Recruiter Goat’s Gruff: Recessions Bring Out Our True Recruiting-Self…

Recessions tell us a good deal about ourselves as Recruiting Animals, don’t they?  If you want me to be honest, I really wish we didn’t have any, but the fact is that we do . . . and the cycle is fairly predictable.  One thing I’ve come to learn is that down economic periods shape our view of what is truly important in life.  For example, my grandparents often told me stories I will never forget about living through the Great Depression as young children. And as the number of unemployed grow, I find myself having more and more conversations in which the downsized candidate needs, above all things, a flicker of positivity; many simply pick up on the hope in your voice and it can change their outlook, giving them some momentum to continue pushing forward.  “These are tough times, but we will come out of this.”

Yet, as I say this, I am dismayed at the number of candidate-bludgeoning articles (and today, blog posts) that come out during recessionary times such as those we find ourselves in today.  It’s as if many Recruiters (internal and external) are now sporting “a gun and a badge.”  At a time when we can do the most good (see David Pritchard’s efforts to assist the candidate market), there are entire series coming out that do nothing but perpetuate this majority-versus-minority mentality.  The latest installment in the Egregiously Bad Candidate series, “7 Great Ways to Ensure No Recruiter Ever Reads Your Resume” was the breaking point for me.  Seriously, with 50% of the entire Recruiting population gone over the last 12 months, those of us still standing are better than this.  Let me ask: At what point did we transition from a highly skilled and passionate group of people continuously seeking to find and secure the best talent, to behaving as if we’re trolls guarding the bridge?  “Thou Shall Not Pass!”


Watching more and more of these negativity-focused articles come out, I can’t help but believe they’re exactly what we don’t need . . . and as far as the unemployed population goes, it’s no wonder many are scared of (and turned off by) Recruiters.  And in that sense, I’ve come to some conclusions I’d like to share today.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and ask you to add to the list:

1. We, as a Recruiting Industry, have taught the candidate market many of their bad habits.  That’s a fact, Jack.  For example, is it ok for us to blind mass email out job descriptions . . . but then flex on the candidate population when they blind mass email their resume?  Until we elevate our own behavior, we’re nothing more than sitting in glass houses.

2. For all you External Recruiters out there, let me shoot straight with you: If you can afford to screen out on the basis of petty issues (i.e. “I didn’t like their signature line”), you’re in the wrong niche.  For Internal Recruiters, I’ll say this: Just because the average tenure in your position is 8 – 12 months, you still hold responsibility for your organization’s employment brand.

3. Just because we temporarily hold a position of power (i.e. Recruiters can screen in or screen out on the basis of personal discretion), doesn’t mean that we should abuse our power.  Acton was right when he stated that, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Look, if you want to be a gun-and-badge toting monster, I understand there isn’t a whole lot I can do to change your mind.  But, If I can leave you with one thing today, it’s this: Don’t forget what happened to the Troll in Billy Goat’s Gruff.  He’s no longer recruiting.  Nope, he now works at a used-car dealership and moonlights as an real estate consultant.

FOT Background Check

Josh Letourneau is the owner of Knight & Bishop, an Executive Search and Human Capital Intelligence firm, with an emerging focus on Social Network Analysis (SNA). Nope, not like MySpace, but more like who is connected to whom in organizations and how does that impact their influence on decision making and P.O.V.s. And you can learn more about all of this on his new blog .


  1. Scott Boren says:

    You make great points here. I am stunned at the number of “questions or surveys” asking for accounts of bad recruiter behavior. they are of course followed up by bad candidate behaviour. I feel very strongly about trying to give everyone some help. One of the greatest compliments I have seen was on Twitter where a candidate who did not get hired said he had a great experience with us. It takes very little to offer a few minutes of time.

  2. Great post! Your points are valid for recruiters AND HR Pro’s. There are so many articles and posts out there for the candidate on what to do, what not to do, who to call, who not to call, what font to use on your resume, don’t do this, don’t do that, etc. Geez, it’s no wonder these candidates get discouraged. Instead of blasting on the candidates all day every day, I think that we need to look in the mirror and evaluate our own practices to see if there’s anything we can improve upon in this area.

  3. nelking says:

    Thanks for the butt kick!

  4. nelking says:

    Adding on… just went to my career management side project site to make sure my tone was helpful not hurtful.
    We all have had those experiences – “Candidates do the darnedest things”and it’s great fun to share it (goes both ways too!) but now,the candidates seeking in many cases have not had to look for a new job in a very long time and how you go about it has changed substantially.
    It does require more empathy when saying no, and taking a little time for a few words to help improve their chances next time.

