Stressed recruiter? Take a chill-pill

Stress at work is dangerous. Seriously. I believe it leads to medical issues, and it certainly will harm your relationships and overall quality of life.

And that is bad for us recruiters because we do one of the toughest jobs around. The ‘all or nothing’ nature of what we do is designed to induce stress, it seems.

Over the years I have seen recruiters reduced to highly destructive and antisocial behavior as a result of the stress they feel, as they fight to achieve targets, deal with major disappointments, and cope with rude clients and ungrateful candidates.

Drinking too much. Drug abuse. Anger directed at colleagues. Wild mood swings. Dishonest dealings. Depression. Rapid weight gain or loss.

All unfortunate. All harmful.

But what can you do about it? Pressure and stress is part of what we do. It’s not going to go away. The reality is we need to learn to cope. Have some releases that ease the pressure and redress the balance.

Here are a few things I recommend, when it comes to battling the stress tsunami.

  • Have a good cry. Seriously. Or, once the phone is put down, let off some steam. As long as it’s not directed at a colleague. As long as it’s quick. As long as you bounce back fast, it’s OK! In fact, given our job, it would be weird not to melt down occasionally. I was not much of a crier myself, but when things went seriously wrong it was not unknown for me to let slip a few choice expletives, punch the desk, bang my head on the wall. It’s OK. Let it go. You will feel better afterward. But then… move on!
  • Get perspective. Breathe. Again, I am serious. Push back from your desk. Suck in the big ones. Deliberately and consciously shift your thinking. Dump the negatives. ‘It will go well’, not ‘it’s all going down the gurgler’. I believe in PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). And I also believe that we can control how we react to situations. Jump off the stress treadmill. Take a chill-pill. Recalibrate your attitude. Whatever crappy thing just happened, it’s not that serious.
  • Recognise the warning signs. This is simple, but big. If stress is building and you can see it’s getting worse, sometimes discretion is the greater part of valour. Take evasive action. Avoid that irritating client call. Stop making sales calls for an hour where you are getting nowhere with rude clients, and call 10 of your best talent instead. They will be pleased to hear from you and that will cheer you up right there! Leave the office early. You can make it up tomorrow. Call someone who will cheer you up.
  • Set an achievable goal. One you can get, and that will make you feel good. This is key. A massive sea of work is piling up all around you. You can see no way you can get it done. Every call you take seems to pile more and more on you. The ‘to do’ list is getting ever longer.  So here is the trick. Cross everything on the ‘to do’ list out, except the top 3 big, hairy important things that must get done. Forget the rest. You were not going to get to them anyway, were you? Scratch them out and get the big 3 to 5 things done. Then go home. Successful.
  • Sweat a little. This is my most personal tip. I reckon exercise reduces stress exponentially. In fact I have month’s gym session in my diary ahead of time – 3 or 4 a week – and I don’t change them for anybody (unless my wife tells me to. Obviously.). And I go in the middle of the day. Just around the corner from my office. It suits me because I work long hours and it does not really matter when I take the break, as long as I take it. For you it might be different, but if you feel the stress building, don’t hit the grog or buy that burger to give you the comfort you crave. Run, gym, bike or even just a swift walk. For me it’s a lifesaver. Someone even told me that if they have a difficult meeting with me, they try to arrange it after my gym session, because, inevitably, I am ‘much calmer’.

Being a recruiter means stress. It never fully goes away no matter how good you are. You have to manage it. Because if we can manage the pressure, being a recruiter rocks! Hope these tips help you!


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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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23 Responses to Stressed recruiter? Take a chill-pill

  1. Jeremy Wilson November 22, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Greg, all good advice as usual. The last one I utterly agree with. Have started hitting the gym three times a week and then grabbing a quick lunch afterwards by myself to have that me time and to think over how I’m going for the day and what I need to get done that afternoon. This had helped a lot with my stress levels and I highly recommend it!

  2. Piers Rowan November 22, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    “..Get perspective….”

    A great deal of stress is self manufactured – its taking it personally and not stepping back and seeing it for what it already is. (Read that you came along to solve someone else’s problems that hopefully are not of your making). The moment you loose your objectivity about a client, candidate or job then you run the danger of becoming part of the problem both systemically and emotionally.

