Recruiters, time toughen up!

Most people who become recruiters do not last. There are many reasons for that. Poor hiring decisions and inadequate training being high on the list.

But there is another key reason why so few people actually last in the hurly-burly world of agency recruiting.

It’s a frigging hard job!

So I know that sometimes you question why you do it. There are times you hate what you do. There are days you go home feeling deflated, worn-out and frankly, useless.

The world is littered with ‘ex-recruiters’, burnt out, scarred and resentful about their all-too-short recruiting career.

Seriously, the guy who cut my hair last week told me he had ‘been a recruiter once’.

It’s true too that being a recruiter can be the greatest job of all, but even so, to survive you have to know the pitfalls, prepare for them, minimise their impact where you can, and push through the inevitable challenges this job will throw you.

  • Recruiting is uniquely tough because it’s the only job that I know where what you are selling can turn around and say ‘no’. Think about it. I sell you my car. You agree to buy the car. I agree to sell the car. We agree a price. The car does not then jump up and say “Hey you know what, I am not going to go with this new guy”. Don’t laugh. That happens to recruiters every day. We do everything right. Take a great job spec. Impress our client. Recruit great talent. Make the match. Manage the process. Architect a fitting deal for all parties. Secure a great offer. Get everything agreed and at the last minute – our product – the candidate – says, “ Nah, I changed my mind, I will stay where I am”. And that is it. All over red rover!
  • Recruiting is a killer because for us, it is all or nothing. Sure, a tiny percentage of our work is retained, but mostly recruiting is first prize or nothing. Our business is not like the Olympics where you can pick up a respectable silver or bronze for competing well. For us it’s gold…or its donut! We do all the work, spend huge amounts of time and expertise, and manage the process with skill and diligence. But if our 5 great candidates get pipped by a late runner from another recruiter, or an internal candidate, then it is big fat zero for us. That’s tough. Hard to take. Especially when it happens often. And it does.
  • Recruiting grinds you down because you do so much work you don’t get paid for. When you hear the words “I am feeling burnt out” from a recruiter, what that actually means is “I just can’t stand doing so much work for so little return”. Contingent recruiters are lucky to fill one job out of 5 they take, and place one candidate out of 10 they meet. And combined with the ‘all or nothing’ fee model most work on, it means lots and lots of hours for which we don’t get paid, and equally importantly see no tangible success. And success, in the form of happy clients and happy talent, is the bedrock upon which our self-esteem is built. And once that crumbles, it is the beginning of the end.

So what to do?

  • Firstly recognise that if you are going to be a recruiter, these challenges come with the job. In the memorable words of my Under 18 rugby coach, ‘Toughen the f*** up’ and prepare yourself for plenty of disappointment.
  • Secondly, work hard to mitigate the risk of these things happening to you. Hone your recruitment skills, your talent management skills, and your job qualification ability. Build trusted advisor relationships and work to get exclusivity on orders to increase your job-fill ratios. Great recruiters, who move from transacting to consulting, start to win more than they lose.
  • Finally,  never forget that if you choose to be a recruiter, you have made a Faustian bargain. You have chosen a career fraught with pitfalls and sometimes it feels like a living hell, But do it right, and the fun and money we need for a great job is within our grasp, because being a recruiter can really rock too!


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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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59 Responses to Recruiters, time toughen up!

  1. Simon Meade October 12, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    As usual a good insight.

  2. Suzanne Sheil October 12, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Hit the nail on the head as usual!

  3. Laurie Williams October 12, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    How true this is! Especially the part about the only job in which the “product” can say “no” or change their mind..

  4. Shawn Barnett October 12, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    I’ve only been in recruitment 5 years; however I do fill the benefits out way the negative side of recruitment if you are willing to persist. If you can be resilient you have a career for life and it can open so many more doors of opportunity.

    Keep strong, if you are down you are only 1 deal away from being back on your game!!

  5. Tim Venn October 12, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Greg, enjoyed this blog. Thank you

    PS when someone asked you if you would take a hair cut last week, they might not have meant it litterally…

  6. Brad October 12, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Recruitment suits my personality and lifestyle. If I wasnt in recruitment I would have no idea what I would do?

    Thanks Greg – good blog. Brad.

  7. Daniel Elrington October 12, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks Greg for another great newsletter! Love your work!
    I also love the advice from the Buddha – the advice of the middle path – don’t ride the highs too high or the lows too low. Cheers mate.

