Recruiters: One Ugly Question That Could Save Your Life

True story. Pete is a dear friend of mine. After eight years in recruitment, has decided that he’s had enough.

He’s had enough of the hours.

He’s had enough of the chasing.

He’s had enough of the competition.

So Pete (yes, let’s call him ‘Pete’) is becoming an author. No, he’s not writing about recruitment. Or CVs. Or interview techniques. He’s writing a book about travelling. Vietnam, to be precise.

“Pete,” I stutter, still trying to making sense of it all. “You’re a top recruiter. Everyone, especially your clients, think the world of you. You’ve chalked up more achievements and awards at your firm than anyone!”

Pete smooths his mocha’s cream with the bottom of his spoon, his expression completely empty. “Well, uh…I didn’t really ever like recruiting. And to tell you the truth, I don’t really know why I went into this business in the first place.”

Dear readers, I can tell exactly you why our friend Pete spent eight precious years in recruiting. Pete’s father happens to be one of the industry icons from the 80’s. It doesn’t take a Freud to work out what went on there.

Fishing Boat in Phan Thiet - Lucas Jans

Several days later, as part of filming our Innovate CV TV career advice interviews, we spoke to marketing and advertising extraordinaire, David Roth (CEO of massive firm WPP’s The Store). We asked David what he thought the first and foremost piece of advice he would offer those thinking about a career in marketing.

“Do you really want to get into marketing?”

Now David’s answer, I’ll admit, didn’t initially strike me as…well, enlightening. But it only took a moment, given the context of my recent conversation with Pete, to appreciate this pearl of wisdom.

Until now, Pete, he had been running on the thrill of achievement and success. But honour and glory (and all the glittery things that go with it) can carry a person only so long. And after eight years, Pete had reached a point where he didn’t know why he was getting out of bed in the morning.

I have been blessed to meet some remarkable personalities in our industry. One 29 year industry veteran, his face alight with enthusiasm, bellowed: “Do you realise how we change people’s lives? Their families? How we change the companies that we send our clients to? Do you understand that what we do as an industry has a material effect on the local and global economy! We’re transforming the world!”

This man has thrived for 29 years in this industry because he not only believes his words; but he breaths them.

There’s just too much work and stress in recruitment. Without a passionate appreciation for the human side of the industry, you won’t survive, let alone thrive.

If only Pete asked himself all those years ago, “Pete…do you really want to get into recruitment?”

Find out how Innovate CV can help your agency make more placements.



Categories: Articles for Recruiters, Recruitment


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17 Comments on “Recruiters: One Ugly Question That Could Save Your Life”

  1. Patricia Greenberg Consulting
    August 3, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    The question really comes down to PASSION. How can someone spend over a third of their day doing something that they have no passion for! Schools and universties need to fix up this nonsense of people going into the wrong careers, and help students identify their true strengths passions!

    • August 3, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

      Hogwash! This word “passion” has become such an overworked cliche, it has no meaning any more. Lots of people work as Recruiters simply because it’s a job they’re good at. Talent and even passion may well be the mark of those who excel, but the other 90% are broadly satisfied and are moderately capable.

      It’s a nonsense to suggest that every recruiter must be a stellar performer, married to their career, to the exclusion of all else. For most it’s just a job, and that’s fine too.

  2. Parks
    August 4, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Stephen, who says every recruiter must be married to their career? I’ve never worked as a recruiter, but I’ve been a client of a few over the years. And believe you me, a 3 year old can tell the difference between the ones who ‘fell’ into the position (and could have just as easily fallen into any other desk job) and those who are there because they want to be there. I want a recruiter to care about me as an indiviaul and recognise that I’m not a walking dollar sign, but I come with a life – a life that they’re helping. I’m not asking for more than this – just some old fashioned human care that comes with an understanding of the importance of their role. And those who truly appreciate this will surely develop some passion for their work. Those that don’t – I feel sorry for their clients. Not interested? Go do something else for everyone’s benefit (not that I’d say writing a book on travelling to Vietnam falls into the category, but that’s another story).

    Patricia, why are we always so quick to point the finger at colleges and schools? People need to take some personal responsibilty to find out what they should be doing, given their unique talents and drives. Enough with the blame game and a dose of personal accountabilty.


  3. August 4, 2010 at 10:47 am #


    Pete was “broadly satisfied” – he was also a ticking time bomb. Now, not everyone may have Pete’s burning desire for a more satisfying career, but that’s only because we’re a lethargic and lazy society.

