Why recruiters are vilified – A personal view

Why recruiters are vilified – A personal view

By Martin Ellis

Before I start, I need to give you some context. I am a recruiter and headhunter and have been for 11 years. Before that, I employed recruiters and headhunters, and not just in the UK.

  • This also comes with a health warning – It will be full of generalisations……


There is much debate about recruiters, most of it is negative. In turn, they defend themselves and moan about candidates (mostly) and clients (sometimes). There are 2 clear camps and no middle ground. It leads to a lot of bickering. Most of it doesn’t add much value, and the participants don’t look very attractive.

Here’s my take from both sides of the fence:

My experience with recruiters as a client….

Go back 15 – 20 years ago. More often than not, I’d be handed a business that wasn’t going brilliantly. And more often than not, the issue was one of management and leadership. My objective was never to sack people, but sometimes that’s what happened. I’m not particularly proud of it. I don’t need a medal. It just needed to be done.

So I needed fresh blood – Time to haul in recruiters or headhunters and get them to pitch…

It’s unscientific, but here’s my experience as a client:

They’d turn up looking smart and ready to impress. Lots of “Hail-fellow-well-met”. Lots of smiles. Lots of teeth.

They asked me how they could help. Promising start. So I’d tell them….

And that was it. No more questions. I wasn’t tested or pushed, and I wanted to be. Here were the experts – “Now ask me good and insightful questions”. But I could smell a sale, not an interest.

They’d then tell me all about them. ALL about them. That would take a while. They’d drag out referrals and war stories. It was good in a slick sort of way. It was rehearsed….

Next the fee. They’d generally start high but start to wobble when faced with silence and some eye contact. That’s a bit of a giveaway don’t you think? The first approach was a bit of a punt. No more than that. But we agreed on a price, and we made a start.

Or did we? I never heard from one headhunter again, and the feedback from the others was sporadic at best, and I chased the rest. Feedback from recruiters is a major moan. My own experience is that, in general terms, it’s deserved.

Clearly, this is no scientific sample, but my experience was far from anything I’d been sold. All were from well-known companies, some very well known.

To be fair….

I’m implicit in this. I let this happen to me. I was too busy on other things. I should have been more demanding and specific. I should have been more thorough with my due diligence – It would have saved me time and money.

Blessed relief….

And then, finally, in Norway of all places, I came across a headhunter who did what he said he would do. We even agreed on a first interview date right at the start. He rang or emailed me every week to reassure me that the timetable was on track. He had a shortlist of 3. One was rubbish. One was okay. One was great. He joined and transformed the place.

For validity, I’ll name them: John Rasmussen was the headhunter, and Yannick le Dantec was the appointee.

When I left the big corporate world, John asked me to join them to start their UK business. I did. I figured I could provide a service I never received when I needed it.

Experience of recruitment as a recruiter

It’s more difficult than I’d imagined. The people bit makes sure of that. Shit happens. Often. But you need to control the bits that you can control. Apart from people, it’s a lot about process and the management of expectation.

It’s not difficult like being a heart surgeon or an astronaut, but it is difficult.

Lessons Learned:

I have met some great recruiters. I mean really good. They care. They think. They try and keep their clients and candidates at the heart of everything they do. Question is, how do you spot one? Here’s what I reckon:

  1. Go for an independent – they’re more about people than process. Big brands are the other way round.
  2. Check out their job ads. If they’re well written and not a cut-and-paste, that’s a sign they can be bothered to get the basics right.
  3. Check out their social media feeds. You can tell a lot about people when they’re off guard.
  4. When you meet them for the first time, do they want to talk about you or them? If it’s more about them, just say “cheerio”.
  5. When they pitch their fee, check it’s not a hopeful punt. Haggle. If they drop their fee by 5% or more immediately. Drop them there and then. They’re a chancer, a blagger, a ne’er-do-well.
  6. Have they done more than just recruitment? I’m not sure you can be a great recruiter unless you’ve done something else. It makes you a bit more rounded.

In Summary:

My own experience of recruiters and headhunters as a client and candidate was not good. That’s because I didn’t follow my own advice, but went for a well-known brand to give me some reassurance that everything would be done well while I was off running things day-to-day. My faith was poorly placed. My fault.

My experience as a recruiter has been rather different, but that’s mainly because I’ve been working around, and with, a different set. The independents have more skin in the game. In the main, they’re trying to build a brand and a reputation that provides them with value for the long term development of their business.

This is full of generalisations, and I’ll get shouted at, but it’s a good point from which to start.

Martin is the Headhunter at the RSE Group. He’s not as nice as the rest of us, but he’s ok. You can reach him on 07823 887982, or email him at martin@rsegroup.agency.



About RSE Group

Here at the RSE Group, we are curious to understand what will give organisations the best ROI on their investment in their people.

We aren’t just about recruiting the best people but ensuring they join the best working environment, and their managers and leaders have the tools and skills to help them realise their own and others capabilities.
Whether it’s about their skills, experience, attitudes & potential, or about its organisations and their teams, management, leadership, culture and behavioural preferences, it is clearly so much more than just about getting bums on seats.

Call us today to find out how we can help you take the pain out of your people management.

Telephone 01424 830000 Email info@rsegroup.agency


Contact Us

Telephone: 01424 830000
Fax: 01424 830735
Email: info@rsegroup.agency