Confessions of a Recruiter: Is It All About the Benjamins?
Dealing with recruiters can be tough. But, if you understand the demands on them...you are better equipped to understand and deal with staffing agencies.
Is It All About the Benjamins?
A staffing agency calls you and starts talking to you about a job. You grow excited each and every time you receive a call because you have been looking for a job for weeks and maybe months. Do they really have a job in mind for you? Or, are they merely trolling through resumes and building up their database? How do you really know? Are they willing to give you some advice or are they merely focused on the money they can make by completing a transaction involving you and a prospective employer? The following three areas of discussion will help you understand the mindset of a recruiter you may be dealing with.
Sweat Shop Mentality
After retirement from the United States Air Force, I worked for a defense contract firm as a resource manager which was a fancy term for recruiter. I was expected to make at least 65 phone calls per day and it was tracked. This metric made me feel like I was in some sort of sweat shop. To meet this goal every day, I had to stay incredibly focused. Even if I setup a table display at a career fair, the three hours I spent working that event was no excuse for not making those 65 phone calls. Of course, in any conversation about this metric the discussion always turned to profits. If I may use a contemporary term related to greed, this particular company was all about the Benjamins.
This high number of recruiting phone calls caused me to play games with my potential clients. If they had three phone numbers on their resume (i.e. home, work and cell), I would usually call the home number first hoping no one would answer so I could leave a message and still count it as a call. Then I would call their work number hoping they were not sitting at their desk…again, so I could get credit for a phone call with minimal effort. Finally, I would then call their cell phone actually hoping it too would go to message. Then when they called me back, I could actually get credit for 4 phone calls from one person.
There were days that I had been so busy with other taskings that I could tell I wouldn't be able to get all my phone calls completed without having to work after hours. Of course, if it was 7 pm it was too late to call anyone on the East Coast as it would already be 9 PM. I discovered I could call people in Alaska at 7 pm as it was only 5 pm there and still early in their evening. . If I got really desperate I could call people in Hawaii as late at 11 pm and it was only 7 pm on the Pacific islands. It wasn't that I necessarily had jobs to offer these people. We were tasked with populating our database with resumes for future prospecting. With these calls I was gathering information on their preferences regarding salary expectations, commute distance tolerances and preferred employment status (i.e. contract, employment with benefits, part time, etc.)
Any chance I got, I expressed my displeasure with the high number of phone calls required. Among my recruiter colleagues, many felt it was an unmanageable number that was placing quantity over quality. Just a year earlier, there had been no call count requirements upon recruiters. They were able to determine their own level of performance. A recruiter could secure a solid candidate into a contract position and if the transaction provided a significant commission, the recruiter could take it easy for a day or two. But, embracing a process improvement model, my company had decided if they held us to a specific number it would improve the profitability of the company. Certainly it was reasonable to improve the processes and establish metrics. But, were the goals reasonable and achievable?
Unfortunately, this 65 phone call number was treated as a sacred cow. I noticed a trend. Anytime I mentioned that this number should be changed I was cautioned that it was not negotiable. I felt that a number such as 40 would allow me to recruit effectively. But, it would also allow me some time to perform some goodwill and development for the company. Not only did I want to recruit and make money for myself, I also wanted to occasionally take some time to mentor veterans about their resume and show them how they could make it a more effective tool for their job search. Unfortunately, as the low man on the totem pole my vision for how I could do my job effectively was not appreciated.
My office was in a downtown high rise bank building…or at least high rise for Colorado Springs standards. When I got the job I was elated to be working downtown. After a 28 year career in the military, I was eager to work somewhere other than on a military base. Having majored in business management, I always thought it would be so neat to work downtown. Being a lover of food, I looked forward to eating lunch at the various restaurants in the central part of the city. However, I found with the pace of the work I rarely had to time to casually walk toward a restaurant. I did eat at the Phantom Canyon from time to time. It is a great microbrewery with a wonderful menu and was located directly across the street from my office. If I was meeting someone for lunch, I would ask them to meet me there because I could quickly take the elevator to the lobby, cross the street, eat and head back up to my small office to jump on the phones again.
