The Career of a Mediocre Recruiter

Shoutout to Aerotek for being the pioneers in figuring out how long it takes for someone to realize they’re not cut out for recruiting – usually around 9-14 months in the game. Whether you’ve barely dipped your toes in Talent Acquisition for 13 minutes or have been in the field for a while, you’ve likely come across tons of resumes that tell a familiar story.

Just having some recruiting experience, especially in IT or Technical stuff, can keep you in the game for a good ten years or more, even if you’re not the best at it. As the President of a recruiting firm, and someone who has run corporate TA shops for years, I’ve seen these candidates pop up regularly:

  1. They kick off their recruiting journey fresh out of college, working at a big agency sweatshop for 9-12 months. They leave, citing issues with the management style, but truth is, they couldn’t meet their goals. Cut them some slack – those sweatshops are tough.
  2. Next, they usually move to another agency or a small corporate gig, lasting less than 9 months. Same old story – couldn’t hack it the first time, and it’s not likely to change now!
  3. If they’re playing smart, they jump ship from the second gig to a big corporate role with tons of recruiters, buying them about 24 months before being exposed as a recruiting flop. In these big places, it’s more about posting and praying than actual recruiting, so they can survive a bit longer.
  4. Eventually, the big organizations catch on that they’re not bringing much to the table. But armed with the big corporate name on their resume, they snag a senior recruiter role with another big firm. The big secret is, they have no secrets, and neither did the last big org they worked for. Once the fake secrets run out, it’s time to start scouting for a recruiting manager gig in about 18 months.
  5. They grab the first recruiting manager job they can find at a mid-sized firm, with high expectations because of their big company experience. Spoiler alert – they’re out the door in 9 months.
  6. Back to the agency world they go! Bouncing around, bragging about their ‘contacts’ at big companies, they’ve hit the 8-10 year mark in their recruiting career, and they’re just not cutting it.

If they’re lucky as a mediocre recruiter, they might land a gig with a college or university, or something. These places are like havens for subpar recruiters. No pressure to do anything valuable – just show up, get a paycheck, and follow the process. It’s never their fault, and moving too fast isn’t on the agenda!

The best recruiters don’t move around because they’re so valuable the organizations they work for won’t let them leave! If you’re crappy, people are hoping you leave! Please take your crappy recruiting skills to our competition!

6 thoughts on “The Career of a Mediocre Recruiter

  1. Do better, Tim. I’ve always admired you; however, this is a very narrow-minded view, completely void of some major truths. Talk to me when agencies, companies, hell – universities offer proper training and education for the recruitment world. Recruiters are also the first to be let go when companies go on hiring freezes, or the economy crumbles. I’ve managed to grind my way upwards in each position I’ve had to become what can be considered a top producer in both the agency RPO world and on the corporate side- yet one might take a look at my resume and see it as “jumpy.” Perhaps taking a more 360 degree view as to what the real issues within the recruiting world are will help your perspective.

  2. I understand what you are saying, and think your assessment of underperformer career progression is the same for any sales role. I have met several sales directors who can’t sell a thing, and yet are tasked with managing a sales team. They better hope they get lucky to have talented sales people on their team, or they will be quickly exposed for slipping back down the ladder and out of work. Companies cannot afford this kind of making this mistake in hiring and retaining critical sales or recruiter hires that significantly impact the success of the company.

  3. I usually agree with your assessments but a few things I do not agree with you about in this article. I think agency world can be a great place to learn the basics and discipline with working quickly and organization so that you can achieve your numbers – whether you last a long time or not.

    I think where the recruiting world can fall short is training and development. Most fall into recruiting from other professions and most of it is “learn as you go”.
    There is no real recruiting education track that I know of like their is in other professions. It is a complex role that requires a blend of skills – project management, strong relationship building and management from multiple sides, compliance with regulatory and employment laws at the very least.

    It is very rare that I have seen a company where they provide robust training and development for recruiters. Other than the recruiting “fix” where you come in and evaluate what is wrong, but that doesn’t always help with training and development. Maybe instead of calling people “mediocre recruiters” we discuss how to enhance recruiter skills from the onset and have programs to support them?

    It sounds like you had some bad experiences in the past with University Recruiters and I am sorry that has been your experience, but it’s that was a harsh generalization. I know several in educational institutions who are stellar, and it could be that the Universities they work for emphasize and pay for strong talent.

    With recruiters not moving around, my personal opinion (for what it’s worth having done this for 20+ years and moved around from agency to in-house and also having been through a recent layoff) is that first, companies do not always value strong recruiters as recent layoffs have indicated. Second, it can be beneficial to see what other companies are doing so you can enhance your skills or bring improvements to another company. Finally, like other professions, a recruiter might move because they don’t love the culture or they don’t have opportunities to grow. It’s not always a bad thing to move and sometimes it is not even up to the recruiters who end up moving jobs.

    I appreciate all you do but wanted to share another perspective on this.

  4. Interesting POV. I still have the scars from my Aerotek days. Learned a ton. Hit my goals, and then got the hell out of there.

    Don’t know if I fully agree with the college/university stuff. Maybe half of it…

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