askhole-757966It’s inevitable, when you’re a recruiter in general, but one who happens to write about recruiting in particular, that you’re going to get hammered with a ton of asks for advice covering a myriad of topics ranging from the most mundane to the unusually esoteric (and everything in between).

This is why I’m consigned to getting solicited for my opinion by manifold parties, all wanting me to impart some sort of sage advice or pat answer when I’m pretty sure no such thing exists, at least from my experience in this business.

I wish I could impart knowledge, and try to do so where I can – and if I can’t, at least try to imbue the situation with a little humor as I write off extraneous or ridiculous requests.

Sorry, I can’t tell you how to get your resume looked at by a recruiter I don’t know at a company I know nothing about – although I can tell you how to bat at least a little better than average, there’s no silver bullet for sourcing for candidates or searching for jobs.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…


1353109954342_5178018Hell, most of us are really just faking it, which is why I think it’s so funny how seriously everyone in this industry seems to take themselves recently.

It’s like we forgot to be recruiters and all tried to become “influencers” or “thought leaders” all at once, and I’m pretty sure based on a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, none of it’s really relevant for those of us just starting out on the often wild, sometimes wonderful and always weird world of being a professional in recruiting.

These are the people who need relevant career-related content the most, but instead are being served up a steady stream of buzzwords, BS and specious advice that somehow manages to be simultaneously too complex and too simple to actually be actionable (or attainable) outside this online echo chamber of recruiting related content – although when your goal is impressing people instead of helping them, being simple and straightforward doesn’t make much sense, I guess.

That said, I’m not trying to impress anyone, really. I am not some self-described expert; I’m no guru or ninja or even your garden variety influencer. I don’t think of myself as a thought leader, or even a blogger, really – just a guy who’s been doing this for long enough to know better.

Just don’t ask me how, exactly, I know any of the following to be true. They just somehow work, is all.

25 Life Lessons Learned During My Life In Recruiting

Pick_efa741_23243001. Pick Up the Phone and Call Candidates. If they don’t answer, leave them a voicemail AND shoot them an e-mail letting them know you’re trying to get in touch. If you can’t commit to both, do neither, since the only results happen when these tactics happen in tandem.

2. Pick up the Phone and let candidates know where they’re at in the process throughout every step of the way, and do so with as much feedback as possible as quickly as possible so they never have to guess or wonder where, exactly, they are in the hiring cycle.

3. Pick up the Phone (sensing a recurring theme here?) and call candidates who interviewed but weren’t selected to personally inform them they didn’t get the position. Don’t only call with offers – call those silver medalists, too. After all, they took just as much time as the successful candidate by finishing as a finalist in your selection process. Even if the results aren’t what they were hoping for, you owe it to them to at least give them the news and a quick thank you, too.

4. Candidates Lie. It’s a part of life. Just make sure you document everything and can directly catch anyone in a contradiction that a lesser recruiter might have missed while screening, selecting and referencing potential new hires. Words are weapons when you’re fighting against the hyperbole and hype that so often occur during the recruiting process – and using them as such can help prevent bad hires from happening to good recruiters.

5. Recruiters Lie: You’re going to have to stretch the truth at some point in your career – yes, that offer’s more or less at market or not revealing a position is open because the incumbent happened to have a nervous breakdown at the office. Just don’t make a habit out of it, and never lie directly – omitting certain details is OK, but come clean if confronted. Honesty is the best policy, you know. In recruiting and in life.

Communication-Cartoon-Dolighan6. Communication is Everything. We’re only as effective as the way we communicate with our clients, candidates, colleagues, counterparts or anyone else we touch during the course of our professional lives (and personal ones, for that matter).  If you can’t communicate, you can’t recruit. It’s really that simple.

7. Deliver on Your Promises. No matter what you’ve promised a hiring manager, candidate or anyone else, for that matter, if you say you’re going to do something, do it – and do it to the best of your abilities and with the results you gave your word that you’d deliver – or a thorough, truthful explanation if these efforts fail to meet expectations.

Failing to succeed is one thing, but failing to live up to your word is something no recruiters’ reputation can ever hope to survive.

8. Hold people accountable for their actions. This includes you, but just because you’re the recruiter doesn’t mean you should shoulder the blame as part of business as usual. When you’re wrong, own it. When others are, let them bear responsibility. But when either of you are right, be as forthcoming with praise as you are with criticism. And when someone compliments you as a recruiter, don’t deflect praise – accept it, but don’t take it to heart too much. You can always do better.

9. Enjoy Your Side of the Desk. You might have a terrible hiring manager or a hellish req, but truth is, you’re one of the lucky ones. Every morning, try taking 5 minutes before you start trying to fill jobs to remember what it was like back when you were a job seeker and take a moment to experience what you experienced as a candidate. Remember how bad it sucked, and that you have the power to make it suck a little less for the people you’ll deal with during that day. A little empathy goes a long ways.

10. Don’t Drink the Water in Mexico. Hey, while I’m giving out important information, I’d be remiss to miss this one. Trust me, no bueno. No bueno at all…

67612-Be-Proud-But-Never-Satisfied11. Never Be Satisfied: Nothing will cripple your career or kill your recruiting results faster than hubris. Be humble, and never rest on what you’ve done instead of what you’re capable of doing. Remember you cannot succeed without others, but we almost always fail by ourselves.

