You’re Not Really A Recruiter.

esteemYeah, I know what you’re thinking: oh, good. Another post bashing recruiters. Because you just can’t get enough of people who don’t do your job talking about how damn bad you are at yours. But the thing is, I’m a recruiter, too – and I’m angry. I take pride in my job, have a passion for this line of work and dedication to being the best possible resource for my clients and candidates.

Those used to be the minimum qualifications for this line of work, but these days, it seems that anyone with a liberal arts degree can simply step out of the college classroom and into recruitment; hell, many people who just need a job, any job, somehow seems to find their way into this profession.

These wide-eyed, naive and clueless rookies think that just because they happen to have a requisition to work on or candidates to source, they’re real recruiters. But the truth of the matter is, recruiting is more than just a job – it’s a way of thinking, and, if you’re doing it right, a way of life.

So, if you’re one of those so-called “recruiters” with no experience but a ton of ego, who has more power trip than actual power and who thinks that this is a pretty easy line of business to be in, listen up. We’ve all been there. But there are a few things I think you should know before you go out there and call yourself a recruiter – it’s a badge of honor, not a business card title, after all.

No One Knows It All

SwagIt’s inevitable that within about six months of taking that first job in recruiting, rookie “recruiters” suddenly become some sort of expert who knows everything there is to know about recruiting. They think that after filling a few jobs, this somehow qualifies them to impart their opinions and expertise to anyone willing to listen.

They forget that just a few months before, they were out there looking (and if they ended up in recruiting, it was probably a pretty frustrating and futile effort) – now, after filling a few openings, they’re qualified to impart that wisdom to candidates and colleagues alike.

In fact, I recently got some spam on LinkedIn (shocker, I know) inviting me to a workshop on how to become a better recruiter. The pricetag was pretty steep: $500.

But I’m always interested in learning new things and hearing new perspectives, and as someone who frequently works with junior recruiters, I’m constantly on the lookout for professional development opportunities that will help their professional path, too.

For training that expensive, I figured that the session leader must be one of those big name, blue chip consultants or an experienced trainer with proven techniques and tactics that have worked well enough over the years to justify the inordinately high price of admission. But I’d never heard of the speaker before.

In fact, this “expert” (according to his LinkedIn profile) had a degree in macrame or some shit like that, and his entire recruiting experience amounted to about six months spent at a small staffing firm, working on low skill, high volume searches. The kind of reqs where having a pulse, a high threshold for pain and little to no professional ambition is pretty much the only pre qualification a job seeker needs. The kind of staffing that places a premium on process and paperwork over actually finding and interacting with people. That doesn’t discount this kind of recruitment, it just means that you’re probably not really getting a whole lot of experience or exposure to the manifold complexities and nuances inherent to this industry.

But six months was apparently enough for this con artist to think that he could somehow charge experienced recruiters five hundred smackers for the privilege of hearing this douche lord impart his infinite wisdom. Give. Me. A. Break.

Dude didn’t even try to hide or hyperbolize his glaring lack of competence on his actual profile prior to starting sending out InMails – like, no recruiter is going to click over and figure out how worthless he really is, and simply shell out cash without doing any due diligence whatsoever. Because, you know, our budgets are so big, and our companies love paying for training so much they’d never question the credentials of the person they’re paying to help them be better at hiring. Idiot.

Like I do with most InMails, I ignored this one, but was left shaking my head and wondering how, in the hell, you can be an expert in recruiting after 6 months – I’m still not completely there yet, and I’ve been at this for almost two decades. He’ll probably become a decent recruiter, given his arrogance and swagger – he just hasn’t earned either after such a short tenure. Anyone who can really learn a job, much less develop expertise, within 6 months is either some sort of autodidactic genius or working on an assembly line.

This isn’t a hard job, if you’re committed and competent; still, every day brings a new surprise or situation that you’ve never encountered but have to figure out on the fly, which gets easier with experience, but in a business where change is really the only constant, to say that you’ve seen it all before and know everything there is to know about recruiting is self-delusional narcissism.

