satan escapesLasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate; the final words of the inscription on the Gate of Hell.” Abandon every hope, you who enter.” – Dante Alighieri

I know it probably sounds kind of weird to hear a recruiter allude to Classic literature, but there’s nothing I love more than curling up with a good book – and I mean a really good book, and not, say, some statistically skewed Malcolm Gladwell pop psychology or the kinds of cheesy Penny Dreadful that land authors like Sue Grafton on the New York Times Best Seller List (“C is for Crap,” coming soon to a Hudson Booksellers near you!).

Nope, I’m talking about the canon of literature that constitutes the Classics in the most literal sense, stuff like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Milton and Tolstoy.

So pretty much anything dense with a lot of war, incest and subtextual societal commentary – this is the stuff I was raised reading, and it’s kind of hard to revert to Down the Rabbit Hole by former Playboy Playmate Holly Madison, which at the time of this writing is one of the Top 5 best selling books in the world. I know, right?

One of my favorite writers, and I say this as unpretentiously as possible, which turns out, is quite impossible, is one of the more obscure – but one of the greatest – poets in history, the French satirist François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume, Voltaire. Voltaire wrote one of the most viciously satirical and cuttingly cynical pieces of prose in the history of literature, an extended allegorical sendup entitled, appropriately, “Inferno.” 

It’s a quintessential (and surprisingly easy) read for anyone who prefers their morality served up with a side of snark and sarcasm, skewing what had, by Voltaire’s time, become somewhat sacrosanct: the great epic poem “The Divine Comedy”  by Dante Alighieri.

“A poem, moreover, which puts popes into hell excites attention, and the sagacity of commentators is exhausted in correctly ascertaining who it is that Dante has damned, it being, of course, of the first consequence not to be deceived in a matter so important.” – VoltaireInferno.

I mention Voltaire to establish a pretty compelling precedent for sending up Dante’s classic first person narrative of his descent into the nine circles of Hell, guided by the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil; these nine subterranean strata of suffering must be endured by the narrator as he descends closer to sin, ultimately rejecting the Devil and therefore beginning the journey of his soul to God. I know, there’s nothing that probably excites you more than a 14th Century extended morality metaphor written in Italian and subdivided into Cantos.

Oh, that’s just me? Then, well, bear with me as I channel my inner Voltaire, and take a look with modern eyes at a classic that, even hundreds of years later, still seems relevant and renowned enough to find itself the subject of something of a send-up. But after rereading The Divine Comedy recently, I realized that there were actually some pretty poignant lessons for recruiting and staffing professionals in there, too.

OK, there’s the obvious: we, as recruiters, are not without sin – in fact, sinning is often just business as usual, or as we call it in this industry, “contingency search.” I’m kidding, of course. Not every recruiter is wicked, but you wouldn’t know that if you talked to a random sampling of recent candidates, promise you that.

And the point is that we, as recruiters, could take a page from Dante’s book and learn that in our industry, too, there are differentiated degrees of sin, resulting in what could be construed as the 9 Circles of Recruiting Hell. A journey through these is the ultimate “candidate experience,” but the inevitable moral at the end of this story is that the more we screw over candidates, the more we’re really just damning ourselves.

Karma, as Dante knew, was kind of a bitch. But even if you’re dancing with the Devil (or CyberCoders, as the case may be), and have egregiously and repeatedly sinned as a recruiter (and lying counts, people), there’s still hope for salvation. You just have to see the error of your ways – and change them – before it’s too late. With that in mind, let’s begin our journey – I’m going to be playing Virgil in this version, guiding you through these various concentric circles of the damned, forced to suffer for eternity in a dark pit of despair. Kind of like an ATS, really.

So as we begin our Recruiter Experience through the nine circles of recruiting hell, keep in mind that there’s a special place here reserved for you if you don’t change your ways. And we’ve all got a way to go to get out of the pit we’ve dug ourselves and our profession.

One: Limbo                                                

beetlejuice“Here suffer those who did not sin, yet did not have the required portal of our faith. Their punishment is the denial of Paradise.” — Virgil

Forget the crazy Calypso beat – according to Virgil, Limbo was the circle of hell reserved for those who had never been baptized or accepted Christ, but still lived more or less virtuous, morally upright lives. While they can’t go to heaven without accepting Jesus (or so Fox News told me), they at least get to spend eternity in a place that, while it’s not paradise, isn’t too bad, either.