  8. Jane Devereux October 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Just what I needed today… on!!! I read some of this to a client which gave a powerful message!! Only the strong survive in this industry which is changing all the time.
    Thanks Greg

  9. Richard Watts October 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    What response are you looking for here? How long has it been since you picked up the telephone and recruited?

    • Greg Savage October 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks for your comment on the blog Richard. Much appreciated
      In answer to the two questions you pose….
      1) None
      2) This morning



      • Steve September 15, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

        Great response Greg!

        I guess Richard works in recruitment, but he picks up the phone and doesn’t recruit!

        Get back in your box.

  10. Eliza October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    How many times over the last 10 years have I met those blocks and I’m still here! I think my skin gets thicker and thicker and what I once found so horribly frustrating and confidence shattering I now view as a challenge, or a fact of life and just move on. One big lesson I did learn, is to never ever take anything personally… but I think this understanding came through growing older!

  11. Dan Marsh October 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Once again an excellent blog Greg. The best I’ve read in a long time, spot on!

  12. Pina Stojko October 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Hi Greg,

    Pina Stojko, 12 years recruitment experience and I am the founder and GM of an boutique recruitment agency. I love the industry because we have a positive impact on the lives of our candidates and they achieve high revenue results for our clients.

    I like your blog and I agree with you on “toughen the f*** up! but I wonder if up and coming recruiters who read this style of information could be put off? I hear the positives (and for us who have been here so long, tough is a mere perception) but finding good recruiters is already hard enough. No to mention coaching them through a bad day combined with reading similar material to above! What are your recommendations on ensuring that my young ones don’t read into this sort of material the wrong way? I’d hate for this to reach them at a sensitive moment causing them to misdiagnose their career choice!

    Regards, Pina.

    • Greg Savage October 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Pina

      I understand your concerns. However I believe it is exactly this information that new recruiters MUST hear and understand. It is because people are hired into our industry without being prepared for its rigors, that so many fail and move on

      Of course we must balance things up… and I would suggest a fresh recruit read this in tandem with the current blog

      I interviewed a potential recruiter for Firebrand this very morning – and I went through all the downsides I mentioned on my blog. It was tough for her to hear, and she was nervous, but we worked out that she has the ability and resilience to overcome the pitfalls. Or we both believe so! And so when she is in the job, and hits a landmine, she, and we, will be prepared and able to over come it



  13. Neil Bolton October 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    “Contingent recruiters are lucky to fill one job out of 5 they take . . . ”

    Then they are doing it wrong. Sorry.

    More quality, less quantity = less work, more results = happier clients and candidates = less work, more results . . .


  14. Jeremy Sanderson October 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    I totally agree with you Greg, I’m sick of hiring and training wimps only to find they quit as soon as it gets a bit tough. I respect the crew I have now because they’re survivors. Too many people come into this industry to find it’s the first really hard thing they’ve ever tackled in their lives. If your message scares a few of the faint-hearted quitters away from the industry so much the better. If you tell it like it is and people still want the job then they’ve just passed the first screening!

  15. Lloyd October 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    You telling me that you go to a burnt out recruiter, let him play with a sharp pair of scissors while you sit in a chair and he stands behind you? Are you nuts? Lol

    More seriously, good blog, thanks.

  16. Steve October 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Spot on Greg. Your comments should be compulsory reading for anyone looking to enter the industry.

  17. Richard Watts October 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Between all this blogging, presentations and running big companies you are recruiting??? As my old CEO of Ranstad CPE used to say, try not to over think recruitment, pick up the telephone and the rest will follow!!! Simple.

  18. helen October 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Greg, a great blog, my passion has lasted 25 years…..

  19. Gill Paterson October 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Great article as usual. In the office we have been discussing how true it is. If you aren’t resilient enough to deal with all the areas it could go wrong you won’t last in recruitment or at least you won’t be happy. The other side is that at least as Recruiters we are able to go and find our clients the right candidate. Not always easy but if we are recruiting well and our client is realistic and working well with us it should be possible. How many people in sales have a product or service that they can’t change therefore if the prospective client doesn’t like some aspect of it the sale just won’t go ahead – they really don’t have any control?