    People just can’t be bothered to sit down and think. So they go through life like a cork in the ocean, falling into this job and that job, and before you know it, they’re retiring from a wonderfully mediocre career – sure, they may have a few plaques on the wall, but if only they aimed a little bit higher than “broadly satisfied”.

    Stephen, if you were to have a frank and sincere discussion with many recruiters, I think you’ll find that people are not as “broadly satisfied” as you think.

    There are people working in finance or fashion that should be in recruitment, and people in recruitment who should be in building and advertising….or travel writing. We have a right to demand more satisfaction from our professional lives. If that means career change, then great. If that means sitting down and trying to draw inspiration from your job, then great – and yes, some jobs are more difficult to do this in than others.

    But even if 90% of recruiters are merely “broadly satisfied”, it is not a reason to celebrate. It’s an alarming call to action.

    Let’s say “Pete” was your employee, one who was doing well and progressing very nicely. One day he confides in you, his manager, that he wasn’t really “feeling it” and not sure about his overall career direction. How would you advise him?

    You have to agree that as individuals as well as a society would be better off we cared a little bit more about finding satisfaction in our careers. And yes, it’s not easy. But that’s okay.

    • August 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

      I’ve been having frank and sincere discussions with recruiters for the past 23 years, because I am one myself, and have owned a couple of agencies.

      I would advise anyone to go where their nose leads them, as and when it does. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.

      Everyone measures their own achievements differently, be it awards, recognition, money, kids or artistic expression. Moreover, these are liable to change without notice.

  4. Debbie Ruston
    August 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Excellent article! This holds true in any career path one chooses to follow. It could be working as an employee, or running your own business….if you are not passionate about what you do and have a sense of purpose for jumping out of bed every morning, every day will seem like a lifetime. When you are following your true passion, something that absolutely makes your heart sing, every day is a joy and it never feels like work….I encourage anyone reading this post of Adam’s to sit down in a quiet spot and really get authentic with yourself…..take inventory of what you are currently doing and why you are doing it. If it is not out of passion and joy, then it is time to search within, find out what truly makes you feel fulfilled and take a bold step to create the life you want. It is simply a choice to step outside of fear, limiting beliefs and past conditioning, to create the life you do want to be living. Well done to Pete for following his dreams!

    • August 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Debbie. I believe you’ve very accurately stated the obstacles we face:

      1. Fear
      2. Limiting beliefs
      3. Conditioning

      The fact the Pete was able to manoeuvre around these demonstrates a tremendous strength of character!

  5. Greg Fronz
    August 5, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    Certainly we need a dose of reality here – as talented writer as your friend may be, I doubt he’s going to be able to pay the mortgage with his book. (would love to be proven wrong of course!)

    So two options here:
    1/ Return to a job that will give him some “broad satisfaction”, while persuing his “passions” on the side,
    2/ Seriously reduce his expensives and live a more meager, but potentially more “satisfying” life.

    He’ll end up having to make a choice – If he wants a higher standard of (physical) living, then he can go 1/. If not, then /2.

    • August 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

      Model 1 seems to be the most pragmatic (and therefore popular) option, doens’t it?

  6. Darren Ledger
    August 6, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    An interesting but altogether very typical scenario as a result of recent markets and challenges.

    Lets look at it this way:

    Recruiters fall into lots of different categories and there as in all walks of life many different people. However a lot of my associates over the last 2 yrs have left the industry, in many cases because it is changing so fast and because it has become harder than ever. A very dear friend of mine worked for a very well known recruiter in the City (London), he had sole responsibility for a particularly niche but extremely lucrative part of 3 major clients in the international financial investments sector. He won awards every single year for being the highest biller, best conversion rate and so forth. On average he billed in excess of £500,000 per annum, often from less than 12 actual assignments.

    When the global banking crisis happened suddenly things changed for him dramatically, the 3 client accounts he had implemented redundancies globally along with a recruitment freeze and also began group wide reviews of their service providers.

    My friend had never picked up the phone in his career to make a cold call, he had never had to pitch for exclusivity, a retainer or even just to secure an assignment. After 4mths he was under pressure and suddenly realised the difference between those recruiters who can hunt business, fight their corner and adapt and improvise across multiple sectors.. for him it was way too hard.

