10 massive blunders I have made in recruitment

Running a great recruitment business is difficult. The competition, the compliance, the cash flow issues and most of all, the people complexity creates an ideal environment to screw up.

Here are 10 of my biggest blunders, some of which I have made several times. I offer them up as a guide on what NOT to do when running a recruitment company.

  1. Focusing too heavily on consultant activity levels. Slavishly counting activities, measuring ratios, chastising shortfalls… at the expense of ensuring the quality of those activities was high and consistent. Lots of activity, done badly, will actually send your business backwards, and focusing on activity for activity sake can be tremendously demoralising for the team, and distracting for the leadership.
  2. Focusing too little on activity levels of consultants.  This is the flip side of the same coin and it’s just as big a blunder.  Allowing consultants to “free wheel” appearing busy by doing lots of ‘stuff’ without ensuring clarity and focus about what their key activities must be. Letting consultants spend 90 minutes in an interview with a junior person because “they want to get it right” and agonising for hours over the wording on a resume are great examples. Quality is important, but you also have to churn through a lot of the key actions that drive making the match. It’s a management task to keep that on track.
  3. Allowing consultants full autonomy over which clients and which jobs they choose to work on was a mistake. Most recruiters are somewhat “tarty” by inclination, trying to work with everyone on everything. Specialisation is key, working with clients who will partner with us is key, gaining exclusivity and working on fully qualified briefs is fundamental, as is working with people who pay our bills. Not prioritising our WIP has cost me plenty, time and time again.
  4. Hiring potential consultants because they had a great academic background and fantastic careers in a previous job, which was not recruitment, but in a field we specialise in. I have learned that when hiring recruiters we need to focus more on intrinsic attributes that drive success in recruitment, such as competitiveness, empathy, resilience, listening skills, passion, integrity and work ethic.
  5. Opening offices in remote places without strong, committed, proven, loyal local management. Everything depends on leadership and it gets more crucial with every kilometre the remote business is away from HQ.
  6. Retaining mediocre people (who may be very nice people) in the hope they will miraculously become superstars despite mounting evidence that they will always be underperformers. This is a massive opportunity cost and I make this mistake even now.
  7. Hiring managers and recruiters on massive base salaries on the back of “impressive” track records (which are often not what they seem) or promises of huge performance. I learned that you must always link high earning with high performance. The big money comes after the big delivery, not before.
  8. Allowing managers of smallish teams (2 – 8 people) to evolve into non-billing managers. This is a massive mistake.  We need “player/managers,” people who bill, rain-make, business develop and also manage the team. I have allowed managers to become backroom crunchers of numbers and process managers, and that’s not where the value of a leader lies, nor can you secure any leverage out of that kind of role.
  9. Assuming that a good recruiter will make a good manager. They are entirely different skill sets. Promoting your highest billing recruiter to Team Leader because she wants a “career” can destroy her progress, dismantle her billings, and disintegrate the team.
  10. Listing my own company Recruitment Solutions in 1998. It was too small a business really to be floated. Profit of only $4M.  The IPO was a financial success, but it was not the right thing for the business. It cost a lot to be listed, we lost control to non-executive directors and you have to answer to shareholders and fund managers. Watching share price means you spend less time on the important things like customers and staff. I am immensity proud of Recruitment Solutions. It was stand out business and produced literally scores of people who now own their own successful business. But we should not have gone public.

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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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31 Responses to 10 massive blunders I have made in recruitment

  1. Brad Stewart December 14, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks Greg, I re-read many of those points… very helpful with my current plans.

  2. Hung Lee December 14, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Great insight Greg, any owner of a recruitment business should review this post.

    My obvious standouts from the 10?

    7. Performance related pay is a must – know this as a manager and an overpaid biller
    9. Agreed, often what makes a recruiter a success as a salesperson is precisely what will make him fail as a manager.

    Great work, redistributing.



  3. Eddie Knight December 14, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Very honest Greg, thanks for your thoughts I liked your points.

  4. Arthur December 14, 2010 at 10:56 am #

    I think point 10 counts for most small businesses. Listing can be a financial success for the owners and it can offer liquidity but it does also distract the business from what it originally started out doing.

  5. Anthea December 14, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Great article Greg! It has provided me with much needed focus in the last days before Xmas!

