For an industry which prides itself on “none of us knew we were going to be recruiters,” those of us in talent acquisition seem to make it awful hard for an outsider to get a shot in the recruiting industry.  

Case in point: me.

Now, let me explain. After spending nine years in retail management, a career that extended through college and after graduation, I decided it was time for me to make a move and get a change of scenery.

So, I decided to become a full time recruiter.

Having spent so long in a management role at an enterprise employer like Target Stores offered me the opportunity to develop the requisite leadership skills through its very dynamic, immersive and mission oriented environment. 

One other great thing Target offered me was the chance to return to my old stomping grounds at San Jose State (go Spartans), talking to college students about what their career plans were after graduation, and to let them know the sort of awesome opportunities and experiences working at Target truly offered. I didn’t know it in the time, but those first forays into recruiting was love at first sight. It just took me a minute to figure that out.

I was a poster child for retail management, a success story who proved that with a little bit of hustle, a whole lot of hard work and a passion for learning and growing a career, I was able to not only survive, but thrive, in the middle of a terrible economy. That is, until, I wasn’t.

All stories have to end sometime. Even the good ones.

First Contact.

Leaving Target forced me to do some soul searching, and come to grips with the gut wrenching feeling that what had always felt like “living the dream” had, in fact, actually become something of a nightmare.

Existential angst is a terrible affliction. Trust me.

When I was in college, one of my earlier retail management positions was working full time as a Starbucks barista.

Back then, I had an Excel spreadsheet where I not only tracked the requisite classes and courses I’d need to graduate on time, but how those classes could help me prepare or market myself for a professional career.

I was sure that all this hard work would lead directly to the job of my dreams, so it made sense to obsessively track my personal progress via spreadsheet. Didn’t everyone do that in college? Man, those were some crazy times, I tell you.

I realized one day, looking at my spreadsheet, that the thing I had enjoyed the most, and the part of retail management I had found the most interesting, were those college recruiting events and being involved in the hiring process. What if I were to try recruiting as a full time job? It sounded as crazy then as it does now, honestly.

Fast forward to me posting the Facebook status that served as my fateful first step into this industry, something along the lines of “anyone out there know any recruiters?”

At the time, I had made the mistake of thinking that HR and recruiting were essentially interchangeable, two sides of the same coin. Hey, don’t grab the pitchforks; I also thought that the purpose of HR was to help employees and make sure people were happy and engaged with their jobs. What can I say? I was pretty naive.

That one Facebook post led to a surprising handful of awesome informational interviews, where I quickly learned that in fact, HR and recruiting were very different functions. After learning more about each respective role, it became pretty clear that talent acquisition was the perfect path for me, and the ideal direction in which to steer my nascent career.

I was going to become a recruiter. Pretty cool, huh?

Into Darkness.

I started off interviewing for roles with staffing agencies, mostly because they had the overwhelming majority of recruiting related job postings out there, and so I applied for these positions with little idea of what third party recruiting really entailed.

Overall, that first round of interviews went really well, but it became clear to me that leaving my decent paying, extremely stable retail job would require taking a step back on both my career ladder and my compensation.

I would have to start at the bottom all over again, and take a 20k pay cut for the privilege. At the time, I was barely keeping up with the cost of living in the Bay Area.

The risk-reward ratio started to look a little scary to me, but I was OK with at least making an attempt at this whole recruiting thing.

But despite my willingness to learn and my desire to build a career in recruiting, I learned after this first and ultimately futile round of interviews that my retail management skills picked up over the years I’d spent supervising people, processes and policies on the store level were quickly dismissed as irrelevant for these roles.

Skills like customer service, dealing with ambiguity, closing sales, managing staff and dealing with the details of daily operations apparently weren’t transferrable to the recruiting industry.

I vividly remember going to one particular interview where the recruiter across the desk looked at my resume, looked at me and said (I’m quoting verbatim, here): “I don’t know why you’re trying to get into the recruiting industry. You’ll never make the money you’re making in retail right now.”

Sure, maybe that hiring manager was one of those “bad eggs” in our industry, the kind of recruiter who gives the rest of us a black eye, but I was still dumbfounded at how much resistance and discouragement I was receiving simply by trying to find an entry level job in the recruiting industry.

The response was unbelievable, even with the benefit of hindsight. Where I should have gotten encouragement, I was greeted with skepticism; where I should have received words of wisdom, they were always words of warning instead.

It was effectively like an entire profession had blacklisted me from a career before that career had even started.

The Undiscovered Country.

Six months and dozens of interviews later, I finally connected with a childhood acquaintance of my roommate’s best friend, who just so happened to work for a staffing agency in San Francisco.

Long story short, I snuck out between shifts for my in person, killed the interview, accepted the pay cut and the entry level title, and worked as hard as I could to show that I had the stuff to stick around after first getting my foot into the door.

Fortunately, I had a CEO who recognized my sweat equity and dedication, and a company culture that afforded me opportunities to grow professionally and develop myself personally. Without that sort of encouragement, without that recognition I don’t know if I would still be in recruiting, which is a scary thought, since I’m passionate about my profession and pretty proficient, too.