For recruiters, this first circle of hell can be correlated to our professional existence in a couple of ways. The first is the candidate who is not malignant or ill-intentioned, but after countless hours of interviewing, salary negotiation, coaching and hand-holding, suddenly just disappears from the face of the earth.

You know the type – they’re maddening. They just disappear in a cloud of smoke, without any communication of any kind – no e-mails or voicemails returned, no response on social media, not even a text message, for crying out loud.

This is the definition of Limbo – you’re left with a final candidate who won’t call you back, and a hiring manager (and likely direct supervisor) clamoring for a candidate who has suddenly disappeared without a trace, never to be heard from again.

You have no explanation for what happened, but you know that your reputation is going to suffer for having lost control of the candidate or the situation, and since there’s no obvious rhyme or reason for the candidate’s mysterious disappearance, you’ve kind of got to own the blame, whether or not it’s warranted. This doesn’t just go for agency recruiters, either – even in-house, this has happened to me and many of my colleagues more times than we’d care to admit. It’s maddening, frustrating, and soul sucking. One minute you’ve got your new hire; the next, you’ve got to start from square one.

They’re gone. And while you inevitably hear from them some months, or some years, later when their resume magically ends up on your desk for another position you’re trying to fill with another company or business unit. Sure, if they’re reminded of their Original Sin, there’s a good chance that they have a clever little lie ready to explain why the hell they left you hanging. Others simply don’t bring it up, maybe because they don’t remember or are hoping you forget.

For them, recruiters are just another faceless part of a dehumanized process – and no matter how well you’ve treated them, you’re a recruiter, and therefore require no reciprocation. The sins of the father, as they say.

The second part of limbo for recruiters is the candidate who simply no shows. The ones where they’ve expressed interest (even excitement) in a position , filled in and filed all necessary paperwork, and maybe even taken the time to come into interview – only to just randomly disappear when it comes time to move from screening and selection to actually talking about an offer. Or they take the offer, and decide too late not to actually accept what comes with that decision. It’s infuriating.

I once had a candidate for a contract position simply take a lunch break after two weeks on the job, walked out of the office and never came back. I couldn’t even bill the guy since he decided to take his, uh, “long lunch” in the middle of a damn work week, leaving me without even so much as a timesheet to show for my efforts. Seriously, in what other world does this kind of shit happen?

I myself have a list I carry with me to every contract or permanent gig I’m lucky enough to land. It’s called my ‘Do Not Disturb’ list. This is a list of the candidates and clients who don’t deserve my time; with apologies to Roger Daltrey, I won’t be fooled again. I take no pity on placing these lost souls where they belong – in limbo, forever. At least as far as I’m concerned. If I place you and you disappear, then this is the place for you.

But if you’re guilty of another type of unprofessionalism, you’re going to have to go one circle further.

Two: Lust

Satan_saddam“When they arrive before the ruinous sweep,There shrieks are heard, there lamentations, moans, And blasphemies ‘gainst the good Power in heaven. I understood that to this torment sad, The carnal sinners are condemn’d, in whom, Reason by lust is sway’d.” Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto V.

Lust is a tricky one for recruiting, and one that (and I’m sure I’ll be labelled a misogynist or sexist for this assertion) seems to fall primarily on the women working in our profession.

Sure, I know this is a dumb idea writing this since, as a male, I’ve only seen lust at work secondhand, but it seems to impact my female colleagues and coworkers in recruiting as an all-too-common, completely unnecessary, and out of control occupational hazard.

Although recruiting and HR are traditionally dominated, demographically speaking, by women, it seems like many are dismissed as second class citizens, sexualized playthings who got where they are by sleeping or seducing the right stakeholders, which, of course, is complete bullshit.

I’ve been privy to more offline conversations with female recruiters than I care to admit about this, and it seems like from inappropriate e-mails from “candidates” to solicitations for sex via LinkedIn (talk about shitty pick-up lines), this unwarranted harassment is ubiquitous for women on the front line of recruiting.

