5 signs your new recruiter is destined to fail!

In just about every country that I talk to recruitment business owners, they tell me they are finding it difficult to hire great recruiters.

So inevitability, recruitment firms (and corporates too, I imagine) will relax their criteria, maybe train more newbies into the industry, and that is no bad thing.


The biggest cost to every recruitment firm is salaries, and the primary destroyer of profits is under-performing or failed recruiters. That is a fact.

So as the recruitment industry gains momentum, we all have to make sure we hire people who can bill consistently, who can learn, and who fit our culture.

The irony is that our industry is notorious for making bad hires. We don’t train that well either as a rule, and our own staff turnover is often a disgrace. Yet there is another problem, which might at first seem counter-intuitive.

When we make a bad hire, often we are slow to put it right. We hold on to under-performing people for too long.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe in ‘Hire and Fire’. Investing in people is the key. But even so there are sometimes early signs you have made a wrong hire and it’s not going to work.

I am not suggesting you let someone go if one or even all of these signs emerge, but it should set off alarms and trigger action. Because doing nothing is the one thing you should not do.

  • Slow learners. Intelligence is a much underestimated trait when it comes to recruiting. I always look for it when hiring. A newbie who is slow to learn, repeats mistakes and just does not ‘get things’ is a potential disaster. Proceed with caution.
  • Unwilling learners. “Coachability “ is a key recruiter requirement in my opinion. Poor listeners, know-it-alls, and those who just can’t focus on learning different ways in their new environment, are likely to fail long-term.
  • Social misfits. Seriously, sometimes in the first day I know I have made a bad hire. Not because they can’t recruit. But because they can’t fit in. Inappropriate jokes, over-familiarity, too loud or too quiet. Of course you have to take into account new-starter nerves, and often people settle in over time. But sometimes, you just KNOW…this is wrong!
  • Late and lazy. I always see a red light flashing when the new recruiter starts coming in late in the first week, misses meetings, or does not follow up on simple, basic tasks you have given them. If that’s their “honeymoon” effort, just wait till a few months down the track!
  • Lack of courage. Sounds strange talking about courage in a desk job. But, in fact, you do need to be brave in recruitment. Make that cold call. Tell that candidate they are not right for a job they really covet. Negotiate a fee. Lead a client meeting with your new boss in the room. I have noticed that new recruiters show their “courage colours” early. Don’t throw a raw newbie in the deep-end. That’s not right and unlikely to help. But they do need to be given little tasks, which involve doing tricky things. How they tackle those is a strong signal of their long term success.

Please use my tips with care. Every new recruiter will show some of these faults. But on the other hand if you see them in a rookie, hone in on it. Examine it. Test it. Counsel them on it.

And look for rapid improvement.

If improvement is not forthcoming, you may have a serious issue.

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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19 Responses to 5 signs your new recruiter is destined to fail!

  1. Andy Klein February 2, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Greg, some good points in here. Although it seems to me that while some of your five signs can be rectified through training and coaching (particularly the first and last ones), others are deeply ingrained traits that can’t easily be undone! Perhaps you shouldn’t let someone go in the first week if they’re late and lazy, but that really speaks to who they are as a person and should not be taken lightly.

  2. Jeremy Sanderson February 2, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Some great points here Greg. They all pretty much hit the nail on the head in my experience. I have wasted so much time and money in the past trying to teach and mentor slow learners and people with bad attitudes. Not any more though. As soon as I stopped tolerating these things my company became a happier and more productive place to work. Good people don’t like working in an environment that tolerates stupidity, mediocrity and lack of commitment as it undermines their efforts and they end up having to carry the unperforming member.

  3. Melissa Biki February 2, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    Some great words of wisdom Greg – again!

  4. Simon Meade February 2, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    I agree with these points and also what Jeremy Sanderson said. If they are fundamentally the wrong person for the job all the training, coaching and encouragement will not help. I believe every person is good at some things and not others. Recruitment is no different. You either get it or you dont. If you dont it is unfair to both the person and the organisation to persist. The hard part of course is at what point you make that call.

  5. Erin Loh February 2, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Greg, very valid points! What I sometimes find as a struggle are people who exhibit a few of such “undesirable” traits but yet are strong in other areas. For example, someone who is good at his work but doesn’t observe protocol and persistently comes in late or doesn’t make an effort to integrate with the team; or someone who has great working attitude, blends in well with everyone but yet struggles with the numbers. True that we can do all our best to coach but many a times like what Andy Klein said, some traits are ingrained and can’t be undone so easily. Therein lies the challenge!

    • Greg Savage February 2, 2011 at 11:58 am #

      Erin, Andy, Jeremy, Simon, thanks for your comments and I agree with the thread of what you say.

      I think the way to address assessing an individual who shows a blend of “good” and “bad” traits is to identify which of the “bad traits” are coachable. So for example, a person who routinely comes in late, can feasibly be coached and mentored to more appropriate behavior.