That I had to fight so hard just to get the chance to prove myself in a staffing job and risk so much simply to take a chance on a career in recruiting strikes me, in hindsight, as a microcosm of one of the most pressing and pervasive problems facing our industry.

Despite the fact, famously, there are few barriers for entry, for some reason we too often make simply getting started in recruiting prohibitively difficult – and without any real rational for doing so, honestly. This is a shame not only for would be recruiters effectively shut out of our industry, but for every recruiter out there hoping for a better future for our profession.

I was lucky enough that in my first ever recruiting job, I landed at a company whose CEO was not only willing to take a chance on me, but also to put in the time and resources to maximize the return on his recruiting investment. We were taking a chance on each other, really, and I’d like to think I delivered for him, since he most certainly did for me (he’s why I’m here, and for his support, I’ll be forever thankful).

The Voyage Home.

So many of us fall into recruiting by chance. For some of us, that coincidence can become a calling and a career; the recruiters who stay around and grow in this industry might have gotten here by accident, but they stay here because they’re willing to do whatever it takes and work as hard as needed to be successful.

Every great recruiter’s story starts because someone gave them their first chance.

Of course, there are risks for the employer doing so – finding recruiters with the potential and fortitude to stick it out and grow in this industry is a risk, mainly because the odds of failure have been so high, historically.

But with every risk comes the potential for reward – and developing a rookie recruiter into a rock star pays off big time for pretty much every employer out there.

Good recruiters are hard to find. Too bad we turn so many with so much potential away. It’s time we stopped making it so hard to get into the recruiting industry, honestly. Do you remember how you landed here? How you got that first TA gig?

I’m going to guess it’s because you took a chance, and some company reciprocated by taking a risk on you and extending you an offer based largely off presentation skills and potential. These are imperfect prescreening criteria, to say the least, but sometimes, you’ve got to go with your gut. And no one knows whose worth the risk better than the very same recruiters who have been there before.

Over and over again, job seekers approach me because they want to know more about recruiting; many times, they’re actually interested in pursuing careers in talent acquisition and the recruiting industry.

Sadly, they have no idea what this career is really about, what recruiting really entails or even where they should start their job search. That’s probably because there’s no one size fits all approach to getting into recruiting, which is why everyone in this industry has some sort of random story about how they got into the business.

How do you improve someone’s luck or have them somehow be in the right place at the right time, which is how many of us got started? The answer is, you can’t prepare aspiring recruiters for something that’s completely random, because you can’t prepare for the unpredictable.

But we really should start providing these would be talent acquisition professionals clearly defined paths, professional insights and personal advice that’s actionable, not arbitrary, and give them tools to help succeed in their search instead of simply shade and a ton of red tape.

Look, it’s time we diversify this talent tribe of ours for the good of all of us. The only way to do that is to make it easier to break into recruiting and actually promote recruiting to high potential professionals with great experience in other industries who could easily make the move to recruiting and not only survive, but thrive.

We need to start looking for people who have the soft skills and are willing to put in the hard work required to become a kick butt talent pro; we should be proactive in promoting and finding recruiting talent, raising awareness instead of barriers to entry. Sure, some people aren’t going to work out.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the chance on giving someone a chance, since you inevitably got a break at some point in your career, or you wouldn’t have one. If we can’t pay it forward, we’re all going to stay stuck in the status quo.

Beyond: Recruiting The Next Generation.

We want fresh blood in our profession, people who have the propensity to develop and disrupt our industry while also enjoying the lucrative, amazing and dynamic nature of the business of hiring.

I’m sure if more people knew how awesome careers in recruiting can really be, we’d have a lot more awesome recruiters.

Also, let’s be honest: if someone actually wants to get into recruiting (or even find out what the heck it is recruiters even do all day), then they’re probably a little crazy.

Which from experience, is a pretty good sign that they’ve got a pretty good future in recruiting ahead of them. We’re all a bit nuts in this business. You have to be.

But not as crazy as the fact that we make it so hard for good people to get good jobs in a great industry. Because as any job seeker can probably tell you, a good recruiter is hard to find. This is why it’s up to us.

About the Author:

Allison Mackay is currently responsible for Infrastructure Data Center Recruiting at Facebook.  Her current team manages hiring for the Facebook team responsible for design center site selection strategy, infrastructure design and creation, operation of data centers, servers and network hardware, and managing Facebook’s standards compliance and sustainability programs across Facebook’s data center sites.

Alison began her career in retail management, where she was first introduced to retail campus recruiting. After realizing her heart belonged to talent acquisition, she began her career in recruiting, starting off at two separate boutique agencies focused exclusively on technical recruiting prior to moving to her current in-house role at Facebook.

A graduate of San Jose State University, Alison is also the co-founder of the Silicon Valley Recruiters Association.

Follow Alison on Twitter at @am_recruiter_sv or connect with her on LinkedIn.