And if there’s one thing that’s going to kill your recruiting career, it’s unjustifiable arrogance. No one wants a recruiter who thinks of themselves, first; no matter how good you are, you’ll always be the least important stakeholder in any search, and you’ll never know the job or the job seeker better than either party. You’re an intermediary, and there’s no place for arrogance or ego when you’re putting candidates and hiring managers first.

There’s No Such Thing As A Recruiting “Guru.”

expertConfidence is important, and lord knows that you need it as a recruiter. After all, you’re juggling requisitions no one in their right mind would think could be filled (at least for the qualifications required at the salary offered), and managing needy candidates, needier clients and making sure no feelings get hurt while jobs get filled. That’s not for the faint of heart, and you have to have at least a little bit of cajones to not get eaten alive out there.

But there’s a difference between being confident and being a douche bag. And you’re most certainly in the latter if you’re that guy whose profile refers to himself as a “Sourcing Ninja,” but can’t even put together a simple Boolean string.

Or you call yourself a “influencer,” even though you can’t seem to get anyone to call you back or accept an offer. Don’t even get me going on “gurus.” You call yourself any of this kind of crap, and you make all of us look like asshats, too. Recruiters are none of these things.

I’m still humbled by people who are better and smarter at sourcing and recruiting than me, and get excited to learn from them and grow as a professional, even after all this time. The people who really live up to these sorts of noxious labels or stupid self-identifiers would never think to refer to themselves as such – saying how great you are at recruiting is a pretty sure sign that, in fact, you probably suck. The best recruiters are too busy recruiting to worry about this sort of personal branding BS.

You Have the Time. You’re Just Not Using It Right.

2015-01-29_10-01-20Every recruiter, at one point, has complained about how busy they are, and how they just don’t have enough time to do basic stuff, like tell candidates they’re not under consideration or write interesting job descriptions. Every recruiting team has that one member who’s constantly stressed, burnt out and never too busy to tell you about how busy they are. My mantra is that you must not be busy enough if you’ve got time to complain about it.

Yeah, it sucks juggling a bunch of reqs or having to work with diva hiring managers and demanding candidates. But this is what recruiters get PAID to do. This is your job, and if you don’t like it, find a new one.

If you’re concerned your workload is too heavy, then you’ve clearly not been in this business long enough to know it’s when that req load become manageable that you really should start worrying. The busier a recruiter is, the safer their job is – so instead of complaining, suck it up and do it, and be glad for the opportunity. Because as bad as it gets, being on the other side of that desk is way worse.

Besides, most of the people who make these kinds of complaints are the same so-called recruiters who never do intake meetings, prefer post and praying to proactive sourcing and use automated e-mails for everything. The kind who would rather talk about the importance of engagement than pick up the damn phone.

This kind of “recruiting” is really just order taking and administrative work, and while it’s important to set up meetings, make sure scheduling is done correctly and review resumes from incoming applicants, this isn’t being too busy. It’s just busywork.

Lazy Recruiters Are the Worst.

I’m proud to have worked with some great recruiters, and even prouder to call some of the best of them friends. These consummate professionals constantly attend to the needs of their clients and offer incredible care and compassion to every candidate they come into contact with. They know that when the customer is happy, and the candidate is satisfied, the rest kind of takes care of itself – and that is how you make money.

Pissing off people won’t get checks signed any faster or make getting an offer accepted any easier. The opposite, in fact, is true. It will just erode your efficacy, and our collective credibility as a profession. Which, sadly, has already happened. Don’t believe me? Here’s what it looks like when you Google the phrase “recruiters are”:


Yeah. Not feeling so lucky now, are you? These results suck because, for the most part, so too do most people in this profession. The public pretty much hates us, and while we love to sing our own praises, the fact is those fall on deaf ears. The graphic above is all the proof you need that when it comes to perception, things must change, or we’re all screwed, even those of us who have some sort of clue what we’re doing.