    The physical tips are great reminders – for example I never take an important call sitting down. The idea of taking a breath helps reinforce the mental perspective with a physical reminder.

    +1 agree that you might not choose the situation but you do get to choose your response to it. Some people have been through much harder situations than recruitment and prevailed because the choices they made about responses were the right ones. If you don’t believe you have choice then you are already walking down the track of giving up, when you remind yourself you have choice you take control of your best asset – YOU!

    As (according to the wisdom of tear out calendars and) the Japanese say: “…fall down six times, get up seven…”

  3. Alan Allebone November 22, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    How true all the above is Greg!
    I have had personal experience of the above and it does work.
    Worry sometimes, is one the biggest factors.
    1. Are we going to make budget or target this month?
    2. Wil the client want to negotiate the fee?
    3. Will the candiate stay the course?
    worry worry worry.

    Sometimes we get so angry with clients that we might just let out the wrong comments.
    Put the phone down and like Greg says let rip.

    We often say, oh tomorrow will be okay it is another day!. HEY guys put the problem right now do not leave it to fester!

    Act today rest tomorrow!

    Try the gym early before work see how different you feel and how different you perform!

    Go for a short / quick 5 – 10 minute walk round the block or a quick cuppa that helps me so very much!

    You never know until you give it a go!

    recruiters, recruiters, don’t be slow!
    Be like Greg Go man go!

  4. Steve Alais November 22, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Gym and exercise- every recruiter should be doing this. When I started going to the gym six years ago to pump iron my billings went up significanly. Remembe,r setbacks are temporary problems that often have silver linings.

  5. Daniel Elrington November 22, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    Thanks Greg … stress is an issue for recruiters and most people in the corporate world. Mental, Emotional and Physical well being has now become a “subject” … you can even study a Masters in Wellness at RMIT.

    In addition to your excellent recommendations for managing stress, I would also like to recommend meditation and yoga practice as very magical practices that can really help “clear the mind” and “open the heart” … these practices really provide the key to transforming stress on the inner and deeper levels … with regular practice, you can really open up to “delight” – free from stress … happy 🙂

  6. Arthur | MyCarBudget November 22, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    A couple of years ago I was in a sales role that wasn’t go anywhere as well as I would have hoped. I remember listening to a webinar at the time that talked about keeping a split between work and home. If work wasn’t going in the direction you wanted it to, make sure that your personal life is so that you have a happy home to go to. Whether it be a partner, children, friends or the gym it is a happier and more comforting environment to reflect and gain energy for the next day.

  7. Steve November 22, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    And if all else fails – get a cat! Seriously, we got one about a year ago and since then, people have commented that i am more relaxed, less ‘stressed’ and therefore I recruit better, engage with clients and candidates better and have a smile for longer!!

  8. Veronica Phillips November 22, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    As usual Greg your comments are open and the truth, you say it like it is, causing much manic laughter in my office and comments of “he must have cameras in here somewhere”! Yes our job is by nature of the beast, stressful, its a rollercoaster and the ability to be able to in the moment blow a gasket, celebrate wildly or have a meltdown in a corner, is all part of letting it go and saying in the next breath “bring it on” Having that allowance and understanding for the rigours of our job makes for a happy and resilient team. I have taken on board the advice re visiting gym from the office and am bringing my sneakers in! Thank you once again

  9. Lesley Horsburgh November 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    You Greg … use expletives!!! I can’t imagine!
    I like this and will be passing it onto my advertising sales staff – who interestingly sell to the recruitment industry… how stressful would that be!

    • Greg Savage November 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

      Lesley, I know you know I swear on rare occasion. But never at YOU, I hasten to remind you!

  10. David Tortely November 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I thought you told us in a recent post to toughen the **** up? Now we need to have a good cry??? Will we have to go out and give free hugs next?

    • Greg Savage November 23, 2011 at 5:49 am #

      It’s perfectly possible to be extremely tough, and also be prone to the odd good cry, David.
      Don’t you think?