I’ve heard from my female coworkers here in the recruiting trenches of candidates, clients and coworkers subjecting them to despicable, unforgivable behavior – from candidates only accepting interviews so they could solicit the recruiter in person to one whose profile picture led a job seeker to solicit her for sex, believing she was placing a personal ad under the guise of a job description via social media – a mistake the candidate attributed to “being too hot to be a real recruiter.” Really.

This doesn’t happen to male recruiters, and shouldn’t impact our female counterparts, too. Unfortunately, too often it’s not just candidates responsible for this, but their fellow recruiters, too. Too often, recruiters come into the profession straight from school, and particularly in staffing, never lose that feckless frat boy mentality – one that’s used to sexualize, and marginalize, any woman, regardless of her professional accomplishments or achievements. Too many recruiters would rather catcall than cold call, and I, for one, am sick of it.

I think before they ever let someone call themselves a “recruiter,” before they ever get assigned a req or pick up a phone, everyone in our profession should have to take a class on ethics and professionalism not only in the workplace, but online, too. If you’re one of the Brototypes responsible for this endemic harassment, I’m calling you out. Grow up. LinkedIn isn’t a dating site, and you’re a loser for even trying this shit in the first place.

If this is how you treat women, no wonder you’re single. And know that you won’t be alone when you’re put in this special circle of hell for all eternity – hey, you wanted hot, you got it. Assholes.

Three: Gluttony

audrey ii“For the sin, Of glutt’ny, damned vice, beneath this rain, E’en as thou see’st, I with fatigue am worn;Nor I sole spirit in this woe: all these, Have by like crime incurr’d like punishment.”  Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto VI

Gluttony is endemic in recruiting, and there are no bigger gluttons than our hiring managers or clients. Dealing with their seemingly insatiable appetites requires walking a fine line between just in time and never soon enough – it’s a double edged sword which inevitably cuts both ways.

No matter how many resumes you present, gluttons are never satisfied; like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, they can’t stop crying out, “Feed Me!,” even after they’ve feasted on every available candidate on the market.

Hiring managers are quick to ask for other options, but rarely is there a need for more candidates when a recruiter is inevitably asked for one or two more possibilities. The sin of gluttony is pervasive, and it’s an overwhelming appetite that leads to destruction, at least if you’re on the recruiting front lines. Of course, if it wasn’t for this unquenchable thirst for candidates, this insatiable need for more flesh, none of us would eat at all – it is, in a sense, every recruiter’s lifeblood.

When unemployment is low, just finding a single White Whale requires a comprehensive knowledge of Boolean syntax, social engineering and interpersonal communications – not to mention a little luck. But after years stuck in a recession and feasting on the spoils of the War for Talent many clients have simply become spoiled, without realizing a Bull market means having to bear with less selection and more competition for candidates. No requisition or job is actually unfillable – it’s hiring managers being far too selective and far too picky that make them that way.

Managing these gluttons can’t be solved through a software program, database, CRM or “thought leadership” collateral like a white paper or ebook. Nope. In fact, there’s nothing recruiters can do about gluttony, much as we hate it, except try to feed the beast as best we can, a necessary evil that we can only manage to manage, but one that can’t be contained. At least if we’re doing our jobs.

Hiring managers and organizations always needing more candidates, even when they have enough, and never being satisfied, no matter how overstuffed a pipeline or slate might be, is simply part of being a sourcing or recruiting professional. If you can’t fight the good fight, then you’d better move on over to something where complacency counts, like benefits or compliance – and that, my friends, is a level of Hell that Dante couldn’t even begin to fathom.

It’s been like this for eternity, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

evil nedFour: Greed

“For all the gold that is beneath the moon, Or has been, of these weary souls, Could never make a single one repose.”  Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto VI

I don’t need to write a whole lot to illustrate the point that greed is one of the most egregiously endemic of the deadly sins perpetrated by the recruiting industry and the people who work in it. If, Dante is to be believed, greed lies at the heart of all evil, if it’s allowed to go completely uncontrolled, no recruiter stands a chance at getting a fair deal when everything’s up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Greed can be a career killer, too – overreach, overstep, game over.

Even candidates are guilty of egregious greed, particularly as it relates to compensation – one of the most stressful parts of any search. Market levels determine we screen candidates not only on their skillsets, but also their salary, requiring recruiters preclose prospects or cut them loose due to compensation. But where are these “market levels” coming from, exactly?