So, what’s to blame for this shit-on status?

Recruiters Are…Better Than This.

1317941142614_9055305I think there’s really one main reason: looking for a job sucks. It’s stressful and depressing. You send out resumes to a bunch of companies, each application process taking way longer than it should, and dedicate a ton of time and effort into reaching out to employers, knowing that you’re unlikely to have them return the favor.

Hell, even if you score an interview and think you straight out crushed it, you’re still probably not going to get a call back.

Yeah, you took personal time, made sure to research the company and interviewers, spent a little on dry cleaning and gas to get there, and you’ll likely get nothing from that investment – even a courtesy call telling you thanks, but no thanks. You’re out of the process, and you’re also off the radar of the recruiter who earlier seemed so interested and responsive – kind of like getting spurned after a great date and not knowing what you did wrong. Everything was going great, right?

Seriously. Recruiters, have the common decency to pick up the phone and call candidates to tell them that you’re seeing other people. I can’t understand how so many have so little courtesy that they can’t take the minute to make a call that makes all the difference when it comes to candidate experience. You’re not too busy, you’re just being lazy and rude. Period. Suck it up, pick up the phone and be an adult. It’s not that hard. I promise.

I know a lot of you are thinking who the hell I am to call out recruiters like this, but the answer is, I’m a guy who cares more about this profession than what you have to say about how awesome we’re all doing at it. We’re not, which is why I’m imploring all you out there to help me call out crappy recruiters and the sort of shit that has led us to being so universally loathed. Hell, even other recruiters hate recruiters, as this post proves – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Real recruiters deserve respect – but you’re making it harder and harder to keep it every time the “recruiters” in name only are useless, rude or just plain ignorant. If you’re looking for an easy job where you can be delusional about how powerful and awesome you are while doing next to nothing and never talking to real people, than you shouldn’t have to look very far.

Sounds like you’re a perfect fit for HR. And they’re going to love you over there.

Derek ZellerAbout the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliancy. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.

He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.

You can read his thoughts on or or his own site  Derek currently lives in the DC area.



Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. He currently serves as a Technical Recruiting Lead at Comscore.


Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. He currently serves as a Technical Recruiting Lead at Comscore.

  • Steve Levy

    Deez, anyone of us on the RBC could have written your missive and we’d still have more to say on how bad recruiting has become. For those who don’t know any of the RBC “advisors” (really just a codeword for an old, opinionated recruiter that cares too much), we have an email chain that goes around and shares the pearls of shit we receive from other recruiters – albeit self-described experts. Seriously, some of the crap WE receive from Rockstar Recruiters (which as Derek noted, we NEVER refer to ourselves as such lest we dragged into a a game of “80 days of public ridicule”) is enough to make us call the oaf and try figure out WTH they weren’t thinking as they pressed “Send” (BTW, we DO call these miscreant recruiters).

    Some other areas you didn’t cover that separate the pros from the cons are content knowledge, business acumen, ability to speak with C-level employees, ability to actually care about the person being recruited, honesty, etc. Oh, and none of us believe we have some kind of freakin’ ESP abilities just because our friends told us their secrets when we were all 12.

    Then there are the voicemails you leave – you sound STUPID (“Steve, I have an important matter I’d like to discuss with you” Oh? Like how much of a douchebag you are?).

    Don’t get me going on this topic…

    • Steve, your posts are welcome if you’d like to expound on any of this – would love to read. Your rants rock.

      • derdiver

        Please Steve for the love of all that is recruiting post something!!! Maybe we can toss ideas around in New York?

        • Steve Levy

          Derek – I decided that I’m going to lead a track next week at #tru on this topic. Tell Zapar to pass the Fireball.

          • derdiver

            Awesome count me in for participation!