  11. Melinda Cordell November 23, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    Great advice! Most days are fabulous being a Recruiter, but there’s always that one person you talk to that can ruin your whole day. My advice and viewpoint is this: that grumpy, rude, disrespectful person can only ruin your day if YOU ALLOW it! The feelings that grumpy person is projecting on to you is not right, but hey – that’s life. Some people are just rude. So a good friend of mine taught me a technique that works for me. Anytime I encounter negative thoughts, negative people, negative anything – I simply say to myself “Return To Sender”. Here’s why: the negative thoughts/feelings ARE NOT MINE. They are someone else’s crap. So “return it to the sender” – return it to the grumpy one. Not literally of course. It’s a mind thing. You just think it, and it helps to brush off that negative energy. Another saying that this same friend offered me is this: “All Life Comes to Me with Ease, Joy, and Glory!” Life can only be hard if you MAKE it hard. So PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) WORKS! If you believe it, you can achieve it! Sounds corny and cliche – but I’d rather be corny, cliche and a Rockin’ Recruiter!! Thanks for the article!

  12. Stuart Harvey November 23, 2011 at 7:07 am #

    Sage advice Greg,

    My personal way of dealing with the stress was to hit the rugby field or at a minimum go and kick the ball around with a mate for a while.

  13. David Tortely November 23, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Greg, seriously that depends who you ask. In all the places I’ve worked, especially if you’re a man, having a blub on the floor would set you up for ridicule for the rest of eternity. I would strongly advise against it.

    The worst day I ever had in recruitment was when I had a deal fall out and 2 second interviews scheduled for that day which were cancelled (with different clients). My natural response wasn’t to cry, it was to send my whole phone flying across the sales floor and through a partition, and to vandalise my chair. The boss understood.

    I agree with your points about getting in the gym.

    • Greg Savage November 23, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      David, If you re read what I wrote I think you will find what you are saying is exactly what I said. “once the phone is put down, let off some steam”. My way was as described. Not much crying, but a fair bit of venting. Yours appears to be similar, with additional violence to fixtures and fittings. The reference to “crying” was acknowledging that people have many different ways of doing that. Some of the very, very toughest and most hardy and most resilient recruiters I have ever known over 30 years, would sometimes shed a tear. Some of them were even men. I marveled at their toughness however.

  14. Michael Jhoomun December 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Get perspective… love this. Set realistic expectations with yourself and others, control what you can and we are not surgeons!!…no one is going to die!! Great discussion points Greg

  15. Ruben Rocha December 20, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    Sound advice. Point number 5 – Sweat a little… Is my personal favourite. Thanks.

  16. Jenni January 25, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    You don’t have to cry in front of people. I’ve always been told that if you’re going to cry at work, go somewhere and cry alone. Even with venting, I would never really advise throwing a hissy fit in the office. Maybe take a walk with a colleague so your negative energy doesn’t rub off on the entire office… but great article. I think too many people focus on what they can’t control, versus what they can.

  17. Chris Lyon March 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Great advice Greg. I feel lucky because I’ve always had a sunny disposition. I do see other recruiters in the office get overly stressed over every little thing. I’ll be sharing this article with them.

  18. Anthony Hesse February 28, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Great article as always Greg. I too go to the gym three to four times a week at lunchtime. I do a mixture of body pump and spinning classes 3-4 times per week and I can’t believe how much better I feel for it, both mentally and physically.

  19. Rachel Fucich April 19, 2016 at 2:16 am #

    Hi Greg,
    Though my experience as a recruiter only extends to three in-class sales projects, I can easily understand how being a recruiter may have a heavy affect on mental health. Additionally, I find this article very relatable to all aspects of being college student. I often find myself troubled by being let down, weather it be with a bad grade I feel I didn’t deserve or being unable to complete a task in time.
    I agree that coping with stress is very important, and I do so by many of the ideas you have listed including taking a break, setting realistic goals, and hitting the gym. “Business Insider” once published a video called “Tony Robbins: How to pull yourself out of a funk”, in which Tony Robbins explained that emotions are habitual as well as the importance of staying level-headed, much like your take on “PMA”. I find this method to be the ultimate key to success in both personal gain as well as academic performance, which are not as easily obtainable with the heavy weight of stress, which can rapidly accumulate if preventative measures are not taken.
    Thank you for your insight on stress management.


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