In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joe Light (Recruiters Rethink Online Playbook) suggests employers may have put on their recruiting thinking caps. Light discusses whether employers and recruiters are shifting their focus away from job boards and towards more personal (and productive) recruiting methods.

“About 24% of companies plan to decrease their usage of third-party employment websites and job boards this year,” reports Light.

Duh. Why this change?

“We need to reach candidates earlier, before they’re being pursued by competitors.”


“Now, the company is hiring different types of recruiters who specialize in headhunting, including finding candidates to poach from competitors, rather than those who are good at processing and filtering applications.”


Companies are dumping the job boards, and instead putting recruiters out in the field, to talk to people. Duh.

Why is it so difficult to understand that smart people prefer to do business with others they know and trust, or with folks who are personally referred to them by trusted contacts? While most “headhunters” don’t hunt (just dial for dollars), the best earn their $40,000+ fees (per placement) by going out into the world and talking to, meeting with, forming relationships with, the shining lights in the fields they hunt in. This should tell any job hunter something important: It’s the people, Stupid!

Joe Light is shining the light (sorry!) on a sea change in recruiting. The smartest companies don’t even need headhunters, if they put their best managers out there to find great candidates. This isn’t rocket science. But, nor is it the stupid database game that most seem to think it is. You can’t get a job by having a machine plaster your resume all over kingdom come, using “keywords” and “semantic analysis algorithms.”

TheLadders, Monster, CareerBuilder and that ilk are fascinating businesses — they make wads of money while their products don’t work! (They represent the “source of hires” about 0.7%, 4%, 3% of the time, respectively, according to annual surveys done by CareerXroads.) Yet personnel jockeys continue to throw cash at them.

While the trend seems to be changing, I worry about one of the last bits in Joe Light’s article:

“Instead of using senior recruiters to filter through the company’s applicants, lower-level screeners process them first and only hand off the most-qualified.”

Really? Just how does a company get better candidates, when it uses lower-level clerks to sort out the best candidates? Gimme a break. Sometimes the problem of “mindless recruiting and hiring” is a bigger part of a problem corporate mindset than we realize…


  1. @Nick What does one add to this? You nailed it in three words, Duh, Duh, and Duh!

  2. OK I might add, if any firm is letting minions (lower-level screeners) pre-screen their talent pool? It is no wonder most firms today are so fucked up.

  3. “…and hand off the most-qualified.”

    Yes – and how exactly do these lower-level minions make that judgment?

    I suppose we are back to keywords and which-college/university-you-went-to again.


  4. I noted that for a mid-2010 round-table session of recruiters for finance professionals in Australia, only one out of ten had worked in the industry.

    Two points: (1) yes, it does not require personal experience to be a good recruiter in a particular niche, but (2) the laziness factor implies that a number of those nine non-experienced recruiters will not fully understand the content of what their clients want for the hire and then short-list a possible non-optimal set of candidates. Only those who strive to learn the industry will.

    Further, speaking with a number of these recruiters, who were sent my details, but then asked me to email them directly, implies their vetting system is faulty and/or they employ mere administration staff to do the first cull of the submitted applications – low-level screeners.

    No wonder that the CareerXRoads survey now indicates that employers rely more on referrals and their own career sites, than job boards.

  5. True, the job boards don’t work for squat the way they are sold however job boards are not totally worthless. I found that replying to a “confidential” listing somewhat vague job description generally gets a response from a recruiter. My feeling is HR does not know their ulna from their rectum but the better ones know they don’t so they hire a recruiter.

  6. Most of what I’m seeing is that it’s business as usual. I’m even dumb-founded that some recruiters are questioning why people at my level, upper middle/lower senior, have been unemployed for 1+ year in this recession. It’s also funny how many recruiters think it’s an individuals fault for being out of work, rather than failed business plans by the companies that used to be our employers. Plus most recruiters have no real sense of what the job entails so they are recruiting merely by keywords or some ambiguous job description.

  7. @Jeff: Most employers recruit stupidly. And that is a HUGE problem.

  8. I attended a job/career change workshop earlier this week and the presenter made a similar comment. She said that she will get calls from companies asking her for referals (she works for career services at my alma mater) for a particular job (e.g., accounting), but then the companies will still require the people she sends to them to either fill out their online application or to send them their résumés, which go to HR and which are screened. She learned that HR is still using keywords to weed out people, and said that many people she recommended never got called for interviews because they didn’t use the keywords HR expected them to use. Keywords change per job per company, so the companies are shooting themselves in the head, then they wonder why they’re not getting the kinds of applicants they want. Duh. If you (as a company) call a college career counselor and ask her for the names of x number of people who are looking for accounting jobs, or to pass along the info that Company X is looking to hire accountants, and she does, but then you still do the keyword screening thing, why even bother to contact a college career counselor?

    Common sense is truly lacking….

  9. @MaryBeth: Another example of HR shooting itself in the foot. These people are actually WORKING to dumb down recruiting, even when they reach out for personal referrals. Which demonstrates how clueless they really are about what it means “to recruit.”

    Know what I do when someone asks me for a personal referral, then either doesn’t follow up or wastes my contact’s time? I never help them again.

    The upside of this is that the truly best people wind up working with other “best” people, because they’re the ones who care enough to follow through. Everyone else is on their own, where they belong.

  10. My feeling is that HR does not know their ulna their rectum, but the best that they are not if they hire a recruiter.