I’ve never really understood where the hell all this purportedly proprietary salary data comes from, other than surveys and third party studies, which everyone knows, tend to lead to results that are almost always at least a little statistically skewed. I think at the end of the day, these “market levels,” despite all the data available, really come down to paying what your direct competitors are paying – market rates more or less represent collusion through compensation for employers. It’s not about paying what people are worth – it’s about paying what people will accept to say yes to an offer.

I don’t mean to say that the compensation function has no real function, but I think if you really believe that some HR lady with a couple SHRM credits worth of benefits administration course work and some outdated spreadsheets knows more about job market and salary conditions than a recruiter, you better put down that cup of Kool-Aid. Recruiters are almost always more in touch with comp conditions than any salary survey or aggregate data, because their job consists of talking to real candidates, in real time, and that conversation, unfortunately, is almost entirely incumbent on compensation. If you can’t afford a candidate for a position, they’re not really a candidate.

The market isn’t determined by salary survey data, internal equity, compression or any of that HR stuff; it’s really a simple matter of supply and demand. Compensation tends to be a trailing indicator, and to have a tightly regimented system that’s built around tightly defined pay bands and even tighter performance based bonuses does a disservice to both the recruiter and the candidates, forcing them to look not for the talent they want, but rather, teh talent they can afford.

It sucks, but there are those candidates who are so full of hubris and lacking self-awareness that they value their skillset not on what they’re making, but what they think they deserve – a value that’s almost inevitably grossly inflated. Gordon Gekko clearly never recruited. But even decades after his famous pronouncement that “greed is good,” each subsequent generation has grown even more narcissistic and entitled than the one before.

I feel trapped between two competing worlds, belonging definitively to no clearly defined generational category, but rather, somewhere in the middle. For instance, I remember memorizing phone numbers, not just looking them up on Google or generating them through some automated profile aggregator.

I worked hard for my recruiting money, but for those just entering the profession, the boom times have created the illusion that money in this business is easy. They’ve not only lost touch with the meaning of the dollar, but also, the real meaning of this job. If you’re in this for the money, you’re due for some pretty deep disappointment. Similarly, if salary is your only driver for looking for a new job, you’re looking for all the wrong reasons.

Greed never leads to anything but disappointment, anyways. Be happy with what you’ve got, and never expect anything more than you deserve – and don’t ever lose sight of the fact that what you’re worth is in no way defined by how much you get paid. If you do, you’re just asking for a whole lot of misery. 

Five: Anger

Megan20Exorcist“‘O banished out of Heaven, people despised!” Thus he began upon the horrid threshold; “whence is this arrogance within you couched?” Soon I was within, cast round my eye, And see on every hand an ample plain, Full of distress and torment terrible.” Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto IX

Once again, we find ourselves torn between the two groups that cause the average recruiter the most amount of dismay and duress: candidates and hiring managers. But there’s another group we’d be remiss to overlook: HR generalists.

While recruiters love to hate HR, the fact is that we’re really not doing a good enough job of calling out HR – probably because although recruiting technically reports up through this department, we have the same level of mistrust, discomfort and fear towards HR pros as your average line employee. Which is to say, these people petrify us. In my experience, all I’ve ever seen is HR trying to avoid letting the secret slip that their jobs could be pretty easily outsourced, with most “business partners” doing anything but.

HR is quickly becoming obsolete, which is why they’re rightfully more concerned with self-preservation than pushing the envelope. Nowhere is that trend more readily apparent than in talent acquisition – the red headed stepchild of the human resources function.

Recruiting is constantly under pressure to do things more cheaper and more efficiently, and to do so with less resources than ever before. Recruiters are the budgetary equivalent of the canary in the coal mine – the last function to get hired in when times are good, and the first ones shown the door when hiring plans, inevitably, fail to go according to plan. Most HR generalists see recruiting as merely an undesirable rung on the HR ladder, somewhere beneath benefits or compliance and only slightly above administrative and office staff.

The reason for the growing chasm between HR and recruiting largely comes down to the fact that, unlike their generalist counterparts, recruiters actually create demonstrable value to the company’s bottom line, and from a business perspective, play a critical, measurable role as a major driver of P&L. If done properly, every recruiter should be able to easily prove the value they’re bringing to their employers.