  6. Angela Giacoumis December 14, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Great article and so true, think we’ve all made some of these mistakes…..great reminder as we enter another big year ahead

  7. Simn Meade December 14, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Accurate and inciteful. I havent made all of these mistakes but there is still plenty of time.

  8. Stephen DuFaux December 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Bravo & Touché,
    It takes a strong and accomplished leader to not only recognize but to also share with the public – operational mistakes “made” and “learned from” in ones career. You are to be commended on your exceptional fortitude and gracious gift to the rest of us in the industry. If we learn from your experience, alter our own behaviors and change even one component of the existing operational paradigms in which we manage our business.. then we can all prosper. Thank you for sharing & Happy holidays!

  9. Stephen O'Donnell December 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    I’d like to plead guilty on almost all counts.

    We live, and we learn.

  10. Navid December 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    Great points and very true.

    I especially agree with point #7. I have witnessed companies that have gone under for the sole reason that they hired “super-stars” on high base salaries and realized later that it was either a lnocorrect information or their super-star statues worked at a company with a loyal client base not because they as an individual did anything special.

    In this industry pay must be directly tailored around performance.

  11. Aaron Dodd December 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    1. guilty
    2. guilty
    3. guilty
    4. guilty
    5. not gulity
    6. guilty
    7. guilty
    8. not guilty
    9. not guilty
    10. not guilty

  12. Brenda December 16, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    Being new to the field, but not to sales, I think a lot of your comments apply across industries but your view from the recruitment field was very insightful and well worth the read! Thanks.

  13. Marisol Perry December 22, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Great points and very true. I especially agree with point #7. I have witnessed companies that have gone under for the sole reason that they hired “super-stars” on high base salaries and realized later that it was either a lnocorrect information or their super-star statues worked at a company with a loyal client base not because they as an individual did anything special. In this industry pay must be directly tailored around performance.

  14. Jacob December 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    On point 7 I disagree I am a superb hard hitter with a proven track record why would I go to work for another company on a lesser base rate. I have to have Challenge, the right company, and THE RIGHT BASE the right bonus structure to tempt me to make a move can you imagine in the interview if someone dared to say to me well you can have the job but we want to pay you less on your base.
    Leave me alone genuine hard hitters deserve what they get and so do recruiters that don’t do their homework and hire a Claytons person that says they are hard hitters. Ask me what companies I have brought on board and at what $$$ margin I will give you not only their names to check out but also their Ph numbers and all these people I originally started out with just a Ph number & now as I am professional they are firmly in place and in fact over 78% if asked would put me in the not only do we do business but they have become a friend category.
    Too many people run from HR co to HR co hoping that a now position is a numbers game and again too many HR cos falsely give hope and waste an applicant’s time with getting them in for an interview just to swell their interviews in the hopes their boss will give them a pat on the back or that again as a numbers game they will hit on a good applicant.
    When I think of it I have never been offered a good position from a HR co yet I have by myself all my life found permanent employment with on every change no less than a 30% increase in base $$ and to date the longest I have ever been unemployed is 3 weeks and the fastest 1 hour.
    On every other point I agree including having on staff some kind hearted person that everyone loves who will do anything the can at any time to assist not only the company but also everybody in the company

  15. Andrew C. December 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    Jacob you sound exactly like they “hard hitters” that it would be a mistake to hire 🙂

  16. Darren Ledger December 23, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Greg, brilliant article, great honesty.

    One of the key things to remember in this industry in my humble opinion is that every day is a school day. As long as we remember to listen constantly, never waiver from endeavor and conviction, keep it simple and learn from our mistakes!

  17. Jacob December 23, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    Somone comented on my comment Andrew C = Jacob you sound exactly like they “hard hitters” that it would be a mistake to hire
    Well Andrew over the past 10 years alone I have brought in New Business totaling over 1.8 Billion Dollars I have never asked for a bonus (normaly people are grateful) I have never become a prima donna I dont have an ego just confidence in my abilities I do not want the corner office with a window as I surround myself with people with a can do attitude that I can mentor and bask in their glow when they succeed as most do with my tuterage and do I charge my company more for the blood that I give for the being on call 24/7 no but you say you dont want somone that creates relationships to span over 20 years that never goes in to the same industry twice so that he never takes a client with him for a similar product and most of all you say you should not have to pay a hard hitter more then an average hitter what you mean is you are a penny pinching scrooge that begrudges success because it is somthing you never had or with your attitude never will have in other words dear sir you are a loser pay people what they are worth and if that is the case I have your years wages here for you to collect mm what would that work out to ah ha do you have change for 5 cents.
    And now for everyone else out there that is not in ga ga land and pays for productivity over and above what they pay for people like him have a wonderful christmas and may next year be your year of years