    • Steve Odell

      Love the input. It seems several of us think alike on this. Someone said you could get 1000 hours of recruiting experience in 6 months. If true I have over 90,000 hour experience but I still attended a seminar/training meeting last week.Great recruiters are life long learners.
      There is a certification for recruiters. CPC (certified personnel consultants. It is sanctioned by NAPS (National Assoc of Personnel services). There is a written test on laws and ethics (really). You have to provide documentation of meetings/training/seminars (continuing education) annually to keep your certification. You need 16 hours per yr. You can be certified but still act like an idiot. 8 out of the 10 of us are certified. The other 2 will be this year. It helps.
      There are also associations for recruiters to get continuing education and training. All of the major cities in Texas have local one. The one in Dallas is ESOA (executive search owners association). They bring in speakers and trainers on a regular basis and sometimes a member (highly experienced)

      will share on a specific subject. Continued training will benefit us all.

  • Bukola Stewart

    Amen brother! Preach!! 🙂

    • derdiver

      Bukola!! How have you been man? We need to catch up!!

      • Bukola Stewart

        I’m going to a one of Shally’s recruiter training course’s this year..If your planning on going lets coordinate and catch dude!

        • derdiver

          Let me know when!

        • derdiver

          Yep just let me know!

  • Molly Sterenchuk

    Right. On. This rocks. Thank you.

    • derdiver

      Molly you are welcome and thank you for reading!

  • Who knew DZ was a mind-reader? I’ve lost track of how many convos I’ve had on these exact topics. There’s a never-ending supply of blog content swarming around due to smarmy and scuzzy so-called “recruiting” experts and their obnoxiousness.

    • derdiver

      You are awesome lady!

  • Some hit a nerve with you, huh? Yeah, I get peeved about this stuff too. Truth is that there is no barrier to entry for our profession and there never has been. I was a liberal arts major and fell into it within a few months of getting my Psych degree. I know a ton of great Accounting recruiters who were Accounting majors and started their careers as accountants before they realized how much they actually hated accounting and loved going back to their alma mater to recruit accountants.

    The problem here is that our profession has no academic discipline and no well defined standards. Anybody can be a recruiter and in a vacuum of enough educational opportunities, anyone can claim they are an expert and worthy to train others. I tend to believe Malcolm Gladwell’s view that you need 10,000 hours of experience to claim mastery in anything, whether that be recruiting, basketball, accounting or basket weaving. Not that you can’t be good at any of those things with less than 10K hours of experience, but Gladwell’s research in his book Outliers makes a pretty strong case for the 10K hour theory. That said, someone with 6 months (around 1000 hours of experience, really has no business teaching anyone else how to be a recruiter. Their learning curve is clearly still on the upswing, and lets face it, most of us are still learning today.

    Reminds me of an old joke that a kid graduates HS thinking they know everything, they get their Bachelors degree and realize that they probably DONT know everything, the get their Masters and know that their’s still a lot more to learn, and they get their PhD and realize that they know absolutely NOTHING! Point being, one of the things that makes anyone great at what they do and expresses their passion for what they do is that they are a continuous, lifelong learner. At some point, we probably do learn enough to teach others, it took me a while (about 6 years before I started training managers how to interview, much longer than that to teach recruiters how to source and be talent advisors).

    I do believe that passion is key too. Those that have stuck with this as long as you, Levy and I have truly have a passion for this, a love affair, otherwise we would of gotten out long ago. Someone just 6 months in to the profession is still dating, it’s probably just lust. 🙂 Passion is a key to success in just about any profession, it’s why we get up and do what we do and share what we share.

    Ryan Adams said in an interview recently that his live changed when he realized that it wasn’t about it being a burden to get up and do interviews and record a song and do a show, it was that he was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do those things. Those of us who teach and share do so because we are fortunate enough to have learned enough through experience and from others to have the opportunity to share our knowledge. Expertise & Passion: Derek my friend, you do not lack for either 🙂

    • derdiver

      Well said Ben. When I became a SCUBA divining instructor you had to go through a series of classes and prove the number of dives you had done to take the instructor class. Then you paid a yearly fee and go to update at least once a year to maintain that license. I don’s see why we can start that for our profession.

