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April 14, 2003

Recruiters, Headhunters, Consultants: Oh My!

Recruiters. Executive Search Consultants. Headhunters. Whatever you know them as, chances are that if you're in a profession of any sort you'll have dealt with them at one point or another in your career. I have had many dealings with recruiters. In fact, the only job I did not find through a recruiter was my very first one straight out of university. Each one since has been through a recruiter. In each instance the dealings were pretty straightforward, and I never even met the recruiters themselves - I only talked to them on the phone a couple of times.

During my current and ongoing job search I've dealt with more recruiters than I can keep track of. There are the big-name recruiters that stay in contact with me, and I remember their names. Then there are the one-shot wonders that find my résumé, call me about a position, and I never hear back from them again. Thanks to my habit of keeping notes on all my contacts, I've been able to keep track of every recruiter I've talked to in the past year (yes, happy anniversary to me). I recently compiled all my information into a spreadsheet and have determined that I've talked to 40 individual recruiters over the past 12 months. Some recruiters work at the same company, but that still leaves 30 separate recruiting centers that I've communicated with.

At the beginning of this seemingly never-ending job drought, I was sure that a recruiter somewhere would be my saviour. They still might be, but I'm now somewhat embittered by two disasters precipitated by recruiters that likely cost me two separate job opportunities. I will say that I don't know if I was dealing with two really big penises or whether headhunting is such a competitive game that they really have no choice but to be as aggressive as possible, but I was not at all impressed with what happened.

The first incident happened back in August 2002, when I was attempting to get a job down in California. I was visiting my in-laws and noticed a recruiting firm just down the street from my in-laws' house, so I ambled in with my résumé on floppy disk. Four days later I was dressed as well as I could be (as I was on vacation, remember) and driving up into California's central valley to have an interview. It went well, but I had to go home before any response came from the company.

When it did come, the recruiter suddenly became about as helpful as a brick. I expected that the company would extend me an offer, and I would be given some time to confer with my wife and decide. Instead, the recruiter asked ME to give HIM an offer, which he would then present to the company. How on earth do I determine my salary needs in central California from my home in Ontario? Despite his best attempt to lure me down by saying that San Francisco has "really great food" (3 hours away) and to just do it and commit to come down, I needed to make sure that I was not committing to what amounted to poverty wage. My due diligence, compounded with his inability to help me in any way, shape, or form, led the company to select a local candidate. It may have been a long shot, but I'm quite certain that being more helpful could have seen me in California working.

More recently I had an interview in Toronto. Again, a recruiter had found my résumé and determined that I might be a good fit for this company's position. The interview went well, and I expected to either not hear back from them at all or at least not for at least a week. Instead, after a botched weekend getaway attempt I got home at nearly 5pm on Friday to a message saying the company wanted to present an offer. I missed actually speaking to anyone that day, so I had the weekend to do some research into Toronto's cost of living.

What my wife and I found was not at all encouraging. I had heard that Toronto was expensive, but I never know exactly how expensive until I tried to find comparable accommodations close to where work would be (or at least commutable to work) to what we have right now. I even asked some friends who recently purchased a semi-attached in Toronto what they paid, just as a point of reference. As compared to my 3-year-old townhouse, their smaller and 10 times older semi cost at least 60% more than ours. So our choices were move and still have an hour of mass transit commuting time, or stay put and drive up to two hours one-way. With neither choice appealing, we were looking for alternatives.

When the recruiter did get back to me, he told me that I'd be offered an initial 6-month contract before going permanent at a certain rate, and when could I start? Sorry, but I need more information that what I'd be getting paid for 6 months to commit. I asked him for my permanent salary, what relocation assistance there would be, whether there would be any benefits, and that I'd then have to consult with my wife. A day later, he came back with that information, and again asked, "When can you start?" He demanded an answer that day. After hours of beating our heads against a wall trying to figure out if we could make it work, I called him back and simply told him an afternoon was not long enough, we'd need more time to figure things out. His response? "I guess the best course of action is to withdraw the offer." That was it - end of story.

I guess I shouldn't feel too bad... I've successfully landed two jobs through recruiters, and only lost two potential positions through recruiters. Batting .500 isn't too bad, although these two pitbulls certainly didn't leave a good taste in my mouth in the aftermath. It's too bad these two dolts stand out in memory more than the really top-notch people I've dealt with.

I know that recruiting is a brutal industry. A recruiter not only has to sell their client on an individual or a set of candidates for a position, but they have to sell that position to each candidate as well. Toss in Workopolis and Monster, allowing companies to access as many candidates and their résumés as they want themselves, and top it all off with a big heap of competing against other recruiting firms for the same candidates for the same position, and you've got one cut throat industry. I have had numerous instances where I would be contacted about a position, and days or even only hours later would be contacted by another recruiter about the exact same position. Even so, this does not excuse the hard-sell quick-close tactics that I have been subject to.

As it stands, the few bad apples have not totally spoiled it for the rest of them, but I am now going to be quite wary going into another job offer situation with a recruiter wedged between myself and a prospective employer. I will continue to use recruiters, as they have done me well in the past, but at the same time I really have no choice in the matter. So long as companies retain recruiters to prescreen candidates for them, I'll maintain my ongoing list of recruiters I've dealt with, and will send them updated résumés as often as I publish them. One can only hope I won't need to deal with them much longer.


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