The Challenges of Recruiting Recruiters

Ultra-tight labor market has boosted recruiters’ value

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer April 26, 2022
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​Employers have been in a hiring frenzy since the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic stabilized in 2021. The U.S. unemployment rate sits at 3.6 percent, the lowest rate since right before the pandemic began, while job openings are at record highs.

Many employers are discovering that they need recruiters now more than ever—especially those employers that laid off their hiring teams when the pandemic hit.

"There is a higher need for recruiters right now," said Angela Copeland, vice president of marketing at Recruiter.com, a New York City-based hiring platform with a network of independent recruiters. "This is because as hiring has increased across the board, the need for more recruiters has increased to accommodate that growth."

Job listings for recruiters tripled between January 2019 and January 2022, outpacing growth in the job market overall, according to data from LinkedIn. Recruiter demand was steady throughout 2019, fell sharply when the pandemic first hit in 2020 and then began to rise dramatically in 2021 as organizations rescaled their recruitment functions.

"So many recruiting teams downsized massively in 2020," said Laura Mazzullo, founder and owner of East Side Staffing, a New York City-based recruiting firm for HR professionals. "Employers panicked and laid off their recruiters because they weren't hiring, and when they realized they had to hire again, it's led to a frenetic hiring boom. This current spike in demand for recruiters would not look so dramatic if so many companies had not cut their recruiting teams back in 2020."

Many recruiters who lost their jobs or quit the industry have pivoted to other roles during the pandemic, which has contributed to the shortage.

The sharp demand for recruiting services has led to what industry veteran Jeremy Eskenazi, SHRM-SCP, managing principal at Riviera Advisors in Los Angeles, calls "the Golden Age of Talent Acquisition."

"There isn't one recruiter I know who isn't being recruited or being asked to find other recruiters," said Suzie Grieco, president of search firm SG2 Recruiting in the Washington, D.C., area. "This is the first time I've ever seen the demand as crazy as it is right now, and I've been in this industry for almost 20 years."

Salaries for recruiters, especially in hard-pressed sectors like technology, finance and health care, have soared, according to an analysis conducted by Recruiter.com and Revelio Labs.

"Recruiters know their worth in this market, and if you don't pay that, they will find someone who will," Mazzullo said. "Most of my clients are paying at least $50,000 more than what they thought they had to pay, sometimes $100,000 more."

Talent Shortage, or Something Else?

Copeland said several factors are causing the increase in hiring, both generally and for recruiters. "There's been quite a lot of talk about the Great Resignation," she said. "Many employees now have more choices about how they want to work and are now looking for company cultures that align to their lifestyles. Recruiters are looking for the same thing other job seekers want—career fulfillment, flexibility and financial growth. These factors have created more job change than we normally see, which is driving up open jobs and, as a result, hiring."

Mazzullo put it another way—that what we're experiencing is not a talent shortage, but changed talent demands, which employers have not yet fully accepted.

"I don't think there are more talent acquisition roles out there than before the pandemic," she said. "If we keep saying there's a talent shortage, we're letting hiring managers off the hook for not learning how to hire better. Candidates are feeling empowered to ask for more money, more flexibility. But they're there."

She said employers need to evaluate what they're offering: "Are you offering the right salary? Are you being too picky with requirements? Are you experiencing analysis paralysis looking for the perfect candidate? Have you examined barriers in the hiring process? Hiring manager bias?"

Tips for Recruiting Recruiters

Companies will need to adjust and be more proactive to fill their recruiter roles. Here are a few ideas:

Look across sectors and occupations. People with expertise in their industry can be good at recruiting talent for that industry, for example, and workers in other industries who are looking for a career change might already have what it takes to be a good recruiter: strong communication and organizational skills, persistence, and sociability.

"An antiquated view of hiring that still persists is that talent acquisition isn't transferable," Mazzullo said. "It's probably one of the most transferable skill sets in HR. You don't have to know how to be a product engineer to place a product engineer."

Jennifer Hasche, vice president of global recruiting at Rippling, an integrated HR and IT platform in San Francisco, said she relies on competencies when hiring and not necessarily past experience. "I've hired people with backgrounds that are not consistent with the role," she said. "We evaluate values alignment, but the competencies keep me on true north."

RocketPower, a recruiting firm in San Francisco, has created a build-a-recruiter program to develop talent from within, said Nicky Russell, head of global talent acquisition at the company. "We take folks with zero experience and grow them to be recruiters," she said. 

Hasche said she loves the idea of starting a recruiter training program for people new to the field and those who want to grow their responsibilities. "That's the big vision—find sourcers who want to be recruiters, coordinators interested in sourcing, etc. But we have to be realistic about the business needs and what we can deliver and balance when we can actually do that." 

Move faster. This may seem obvious, but it's a necessary adjustment to close on candidates in demand. "We've had to pick up our pace, turning interviews around quicker, doing assessments quicker," Russell said. "We're always closing, so by the time we extend an offer, hopefully they will accept."

Hasche said that "if we decide we're making an offer, we do it within 24 hours. Recruiters will have multiple offers, and if we are faster, it's helped us close."

She added that when a candidate delays accepting an offer, the team will enlist the help of a senior leader to get over the finish line. 

Show respect. The traditional best practices haven't lost their influence. "As with the hiring process for any role, treat candidates with respect," Copeland said. "Employers will lose out if they aren't treating candidates with care. Be prompt and keep your commitments through the interview process. Recruiters have more choices now than ever before."

How you treat your candidates speaks volumes, Russell said. "There are those who end up not being a good fit for a particular role but still refer other recruiters they know because of the positive experience they had."

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