Whereas HR’s job is to minimize risk, recruiting’s is to maximize ROI; HR actively seeks to preserve the status quo, while recruiters, by necessity, must challenge it.

Recruiters are able to find the unfindable, close the un-closeable, and perform other such small miracles every day with little recognition or at least acknowledgement from senior or departmental leadership. When we screw up is when HR takes notice – and they’re not afraid to throw recruiting under the bus if they need to. Hell, many do it when it’s completely unnecessary – we’re a convenient punching bag for a profession that’s forced to bear its own fair share of punches. Almost all of which are justified, by the way.

When it comes to hiring managers, it’s kind of hard to even know how to start. Most of our daily lives are dictated by these folks, who too often fail to see recruiters as partners and instead, treat us (and our candidates) as adversaries or at least obstacles to them actually doing their jobs. Spoiler alert: when you have the right talent and your headcount is completely full, any job becomes easier. You just have to commit to the recruiting process instead of indemnify it as the root of your problems – it can just as easily be the solution, too.

But hiring managers often do whatever they can to preempt a recruiter from doing their jobs, whether that’s having to pull so hard to extract any information from them it’s like you’re asking for a loan, or sending them dozens of unreturned emails and unanswered calls, only to hear nothing back but the sounds of silence. Hint: if you’re going to be a hiring manager, you’ve ultimately got to do some hiring. That means working with a recruiter, whether you like it or not. So might as well deal with it and start treating us as professionals instead of cowering every time you happen to see us rounding the corner.

Every recruiter has been handed a req by an overly optimistic hiring manager for a position that’s not only completely impossible to fill, more Make-A-Wish than market reality. You know the type: the hiring manager who insists you can find a great software developer who also happens to be a social media maven, who isn’t afraid to take down dictation or other light clerical work as needed, too, and be happy doing so for ten bucks an hour, non-negotiable. Got that? Oh, yeah – and they have to have a minimum 8 years experience, period.

The funny thing is, when a recruiter fails to deliver on even the most impossibly lofty or hard-to-find professional prerequisites, it’s always their fault, and never the hiring manager who put such ridiculous parameters in place in the first place.

And candidates, listen. Of course if you didn’t get the job, it’s clearly my fault as a recruiter. Please feel free to send me yet another e-mail explaining how I screwed up at accurately depicting your skill set, or failing to tweak your resume to present you in the best possible light. Obviously, it’s not your lack of qualifications, experience or cultural alignment that cost you the gig – it was me, and for that, I’m truly sorry.

I get that many of you look at a job search a little like window shopping – it never hurts to try something on, right, even if you know it’s not going to be a fit? Wrong. Stop applying for jobs for which you don’t have any relevant experience, skills or education. No recruiter on the earth can convince the powers that be to look at your potential if you don’t come even close to meeting the position’s prerequisites.

Don’t blame recruiters for your job searches coming up short, or the fact that you’re applying for jobs you’re in no way qualified for and never hear anything back, not even a “thanks but no thanks.” Just because you’re wasting your time doesn’t mean I have to return the favor. Candidates, your anger is not only misplaced – it’s also unnecessary. I want to close these reqs as badly as you do, and wish I could place every candidate I talked to. It would make my job easier, too. But if I submitted unqualified candidates, I wouldn’t be doing that job.

Before you shoot off another angry e-mail or send me another nasty InMail about how worthless I am, or about how I sabotaged your search, remember that you’re just burning a bridge that you’re probably going to need at some point in your career. Close the door on a recruiter, and you’re closing the door to a career’s worth of potential opportunities that you’ll never even know existed. That’s the price we pay for hubris, after all.

Six: Heresy

keyzer“When they draw near, or are, is wholly vain, Our intellect, and if none brings it to us, Not anything know we of your human state.” – DanteThe Divine Comedy, Canto X

In Dante’s extended allegorical poem, this particular circle of hell was reserved just for those who denied the divinity of Christ as their Lord and savior – complete with tortuous flames, bellowing brimstone and an eternity of excruciating pain. In other words, it’s a whole lot like being a Taleo user.

But just know, the people responsible for the shitty software making staffing and recruiting such a pain in the ass these days have a special place in hell with their name on it.