  20. Tracy Wright October 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Spot on as usual Greg.

  21. Lindy Wellington October 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    Recruitment can at times be “champagne & razor blades” and I think that any person coming into our industry needs to be aware of how things are. Resilience is key. Good luck with the new hire into your business.

  22. Steph Walton October 12, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Greg, You have the ability to get straight to the heart of a matter and this piece does just that!

    During my 17 years so far in Recruitment, the tenacity needed to be the at the top of your game is still as essential now as it was then. The landscape may look like it has changed in terms of how we operate but the rewards / setbacks and the ups and downs are exactly the same!

  23. John Gorodecky October 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Greg great read, any candidate you tells you that HR is the same as recruitment should be sent this before considering a move into the recruitment industry!

  24. Jen October 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    LOVE this article!! After 8 years in the industry, I can say that some months are wonderful and some months make me want to pull my hair out. That’s what recruiting is about and I’ve come to expect that no matter how strong of a recruiter you are, this will happen to all of us at some point. Eventually, you toughen the f%^ up and know that it will pass.

  25. so wat October 13, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    I don;t agree….you recruiters…..don’t work at all…honestly speaking. 90% of the recruiters are bogus…..and i wish them……….let the life treat them like s***

  26. Antonio October 13, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    Ah… So many times approached by recruiter not having a clue what they were talking about that I wish I would have a pound for it! Going for numbers, no consideration whatsoever for the product they are selling (cattle comes to mind) so… Not surprised they may get a “nah! Not going to move!”.

    What I am surprised about is how the recruitment market is still as big as it is this day. Would be better off with less but better people.

    I get “N” calls a day from recruiters with “fantastic candidates!!!….” The best way to end the conversation is to ask if they have any job which would match my skills :). Job done… No need to be rude.. They just run!

    Few recruiters have passed the phone stage (not even a hand full). Wish you all good luck in the coming months (years) if don’t get your act together.

    Being a recruiter is as tough as any other job. Just do it right… Respect your client and “product”.

  27. Josh Stomel October 13, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Well Put. Thanks for sharing with us.

    – Josh Stomel

  28. James McBeath October 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I agree with Greg – recruitment is tough, but I think as an industry we make it tough for ourselves. Lets face it, contingent recruitment is a highly competitive, ‘all or nothing’ high stakes game and the corner-cutting and consultant churn in the industry is a direct result of this. We would all help ourselves, and probably raise the overall standard of the industry if we challenged employers who state that they value a ‘trusted advisor’ relationship with their recruiter but who are only prepared to part with their money upon placement. Their ‘valued and trusted advisor’ (s) are shouldering all the risk and with multiple providers engaged for a contingent job the result is all too often a stressful race to be first in line with some candidates. Its no wonder our self esteem is so mercurial. I would disagree with Greg on one point – I would regard success as not being dependent on the happiness of our stakeholders (at least not entirely), but on the self esteem we would derive from being truly valued for our knowledge, experience, skills and time.

  29. Simon Kenna October 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Absolutely, recruitment is not easy!

    There is no one key ingredient, except the best people tend not to waste a minute of their day. They constantly have their heads down and are focused on high levels of activity. I 100% guarantee not one top level recruiter will be having the crack with work colleagues or walking out for a cigarette whilst he has an urgent vacancy to fill.

    When I was first hired into recruitment eleven years ago the company held a four stage interview process and I was hauled over the coals each time. It was relentless questioning from all directions, good cop bad cop, psychometric testing, role-playing, presentations ect… ect.. Looking back I think an hour’s grilling on Dragons Den would have been easier.
    I got the job yippee….. Moreover, I was being sent away for a full two week training course. Seven people attended that course and underwent the same rigorous recruitment process I did. After year one I was the only trainee left. This continued with trainees for the next eight years until the recession hit…

    Trainees 80/20…

    I have learnt many things about recruitment over the last eleven years and here a few snippets:

    At the end of each day plan the calls you will be making the following day
    The more cold calls you make the easier they become
    Don’t every think you know everything recruitment because you don’t
    And finally, focus every moment of your working day on producing results… success will follow!

    My apologies to those people who feel I am teaching them to suck eggs!

    All the best Simon

  30. James Norton October 14, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Bla bla Bla Bla bla….Just give me an exemple of someone who choose recruitment out of choice! most recruiters (if not all) fell into it because that was the only thing available when they were desperate for a job
    This doesn’t mean that I disagree with the artice – but I just don’t like when some recruiters pretend that they love their job when they actually don’t.