    He left and now owns an outdoor pursuits shop in a stunning emerging market tourist spot. Good on him.

    But the point is, this recent challenge has sorted the wheat from the chaff! The ‘Account Managers’ and ‘Job Order Takers’ have felt the pressure like never before. As such, many have found that when the market collapses they simply don’t have the skills or desires to compete in a more aggressive, service focused and altogether economically more hostile environment, they don’t have broad ranging multiple industry or sector knowledge and suddenly the realisation dawns that for many of us this industry has to be about passion, drive and an an almost obsessional desire to win the business and exceed expectations.

    Most of the people who don’t have that edge tell us that, I never really wanted to be a recruiter anyway, I kind of fell into it and other variations. In all fairness most of them were never really recruiters in the first place in the real sense!

    • August 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

      Thanks for your excellent post, Darren. Fascinating anecdote!

      As you said, external pressures are the true test, aren’t they? They degree to which one feels an emotional attachment (for want of a better term – can anyone help me?) to his profession or employer will provide an inner strength to combat difficult times.

      Certain employers work hard to develop in their employees’ loyalty to the brand. A friend of mine in the auto industry would rather stay at his current firm – who is seeing difficult times right now – than move to a better financially positioned competitor. Or, “Over my dead body, Lewie!!” as he would say.

  7. Anne Ross
    August 6, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    I admire those in recruiting who have functional knowledge of the industries in which they recruit. Unfortunately, the belief that recruiting for recruiting’s sake has significantly devalued the value we can bring to the party.

    Recruiting, without line industry experience is a farce, a get rich quick scheme.

    Recruiting, without a passion for and deep understanding of the industry in which one works, commoditizes the endeavor–be that internal or external recruiting.

    But, hey, I am just the head hunter. But only for the clients that understand my point.

  8. Stephanie McDonald
    August 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Great post, Adam.

    I think it’s pretty easy to know if you should stop recruiting (or whatever your job is). Try stopping – if you are unable to do another job even for a short time, you know you’re in the right role. My last position was eliminated due to budget cuts and I was offered a temporary position in Marketing. While I learned a ton, I missed my calling. It was like a magnet pulling me back in. If you don’t have that feeling, I think there might be another calling for you.

  9. August 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Hi Adam

    Always a nice one to get a bit of controversy going. Great that so many passionate (yes, i will use that word) people are responding. Yes, not everyone will be passionate about their job -in whatever field. Not everyone wll be satisfied in their job. And certainly not everyone who is unemployed is satisfied with their position.

    Recruiters can change the world – of the candidate, of the client and of their own business. But this change can be negative as well as positive.

    I have spent most of my life in and around recruitment – have done start-ups (for which passion is a mandatory part of the job spec) in wide range of fields. Is the job different? No, it still requires a professional attitude, reasonable people skills and the understanding that recruitment is not a process, it is a life changing experience.

    Wearing other hats, I have built and run a motor racing team, have managed marketing programmes for pharma and engineering companies and even spent a lot of my life driving a truck/lorry. The same personal skills and traits apply.

    Your friend is fortunate that he has the scope to change his life now and go for it. Worst case scenario? He comes back to recruitment a wiser and more experienced person.



    • September 1, 2010 at 4:34 am #


      Thankyou for contributing to the discussion.

      We can agree that we wish Pete the greatest of luck in his new direction. But as you mentioned, he does have a safety net – his experience and success in the industry. If it doesn’t work out for him and he needs to return to the industry (which I believe will be more than happy to accept him back with open arms), he’d be very fortunate to learn how to juggle multiple hats like you. And as you say, by then he may have developed a greater degree of appreciation for the work he was doing.

      Thanks again, Alan.

  10. Navid Sabetian
    December 31, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    One of the main problems with this industry and one of the main reasons people give up on it is money.

    Some people are lured into this profession thinking its the fastest way to the riches and that it’s one of those work hard drink hard fun things to do. What could possibly go wrong?

    People don’t realize that there is a price tag attached to this fancy feast and unless they are happy to pay it they will sooner or later are going to be out.

    I go by the belief that I use all my knowledge, education and experience to help those clients and candidates who choose to work with me to improve, get better, make more money or get a better job or increase their production/profitability.

    Does what I do revolutionizes the human race and how we do things? Who knows

    Does it help those who choose to work with me to improve on their situation? Hell yeah

    In the end money is just a bi-product of me helping a company hire better people and become more competitive.

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