Whether it’s selling a job board package, a recruiting CRM solution or any unnecessary piece of overpriced enterprise SaaS HR Technology or recruiting tool that’s little than vaporware and vague vendor promises, most third party tech providers have done nothing to make recruiting – or recruiter’s lives – any easier, which is what you promised your software would do.

Instead, you just added some bullshit bells and whistles and basic bolt-on BS like “custom reporting” that, in fact, is nothing more than some spreadsheet any idiot could make in Excel, and while you might make money from the poor sucker who signs a contract for this stuff, in the end, you’re the one who’s going to pay for your chicanery and double crossing. You make our lives harder, the least we can do as recruiters is try to return the favor.

Look, we’re trained to pay attention to meaningless metrics like time-to-fill and source of hire, but largely ignore the fact that what’s keeping us from being the most effective recruiters possible has nothing to do with what our systems are currently measuring; rather, it’s the systems themselves that are generally to blame.

The features no one needs (think: “branded career apps” or “video interviewing capabilities”) often come at the expense of the ones that everyone would actually use – like a notes section for warning future recruiters coming across a candidate in an ATS what a pain in the ass a candidate is, or automatically capturing and consolidating all relevant communication so that this information is included directly in a candidate’s record. Forget that.

Instead, these vendors came in and added no real value, instead forcing a bunch of crap on recruiters that made everyone’s lives more difficult, things like requisition numbers, disposition codes and 40 minute application processes that don’t display properly on mobile devices (you have to buy another point solution to get that feature).

Even after you pay the usual usury to recruiting technology providers, they continue to ignore what current customers want in favor of developing new features and services that potential customers currently in the sales process say they want. Anyone will check any box in an RFP, but once that proposal is accepted, somehow the roadmap always seems to start going in a different direction. And you’re left with shitty software.

This is why as sophisticated as our sourcing and recruiting technology has become, so many of us are still reliant on old school practices like building Boolean strings and mining LinkedIn’s database without having to pay seven figures for the privilege of accessing recruiting information from a network that we recruiters are responsible for building in the first place. Am I the only one who feels a little bit screwed over by this? We’re the reason LinkedIn exists, but suddenly, our network is no longer ours – and, as it’s becoming increasingly apparent, neither is our data.

And let’s not even get started on LinkedIn Publisher – there’s a completely different circle of hell saved for those people whose crappy content continually clogs our streams. Hope you guys like the smell of sulphur.

Seven: Violence

“Fix thine eyes below; for draweth near, The river of blood, within which boiling is, Whoe’er by violence doth injure others. O blind cupidity, O wrath insane, That spurs us onward so in our short life, And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!” Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto XII

So, you’re the kind of moron who thinks the office is some sort of playground to live out their stunted adolescent frustrations, and that being a bully somehow makes you a bad ass?

The kind of recruiter who talks a big game but is responsible for some epically stupid screwups (which, of course, they refuse to take any sort of blame for). You’re the type of recruiter who gives all of us a bad name and a black eye.

We’ve all dealt with some form of violence – or the threat of it – in recruiting. From requiring recruiters to scan special badges to gain access to the talent acquisition offices to rehearsing what to do if confronted by a jilted candidate as a standard component of professional training, it’s a constant specter hanging over all of our heads.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen some extreme examples, from someone entering a recruiter’s office and threatening them because they didn’t get called for an interview as an internal candidate. Or two recruiters throwing punches at each other when one accused another of “stealing” one of his candidates. It’s silly, really – but stupid is as staffing does, generally.

The abuse isn’t always physical, of course; from the trolls on Facebook and Twitter whose inflated egos are responsible for delusions of grandeur, getting out their frustrations from the safety of their Mom’s basement while plotting revenge on all those people preventing them from getting a job (recruiter conspiracy theories are amazingly widespread, at least judging from some of the many related conversations popping up everywhere on Reddit recently).

These online bullies are capable of vicious abuse – and potentially, irrevocably damaging your online brand and professional reputation for no better reason than because they can. And because you just happen to be a recruiter at a company who didn’t end up making them an offer. I don’t mean to preach here, but there are some psychos out there, and I for one am sick of taking the brunt of the blame for the reality that in recruiting, there’s only one winner every search. One day, you’ll end up being that winner.

Unless, of course, you’d rather blame others and bully them in person or online instead of taking responsibility for your own shortcomings. Anyone who does that will always be a loser. And when there’s any kind of abuse going on, there are never any winners, anyways.

