as an NBC series… and I probably could venture that I’ve suggested show ideas before, and this was definitely the kind of thing I would have suggested, since I am a headhunter.

    All of which leads me to believe that people have intentionally been keeping this show secret from me, while everyone else is watching it. My ‘reality show’ at the office today consisted of complaining about how the email hasn’t been working for the past five days, and I think someone else is beginning to notice. Talk about drama!

  • Chris Lavoie is a very talented filmmaker and his production values (as related to just that — the production) are top notch. I know many recruiters, and have yet to actually see one step out of a stretch limo – or helicopter – while on-the-job. Last year, one of the “Top Recruiters” was running around the expo hall at HR Tech wearing aviator sun glasses, having an out-of-body experience. As someone who has directed and produced marketing and documentaries for 30 years I can tell you there is very little that’s “real” about reality TV. Including Top Recruiter

  • DL

    No reality here, only staged drama wrapped in high end production value. Hollow. Empty. Hard to see how this serves our profession or the needs of our clients and candidates.

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