  5. excellent article. I’ve always felt like i was in the minority as a recruiter.. I tend to bond with and coach up the candidate, and I’ve never been comfy saying ” I don’t work for you, so STFU, you dime a dozen candidate you”
    I’ve learned it pays big dividends to treat candidates as the reason hiring authorities deal with me.

  6. Becky says:

    I’m all about accountability for appropriate behavior on the part of the recruiter, but in this competitive market candidates must be held accountable as well. Certainly there is enough information (good or bad) out there for folks to use their better judgment and common sense to behave in an appropriate fashion when applying, interviewing or responding to a rejection.
    The golden rule has always worked for me, but I do also expect the same level of respect from my candidates that I afford them. They should also exhibit professionalism, interest in my company and attention to detail in their communications with me if they would like to be seriously considered. I agree with Sarah’s post – “7 Great Ways to Ensure No Recruiter Ever Reads Your Resume”. I think it offers up some real useful info for would-be candidates who don’t think about how these things look to a potential employer.
    BTW, since when is it okay for us as recruiters to blind mass email out job descriptions? I’m pretty sure that’s not in the recruiting best practices handbook….

  7. Joshua Letourneau says:

    If you’re on LinkedIn, you’re likely spammed with job descriptions on a weekly basis (sometimes more). Personally, I’m spammed daily by other recruiters . . . because they blind mass-mail instead of knowing her the mailing to. It’s the old “throw a bunch of crap on the wall and see what sticks” mentality that is rampant in our space.
    The point of my article is not, and was not, to encourage any skirting of accountability by candidates. That being said, the point of my article was to illustrate that recessions bring out our true recruiting self.
    Ultimately, it’s ok to agree with an article that I don’t . . . and vice-versa. Our 1st Amendment provides us this right. Frankly, this post here has a lot more ‘disagree-ers’ than ‘agree-ers’ It’s some “tough love” for my fellow recruiting community.
    My personal stance is the following — If we want to drive positive change, it begins with us first and foremost. It’s too easy to just agree with the lazy groupthink that “candidates are bad” rather than to look in the mirror and fix ourselves first.
    We can sit around and complain about everyone else (i.e. those “egregious” candidates) or we can lose the troll-at-the-bridge attitude and realize that we are in the people business. ***And candidates are people, too.*** Once we forget that, we’re no longer ‘Recruiters’; rather, we become nothing more than ‘Resume Clearinghouses’ who have lost site of what we do is really all about.

  8. Nigel Beane says:

    Great piece Joshua – based on my experience over the last few months I could not agree more with your points. Add to that the utter indifference when you deign to chase up a recruiter who a few days before was all over you and we are in a very bad place right now.
    I will be forwarding on your post now to many within my network with whom this will resonate and perhaps give comfort in that they have not been singled out but that this is clearly endemic to the industry!
    That said there are some good guys out there, I’ve spoken with some….hopefully they will be significant leaders and influencers, thus leading the pack back towards the moral highground sometime soon.
    One final thought, maybe in their defence….what role have the employers played in this evolution? Are they whiter than white? I suspect not. They too can be just as guilty of exploiting the current market to their advantage as they are all too aware that it’s a buyer’s market right now.

  9. karenm says:

    Not only spammed by job boards on Linkedin, but what about the emails from companies like say google, which will say that they received your resume, or saw your resume on the internet, and want you to contact them regarding employment..
    Problem w/ that “story” is that it is indeed fabricated. Nah, there is no way that someone found my resume on the internet, and what is on LinkedIn, under my profile, doesn’t even do justice to acknowledge my total work experience..
    Your post was great! and your points well taken

  10. I think as a society we are concentrating on the negative vs the positive. I try with my candidates to concentrate on the positive side of the situation and help them further develop their skills. But I do feel the press as well as many comments within the Internet give looking for a job a negative ton which just adds fuel to the fire.

  11. Graciela says:

    Touche! As an inhouse recruiter I have to admit my guilt to having done at least one of the things you mention in the past. Candidates appreciate a straight forward and honest approach to recruiting. You can’t please everyone but making the effort goes a long way.

  12. Becky says:

    I do agree that the folks out there who are in it for the rush of power they get when rejecting a candidate certainly aren’t in it for the right reason and won’t last long (and I don’t like to imagine that kind of person sullying our profession). Ditto for the spammers…
    And I also agree that we as professionals must realize that candidates are people too – but I hope you don’t feel that good recruiter behavior is the exception rather than the rule? With the outpouring of support I’ve seen in my networks recently (which include recruiters from all walks – corporate and TPR) for folks affected by the current economy I just can’t seem to feel as though the majority fall into this “troll-like” category.
    There are always a few bad eggs and those who feed on drama, but perhaps I’ve been fortunate to see more of the positive than the negative. Overall, I’ve been proud of the recruiting community as a whole.

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