  • So now that we’ve ranted (feels good, right?), how does this group – all of whom I consider experts and look up to – change the course of things? How do we build up our profession instead of standing back, throwing rocks, and saying things like “back in my day, I’d take you young whipper-snappers behind the wood shed?” “You don’t deserve to carry my shoulder pads, son!” Feels good to say, but what does it change? We should be a force for good in the world and our profession. Just a thought.

    • jacobstenmadsen

      We make sure that recruitment is n o t a profession where any Tom Dick and Harry can enter without a n y qualification, that there need to be some standards applied and that clients have some kind of certainty that whoever they deal with has a background consisting of training and qualifications and code of conduct. I am not necessarily for regulation and legislation but it appear that the industry itself, whether in the US or elsewhere cannot manage to put some sort of self regulation and code of conduct in place, sad but how it seems to be.

    • Steve Levy

      Bo, believe it or not, when I receive “those phone calls” or “emails/InMails” – several times weekly – I will call back or reply back with a soupcon of snark but with a goal of teaching. Remarkable how most will come clean and say that they never received enough (or any) training, didn’t know about sites like RBC, and frankly had no idea what relationship recruiting meant. Or research. Or that LinkedIn isn’t social. I’ve even met some for coffee.

      Of course there are folks who don’t care (real douchebags – the kinds of folks that get tossed from Meetups or out and out lie) but I’ve found that many were thankful for the “intervention.”

      We can write articles like this – hey, venting does help – but I decided that I can only help the profession one person at a time.

      • Oh, I believe it. And sure, we can write these articles. But sometimes it feels like I read 20+ or more of these to the lonely one that tries to address some of these problems constructively. Maybe I’m hanging with the wrong crowd. 😉

    • derdiver

      Bo, take a look at what I wrote in response to Ben up top. I am traveling to NYC next week to attend and present at #unconference and meeting with some folks about this subject. I will be in touch with you later

  • jacobstenmadsen

    Nothing better when someone says it as it is and then add a little spice in the form of serving it with sarcasm and humour. Sad fact is that never has the need for good solid recruitment been bigger, for the sake of survival and sustainability, never have companies and organisations needed more to be served by true exerts, people who know their stuff and are the true partners and advisors and what is inherent in the word ‘consultant’ being what recruiters agency side mostly term themselves. On the other hand and why such paradox rarely has it been so bad and as if nothing has been learnt from the last 6 years, in some cases more regression than progression. That is a shame and will only be to the detriment of those on the receiving end the companies. The solutions as we all know is not that really hard to find and implement, but sadly we live in the times and world of ‘wilful ignorance’

  • gerrycrispin

    4 decades in. Still a student. Solutions are possible just lots of work establishing recruiting as a real profession…which, by the way, has no professional association. Declaring it is not an option when price of entry is non-existent. Maybe space is ready for establishing and getting agreement on minimal standards on the issues you describe. See you all in NY next week.

    • derdiver

      As you have stated and what I wrote in response to Ben. Gerry I look forward to seeing you in NYC.

  • Suzie Grieco

    I think you just made the case for creating some type of recruiting standards or certification process! I volunteer to help!

    • derdiver

      I agree and yes you are in!

  • Dan Nuroo

    Dude… loving your work… and your passion. Sooooo much advice from people who have not played the game. However, please don’t make them stop the BS… it’s entertaining if nothing else 🙂

    • derdiver

      Thanks Dan!

  • Chris M

    Thank you for speaking what’s on everyone’s mind. It’s really refreshing to hear the perspective of someone who’s been in the industry for 2 decades, saying that they’re still learning new things day in day out. A decade in, I feel the same way each day and am constantly striving to better myself. That’s what I love about recruiting, to be as good as I can be, and for my candidates and hiring managers to get the quality service they deserve. Everyone knows that recruiters have a bad rep, and that there are millions of terrible ‘recruiters’ out there slinging mud on our name. I see this as an opportunity to really stand out in the profession, and do things the right way, even in the face of adversity.

