fiddler-on-the-roof1520If you’ve ever taken a job in recruiting or staffing, at some point you’ve probably been asked (likely by a close friend or family member) what the hell, exactly, it is that you do for a living. I’ll never forget the e-mail sent by my mother years ago, when I was first starting out in this industry, telling me that she was having a hard time understanding what it was I did all day.

“Getting people jobs isn’t a real job, is it,” she asked, and well, I didn’t have a great explanation for her at the time. But I wanted to explain it to her, of course – but it’s not easy to strip back the buzzwords and industry terminology and really explain, in the simplest terms, what the heck a startup was, why tech hiring was so hot and how, exactly, recruiters fit into the bigger business picture.

When I’d finally replied with what I thought was a thorough explanation, she replied with something to the effect of, “that sounds interesting and I’m very proud of you,” which is mom-speak for, “I’m still not understanding any of this.”

I’m not sure, all these years later, that she ever did know what the point of my work – or why I got so passionate about something so seemingly mundane.

Sunrise, Sunset.

idontIt’s been years since that first innocuous query, and it’s most decidedly not been the last time I’ve been asked how it is I make a living – which is somewhat of a standard question you get asked when meeting a new person for the first time.

Most people have a relatively easy answer: “I’m a nurse,” or “I’m an accountant,” and pretty much that’s all the explaining or follow up required. Most jobs enjoy the luxury of being self-explanatory, more or less.

Not so much when you’re in recruiting.

Today, our professions are an inextricable part of our personal identity, a convenient categorization and cipher for determining where we stand, societally speaking, and largely, how others perceive our worth. Our careers have become something of a corporate caste system, rigidly hierarchies which define our professional existences and our future opportunities (or lack thereof).

That is, if we can define what we do at all. Which sometimes makes it a little hard in Human Resources, which remains largely removed from the rest of the professional ecosystem (albeit largely by design). We remain largely opaque, siloed and intrinsically isolated from the core business, a detachment that seemingly preempts convenient definitions.

Most people have no idea what the humans in Human Resources and hiring actually do, and even within our profession, there seems to be little consensus around responsibilities, accountabilities and roles.

But when you step back and really take a look at how HR and recruiting fit into the bigger business picture, it’s clear that we’re part of an extraordinary profession with a disproportionate impact on how people work in the world of work. And it’s time to let the rest of our organizations know what it is that we do, because we do so much.

If I Were A Rich Man.


Over the years, I’ve developed multiple pitches, asinine analogies and well-worn aphorisms to answer that common question of what recruiters do. I’ve found specific anecdotes – the more colorful the story, the better- do a great job of humanizing human resources while dispelling many of the pervasive myths and misperceptions so many professionals ascribe to the recruiting profession.

First and foremost, I want to make something clear: I’m NOT a headhunter. In fact, I hate that terminology, and know most other talent acquisition professionals do, to (although it remains a persistent, pervasive public pejorative).

I don’t hunt heads. I build relationships. And what we, as recruiters, do is leverage those relationships to match the right talent with the right people.

When we do our jobs right, it’s a win-win for both our clients and candidates – and everyone makes money. But the payoff, mostly, has nothing to do with money. It’s about helping improve people’s quality of life through the quality of their work, and most recruiters are aware of the massive responsibility this outcome entails.

But how, exactly, are you supposed to explain that to your friends, family or just some random stranger you meet at a social event or cocktail party? What’s the tidy elevator pitch that can sum up tour professional purpose with any degree of accuracy? It’s easy enough to overcomplicate what’s a superficially simple proposition: our job as recruiters is to find, attract and close candidates for open positions at our companies or clients.

Of course, there’s no formula for making these matches, no standard operating procedure or scientific principles related to recruiting. There are no precise analytics, advanced certifications or professional degrees to verify or validate the often imperfect, highly indeterminable way in which we help determine whether there’s a future, or a fit, between the candidates we work with and the clients we serve. And, admittedly, sometimes we screw up. But that doesn’t change the point of our profession:

We bring people together. That’s what it’s all about.

Sunrise, Sunset.

And when we do our jobs right, well, fit happens. And finding the right fit can make or break a business, our relationships and our reputations. You’re only as good as your last hire, which is why our job is all about making these matches as good as possible. Period.

Now when I was on the agency side, I didn’t use such altruistic analogies – in fact, I used to favorably compare myself to a pimp. Given the fact that I made money as the intermediary finding flesh to fulfill the immediate needs of companies with cash, I wouldn’t say that aphorism was entirely inaccurate. I thought it was kind of funny, but turns out, I was alone in that sentiment – and my professional reputation suffered. Pimping ain’t easy, as they say, but conceiving recruiting through such crass and insensitive terms is damned near impossible. Trust me on this one.

Some people have no sense of humor.


I’ve read a bunch of articles that say recruiting is either already dead or quickly dying – and many that offer the same dire prognosis for human resources in general. That through technology and tools, it’s going to be so easy to find qualified candidates and use machine learning to make matches that the entire recruiter function can be effectively dis-intermediated. The timeline for this purported disruption is never far off – normally our fatal prognosis is only a few years, at best.

This, of course, is complete and total bullshit. Just imagine a hiring manager trying to set up interviews, close a candidate or have enough time to do the due diligence required to ensure a positive ROI (and minimized risk) with each and every hire. This would not only take a ton of time – and as hiring managers love to remind you, that’s one thing they already don’t have enough of for recruiting.

Hell, I’ve had managers who could barely define the role or why it mattered to me, an internal recruiter, much less communicate a compelling and comprehensive value proposition that’s going to effectively inspire and close passive candidates.

Most hiring managers are OK at following defined processes, procedures and policies. When it comes to the more ambiguous and dynamic requirements for recruiting, like relationship building, candidate development and offer negotiation, however, the recruiter is almost always the arbiter of a final decision, since it’s our job to guide candidates through an often arduous process and an accepted offer.

Hiring managers might be in the business of biz dev, but it’s up to recruiters to close those leads and ensure that candidates end up buying the jobs that we’re responsible for selling – and make no mistake about it, this is a sales job. We negotiate pricing in the form of compensation.

We introduce the work product and its professional benefits. We inspire candidates to take action and are measured by the efficiency and effectiveness of closing reqs, which is what we’re ultimately selling. That many of us get compensation based on commission further underscores the fact that one reason we have trouble explaining what we do is that to most people, we just look like we’re in sales.

And for the most part, they’re right.

Now I Have Everything.

tumblr_lna131rozs1qakh43o1_500Of course, we have trouble accepting that reality, and get lost in overly complex concepts and too much nuance, but let’s be real: if we weren’t salespeople, we’d be in customer service, instead – reactively responding to issues instead of proactively resolving them, which is what finding “passive candidates” and building pipeline is all about.

Obviously, talent acquisition is inherently complex, and human resources is more than being a “people person,” but about maximizing the impact of those people for our organizations while helping them stay engaged, productive and satisfied.

Our job, in short, is to make your job better, more productive, satisfying, engaging or meaningful.

And that’s one hell of a big job right there – which is why I’m proud to be part of this profession. No matter how it is I happen to describe it, there’s no work better than making work better.


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. He is currently serves as Technical Recruiting Lead at Comscore.

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  Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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.