      On the other hand, a person who lacks the intellectual horsepower to “get it”, cannot be coached, and indeed will absorb lots of management time, and thereafter still fail. It sound harsh, but I feel we need to almost “triage” new recruits. “Can this one be saved or not?”

      I always go back to one of my favorite sayings ” We tend to hire people based on their qualification and experience, and then we fire then because of attitude”. Hiring the right attitude would be so much simpler!

  6. Lindy Asimus February 3, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    That’s well said Greg. Certainly it applies in sales and it looks like Recruiting shares some of the same aspects.

    If you’re interested in how to measure that attitude before you waste time and money, let me know. I may have something that will help you too. It has certainly worked well in the financial services sector.

  7. Navid Sabetian February 3, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Great article. Simple and very much to the point. I could be wrong but in my experience good recruiters have certain personality traits and temperament that they are born and raised with. While people can improve over time, it is not an industry for everyone.

  8. Ed Murphy February 3, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    How interesting that so many recruiting firms have this “cobbler’s children” syndrome. May I suggest a methodology that I insist my clients use? By the time an offer is made, the new recruiter should have met at least three times with his/her future boss, at different times of day, at different locations, and at least once over a meal. Whatever criteria you choose to apply will be pretty well vetted by the time you’re ready to make the offer.

  9. Steve Ludlow February 4, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    When I’ve hired a young and inexperienced rookie to the recruitment industry, I’ve found asking them to conduct a role play over the phone (or face to face) is a good way to smoke out some of these issues prior to making a hiring decision. So I’ll coach them on a role play scenario (ie: prospecting phone call to an employer), giving them plenty of tips, but leaving enough room for some creativity. Then I’ll ask them to act out that role play over the phone once they’ve had a chance to go away and plan the call. I’m not expecting a perfect BD call, but what I’m looking for is, ‘have they listened to my coaching?’ and ‘have they added their own flair and shown some instinctive commercial intelligence?’. After all, if they are new to the industry, perhaps some of the most important characteristics for success are ‘coachability’, ‘innate commercial intelligence’ (potential to become a trusted advisor / consultant over time) and ‘bravery’ or ‘courage’ as you put it Greg. And of course, these things cannot be taught or given to them once they start; they need to bring these things with them. Doing this as a final hurdle to jump in the recruitment process for an incoming rookie has helped me avoid many hiring mistakes and hire and mentor some brilliant recruiters. For me, I invest a lot of time in coaching and development with a rookie, so this also helps maximize my return on investment of time.

  10. Judi Wunderlich February 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    This is to Ed: I would normally agree with your advice about frequent meetings at different times/locales in order to really get to know someone. Unfortunately, good recruiters are in such demand today that by the time we’ve gotten to the 2nd meeting, they already have 2 offers to choose from. I know… I just went through a lot of pain trying to hire my 4th recruiter, and because I was cautious and wanted multiple meetings, it took way too long and I missed out on so many people that I now need to hire a FIFTH person!! Yes, our business is growing that fast.

  11. brad March 13, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Greg, you seem to be implying that slow learners are less intelligent. I could wildly retort that assertion if that’s where you are going. Say it ain’t so.

  12. Brad Zirulnik March 13, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    Sorry, forgot to mention that I do like a few of your other ideas!

  13. Ravi Janardhan November 27, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks Greg for sharing. It’s helping immensely.

  14. Incognito November 28, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Well said Greg, It’s interesting but not surprising that there are so many managers within the recruitment field that have these issues, however most agencies I know are churn and burn, pay little attention to the hiring process and provide next to no training at all, this industry is notorious for setting people up for failure hence the reason that there are so many x-recruiters out there. I find it fascinating when agencies expect their people to hit the mark every time and provide next to no training except here is your business card and there is your phone… you may as well work in a call centre.

  15. Trent D Jones November 28, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for the tips Greg and they are wise words indeed. We have been caught out with this recently, the interview process went really well the candidate seemed to be very switched on, positive and motivated to grab the opportunity with both hands. During our initial induction and training the candidate seemed responsive and listened carefully. 3 months down the track the candidate is now a problem everything is too hard, or too much effort, often rolling their eyes when asked to complete a task. We have been over and over the training 1000s of times however they are still making mistakes and taking short cuts. It has really affected the overall disposition of our other staff and is trying everyone’s patience. They complain about candidate orders… can you believe that! They are given an order and they groan! Our senior managers have tried coaching, training, motivating, and even warning but there has been little improvement. This is the results on not seeing the signs early on and putting a stop to it before it effects your team.

  16. Catherine June 13, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

    I’d stick on the list, Pace/urgency and Multi-tasking.

    If people are slow and too task focused, I don’t feel that works in recruitment. You’ve got to be able to manage multiple requirements and have a strong sense of urgency.

    I see recruiters that try to complete each task fully – and then move onto the next as lacking in the core skills needed.

  17. Lucky December 2, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    Nice one for my morning reads. Kind of newbie myself so will be careful

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