Reality Show Puts Recruiters to the Test


By Bill Leonard August 15, 2014

When you think of reality television, a program featuring corporate recruiters might not immediately pop to mind. But such a Web-based show exists, and the third season of “Top Recruiter: The Competition--Miami” has completed taping and is set to premiere in September 2014.

The show’s producers claim the HR-based reality show is a hit, with more than 4.4 million online viewers for the first two seasons. The show features six corporate recruiters from a variety of industries and U.S. regions. The contestants travel to Florida and live together for a week in a Miami-area mansion.

In each eight-minute episode, the contestants compete in different recruiting challenges and business scenarios. Viewers then vote on the best efforts, and the contestant who receives the most votes by the end of the 10-episode season is named “Top Recruiter.” After tallying the votes, a winner is determined and the season’s final episode is then put online. By being named the top recruiter, the previous two winners have had their personal brands elevated and have received new job offers, according to the show’s producers.

“I was skeptical when I first heard of the show in season one,” said Jer Langhans, general manager, Seattle, for Hired Inc. “I watched several of the first season shows and thought that it was just way too glitzy and glamorous for corporate recruiters.”

Langhans said he then e-mailed “a blistering critique” to the show’s executive producer, Chris LaVoie.

“I told Chris that the show did not represent my experience in recruiting for the high-tech industries of Seattle and Silicon Valley,” he said. “I told him that we all wear blue jeans and denim shirts and were a bit grungier than most of the glitzy, magazine model-looking contestants in season one.”

To his surprise, LaVoie responded immediately to the e-mail and asked Langhans to audition for season two. LaVoie obviously liked what he saw and cast Langhans as a contestant.

“I guess that I did something right, because I was named runner-up in season two and was then invited back as a mentor for season three,” Langhans said.

LaVoie said recently during a radio interview that his top objective for the show was to increase engagement for recruiters by giving them a unique opportunity to interact with others in their industry and with viewers. When the contestants arrived and met for the first time to begin filming season one, LaVoie said the excitement level was palpable, and, from that moment, the show began growing and evolving.

“I think that we’ve been very smart in creating a show that not only the industry would understand but that the general public will understand and be interested in watching,” LaVoie said. “My job as executive producer is to make sure that show continues to grow. My motto is that next season will be bigger and better, and I have to live up to that.”

The format of “Top Recruiter” is still evolving, according to Batsheva Chase, vice president of sales recruiting at Peak Performers Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif. Chase, who was featured as a contestant on season one, admitted that the show’s inaugural season was largely scripted.

“But in some episodes, many of the contestants didn’t follow the scripts too closely. In the second and third seasons there were no scripts, and the episodes feature a lot of real talking and personal interaction,” she said. “So the relationships you will see develop and flourish during the upcoming season are very real.”

Each episode features competitions among the contestants, such as identifying a top-level job applicant and then selling the candidate on the idea of working for a particular organization.

“All the contestants are very good at their jobs, so there can be some clashes of personality,” said Chase, who also appears in seasons two and three as a consultant and mentor. “Everyone wants to do their best and get named Top Recruiter, so of course there will be some tension among the contestants.”

Langhans and Chase agreed that the show emphasizes the tension level for effect.

“This is entertainment, and some aspects of the show will be embellished some for dramatic effect,” said Langhans.

Some recruiters who have watched the show wonder if its producers have taken too much license in playing up controversy and in choosing to make the recruiters’ world look glamorous.

“By showcasing these ‘top recruiters’ as people who bicker, manipulate and objectify each other, the show’s producers have reinforced nearly every negative stereotype that many of us in the recruiting field have spent our careers fighting,” said Chris Hoyt, director, global talent engagement and marketing at PepsiCo, in an e-mail to SHRM Online. “I realize that making a TV show requires adding drama and flair for the sake of viewership; I’m no stranger to that concept. And while they’re probably truly great recruiters, I’m embarrassed how ‘Top Recruiter’ has portrayed them to the rest of us as well as to job seekers everywhere.”

Alex Putman, CEO of MUZE, a marketing and recruiting consulting firm in Atlanta, has a slightly different opinion of the show.

“While I understand some of the criticisms of the show, I also understand that Chris LaVoie is looking to shake things up a bit and get people to see recruiting in a different light,” Putman said. “Of course, there will be people who won’t agree with what the show’s trying to do, but still it is getting people to talk and to watch the show. They are obviously doing something right because there has been a lot of talk lately about the show on social media sites.”

Putman and Langhans claim that the show has appeal as pure entertainment and has shaken up the status quo of the recruiting industry by providing a behind-the-scenes and no-holds-barred perspective of what it takes to be a successful recruiter.

Hoyt, however, disagrees and contends that the over-the-top approach has projected a distorted and inaccurate portrayal of the recruiting industry.

Putman agreed that the marketing adage “it’s not the steak but the sizzle that sells” could apply when discussing the methods and ultimate value of a reality show like “Top Recruiter.” In other words, while the show’s producers may appear to subscribe to the idea that bigger sizzle attracts more fans, others might disagree and want to see an approach that offers more steak.

“I don’t necessarily think either approach is completely right or wrong,” Putman said. “At the end of the day, you have to decide if the show is actually killing recruiting or is just another avenue of getting the message out and raising awareness about what recruiters do.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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