    • derdiver

      That is awesome Chris and thanks for reading!

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  • Marie-Clara Thaureux

    Derek, a good article, honest and to the point! As many have pointed out there is a call for Recruiting Standards (some thing much better than the current ”pay for a membership, adhere to our ethics but we will rarely if ever check up on or regulate the industry”. A point of frustration this is for any recruiter that genuinely cares about their chosen profession. It really ticks me off when CV matching is referred to as genuine recruiting. It’s not how I was taught but then I was one of the lucky ones and had several good mentors and I’m still learning! Every Day! Thank you for this.

    • derdiver

      Marie-Clara, thanks for reading and posting. I agree with you and I think we are now not only ready for the conversation but actually doing it. Stay tuned.

  • DesertTech

    First, I am not a recruiter. I do not play one on TV either. I have been “recruited” though hundreds of times in the last 15 years, all unsuccessfully.

    As technologies have changed since the early 90’s, so has how one gets hired into a company. Recruiters are a necessary evil IMO. Unfortunately, based on some of the comments below, it appears there is no official body or governance for recruiters or guidelines on who can become a recruiter. Perhaps, as my experience has shown me, there is no code of ethics, either.

    Certainly I have come across excellent recruiters over the years and my not getting a job that I was presented for had everything to do with me not being the right fit (for whatever reason).

    But more often than not, I have come across the bad recruiters. So here are just a couple of things that I see need attention.

    American based businesses that are in the business to recruit talent in America should not be allowed to off-shore their recruiters AND allow them to present themselves with American names. Nothing pisses off this American more, than to call back John Smith at his Chicago based number and hear the “satellite” connection when “insert foreign name here” answers. In other words, I want to speak to someone who has a command for the English language and who is truthful with what their name is.

    Recruiters need to better understand what their customer is looking for in a candidate AND spend more than 30 seconds browsing a potential resume. Software alone looking for keywords is very impersonal. Meaning, don’t call me for a job requiring Visual Basic when my resume says I am a plumber. I can’t tell you how many times I have been contacted for jobs I was not qualified for. Wastes my time and means that the recruiter did little to understand what my needs are.

    Therefore, recruiters should have a fiduciary obligation to both their client and the person they are recruiting, to some extent, much like a REALTOR does. To that point, at the very least, communicate with the candidates.

  • Jo Weech

    So, I do not feel qualified to even comment among the stellar professionals who have responded to this article. I respect so many of you for the seasoned expertise that you individually possess, and collectively, my, oh, my! So, Derek, well said. I think that the concept of accreditation and certification for our industry will be a great start to legitimizing and validating professionalism in our ranks. Since there are currently no degrees in Recruiting (BS in Recruiting, anyone?) a college degree should not be requisite. But I would love to follow and support any grassroots efforts to give certification some momentum.

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  • SomeoneStopMe

    Now I have to change all my social media blurbs…
    Seriously, a point of view that I have espoused for years. I’m blind sending it to a few corporate VPs for a company who thinks failed salespeople make good recruiters and an automated third party screening system makes better hires than warm blooded recruiters. Or are those two methods not mutually exclusive…

    • derdiver


  • Megan

    Fantastic post! It frustrates me to no end when I hear of people who are looking for jobs and have really bad experiences with recruiters and then never hear back! Thanks for the awesome post!

    • derdiver

      There is more to come!

  • @technorecruiter

    That was fun Derek…

  • TonyMountain

    I’m a fan of anyone who works the term “douche lord” into a blog, so well done. My personal pet peeve is a “recruiter” who calls him/herself a “Talent Management Specialist” or some BS like that. Oh aren’t you so cool.

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  • Mitch Sullivan

    Everybody is rubbish at recruiting sometimes.

    The job is too difficult and unpredictable and full of too many irrationalities to not make an occasional fool out of even the most skilled practitioners.

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