Why so Many Recruiters Burn-Out or Fade Away.


Here is an Irony for you: The Contingency Recruiting Industry has the Highest Turnover Rate of any industry. It is a well-kept secret because of the obvious implications. With an approximately 90%+ recruiter turnover within the first year, recruiting has to be one of the toughest things in the world to do, intellectually speaking. So, I’m not comparing it to the military or being a fireman or police officer, but in terms of the amount of disappointment that a person experiences at work. Many smart and capable people who attempt it end in ruin. I actually had a grown man who worked for me for 6 months run out of my office in tears due to the continual defeat that he experienced! It is not for the faint of heart. Not only are you making hundreds of “cold calls” each day, almost no one wants to talk to you on either side of the desk, company or candidate. As you dial over and over and over repeating the same pitch, which is often read from a script, your mind grows more numb with each voice-mail you leave. “Smile, because they can hear your smile.” “Don’t be too monotone.” “Don’t ramble on too much.” “Leave your phone number twice.” “Don’t unload the truck, just give them enough to whet their appetite.” and the list of thoughts goes on and on as you drone on with call after call. You already feel less like a professional recruiter and more like a “Telemarketer” in a “Boiler Room.” Is there any less respected job? Before long you feel like no one wants to talk to you, unless they’re unemployed, and those folks can’t help you reach your goals. If all you do is talk to the unemployed, before long, you’ll be one of them.

Out of every 100 calls, you hope to catch 25-35% live so you can actually have a conversation. Of those, very few will have any interest in what you’re “selling.” When you crunch the numbers, for every 100 calls you make, strikingly few are meaningful. You finally have some good things happen and get a Job Order. Now you work on your pitch so you can start recruiting! You’re so close and yet so far away… After putting together a long list of potential candidates to begin the recruiting campaign, you’re ready to start down the list. Voice-mail after voice-mail goes unanswered until you finally get someone on the phone. You’ve made 50 calls, spoken to eight living people and none show a sincere interest or are close to the mark. Day two, three, four and five of the same pitch and the same voice-mail left 200+ times with little to no results. The only people interested in the job don’t meet the minimum requirements for the role and you’re beginning to feel despair. Another week goes by and you can’t figure out why it isn’t working. You’ve changed your pitch around to see if it will produce different results and yet nothing meaningful happens. Three weeks into the search and you finally have two to three people who are qualified and somewhat interested in the role. You waste no time calling and presenting your top three candidates to the hiring authority and what happens?

A. They inform you that they already have a finalist candidate even though there was no mention of anyone in the process during your 30 minute call when you go the job order

B. They inform you that the position is now “on hold” indefinitely

C. They inform you that an “Internal Candidate” is now slated for the role

D. They never return your call

Sound familiar? All that work and you never even got to present your “body of work.” Bear in mind that you never even got to the interview stage. The interview stage has within it a myriad additional opportunities to fail. But you were Dead on Arrival and so was the last three weeks of effort on this search. This is one of the reasons that recruiters are so darn “pushy.” You have to make sure that they are not going on a wild goose chase that will cost them time and money and perhaps even their job. I have observed recruiters to be some of the most emotionally resilient people in the world. At least, the ones who survive. If you are still a recruiter after a year, then you are in the great minority. Assuming that you didn’t come into the business on the retained side as most people don’t, you are working on contingency. This means that for every successful placement you make, you were also working on another five to ten, or perhaps even more, that failed to close. That means that a whopping 80-90% of your entire job ends in failure. You must also have developed coping mechanisms to handle all the negativity that comes with that much failure. Sadly, I have seen people who recruited for more than 25 years hit a wall and burn out. These are people who after so long in the business shouldn’t have to work that hard. Their reputation and network should feed itself to a point that they have their pick of clients. Why then do so many come to ruin? I believe that it is the cumulative effect of the incredible amount of failure that their psyche endures.

If you cannot make the transition to retained search, you will become Marginalized and likely burn out probably well before your 25th year. Some “burned-out” recruiters become trainers because they cannot bear the pressure of the “desk” anymore. You don’t have to end like that. If you transition your business into a “pure engagement” practice, and work exclusively on a retained basis, you will eliminate the vast majority of the failure and negativity which you currently endure. It is Life Changing! Just a little Food for thought…

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9 thoughts on “Why so Many Recruiters Burn-Out or Fade Away.