    The test for this would be: Would you still do recruitment if you were offered the same earning potential doing another job that is not as volatile, impredictible, stressful and heavily targeted?

  31. Steve Alais October 14, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    James, it all comes down to whether you like ambiguity and unpredictability in your career? I have to say the idea of drawing a straight salary, even a high salary, where there is no sense of the chase (in sales terms), in which there is no feeling of ever living on the edge would bore the crap out of me. I have been in recruitment for close to fifteen years and have had some really good years and a few tough ones. Sometimes when deals go sour it’s hard to take, but you just need to pick yourself up and get over it. I for one didn’t go into recruitment because I was desperate for a job, I was bloody grateful to find a career that aligned with my transferable skills and personality. BTW, I spent about a year as an internal recruiter during the global financial crisus in 2008/09, and while I learnt a few things, I always felt that I was nothing more than a bureaucrat doing a job for a large corporate, in which I had no ability to increase my income. So yes, I would stil be an agency recruiter.

  32. Julia briggs October 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    I wear it as a badge of honour that I was an employed head hunter for a year and left. I won business for myself, I ended up doing most of my own research and I made sure our largest client had a better level of service. Which all took a huge amount of time and affected my overall numbers. But I cared about clients and candidates too much to change my ways. So I chose to leave and work directly for clients. For 33%. So my point is, for the very few of you who genuinely care about the quality of your work, and not the adrenalin rush aspect – go out and do it on your own. Now that really shows cojones

  33. Nathan Reese October 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    And what’s worst we still have to pay for that donut out of our own pocket Greg :)

  34. Stephen Turnock October 18, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    Amazing how many ex recruiters we come across. I always think, possibly wrongly in some cases, that they obviously failed at being a recruiter. I would always advocate to tell it like it is to new recruits. But many times a would be employer can get it wrong and turn down a would be superstar. I know this fist hand too as I was told I would never make a recruiter by a leading UK Recruiter Co. I had the pleasure of calling that person 12 months later telling them I was already running over 100 contractors – kind of the Julia Roberts moment – “hey you guys work on commission don’t you – big mistake!..” Well I was loving every minute in recruitment and now over 20 years later have never been so much into recruitment and still loving it every day.

    The big challenge to come for identifying new recruiters as well as for existing recruiters and mindsets is the move from just finding people to engaging with people. Recruiters will need to be able to be social and also listen more [less broadcast]. Certainly, building networks of people before they become available will now be key as the last few years have rather leaned towards transactional, broadcasting and just waiting upon responses. Recruiters metrics will be more about how we are doing on engagement and adding value in the networks and pools in which we serve! An opportunity indeed for new recruiters to come into this fantastic profession at this amazing time.

  35. Cathy Hanch CPA on LinkedIn October 18, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Words to the wise- “Be quick to listen, be slow to speak, and be slow to anger.” Jeremiah 1:19

    How you treat people is how they perceive you, are and every colleague, every friend, every person you meet has the potential of doing great things for me and you, so why not return the favor before they get their chance !

    I have many a positive recruiter and consulting placement representative to thank for my career, and I continue to do everything I can to speak positively about your unique skills! Thanks!

  36. Alan Allebone October 26, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Hi Greg,
    Well you can tell your readers and followers that you know a guy who has just turned 67 (05/10/11, been a recruiter at various levels for 35 years (04/01/76) and has been at TEAM Executive Consultants for 13 years (15/10/11).

    I have no intention of retiring. Too much to do and too many people to help!

    Why? because today’s candidates are tomorrow’s clients. NEVER QUIT!!!

    Keep up the good work Greg and all you consultants out there!

  37. Antoni Laqué October 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Never thought about all this. A really interesting insight. Thanks.

  38. Ravi Janardhan October 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Thanks Greg for sharing this!

    It’s quite touching! And helps new recruiters understand & be prepared.

  39. Michael Carter November 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Luv it. A nice way to educate many of those you might coming from other industries and careers that have taken a beating in these economic times and view recruiting as as easy harbor to anchor their ships until the rough seas pass by. Professionals who are lured by the promise of quick , easy magnificent fees may not have realized that in order to build a successful trusted adviser relationship, it takes hard and smart work, time and delivering results.

