First In, First Out: Why Recruiters Need To Bear Down In A Bull Market

bull market bear down

If talent acquisition is a leading economic indicator (and since job growth certainly is, one could argue so too is the state of our profession, by extension), then it seems like the good times in recruiting will continue for the foreseeable future.

Despite widespread economic uncertainty and political upheaval, unemployment remains at historic lows, and hiring demand almost unilaterally outstrips the finite supply of skilled workers across industries, verticals and markets. This imbalance, of course, favors TA professionals; there is an obvious direct correlation between hiring and recruiting demand.

Data obviously supports this obvious fact. According to the BLS, for example, recruiters should experience a YoY job growth of an estimated 5% over the next five years, which is good news for what can often be the first function to go when the getting stops getting good.

The math means that employers must add 500,000 new recruiters annually before 2023 to meet the BLS estimate. Half a million new recruiters a year is a pretty scary thought, and given the same DoL data shows the average recruiting position has no specific education or experience requirements (true story), this inevitably means that there are going to be a lot of recruiters revolving in and out of organizations for the foreseeable future.

The failure rate for inexperienced recruiters is high, and fully 1/3 of all recruiters report being in the business for 1-3 years. Job tenure in the recruiting profession has plummeted from 5.2 years to just above two since 2012, evidencing both the high turnover and high demand for experienced recruiters with established networks and track records.

This is underscored by the steady increases in average salary for recruiting roles over the last 5 years – the median pay is up to around 67,000 a year, which aint bad for a job which, as the Department of Labor points out, has no specific education requirements or barriers to entry. You would think increased salaries, job openings and demand for recruiters would be great news for the industry.

Take a closer look, though, and youll see that if youre a recruiter, youre probably justified in not worrying about your job today. Its your future career you should probably be worrying about.

The thing is, the business of talent today represents a perfect storm – or economic bubble – in which companies must spend more money on less experienced recruiters than ever before, with a lower chance of successfully developing or retaining their top performers.

This is a bad thing for companies and clients alike, and for recruiters, it means that even the best in the business still face a volatile and uncertain fate should the economy inevitably constrict or job growth plateau.

The economy is cyclical, of course, meaning even the rosiest projections cant fend off the inevitability of a profession whose ROI is inherently eroding by superficially positive present market conditions. This means that even though times are good right now, recruiters must begin the process of reinventing and repositioning their skillset, diversifying their professional experience and beginning to plan a Plan B for the future. Because business as usual is anything but, and being just another recruiter means that your head will be on the chopping block at the first appearance of a downturn.

The market will be flooded with more recruiters with higher salary demands than ever before, which makes planning ahead so imperative for anyone on the upside of their career with designs on remaining in the recruiting profession. Because despite current conditions, the future is anything but certain for talent acquisition practitioners.

The economic inevitability of this exigency will only be expedited, of course, by the emergence of technology to replace many of the core responsibilities currently tasked to the humans of human resources. Sourcing is rapidly being replaced by automation; algorithms and software are replacing manual screening and selection. Gut feeling is being replaced by data driven decision making, and soft skills are being supplanted by hard math.

These changes in technology, coupled with a change in the economy, mean that the major value any recruiter can bring to any employer, and one no machine can replace, is simple: the ability to sell and close candidates. This is one skill, sadly, many recruiters, particularly those on corporate talent teams, sorely lack.

But it will soon become the primary role – and most critical competency – recruiters must have tomorrow. Which is why if youre a recruiter, you need to rethink the relative importance of sales in recruiting, and stop rejecting the label or trying to pass yourselves off as marketers (also a cost center, coincidentally).

I know its considered almost slanderous to suggest that recruiting is sales, since for some reason TA tends to reject this comparison and anyone who would suggest that closing candidates is more important than stuff like building talent communities or a social recruiting program.

But theres a reason that the person with the most job stability in any company is the top salesperson. Its because theyre a profit center, and if you bring in revenue, youre on the right side of the bottom line.

