“God, I hate recruiters!”

It was Sunday, so I was not in work mode at all. In fact I was watching my son trial for a Sydney Representative cricket team, and my mind was on him bowling fast and batting straight.

On the side of the field, the mums and dads congregated, and the usual banter was flying fast and furious, when one of the guys turned to me and said,

“I thought of you this week.”

The dad in question is well known to me. We have sat on sporting sidelines watching our sons for years, so I was expecting a joke or maybe even an oblique compliment.

But when I asked why, he looked at me steely-eyed and said “God, I hate recruiters”.

There it was. What every recruiter suspects, but does not really want or expect to hear.

It seems my friend had recently resigned his senior IT job and was seeking out a new role. That brought him into sharp and intimate contact with a wide range of Sydney IT recruiters, and what he had to tell me about the experience made me want to hide in shame.

What he said is not new. We have heard it before. But this was from a friend. And it was recent and raw because it happened to him in the last few days. At a vulnerable time.  And so it was so much more real than some esoteric Boardroom conversations about “candidate care”. And clearly, as a recruiter, I was caught up in his perception of our industry.

In short, he had this to say:

  • Recruiters don’t listen. They assume they know what you can do and what you want to do. They are arrogant and ride roughshod over your dreams, fears and questions.
  • Many recruiters are technically deficient. They recruit in areas they don’t understand and they are not even ashamed when its obvious that they don’t understand
  • “The bastards don’t return your calls.” Verbatim. Enough said.
  • They tell you lies. They lie about the jobs they have, and they lie about what stage your application is at with the client.
  • They provide no feedback, or scant feedback on the process, on interviews and on client opinions.

He went on to say one more thing, which I was hesitant to repeat here. But regular ‘Savage Truth‘ readers know I will always tell it as it is, so here goes. 
He said, and I quote,

“As soon as I hear the recruiter has an English accent, I won’t deal with them.”

Now, let’s dig into that.

Firstly I don’t share that generalisation, obviously. There are great English recruiters, and there are duds. Same as any nationality.

But secondly, I do understand his attitude. Because it is true that Australia has seen an influx of UK trained recruiters, many of who have a poor reputation for service. Recruiters who call candidates ‘punters’ and placements ‘deals’. The point is his experiences were bad enough for him to simply refuse to work with them. Probably reducing his chances of getting a job, but he is prepared to take that risk.

But that is all a distraction. The primary point is that candidate service is getting no better in Australia – or elsewhere in my opinion. Why are we so blind as a profession? So shortsighted? We know accessing talent is where the real battle in our business will be fought, yet we continue with this shoddy behaviour.

It’s a training issue for sure. It’s a leadership issue definitely.  It’s also a problem with the fundamental model of our industry, the fact that most work is contingent and in competition. That means recruiters fill only a small fraction of the jobs they work on. That drives speed over quality. And all that is compounded by the way we pay people. Telling them to provide service, but rewarding them only for financial outcomes

And guess who loses. Candidates.

The only good thing that came out of that sideline chat? The fact that there is clearly an opportunity for forward-thinking recruiters to differentiate.

To go against the tide.

To stand out as a beacon of service in a sea of mediocrity.

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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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123 Responses to “God, I hate recruiters!”

  1. Libby Lovell February 29, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Greg, did your son make the rep team?

    It is importants that those with experience and sector knowledge recruit in the appropriate space and those with degrees in lip gloss get by passed by employers.

    • Greg Savage February 29, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      Yes thanks Libby he did,thanks very much 🙂 and took the most wickets in the Rep team for the season just finished! So a good personal note to the story

  2. Tino February 29, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Hi Greg, I enjoy reading your blogs, thank you for sharing. I agree that the fundamental model of the industry is probably to blame. When you target people on how much money they make and promote recruiters to managers based on this system, it will never change and the candidate will always suffer at the hands of a recruiter. It’s not worth celebrating the win when so many have been trampled on along the way in my opinion. As a recruiter I especially find the treatment of candidates extremely unethical, hell as recruiters we don’t really think highly of rec to rec’s for example, but somehow we are blind to see the connection here.

    I always remember a conversation I had with a Dutch candidate back in the UK, who told me that she found the recruitment process very strange (and I can use the UK example given that Sydney’s recruitment industry is 99.9% UK 😉 (joke) she said living in Holland she only ever dealt with one consultant as the process there was completely the opposite, its completely candidate focused and truly working with them to find work. Now I know we already have that here in the form of Reverse Marketing but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not the same. Now I don’t know if that is how recruitment is done in Holland, never looked into myself, it may just have been a one off or she happen to be lucky enough to find a recruiter who understands how this industry should be run, I don’t know.

    I have one more point before I go, and in the words of John Lennon, Imagine :). Imagine it was not the client that paid us for our service but in fact the candidate, lets take a moment to think about that and how that would change what we do. We may actually become real specialists and take time to learn what those candidates do in order to get the best candidates to work with us, would be one example of many, don’t you think?

  3. James September 4, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Btw – there is a website called Snipey that allows you to filter out recruiter ads – try http://www.snipey.com.au


  4. Ian Cervantez April 27, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Stop being “recruiters”, and start being “agents”. Movie stars have agents that do more than a simple recruiter does, and recruiters have the whole “talk to 100 different people and 100 different companies until you can find 1 match and still make over 100/hour for the effort” thing going – it’s a business strictly centered around volume. 10x management figured it out.


  5. Tom May 25, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Funny reading this article as I am currently in a similar position to your friend and one of the commenters. I work in IT, live overseas and I am looking for work back in Australia, so I imagine your friend and I are dealing with similar agencies and/or people.

