Recruiters: Helpful, or Low ROI?

I can imagine that many of us, whether we have been recently searching for a job or not, have experienced a call/message from a recruiter. It might go something like this:

Hi Ed,

I am a recruiter with XYZ agency. I came across your profile on LinkedIn and I was impressed by your experience. I think you could be a great fit for an opportunity with a growing company in the Exciting and Vague Industry.

Let’s connect!

Mr. Recruiter

There are actually two types of recruiters. Those that work internal to a company that is looking to hire, and those that work for a staffing agency that is enlisted by a hiring company to do the recruiting for them.

This post will be addressing those that work for a staffing agency. I will give some brief thoughts about internal recruiters at the end.

One short caveat: this post concerns recruiting for lower level positions (NOT C-level). I do not have experience with being a C-level employee, nor hiring one, and I suspect that things would function much differently in those cases.

How Most of Us Think about Recruiters… and the Problem

So you get the email above and you’re flattered. You think, “Someone came directly to me and thinks I’m a great candidate! I don’t even have to spend time looking for a job. It came to me!”

So you respond to find out more, only to discover that the job in the “Exciting and Vague Industry” is in fact ancillary to your field and not directly related. Or they requested that you set up a phone call, only to find out that the job is located in Featherville, Idaho or Singapore. Or, worse yet, they completely misunderstood what it is that you do, and the position is not a good fit at all.

“Oh well,” we shrug, “I’ll connect with them on LinkedIn anyway. You never know what they may have in the future.”

The recruiter might also say, “Let’s keep in touch and I’ll let you know when I have something for you. I’m here to help!”

Does this sound familiar?

To be fair, I’m sure by now that most of us aren’t so starry-eyed about the initial email anymore. But my guess is that if it sounds remotely interesting, we will respond. And if it doesn’t pan out, we will probably connect with them on LinkedIn.

Here’s the problem: you probably get contacted by recruiters fairly frequently.

And if you connect with every recruiter that requests, before too long they will make up a fairly high percentage of your connections on LinkedIn. Not to mention, when you add up all of the time that you spent talking to them about jobs that are irrelevant to your career path, it’s a good chunk of your time.

So why do we continue to do something that isn’t working? Have any of them ever turned into a great opportunity? How often is it that any specific recruiter contacts us a second or third time?

There are definitely exceptions. I know that people get placed by recruiters all the time (after all, that is their job).

But what it really comes down to is the return on your investment.


I want to be clear that this isn’t a personal attack on recruiters. They are good people just doing their job. And it’s a difficult one to be sure.

But the recruiting system is flawed. It does NOT serve job seekers, but employers. My biggest frustration is that the system fools job seekers into thinking that recruiters are working for them.

To put the rest of this post into context and learn more about my take on networking and job searching, see my recent post Using Human Skills, Not Web Skills, to Land a Job.

In that post I talk about utilizing LinkedIn connections for getting introductions to new people at companies where you want to work. In a nutshell, your coworkers, friends, and family care about you, and they would be more than happy to introduce you to someone they know if it could be of help to you.

But what about a recruiter?

Would you feel comfortable asking a recruiter for an introduction to someone you don’t know?

Well, I tried it!

My Experience with Recruiters: As a Job Seeker


Like most people, I used to connect on LinkedIn with every recruiter that requested it. I figured, “Why not? It won’t hurt anything.”

So I had plenty of recruiters on my list of connections. And, lo and behold, they knew tons of people at all of the companies that I was interested in! Jackpot.

“This natural networking thing is going to be a cinch,” I thought smugly.

So I reached out to several recruiters to ask for introductions…

Radio silence.

I did receive the occasional honest response with something to the effect of, “Sorry, I can’t do that.”

Let’s think this through. If most of us are connecting with nearly every recruiter who contacts us, then recruiters must be connected to A LOT of people. “Duh,” you might be thinking.

Stick with me.

But if you and I (and probably others) haven’t interacted with recruiters much beyond the single email exchange (that most likely occurred months or even years ago), then that means that recruiters don’t actually personally know a fairly high percentage of their connections. Those connections are probably similar to their impersonal connection to you and me.