  1. Good article. My experience goes back to Los Angeles where 4 out 5 recruiters I hired failed.

    I agree with Drue a recruiter has to have a lot of skills but resiliency to failure and a firm believe in yourself are vital. I burned out after 15 years and leveraged my recruiting experience back to my true roots “software development”.

    I think I can add another ingredient to his formula call it the “dark matter”. Where do new recruiters come from? 99% of the time they come from their professional niche and make the leap to recruiting because they are tired of looking for a job or just tired of their job. Therefore the pipeline for recruiters is defective to begin with because these people are not necessarily equipped with the sales skills needed to withstand this brutal assault on their egos. Also most business professionals on the outside of the recruiting bubble looking in only see the sunshine part of recruiting, about 1 hour a day, they do not see the 23 hours of darkness.

    Finally I agree wholheartly on his last point “If you cannot make the transition to retained search, you will become Marginalized and likely burn out probably well before your 25th year”. But sometimes migrating to retained search is harder than being a successful recruiter. My advice to a start up recruiter is start everyday with this “Mantra”, do one thing today that will move me one step closer to being a retained search executive.

  2. These are all great points, but for someone new into the industry, how do you know whats a good move towards getting Retained Searches? Contingency is used so much as a sales tool, of just hoping to get to work on the search. what are the best ways to position to the client the benefits of the retained search? Yes its a guarantee we’ll have someone for you, and we’ll have all of our focus on the position, which may or may not be viable selling points. I feel the industry has pushed so much of the “Customer Service” feel of “Let us put some of our focus on it for free, and you can pay us if you like our candidates” that it has become such a task of even getting someone to listen to you, due to they have 4 other search firms on it.

    What is going to catch a clients attention to GIVE me the retained search? As of right now, I have no success stories to share. My only selling point to being in my niche is I understand the IT world on the hardware side, and I can carry on a conversation with anyone.

    Why is someone going to give me a retained search when they feel the candidate flow is good enough with 4 other search firms working on the same search already?

    • I educate my potential client with facts. What every contingency recruiter must do to stay in business is diversify their workload. That is to say, that rather than working on a few searches and going to great lengths to find the best, vet them and win their interest for your client, you must rather do shallow work on many searches. There are many pitfalls and unintended consequences of contingency search. Recruiters who work contingency find the easiest to find, most active people because it is a race to the finish. They also prep their candidates to appear to be an ideal fit for their client. Recruiters don’t generally enjoy a great reputation because of these problems. When I explain to people why they’ve hired people only to find out that they are not who they represented themselves to be during the interview, this resonates with them. I explain it is due to the methodology and its unintended consequences. What makes sense at the surface is actually rife with problems. The simple truth is that on contingency, I cannot do the level of work that I can to ensure that only the most talented and capable people are presented. If I were to determine someone to be a decent fit, but for some reasons they are not good for my client, I can not present them. If I were on contingency, I might have to for fear that they might present themselves and be able to sell themselves and get the job essentially taking away my ability to earn an honest fee. Candidates will go around your back or through another recruiter if they want it and you determine them not to be a fit. Keep this in mind; contingency search is a race to the lowest common denominator. Here’s my qualifier; if the recruiter is bad or unethical, the method won’t make a difference. But an honest recruiter cannot do their best work on contingency. Hope that helps.

      • I really appreciate that feedback. I agree it is a race to the finish with contingency searches. If I don’t fill it fast then I’m not going to get paid.

  3. How I ask for a retainer is essentially by explaining the best way to conduct the search in great detail. Once this has been accomplished, I explain the only way to be able to do this is by a true partnership which is achieved by the terms of retainer or engagement fee. If I’ve done a good job of showing them the benefit to them of engaging this way, we all win. If not, both of us lose.

  4. This article speaks to my career frustrations 100%. I’m a contigency based recruiter in the SF Bay Area working on Tech roles. It doesn’t get more cutthroat or competitive than this. 90% time wasted on most searches, and now I am just the back up for Internal teams with most of my clients. I would love to know how to get over to the retained side of things. Otherwise I am going internal myself.

  5. Knight, Right you are, my friend! It is an industry struggling for survival. In my opinion, those aren’t even “clients.” You must determine what is the best possible way to conduct a search for a “true client” and communicate it to the prospective client in terms that convey the added value to THEM. If you can’t articulate your value proposition effectively, then they will not BELIEVE you. It takes practice and persistence. It ultimately comes down to your ability to build trust. If they see the value and believe you are the best person to conduct the search on their behalf, they will engage you.

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