    What frustrates me most is how easily recruiters manage to de-personalise a very personal industry. You are dealing with people and their emotions, whether you like it or not. That will never change.

    At the same time you are dealing with businesses which leaves little room for emotion and sympathy. Being a recruiter must be akin to purgatory. Which way do you go?

    Considering the trend of businesses focusing more on creating and developing culture, I would argue the correct way to go is to focus more on the people and less on the businesses. Yes there are lies, as one of the commenters correctly pointed out, but how can you ever pick them out when you have taken a left-brained, analytical approach to dealing with people? You need to be more personal, more caring, and more capable of sensitivity. You need to be able to look people in the eye, to know their tone of voice, and to subsequently know what kind of person you are dealing with. It’s a skill far more valuable than statistical qualification.

    Sorry to say but most of you are not simply bastards, but cold bastards.

    Warmth is all you need.

  6. Lance August 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Greg can you please please use your influence and get the recruitment industry to shape up and stop all these shoddy practices.

    Recruiters don’t listen. They assume they know what you can do and what you want to do. They are arrogant and ride roughshod over your dreams, fears and questions.

    Many recruiters are technically deficient. They recruit in areas they don’t understand and they are not even ashamed when its obvious that they don’t understand

    “The bastards don’t return your calls.” Verbatim. Enough said.

    They tell you lies. They lie about the jobs they have, and they lie about what stage your application is at with the client.

    They provide no feedback, or scant feedback on the process, on interviews and on client opinions.

    Stop the “cowboys” our industry is riddled with them.

    • Greg Savage August 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      BY writing these blogs Lance, and speaking globally on these topics, I hope I am doing what I can to influence change,


  7. 62andoutofwork September 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    I’m out of work and dealing with recruiters. Please remember a couple of things.
    1) The unemployed do talk to each other – we trade experiences with recruiters and hiring companies.
    2) We have long memories.

  8. Joy Kaufman October 22, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    So, I realize on any given post like this recruiters respond en masse saying “I’m not that kind of recruiter, and abhor those that are.” And yes, I personally agree with that sentiment, but that is besides the point.

    I would like to say though that the bad behavior works both ways–I would estimate about 50% of candidates who apply electronically for a job are either not qualified, or not professional in their outreach. Examples of this are people who receive a grammatically correct email with a formal “Best Regards” signatures, and reply like this:

    how much for salary

    With nothing else. It is a two sided problem, and obviously the individuals who are irresponsible recruiters/jobseekers are to blame, and not the rest of us.

    I would raise a second point though: and I do sympathize with “technical” recruiters who are the antithesis of. However the reality is that if you are smart enough to get to a certain technical level you get elevated into another field. I am finishing ITIL Intermediate and CompTIA certs myself, and already have gotten opportunities for transfer on the basis of the technical knowledge I have accrued, even though I am far from a technical professional and I truly know that.

    I still maintain though that with electronic systems people apply to jobs on a lark, without thoroughly reading the qualifications. I would argue that the ratio of recruiter non-response is at least somewhat proportional to the instances of clearly unqualified applicants gumming up the works with applications.

    This exacerbates the fact that some recruiters are hired for their personal skills versus their in-depth knowledge of a given specialized field. If you examine the ratio of bad behavior on both sides, it is fairly consistent. If we want an improved experience candidates and recruiters-AND HIRING MANAGERS! –alike have to recognize the merits of using a boutique and personalized approach to acquiring talent.

  9. Gavin March 13, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    I must say Greg, being English I have dealt with many recruiters on this side of the world. Of course I have no grounds for comparison to Australian or American recruiters, or ones from anywhere really, but I will say your friend is very well justified in not dealing with any of them. The whole time I was unemployed I did not meet a single one who had any interest in painting themselves in a good light to the candidate, not to mention the fact that I applied to be a recruiter, many many times, to not hear a single peep back, not even an automated rejection email. Of course now I see it very much as a dodged bullet, but with any luck the recruitment industry here will eventually be crushed under the weight of its own ego and incompotence.

  10. Emilia May 10, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    Being on the other side of things, I can still relate to your friend’s frustration, however it does not mean that all recruiters are the same. Obviously, their attitude towards candidates reflect the company they work for and their own mannerism in the end. They have not been trained to provide a great service – most recruitment companies just hire you, without providing any extra guidance. Among those that work for such companies there are very few that are committed to make a difference as a recruiter.

    However, I deal with bad-mannered candidates on a daily basis. What Joy highlighted above is true – most will apply for jobs that they are totally unqualified for. This is just a waste of time for recruiters. Not to mention the fact that most don’t even read the whole advert and apply for locations where they would never move – again a waste of time – or address me as ‘SIR’ when my name is clearly stated on the advert for this exact purpose – to avoid confusion.

    What your friend has mentioned is true – some recruiters think they know what you do and what you want and will just assume that you will go for the job they have, so start selling straight away. And working for a company that actually trains you not to assume but to get to know a candidate, I am having a hard time because of such recruiters. I am working in the pharma industry and I’ve been through a tough training program to learn the whole drug lifecycle, the million markets and the numerous kind of jobs that are out there. I still think there are plenty of things to learn, so when I ask what they do at their job or what they want to do, the response I often get is ‘Haven’t you read my CV?’. Those individuals who are trying to be in the small percentage of ‘good recruiters’ have to deal with the mess that others recruiters made, unfortunately.

    I am not a cold person, I entered this industry to help people – but I’m having a hard time dealing with people that are rude, condescending or not even trying to show a bit of professionalism. This is not about money at all- in the end, you are going to be my representative and if you’re a bit of a jerk- that is only going to reflect badly on me.


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