So it’s no wonder that they can’t make an introduction to someone whom they don’t know any more than I do. Not to mention, they are getting paid to fill the position they are working on, not to help me. (And, of course, with that many connections, they are probably extremely busy).

This realization gave me a wake-up call on recruiters. I finally realized these 4 things:

  1. They said they would help me, but only if the stars aligned and they happened to have a job that was perfect for me (and they happened to think of me!).
  2. They wouldn’t help me get connected to someone, cause that’s not their job.
  3. LinkedIn restricts how many messages that recruiters can send to someone they aren’t connected to. These are called InMail messages. So in order to not waste precious InMail, they connect to a LOT of people.
  4. If they can’t connect me to someone who will help me with my career, then it makes no sense for me to connect to them. Furthermore, seeing them listed as a shared connection to several desirable new connections gives me a false sense of how connected I really am.

In summary, recruiters aren’t doing what’s best for YOU by connecting to you- they are doing what’s best for THEM (and the companies they represent).

It’s not malicious, it’s just not a good system for us job seekers.

My Experience with Recruiters: As a Hiring Manager

To add a different angle to this post- I have also been on the other side of the interview table. I have been a hiring manager utilizing recruiters.

As a manager, I found it extremely frustrating working with recruiters. They often sent me resumes that were not what I asked for, and I spent more time than I thought I should re-explaining myself. I did have success from time to time and made a couple of hires through them, but in general, I did not find that they were a good time investment.

To aid myself in the hiring process, I resorted to my job seeker networking techniques and LinkedIn to find the best people myself. I got much better bang for my buck, but I’ll admit that it was a lot of work to add onto my already full plate.

But the biggest piece of information I can share with you from the hiring manager perspective is this: companies will ALWAYS choose a candidate that didn’t come through a recruiter over one who did (if they are essentially equivalent).

For example, at a previous company, I found a great candidate through a recruiter and was ready to hire him- only to have my finance and HR departments say that they couldn’t approve it because of the fee (30% of the salary we were offering).

“Can’t you find someone through a referral instead?” they asked.

After all that work. After all that time. It came down to money.

I was able to convince my company to go with the candidate despite the fee, because I believed it was the right thing to do, and I really needed someone.

But this experience stuck with me. The way that the recruiting system works isn’t even all that advantageous to the companies for which they seek candidates.

So What Do We Do Now?

I have 2 over-arching pieces of advice with regard to recruiters:

#1: be VERY selective about which recruiters you connect to (on LinkedIn).

Notice that I did not say, “Never connect with recruiters.”Hard and fast rules are never a good idea (except that one).

Think critically about each connection request. I would suggest only connecting with recruiters that you have developed some sort of relationship with- either through phone conversations, in-person meetings, or a detailed chain of emails.

Also ask yourself, “Does connecting on LinkedIn get me anything?” If they found you this time for an opportunity, they can find you again whether you are connected or not.

Somewhat of an exception to this piece of advice is internal recruiters (see, I said that I would circle back). IF you have identified a company that you would really like to work at, and IF your only connection is an internal recruiter, then it MAY be beneficial to reach out to them. I will write a post specifically on internal recruiters soon- stay tuned!

#2: It is in YOUR best interest, as well as the company’s best interest, to NOT come in through a recruiter.


If you come in through a referral, or at least an introduction through an employee, you will hopefully have talked to that connection and gained a better understanding of the role and the company from an insider. You can be more confident that it will be a good fit.

From the company’s side, they too should feel that they know you better and can be more confident in you. People they know, who work at the company and intimately know what it needs, connected you to them.

Finally, the company won’t be put in a tough position of needing to pay a fee to hire you. Depending on the company, paying the fee could potentially result in negative outcomes whether you are hired or not:

1) they could pass on a good candidate over money,  or

2) they could feel like they paid too much (whether that’s true or not).

In short, both you AND your company will be happier if you don’t come in through a recruiter. And if you don’t, you will have built up your network in the process!

What are your thoughts on recruiters and the recruiting system?





Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s