4 Reasons Recruiters Have a Shady Reputation (And How to Spot Them)

27 Feb

Every industry has its bad eggs — lazy employees who coast by doing the bare minimum, leaders, and managers who shirk responsibility and pin the blame on the team — hell, I once had a doctor tell me my hair is this color because I eat too many orange foods (I really wish I was kidding. I'm not). And, of course, some recruiters act more like human-traffickers than industry professionals.

Many recruiters are decent, hard-working folks, but there are endless threads and stories of less-than-ethical recruiters. It's these agents who seem to dominate people's impressions. To be fair — it's understandable why this would be the case. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that before working in recruitment, I shared many of these sentiments.

 When you work with a recruiter, essentially, you're trusting them with your ability to earn an income, not be taken advantage of, and, in many cases, your sanity and motivation at your new job. When someone falls short of your expectations, that's going to stick with you — and that rings true regardless of the industry, role or relationship you have with that person.

The sad part is, these stories debar great candidates from connecting with great recruiters. And there are some great recruiters out there.

I've worked with loads of clients who were nervous right from the start. Burned by recruiters in the past, they weren't sure whether they could trust a recruiter. We're all just sharks, motivated by targets and commissions, circling the tank looking for our next victim...I mean candidate, right?  

Short answer: No.

Of course, meeting our targets and earning our income is crucial — we also have career goals, mouths to feed and managers to please. But there is a way to go about it in a moral, ethical way. It's called — and this may shock a few — "professional integrity."

The robust job market, the abundant "supply-and-demand" of opportunities and teachers, paints a tempting picture for wanna-be recruiters. 

For many, it seems like an industry of golden egg-laying geese. The misconception is that recruitment is "easy money" — if only this were true.  If it were, I wouldn't be sitting here well past midnight writing a blog about it.

Some agencies have a churn-and-burn mentality - meaning they want to push candidates and clients through the process as quickly as possible to meet targets and hit pay-dirt. It doesn't exactly create a positive or healthy environment for building trust. There are cases when recruitment is time-sensitive for whatever reason - but if you're starting to feel a bit more like cattle and a lot less like a professional looking for a job — something's not right.

So here are the 4 Reasons Recruiters Have a Shady Reputation (And How to Spot Them)


Let's look at some examples of bad recruiters (but also how good recruiters respond). The differences are clear as day:

Vague Vince

Vague Vince doesn't like to rock the boat; he errs on the side of opaqueness — choosing to "fence" answers instead of being transparent. Instead of telling a candidate that a potential employer won't be able to meet their salary request, he gets them to take the meeting. Vague Vince hopes that if he just gets the candidate in the door, into a meeting with the employer, that somehow they'll change their job-search criteria.   

As far as he's concerned, you get people in a room, get them talking and strong-arm them into accepting the terms — aka settle.

The fact is that a lack of transparency pretty much wastes everyone's time. 

A candidate who is supporting their family, paying student loans, or looking to get more professional development is unlikely to accept a position that isn't helping them move closer to their goals.

Pushing an employer to interview a candidate who lacks many of the core skills they've requested is a massive waste of time too. These interviews will go nowhere, and it's wasted time for everyone involved. Really, why bother. The employer will just keep looking for a more suitable candidate, and we're all still on square numero-uno.

Honestly, it's always better to bite the bullet from the get-go and just be forthcoming. 

By all means, communicate with both sides — tell the candidate the employer might not meet each of their needs — 70-80% of them yes, but not the full wish-list and sure, go ahead and send the resume to the employer even if Teacher Jeff doesn't have the entire five years of classroom teaching experience. They may surprise you and be open to it all the same. But no matter what happens, they'll be grateful that you respected them enough to be transparent, communicative, and for letting them make a choice. It's true that "you only miss the shots you don't take" (quote by some tall guy who was good with a ball - I'm not sporty so don't hate the player please) but if you're talking basketball and everyone else is gearing up for a round of golf — well — you're taking the wrong shots. Fore!

Self-Serving Simon

The bottom-line, the pay-day, the commission. These are the things that motivate Self-Serving Simon. Simon is under pressure to place as many candidates as possible. He's more worried about reaching his targets than he is about helping his clients. For Simon, it's all about the numbers.

Imagine being the hiring manager and describing the type of candidate, skills, qualifications, experience that you're looking for to a recruiter. A week later, Mr (or Ms...there are no gender roles here) Recruiter calls and says, "I know this person who doesn't have...most...of the qualities you said were must-haves, but they're so lovely — you should just interview them. Trust me. You're going to love them."  

If finding the right person, with the right skills and necessary experience and qualifications was secondary to "being lovely" (or good-looking — yup - I went there) then I'd be earning a fat salary at a top-notch company and breezing through life... let's face it... I'm an absolute delight.

On the other hand, let's assume that you're a candidate. 

You've been clear about the type of position you're looking for, but your recruiter keeps trying to persuade you to interview for a job that is nowhere near what you're looking for. You're shopping for apples, and they're offering you a boiled egg...because boiled eggs are also lovely...just like me.

In both these scenarios, the client and the candidate are confused and irritated. The recruiter is wasting their time and not paying attention to their specific needs.

Big-Talk Bob

Big-Talk Bob over-promises and under-delivers, knowing full well that he'll never be able to meet the full needs of either the candidate or the client. While recruiters strive to hit a perfect score and find 100% matches, realistically, 80% and up is reasonable. 

Recruiters of this kind don't set their client or candidate expectations realistically. When a job order is tough to fill, it's the recruiter's job to tell them in a professional but forthcoming way. Big-Talk Bob is a Jedi master of Round-The-Bush-Beating.

