This column is the first of a three-part that will explore what recruiters want from job seekers. If you're in transition or think you ever will be, make sure you read all three. Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter.
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How Recruiters Work and Why

By Peter Weddle

Recruiters. From a job seeker's perspective, they are a strange tribe. But maybe they aren't as weird as they might at first seem. Maybe there are good and important reasons why they do what they do. This column is the first of a three-part that will explore what recruiters want from job seekers. If you're in transition or think you ever will be, make sure you read all three.

For many job seekers, recruiters are a strange breed lacking most or all of the traits job seekers associate with their own peers in the workplace. Recruiters seem to have a very different set of priorities and often to act in ways that simply don't make sense to those who operate in line units. The first step in understanding what recruiters want from job seekers, therefore, is to gain an accurate picture of how recruiters work and why. Let's do that by examining the complaints that job seekers typically voice about recruiters.

Job seekers, often complain about how long it takes for a recruiter to select even the first round of qualified candidates for an opening let alone the one person who will actually be offered the job. It is true that an open position can remain that way for weeks, sometimes months and even occasionally a year or more. For job seekers, the situation can be exasperating and even demoralizing. But, there are at least three reasons why such delays happen.

  • First, recruiting is an overhead function in virtually every organization and one deemed especially expendable during an economic downturn when there isn't a lot of hiring going on. During the last recession, in particular, many organizations significantly downsized their recruiting teams. Often, those layoffs have meant that fewer staff are now doing more work which means that all of a recruiter's openings get filled more slowly. And, the load isn't light. A typical recruiter is responsible for filling 15-20 requisitions at any one time. And for each of those openings, they have to work with the hiring manager to develop a position description, then figure out where best to advertise and source for the opening, then post those ads and perform those sourcing activities and finally, pre-screen all of the applicants just to get to the first round of qualified candidates.
  • Second, hiring managers - not recruiters - typically make the decision about who will be hired. Unfortunately, however, hiring managers are not evaluated on how well they staff their organization, but on the results they achieve with their unit. So, hiring managers often see the work involved in evaluating, interviewing and selecting a new hire as a lower priority than the mission of their unit, even when a vacancy will clearly make it harder for them to accomplish that mission. In addition, hiring managers do, from time-to-time, change their minds. They decide to specify a different set of requirements for an opening or to look for a different kind of person to fill the job and those adjustments inevitably stretch out the recruiting process.
  • And third, because of the continuing high levels of unemployment, any opening that's advertised on a job board or in a print publication is likely to generate dozens, sometimes hundreds and occasionally even thousands of applications. While virtually every other function in the corporate headquarters can rely on technology to manage such massive inflows of information, the recruiting team cannot. There are no artificial intelligence programs capable of screening those applicants. The recruiter must do so him or herself, and they have to do it in a way that ensures qualified applicants aren't overlooked and unqualified applicants aren't approved for further screening and interviews.

Job seekers often complain that recruiters don't seem to have any knowledge of their field or a good understanding of what's involved in doing a certain kind of job. There's also a reason for that.

  • The first to go in the layoffs noted above are typically the most experienced recruiters, the ones who have spent the last five or ten or more years actually recruiting for engineers or nurses or salespeople. Then, when hiring picks back, many organizations don't rehire those experienced recruiters, but instead, they try to save money by bringing on new or relatively inexperienced recruiters who must learn on-the-job.
  • Whether they are experienced or not, however, in most cases recruiters are not themselves the kind of people they are trying to recruit. They are recruiting professionals, not engineers, nurses or salespeople, even though they are responsible for filling such positions. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule and experienced recruiters do acquire significant knowledge of the field for which they recruit. The fact remains, however, that in many cases, recruiters know less and sometimes far less about what it takes to do a job than anyone who would be hired to do it.

Finally, job seekers also complain about the lack of flexibility among recruiters, but there's a reason for that too. You see, recruiters are typically evaluated on how well they serve their customers. Those customers are the hiring managers who have the openings in their units. In fact, in many organizations, hiring managers actually fill out a customer satisfaction survey each time a recruiter works on one of their openings.

While there are clearly exceptions, many hiring managers are not especially articulate when it comes to describing what kind of person they are looking to hire for an opening. They often don't devote much time to developing a detailed position description so the recruiter has to follow up and try to pin down the specific requirements for a candidate and then determine which of those requirements are essential and which are nice to have. In effect, the recruiter tries to create a template against which they can then measure the qualifications of various candidates.

Because the recruiter is not expert in the field for which they are recruiting, they lack the understanding that would enable them to deviate from those stated requirements. They do not have the background or expertise to say, "Well the candidate doesn't have this specified skill, but they do have this other one which more than compensates for what they are missing so let's keep them under consideration." In effect, recruiters look for people who best match the hiring manager's stated requirements - that template they created - not because they are inflexible, but because they believe that's how they best please their customer, the hiring manager.

There's no denying that recruiters often seem to take illogical steps or engage in inefficient behavior during the recruiting process. Just as often, however, there are good reasons for the way they work. The key to success, therefore, is not to fight or get frustrated by their practices and procedures, but rather to accommodate and, if possible, leverage them to your own benefit. 

Reprinted with permission from WEDDLE’s LLC. Peter Weddle is the author or editor of more than two dozen books, including "The Career Activist Republic, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System," and WEDDLE’s 2011/12 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet. Order them at