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Our Take: A Loaded Relationship

Our April 1 story about unresponsive recruiters tapped into something primal. I think I've figured out what it is.

Minutes after e-mailing this week's eFinancialCareers newsletter that showcased the recruiters story in the top slot, comments from users began flooding in. More than 20 arrived Wednesday afternoon alone, and the flow continued well into evening.

The dominant message consisted of venting against recruiters in general - exactly what the story had warned against. Users cited a catalog of recruiter sins, from lack of basic industry knowledge to over-reliance on Web advertising. But the most frequent complaint was they don't respond to resumes and follow-up communications from job-seekers.

Deeper Than Meets the Eye

This is a theme that pops up again and again, on both eFC and other career-focused sites. Pondering why so many job-seekers feel personally betrayed when a recruiter fails to reply to a resume submission or cold call, I had an epiphany. The nexus between a recruiter and a candidate may be deeper than meets the eye. It may stir unconscious feelings from childhood.

Believe me, I have as much contempt as the next guy for psychobabble. But in this case, the connection rings true. Even the most hard-nosed, concrete thinker accepts the basic psychological equation between getting a job and getting fed. It follows that a job-seeker may at times subconsciously relate to a recruiter as a child relates to a parent. They're "supposed" to feed you (refer you for a job) - or at a minimum, acknowledge your need for food. When they don't, you feel abandoned - another primal emotion. Indeed, comments to several past stories show many users wrongly believe recruiters are in business to help candidates find a job.

Success in the job market requires stripping away emotions and maintaining a pragmatic view at all times. Here's how I would apply such a view to the question at hand.

A Recruiter Isn't Your Mommy

Whenever you approach an external recruiter (or an internal one, for that matter), don't expect to be picked up or called back. The recruiter isn't your mommy. Her client is the employer - not you. Helping you find a job is not her responsibility.

Try putting yourself in the recruiter's shoes. If you received a call or e-mail from someone you'd never spoken with or heard of, who claimed they could help you solve a pressing business problem, you wouldn't return it either - certainly not if you had better things to do with your time. Odds are, you wouldn't even look at the proposal unless it bore the logo of a company you knew and respected. And that's even if your mailbox wasn't already crammed with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of competing proposals (a.k.a. resumes) intended to address the very same business problem (a.k.a. job opening).

Yes, I've had some bad experiences with recruiters. But the majority of those I've spoken with bear no resemblance to the caricatures in many eFC user comments. Most external recruiters I know come off as thoughtful, articulate, competent and principled. Most also accept or promptly return my calls (although I realize they wouldn't if I were a candidate rather than a reporter).

Minimize Your Losses From the Bad Apples

To be sure, like any business, recruiting has its share of bottom feeders. Instead of getting all worked up about those bad apples, ask yourself this: Are they really that hard to recognize and weed out before you invest the effort to cultivate them?

When you job-hunt, you're already performing due diligence on potential employers. I presume that includes talking with anyone you can find who has worked for or with a company you're interested in. You should screen recruiters the same way. Sometimes the bad ones make your task easy, by revealing their nature less than a minute into the initial contact.

I still remember being called by a recruiter who didn't discuss the role I'd sent my resume for, but said he had "many" potentially suitable openings. Then he asked about my former employer, Cantor Fitzgerald: "What kind of firm is that?"

"You don't know what Cantor Fitzgerald is?" (doing my best to not fall out of my chair)


"Then I don't think we should be talking." Click.

If you've had a similar experience, don't be mad. Be grateful the joker wasted so little of your time.

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Si
    24 June 2009

    some of these people are just plain ole ridiculous...i went to one major headhunter because they had a search (or so they say) for a huge hedge fund, and during the interview the recruiter didnt even know the difference between a commercial bank and an investment bank. i politefully excused myself and ran the flock out of there.

  • Ke
    Ken Murray
    14 April 2009

    As recruiters' we are in a very delicate role that is personal. If we can't help someone then we stink. If we can help them but we can't help them attain what they are interested in they we don't get it. If we call back to say that we don't have anything for someone the message is that we don't think they are good. We are constantly in a position of rejecting egos in the most fragile job one could have, and there is no way for a person to get rejected and feel that the rejector is a good person, good recruiter, a professional, etc. It is especially magnified in the current market conditions where otherwise qualified candidates can't be helped and their personal stresses are at such a high level that a recruiter can only make things worse if he doesn't have the job for them. Once job seekers realizes that on average less than 1/10th of 1% of candidates that come to a recruiter are actually placed because if a firm is going to use a recruiter and pay a fee they want a very specific candidate, they will adjust their expectations as they can then understand that a lack of response is not out of disrespect, but out of respect as we don't want to waste your time if we can't help.

  • JG
    14 April 2009

    The comments I made about the story, as well as its companion piece, what I was trying to get across was if recruiters follow the five steps I laid out, then they will have sieved out a significant amount of 'B' & 'C' Candidates, while attracting the attention of the Superstar Candidates. This way, they won't have to deal with candidates getting mad because even though the candidate met the requirements of the position the recruiter didn't call. I understand why candidates get mad when they don't get called. It isn't because they think of the recruiters as their mommy. They put in their time to create a resume & cover letter package for a job that they meet and exceed the qualifications for and don't hear back. My proposed steps also eliminate recruiters being overwhelmed by hundreds of resumes from people they've never heard of while maintaining a manageable level of qualified candidates for each open requisition.

  • fd
    13 April 2009

    The point for the job seekers is to land the job. I am certain that everyone of us has a story about recruiter(s) who did not behave professionally, and recruiters have examples of people looking for a position that did not act at a professional level either. So what? That's life, and eventually the marketplace will correct the excesses from both sides. Stay positive and Good luck!

  • sa
    13 April 2009

    I just assumed that recruiters, like anyone hiring today, are overwhelmed and will only choose the cream or those that fit their niche. Personalizing a non-response is counterproductive. In this mkt, a non-response should be the expectation. Bloomberg Magazine had a good article on the implosion of Wall Street jobs. A key point they made is that many/most of these people will have to go on and do something else. That's probably a good thought process for everyone to iteratively go through.

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