13. Don’t Be A Dick. The experience you provide to both customers and candidates matters – and while we can make this simple concept really complicated, just don’t be a dick, do the right thing as a recruiter and try to stick by the Golden Rule, and you’ll not only be OK – you’ll be appreciated for providing a great experience. All experiences, good or bad, resonate with repercussions with far wider than you’ll probably ever realize. Make sure you get karma working for you on this one.

14. Always Answer A Phone Call From Mom. You’re never too busy to make time for the people who really matter. Don’t put personal calls off to the sidelines – savor them and appreciate the fact that someone cares about you beyond simply the fact you might be able to get them a job. Never rush a call from Mom, and if you need more time, make the time you need to make it happen. Because you’ll never know when your time might be up.

15. Think Twice Before Pressing Send. We all get pissed once in a while. And we all are entitled to the occasional angry e-mail that can be cathartic to say what’s on your mind so it doesn’t stay stuck in your head. But never, ever press send without first taking a few minutes and asking if it solves the problem you’re trying to address – and if it doesn’t, delete it. Spoiler alert: sending an angry e-mail never, ever fixes problems – it just creates them. Trust me.

16. Shut up and Listen: Stop talking. I know this is hard if you’re a recruiter, but it’s also really important. You’ll not only do a better job hearing what people say and how they say it, but figuring out what they really mean, too. You’ll be amazed at what you learn when you take the time to really listen.

17. Always Know What You’re Recruiting For: If you don’t know what the job does or what the business needs, you’re doing everyone a disservice. Make sure you stay up to date with the industry and the trends, topics and technology that matters to the bigger business – you’ll make better informed placements when you’re better informed. Period.

18. E-Mail Signatures Don’t Have To Suck: Seriously, if you’ve got to have one, at least add something fun or interesting, like a quote, to that often ignored (but prime) real estate underneath your name and contact info. Believe it or not, people notice these things. I added “the cure for anything is salt water, sweat, tears or the sea” to my signature, and it’s been the best conversation starter I could ever ask for because it’s the one thing everyone asks about. If you want to stand out, be unique. Seems obvious, right?

19. Recruiting Never Rests. Always be sourcing candidates and recruiting talent, even if you’re not at work. No recruiter should ever go out without at least a couple of business cards. Time spent to yourself in public is time wasted – don’t be afraid to talk to strangers on the train or the bus, at the bar, at the museum or anywhere else you happen to cross paths with new people. If you’re genuinely interested in hearing about what people do, you’ll at least learn something just by listening.

209835_34020. Read Books And Blogs. Stay informed about what’s going on in recruiting – and just as importantly, in the rest of that great big world out there that doesn’t give two shits about staffing. There’s knowledge to be had in both business related blogs and books by great authors like Bukowski or Whitman.

Great writing feeds your soul and fuels your mind.

Here’s a taste of what I’m talking about:

“I met a genius on the train


about 6 years old

he sat beside me

and as the train

ran down along the coast

we came to the ocean

and then he looked at me

and said,

it’s not pretty.


it was the first time I’d



-Charles Bukowski

Or this one:

“That you are here-that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”  –Walt Whitman

Every day, we’re all writing our own stories, and if you don’t know what your verse is, it’s up to you to find your voice. But know that once you do, everything you say can and will be held against you by your clients and candidates – as well as everyone else in the industry. Which is pretty awesome, actually.

21. Practice Random Acts of Kindness: Do someone a favor sometime just because. Pay it forward, and expect nothing back in return. That’s not the point – the point is someone probably could use the love, and the supply is pretty much infinite. Send a little someone’s way once in a while.

22. You’re On the Same Team. You don’t work for your hiring managers. Your hiring managers don’t work for you. If you don’t work together, than it just won’t work out.

23. Never Take Yourself Seriously. No one else does, you know.

tumblr_m9epcaonde1qaobbko1_500_thumb[2]24. Be You. Don’t feel the need to be anyone but yourself – even if you’re a total weirdo, it’s better to come across a little odd than a little fake, particularly when you’re already dealing with the perception issues facing our profession. You’re the ultimate arbiter of your happiness, and you can’t be happy when you’re worried about how other people think of you.

The only perception that matters is your own. And you’ve got to own you, no matter who you are.

Never compare yourself to others, though – you have no idea what the journey along that personal path looked like or the struggles that they had to deal with along the way. It’s easy to judge where someone’s at, but thing is, that’s almost never the destination, and the ends don’t matter. It’s the means that mean everything in shaping who we really are.

25. Don’t Get In This For The Money: There are dozens of perfectly valid reasons for wanting to get into recruiting. Money, however, isn’t one of them. If that’s why you’re in this business, you’re just a whore. And believe it or not, the bigger a whore you are, the worse of a recruiter you’re likely to be.

You can’t succeed in this business – or really any other business out there, really, until you understand we make a living by what we get, but we make life by what we give. #truestory

There you have it. The entire compendium of my collective expertise and lessons learned over a life in recruiting.

I’m sure some of you will find this stupid, superfluous or silly, but hey, that’s why I write this shit in the first place – because if there’s one thing I know about recruiting, it’s that you’ll inevitably have something new to add to this list – and something new to teach me. I’m still learning, even after all these years; the day learning I stop is the day I stop recruiting, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. I love this shit too much to stop.

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.

By Derek Zeller

Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. 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, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.