Bidding on Contracts
Being on a small base salary, I was always recruiting with potential commissions in the back of my mind. After 7 months, I was on track to earn about $6,000 on commissions that year. In fact, I was the #1 recruiter in the company each of the last four weeks I worked for them. However, I would get so frustrated when my boss would pull me off of true production work to help source resumes we could submit with a bid we were working on for a contract. During these times, we would try to find quality candidates to include in our proposal. Some were already incumbents working for the current company that had the contract. We would coax these individuals to allow us to bid their resumes for our proposal.
As an aside, this is a dangerous prospect for an incumbent because many companies have provisions prohibiting employees from allowing their resumes to be used in such a manner. If you are going to allow a recruiter to use your resume to bid a contract, make sure they can truly assure you that your name will be held confidential. Also, know what is in your current contract and what documents you signed when you first took your current job. Many companies will have made you sign a document when you first starting working for them getting you to agree to this. People have been terminated for violating this agreement.
We were bidding on contracts that at least a half dozen other companies were also bidding. If you take a recruiter off his normal task for two days to try and source resumes for a bid, you are pulling more certain opportunities for commissions for something that may never truly occur unless they win the bidding war. I was again rebuffed when I suggested that we should have recruiters with a different compensation plan work on those kinds of projects. It made sense to me that if you are truly worried about the profit margin, there were smarter ways to work these bids. It just didn't make sense to pull a production recruiter off of direct recruiting to work on bid recruiting.
I often felt uncomfortable when prospecting for resumes to use on contract bids. I was expected to be very upbeat regarding the prospects of us winning the contract. The reality was I saw scores of contracts we bid on go to another company due to the intense competition in defense contracting. Yet, I was supposed to tell the client, "We have full expectation that we are going to win this contract." I expressed this discomforting feeling to my boss one day and he merely took my words and spun them to make it seem like we really weren't misleading an applicant on our true chances of winning the contract. It seemed he had been thoroughly trained in overcoming objections…mine.
As mentioned earlier, a major part of the job was sourcing resumes and trying to gain information from a candidate for the corporate database. This allowed anyone in our company to later know what the prospect's goals and motivations were. The company wanted its recruiters to access the corporate database first for resumes we already had in our system. It's a good approach and one that helps you to quickly cull out people not suited for the position. For instance, if I had a person who lived in Alexandria, Virginia and they had indicated they only wanted a commute of 30 minutes, I knew it was fruitless to offer them a position near Baltimore which could easily take over an hour to commute. I could skip calling this candidate and quickly move on to the next resume.
However, when I would make phone calls from those resumes I would have a lot of people cut me off in mid-sentence as I was beginning my resume interview. They wanted to know for which position I was hiring. At that point, I would have to try and steer the conversation back to my task at hand and explain to the person that I was trying to find out more information so that I could more effectively help them find an employment opportunity. For those candidates with specialized or high level qualifications, they often grow impatient because in a month they will often receive numerous phone calls from recruiters all pursuing the same information.
Not all recruiting companies have a sweat shop mentality that drives their recruiters. Certainly there are job expectations of the recruiter. However, some companies understand the importance of development and creating a good will reputation. As a retired veteran of the Marine Corps and Air Force, I might still be with that company if they had recognized and empowered me to create good will with my knowledge of the defense industry in Colorado Springs.
Several of us that worked for that company watched as the company was bought out by another defense corporation a year or so later. Our theory is that the 65 phone call metric was instituted to show a dramatic productivity level in recruiters that would make it attractive for new prospective buyers. That could be the reason that it was always non-negotiable when I would try to bring it up to various executives.
Nevertheless, it's important to understand the stresses a recruiter may be facing in his role. In the defense contracting world especially, it's important that you realize that not every phone call from a recruiter is a call for an existing job position he has in his hand. Sometimes recruiters are merely trolling to stock a database with resumes. And sometimes they may be just trying to get their phone call count higher so they can meet a predetermined metric. It is also crucial to know the area of contract bidding. Be very careful when allowing your resume to be used to bid a contract.
There are some great recruiting companies. I do some independent work for one in Colorado Springs that is committed to people and not just the Benjamins. Certainly, they want to make a profit in their recruiting but not at the cost of using people just for the sake of the dollar. Recruiting can be a very fun and fulfilling job. But, it can also be very frustrating. And, if you know that going into discussions with a recruiter you will be better equipped for the conversations and negotiations at hand.