  18. Jacob December 23, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Sorry guys I see a lot of people that begrudge paying somone that does hit hard with proven stats I had a cal today not where I had called them but they called me because I have taken 44% of their client base over to my company cold call to close and contract signed. They wanted to offer me a job they said Then I told them what I am paid they in return said to me that they would offer me a base of half what I get now and in 3 months they would consider a raise I asked why they said I had to prove myself.My reply you sir are in the same industry as myself I have taken 44% of your clients fairly to my company not for a cheaper price but because I offered value added and I had created a relationship with them. Now if we are in the same industry and I have gutted your company of nearly half its clients have I not proved my sales ability,(I am sure this is Andrew Cs cousin) you get what you pay for there is not one company I have worked for in the past thirty years that does not keep in contact with me go for dinner with me or askes me to consult or come back the proof is in the pudding Andrew check my Linkedin it has references from Clients GMs that I have worked for junior staff that I have mentored that have gone on to greater things (somthing I doubt you ever will)
    Cheers Andrew and I hope Santa brings you some wisdom

  19. Jeremy S December 27, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Thanks for this Greg, some great insights. Points 6, 7 and 9 especially ring true for me. I’ve suspected most of the things you write about to be true for many years, but it’s good to see it all confirmed by another more experienced industry professional. Thanks for sharing these pearls of wisdom!

  20. Saurav Sharma December 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    Great ! you absolutely got these right on the head. I am sure few have become evils of our Industry. We can quantify the performance of a prospective employee on the base of His / Her performance in the previous Organization but fail to qualify the difference in dymanics in both the Organizations. With my experince i guess Independent consultants and single management has worked for me rather than small teams with managers and what worked for me is hiring fresh Graduates trained by consultants in my team makes them more confortable with the work pattern and they come with no baggage of other organizations . Cheers again the article was very refreshing to read and relate to.

  21. lynette Jensen January 21, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks Greg. I continue to be amazed by (and grateful for) your straight-shooting and clearly honest way of putting things. It’s a very helpful and admirable thing!
    Lynette Jensen

    • Greg Savage January 24, 2011 at 7:09 am #

      That is very kind of you Lynette. I am very pleased you find the blog of value, regards Greg

  22. Veronica Scrimshaw January 29, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    Hi, Greg! Really enjoyed your post. I would add another point: waiting too long to react/anticipate to market changes – whether it means changing focus, trimming/adding staff, or other “big” decisions. I’m blogging about it today.

  23. Jon Tanner April 18, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    This is great stuff Greg, spot on – thanks for sharing.

  24. Julia Briggs December 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    @Jacob. I know this is a year later (I am reading the summary of this year’s blogs) but the feedback you got from Andrew C is worth considering…….particularly after your later posts. In the past 14 years I have been a client on many occasions and would react very strongly if you came into a meeting and talked to me as you write. It is hard to give feedback in a public forum, and it is hard to accept. However, it is usually very valuable. Well done Andrew.

  25. Kirsty Parkin December 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Thanks for this Greg, some great insights. Over the years you’ve taught me a lot. The way you use social media is brilliant, nicely done! You take the best of advertising too-great headline.

    • Greg Savage December 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks Kirsty, hope all well with you….

  26. Myra Thomsas June 8, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Excellent and informative article. Thank you!

  27. Frank Earnest December 17, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    Dealing with recruiters is an absolute crapshoot. Most recruitment agencies are nothing more than an office full of talentless bimbos constantly yapping on the telephone. Honestly, drawing straws would probably yield equal or better results than trusting people with zero skill in anything to evaluate the skills of others.

    • Greg Savage December 17, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Bet you feel better getting that off your chest Frank! It’s an inane,ludicrous comment of course, but we will allow it as part of your therapy


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