Eight: Fraud

lola“While speaking in this manner, with his scourge, A demon smote him, and said: “Get thee gone, Pander, there are no women here for coin.” And herewith, let our sight be satisfied.” Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto XVII

This circle of hell, which Dante describes as a peanut gallery of rapists, thieves, liars and whores writhing in perpetual pain in a pool of reeking excrement, is probably my favorite circle in the Inferno.

There’s always something satisfying about seeing true villains truly get what’s coming to them, and the eighth circle of recruiting hell is saved for our industry’s seedy dark side and unsavory underbelly.Yes, I’m talking about those damned souls who, like Dante’s sinners, spend their days spinning around in shit.

You know: the “thought leaders” and “influencers” who are driving our industry off of a cliff with their nebulous theories, uninformed ‘best practices’ and annoyingly ubiquitous and overbearing social presence – er, “personal brand,” if you prefer. Give me a break.

Now, that’s not to say everyone creating content for our industry is necessarily to blame for the commoditization of what we do by consultants who never have and never will – the actual recruiters in this industry have a whole lot to say, but too often have their voices suppressed or censored by their company’s brand guidelines or employee communication policy. Plus, those who recruit are often too busy to blog, tweet or post about it.

But the “thought leaders” (who almost uniformly never demonstrate any modicum of actual thinking or actual leadership, actually) more than pick up the practitioner slack. They’ve made making money off of our employers into some sort of pathetic art form, seducing the buyer with specious statistics and asinine aphorisms and leaving recruiters having to learn from people with little more to teach than how to annoy your entire network with spammy e-mails or write posts belittling our profession without ever being an actual part of that profession.

Of course, there’s a whole contingent of recruiters hitting below the belt in the battle for making placements – and who aren’t afraid to do whatever it takes, including throwing a candidate or coworker under a bus, to make those hires happen and make sure they get paid their fee in full.

No amount of money could ever justify these strip mining tactics, the scorched Earth strategy that leads to nothing more than short term, Pyrrhic victories in the War for Talent. Long term recruiting results require always doing what’s right, not just doing what’s convenient.

This bullshit needs to stop, and soon. Because the more recruiters stab each other in the back, the more we’re relying on consultants and “thought leaders” to drive the conversation instead of our colleagues and coworkers. Since we can’t rely on each other, we’re forced to turn to “Influencers,” “ninjas” (with apologies to Johnny Campbell, who is, in fact, a stud sourcer) and blowhard bloggers whose entire existence is extolling the same recycled information and common sense approaches that every recruiter already instinctively knows – or could easily ask a counterpart, if only they weren’t perceived as the competition. They’re not – we’re all on the same team, after all.

Also ruining our profession are “reality shows” like Top Recruiter which do nothing more than misrepresent what we do and what recruiting is all about to the general public, or “career experts” who purport to telling our candidates what we want, despite having only found futility in their own encounters with recruiters.

This does a great disservice to candidates, and puts misinformation on the market that makes our jobs much harder – like this expectation that every candidate deserves some sort of response if they apply for a job, even if they’re completely unqualified. Or that formatting a resume can somehow overcome the missing experience or expertise the actual resume reflects. You see what I’m getting at – there’s a ton of bullshit out there, and none of it makes actually getting the right job, or finding the right candidate, any easier at all.

I wish other recruiters out there in the trenches would share their own insight, tips and tricks online instead of having the lion’s share of that content created by charlatans, frauds and anyone else whose profit model revolves around monetizing the job search without being accountable for the outcome of those searches. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the odds of failure and futility are pretty good when you’re learning about recruiting from someone whose knowledge of recruiting is limited to what other douchebag “thought leaders” are saying on social – and that’s almost always some sort of specious second hand conjecture and uneducated guessing, anyway.

The vast majority of people selling themselves as “experts” in this space are experts at nothing more than defrauding and misrepresenting themselves and selling common sense as a premium service at a premium price tag. These “consultants” are mostly charlatans and snake oil salesmen who sell themselves at the expense of their candidates or clients. Sadly, these fakes never get called out, because real recruiters are too busy doing their jobs than to point out these “recruiting experts” have no idea what the hell those jobs really entail. Practitioners practice, and that often comes at the expense of the insular world of online influencers.

