Are Recruiters Really Bad People ?



By Andrew Fairley

I remember a day some time ago, early in my career. 
Another normal day in the office; making calls, arranging interviews etc. 
What made this day particularly stand out in my memory was a call I made to a 
prospective client. 

I found a lead for a design agency looking for a Web Developer. 
I specialised in resourcing for the Digital and New Media industry, and gave 
them a call straight after researching who the Decision Maker was on LinkedIn.
“Hi”, I said, introducing myself and my company. “I’m looking for 
[decision maker's name].” “Can I ask what the call’s regarding?”
“Sure, I was calling about the Web Developer vacancy – I specialise in these 
roles and wanted to have a chat about a great candidate who could be 
of interest”.
“OK,” the chap replied, warily. “He won’t take any recruitment calls, he hates 
agencies and won’t work with them.”

I started asking for an email address to send through details, when he 
interrupted and said his boss was there and wanted to speak to me. 
Great! I thought to myself. Must want to see what we can offer.
I was hit with a tirade. “I don’t know where you’ve found out about our vacancy 
but I have zero interest in using you. 
As far as I am concerned you’re little better than pimps, selling people for 
profit. Your whole industry is filled with thieves and is despicable.”
His rant continued for another 15 seconds or so, calling me worse 
and unprintable) names, before slamming the phone down.

My first reaction was shock; I hadn’t experienced anything like that, most 
people at least stay civil. My second was indignation – when I googled their 
company the second listing was a entry filled with complaints 
about that agency’s pushy and rude salespeople. 
But mostly it got me thinking: why does the industry have such a bad reputation, 
and is it deserved?

There’s little doubt the industry has a bad rep. Everyone has a horror story 
about a terrible recruiter and there are regular scandals about recruiters 
behaving badly, from posing as candidates to gain leads to sending snide emails 
to candidates – in one example the recruiter lost his job due to the backlash. 
Recruiters are often compared to second-hand car salesmen; slimy, greasy and 
pushy fibbers who are completely sales-driven and don’t care about their 
customers, only their next sale.

The first issue contributing to the negative image of the industry is the nature 
of agency recruitment itself. 
Most recruiters work on a contingency basis, and only get a fee on candidate 
If you play it as a numbers game, you need X amount of candidates to interview 
(across a range of active roles) to get 1 placement. 
For every candidate that interviews, you probably spoke to 3. 
For each of those 3, you probably reviewed 15 CVs. 
So, our equation is 15 x 3 x X = 1 placement. 
The value of X depends on the industry and role – if it is 10, then you probably 
spoke to 30 candidates in total, and looked at 450 CVs. 
Most recruiters are expected to make a minimum 2 placements a month.
As a result, we work hard and work long hours, but based on the number of CVs we 
look at and candidates we speak to, we have to prioritise our time, spending as 
little as possible on candidates who are unsuitable and focusing on our 
‘winning tickets’; the candidates we have most confidence in placing. 

I’m proud to say that all the candidates I have placed have thanked me for the 
time and dedication I gave them. On the flip side, there were plenty of 
candidates who got far less of my time. It may not be fair, but as my client is 
the one paying me, I have to remember where the money is and dedicate my time 

The second issue is how saturated the industry is. Clients regularly receive 
dozens of calls from recruiters and large companies have PSLs with hundreds 
of agencies. 
It is better to be first than it is to be better – there are a limited number 
of candidates and the first recruiter to speak to the candidate for a role 
gets ‘ownership’. Hence, speed is often prioritised over service and candidates 
may get bumped to large numbers of roles, even if they aren’t right for them, 
simply to get them in first before someone else can. 

Unfair on the candidate, annoying for the client, but that is the nature of 
contingency recruitment. Clients who enjoy working with agencies usually 
have a small PSL of trusted agencies with a long-standing relationship, and 
won’t accept candidates (without very good cause) from other agencies to 
maintain that relationship.

The final issue is the industry’s entry requirements. Easy to get into, requires 
few qualifications, high reward. I’ve yet to meet a recruiter who didn’t fall 
into it – I don’t know anyone whose lifelong ambition has been to be a 
recruiter! Cowboys are always going to be drawn to the industry but don’t last 
against those who act with integrity. Most recruiters quit within the first 
year, and those who make it through are those who see beyond the lure of the 
quick buck and recognise that to build a career takes a heck of a lot of time 
and dedication – the antithesis of a cowboy recruiter.
Every industry has its share of bad apples and recruitment is no different. 
There are bad recruiters out there, but to tar them all with the same brush is 
to do a multi-billion pound industry a disservice. 

The industry exists because it is necessary, and provides a genuine service to 
the vast majority of clients. Most recruiters are nice people, working hard to 
put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. And believe me, 
we hate cowboys just as much as you! 

If you still aren’t convinced, ask yourself this – is it the recruiter 
who is to blame, or the industry?

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