Recruiters who can similarly dispense with sourcing, screening and selection and focus on selling prospects, closing candidates and lowering costs may not be focusing on the sexiest trends or shiniest tools, but unlike most recruiting topics, sales is one skillset that never goes out of style. Because at the end of the day, all your CFO cares about is substance.

Too few recruiters worry about the end rather than the means, which will mean their end, sooner or later. If the recession doesnt get you, the robots will. Unless, of course, you rethink and reframe what recruiting is really all about, BS and buzzwords aside.

FOT Background Check

Matt Charney is the Executive Editor for Recruiting Daily, whose flagship property, RecruitingBlogs, is the world's largest social network and content sharing platform for recruiting and HR professionals. Matt oversees editorial strategy and content marketing for RecruitingDaily's portfolio of online properties. Prior to joining RecruitingBlogs, Matt served in marketing leadership roles at leading HR technology companies like Talemetry, CornerstoneOnDemand & Monster. Matt began his career as a corporate recruiter for such companies as Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Matt has been named as one of the top 25 influencers in recruiting by publications like the Huffington Post, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn, and has been recognized as one of the 2015 HR Game Changers by HR Magazine adn SHRM, the 2015 HRO Superstar for Analyst Excellence and the 2014 Top Recruiting Blogger by Social Talent. His blog was also named one of the top 15 business blogs to follow by Wordpress in 2014. Matt serves as a member of the advisory boards for the Candidate Experience Awards, Rolepoint, RecruitiFi, Take the Interview, HiringSolved, Universum and Textio. Follow him @MattCharney or connect with him on LinkedIn (


  1. Arlene Hall says:

    This is a really great article! I left the recruiting world because I felt like a fraud – how could I be an ‘expert’ on hiring for tech co’s when I’d never hired ahyone in my life? I worked directly in s/w companies for years in a variety of sales and product management positions and recently launched my own business after going back to manage a relatively large recruiting team. I couldn’t believe how low the bar was and how not one of the recruiters recognized that they were actually in sales. Thank you for these great points!

  2. Matt Heslam says:

    I think this summarises the market perfectly, I’m 9 years deep and now run a small search firm. I’ve been entirely caught off guard by the sheer noise in the market which is not only lowering the response ratios (I track against all sources/ platforms) but also the quality of candidates we’re then tempted to send to a client.

    I do believe there is a burning urgency for a tech platform to “disrupt” recruitment and when someone hits the button on the emotional aspects of the transaction then that could well be a game changer. I’m entirely focused on my growth, rebranding to the new world but then you lose faith in the current model!

    Good read and you’ve hit the right spot for my money.

  3. Steven Jagger says:

    Good article Matt. I never shy away from saying recruitment is sales and don’t understand why it’s sometimes seen as a taboo topic. IMO; to get the best people, who are usually happy in good roles & companies, you need to 100% SELL the role/company/projects/technologies to attract them. Sending an email saying I’m looking for a Java developer or automating or utilising tech will 100% streamline the process of word matching but it should (or dare I say WILL) never remove the human or SALES element. Both are very much needed to understand cultural matches, provide (SELL) solutions when the automation isn’t working. This is when true recruitment CONSULTANTS come into their own.

  4. Matt, this is dead on accurate and what I have been saying for quite some time. Great read as always.

  5. Thanks Matt. While I suspect this article may not be your most widely read (few like to look in the mirror when the light is shining), I think this post is among your best work. And though I don’t agree in principle with your conclusion to elevate a ‘recruiting as sales’ model as the practical survival alternative, I do accept that for some it will be the only alternative they can aspire to that will continue to put food on the table. This article can serve as the foundation for some excellent conversation, debate and hopefully inspire a few individuals to begin thinking ahead for themselves as well as for those they lead.

  6. Stick War says:

    I enjoyed over read your blog post. Your blog have nice information,
    I got good ideas from this amazing blog.

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