  40. blair January 5, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    our product – the candidate – says, “ Nah, I changed my mind, I will stay where I am”.

    This is exactly where most recruiters go wrong. Not that they say no, but your attitude that candidates are products. Candidates are not products, they are people. A good recruitment agent will serve both their client and candidate equally and understand the candidate as much as the clients needs. In the tech world, where demand far outstripes supply, a recruiter had better work harder on candidate relationships than client relations or they are toast. I am a contractor and get approached my agents every day. Most of them I ignore because they treat me like a product. The ones I talk to are the ones that are bothered to actually develop a relationship with me over the long term and treat me like a real human being, not a product. They are the ones I trust, they are the ones that can trust me and they are the ones that are successful. And out of the hundreds or maybe thousands of recruiters that try and contact me, I can count the good ones on one hand.

    • Greg Savage January 5, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

      Thanks for your comments Blair,

      I agree with everything you say about the relationship a good recruiter needs to cultivate with candidates. And I agree too, that most recruiters are not good at it and many don’t even try. Sadder still, many don’t understand WHY they should try. So we are at one on this.

      I do want to clarify one important point. At Firebrand we do not think of candidates as “products” nor do we behave towards them in that way. Sure I used the word “product” in this blog. But that was to make a point, and the word was used in an analogy about selling.

      MY blog is full of lessons on candidate care and relationship-building, but for starters you might like to view this video for my thoughts on the matter

      Thanks again for taking the time to post your thoughts, cheers Greg

  41. Richard Dunne September 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Although I am a job-seeker, not a recruiter, my view is that anyone involved in recruitment, employment agent or a company recruiting directly, if they are not head-hunting for every job they are trying to fill, they are most likely missing out on the best candidate(s). Advertising a role and waiting for interested candidates to apply, I’m sorry, but that is just lazy! If you are not turning over every stone to find the best candidate for a job, you are in the wrong business.

  42. Holly Smith March 30, 2013 at 2:07 am #

    After 7 years, my skin is thicker and it was pretty thin to begin with. It’s a little funny that you do have to have a thick skin, but not jaded. Everytime you pick up the phone you have to believe that that person is going to be the best candidate ever…you have to believe it in your bones!!!

  43. JP October 21, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Awesome advise.

    I am in the process of opening a recruitment company of my own and its so interesting to read and learn from the best in the business.

  44. harry February 11, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    greg, you sound like someone who has practised recruitmesnt in the UK or America. So I suggest you shut the fuck up and become a fly on the wall in some of the agencies here.
    Ever heard of a thing called constant rejection?
    Off course you have you ugly cunt

    • Greg Savage February 11, 2014 at 8:11 am #

      Harry , great comments, thanks. You are exactly the kind of sniveling weakling, hiding behind anonymity, I am referring to in my blog, so I appreciate you taking the time to illustrate my point. Although I AM surprised you face “constant rejection”…you clearly approach your work with so much charm and sophistication….keep reading my blog that… (PS although to be are right on one thing..I am ugly)

      • Shauna-Marie Wilson April 26, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

        greg his abusive comment was way out of order. He could’ve made his point without being personally abusive. You handled him deftly & appropriately.

  45. Corey Lewis July 15, 2014 at 1:36 am #

    Well done Greg; I could not have said it better.

  46. James Russler December 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Recruiting is only “hard” because 99.9% of recruiters are incompetent buffoons who couldn’t find their rear ends with a map and compass.

    • Greg Savage December 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

      A fair,generous, considered and intelligent comment James. Good job! And a very Merry Christmas to you… from grateful recruiters everywhere.

  47. Rachel Fucich April 19, 2016 at 4:46 am #

    Hi Greg,
    As I read your commentary on the challenges of recruitment, I grow more intrigued by the challenge of getting both parties on board, in addition to satisfying the wants and needs of all who are involved. A profession in recruitment requires an immense amount of passion for the process of matching candidates and managing the client-candidate connection, which are processes that not for the easily discouraged.
    The measures you listed to achieve success as a recruiter spark inspiration to constantly improve and refresh selling skills and prepare for disappointment. I find the idea of consulting rather than transacting to be an effective method of building stronger relationships and ultimately fully understanding the needs of both clients and candidates.
    Thank you for your insight on the difficulties associated with recruitment, and motivation for continuing to improve.


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