We're not taking Drive-Thru job orders (would you like fries with that?) and filling them by whatever means possible. A recruiters' job is to act as a consultant. We bring our knowledge of the industry to the client and candidates. 

I've had clients ask me for "young teachers, not older than 30, with lots of teaching experience". Define "lots."  Quite a contradiction there, don't you think? Lots of experience takes lots of years to accumulate. You can have youth, or you can have experience. You can't have both unless you're recruiting Benjamin Button.

On the flip-side, if a candidate's expectations are somewhat unrealistic, we need to find a way to communicate this with them in a professional manner. A good recruiter will help them to either realign their thinking or find an achievable and realistic compromise.  

Sure, we all have big ambitions and dreams of earning top-shelf salaries, and I hope that one day each of you beautiful snowflakes retires like a Kardashian, but it's not going to just fall into your lap because you asked for it. If we could all get the Bill Gates salary by using "The Secret" and "Law Of Attraction" I wouldn't be here writing a blog at ungodly hours.  

"I am happy and grateful that I have a bazillion dollar salary and work no more than 2 hours a day, get fully paid holidays in summer and winter, and don't have to do any boring stuff". Just toss that out into the universe and wait for the deposit, baby.

We must show candidates compassionate honesty. 

If someone comes to me and says, "I have a year of teaching experience at a training center and a degree in Marketing, but I want to work at a proper international school teaching English Lit and earn a 30k salary," I have two choices:

Choice Numero Uno:

I can say, "Sure, totally do-able," and allow them to believe that's the next logical step in their career — even though I know that snowball in Hell is going to melt before it happens. 

Or Choice Number 2:

 I can say, "I'm not sure that's doable at this stage of your teaching career. Have you considered X, Y, and Z  steps that will put you on track for a professional teaching role in an international school?"

The benefit of working with a recruiter is that you have access to our industry expertise and working knowledge and skills. We're not helping anyone when we "yes-man" them to death and then can't deliver.

Unfortunately, the promise of future awesomeness is often not enough.  I've had many candidates promise me (and I honestly do believe them and their sincerity) that they are talented, hard-working, go-getters who will do whatever it takes to get that high-paying job at that great company.  What hiring managers are looking for is evidence of that awesomeness in past positions and roles.  Awesomeness-At-Work. That's not saying that you can't get a new opportunity that will afford you the chance to be excellent and something new and challenging and exciting - but there needs to be some guarantee to the employer that the hire is going to be a good fit - even if a bit of learning and training is required to be successful.

Short-Sighted Suzi

Short-Sighted Suzi can't see past her next meeting. Suzi is concerned with delivering results now. NOW! Even if that means burning a bridge or creating more problems down the line. If a candidate isn't a perfect fit, meh, whatevs, that's fine. The client can always hire her now to fill the spot, and when it doesn't work out, we'll just help the candidate find a new job when they get canned and fill the position again with a new candidate. Suzi just made a lot more work for herself and probably burned the bridge with the client and pissed off the candidate who just got fired for doing the best they could at a job that was never a good match. Sure, it can happen when a client rolls the dice and takes a gamble on a candidate who they otherwise might not have considered, but it's by no means an ideal situation. Recruitment is about finding "the right person, for the right job, at the right time."  

When companies hire new talent, they want to find people who will contribute in a positive way to the organization. The same applies to candidates — they want a job they can feel secure in, feel engaged, and feel valued for their efforts. Both want to have a positive experience and, hopefully, a long-term, stable relationship.

Recruiters who rush their clients and candidates into decisions that aren't the right fit reveal their short-sightedness, and they lack a deep understanding of the clients' and candidates' values and goals and are solely concerned with hitting their targets.

Not only does this hurt the people they work with, but it also damages their reputation and that of the recruiting industry. Great relationships build great recruiters, so people known for short-sightedness burn out pretty quickly. Instead, recruiters should learn their clients' and candidates' goals, ambitions, and motivations and then tailor the search to opportunities in line with those needs.

That's how to win recurring business — the people you work with today will seek you out time and time again as their needs evolve.

Don't Paint All Recruiters With The Same Brush - (we're also unique and beautiful snowflakes dammit)

If you've been burned by one of these bad recruiters in the past (and you only have to hop on Reddit or FB to know that so many people have), I can only sympathize (and maybe even apologize on behalf of the industry) and try to reassure you that there are genuinely great, sincere, honest recruiters out there who are genuinely trying to help both sides. Dare I say there are those of us who take a lot of pride in our work and enjoy assisting people in finding something or someone with whom they're excited to collaborate (did I seriously just write a sentence using "with whom" to avoid using a preposition at the end of the sentence?)

When you meet with them, give them a chance. You'd ask the same for yourself, wouldn't you?

I've experienced firsthand how challenging it is to earn someone's trust after they've had a bad experience with a crappy recruiter.  

I understand how disappointing those situations have been — heck, I've had them myself.

 But for all the Shady Shauns and Short-Sighted Suzi's out there, you'll find that there are recruiters who will be in your corner.

Trusting your recruiter motivates and empowers them to go to bat for you and makes up for all of the frustrating, negative experiences you've had in the past.

Yes, we're all trying to carve out a space for ourselves in this crazy, mixed-up world (did I just quote a Soul Asylum song?) and earn a living working 9-5 (Really? Dolly Parton?). How we go about it speaks volumes about a recruiters' professional integrity and dedication to providing the best services possible for both the client and the candidate.

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