The best people covering this industry, the pundits and practitioners adding value to the conversation instead of simply spurious advice and those recruiters who have actually practiced “best practices” instead of just preaching them, share at least one common, recurring approach to content creation and community building: they sell by not selling, and realize the best way to win is simply by being the smartest person in the room, adding value to their content instead of a soft sales pitch.

There aren’t a lot of these outliers who not only recruit, but also occasionally blog, tweet, post or present on recruiting related topics, but the handful out there (you know who you are, and if you want to know who I think are the most legit experts out there, shoot me a message) are helping turn the tide – and change the recruiting conversation by advancing the recruiting industry. Here’s hoping business as usual becomes anything but.

Nine: Treachery

rosemary“By many years the record lied to me. Art thou so early satiate with that wealth, For which thou didst not fear to take by fraud, The beautiful Lady, then work her woe? Such I became, as people who stand, Not comprehending what is answered them, As if bemocked, and know not how to answer.” Dante, The Divine Comedy, Canto XX

In Dante’s version, the most inner circle of hell – and final stop on Virgil’s Styxian tour – traitors, murderers and great heretics from history (think: Cain, Judas, Satan, Reid Hoffman) spend eternity up to their necks in freezing ice water, while demons slowly chew their heads, hands and feet.

In this circle, hell is literally frozen over, which is an appropriate allegory for the many people negatively impacting our industry but who aren’t directly part of it. I’m talking about the politicians and lobbyists pushing for stagnant wages and minimal worker protections or benefits; the bankers who insist on perpetually placing profits in front of people; the big brands who would sooner ship jobs overseas than invest in training and developing the underserved workforce in their own backyards.

I’m talking about the wonks at the EEOC whose red tape and bureaucracy make recruiting rife with the constant threat of lawsuits or audits, or the lawyers making money off of the confusing terms and complex, Draconian regulations behind such legislation as OFCCP, ACA or the FMLA. Compliance has become a new form of corporate tax, one that costs every company; even if it’s not overtly called a “tax” for financial reporting purposes.

We’ve talked a little about those good folks who apply for every job you’ve posted without bothering to even read the listed requirements, or the ones with memory that’s so selective candidates swear up and down they’ve never interviewed with a company, but after submitting them you find out they applied only a week or two earlier. Or the candidate who insists there’s no red flags to find during preemployment screening, but whose drug test results come back containing more prohibited substances than Snoop Dogg’s tour bus, or the one with that pesky felony conviction from a few years back who assumes you’ll never find out, so doesn’t bother mentioning it.

Or the customers – the employers and hiring managers – who flat out lie to recruiters, insisting they already own candidates in their database when, in fact, you directly sourced and submitted them – customers who have no compunction about screwing you out of your fee and refusing to reward your time and effort as a recruiter. The hiring manager who makes you devote weeks of your time to a search only to decide, months in, to go ahead and go with the internal candidate they had in mind from the beginning, but never told you about in an attempt to have you “see what else is out there.” Just because.

Or there are the candidates that send in a signed acceptance, but end up taking a counter offer and not having the balls to tell you about it before no-showing at onboarding. Or the ones who go over your head to the hiring manager because they haven’t heard back from you, mainly because said hiring manager hasn’t provided any modicum of feedback, and reaching out to the guilty party just might reflect poorly on their candidacy.

I could keep going with this list, but if you’re a recruiter who makes placements, you already know exactly what I’m talking about and who I mean – those everyday villains and usually suspect usual suspects who make our jobs as recruiters hell. It’s these devils who belong in the ninth circle – and iced out of our profession while suffering as their business gets torn apart by recruiters who actually know what they’re doing.

“As I have done, his body by a demon is taken from him, who thereafter rules it, Until his time has wholly been resolved.”

Surviving the nine circles of recruiting hell mean battling our demons – and only by defeating them can we ensure our collective survival – and viability – as a recruiting profession. Doing this is going to take playing by a completely different set of rules – and resolving to resolve the biggest problems plaguing our industry together.

Let’s hope it’s not too late to change our ways – and in doing so, change the course of our destiny, the reputation of our profession and redefine recruiting by rejecting sin and accepting the grace that comes with true salvation.

Now, can I get an amen?

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 compliance. 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.