Are Recruiters Inhibiting Recruiting?

I have had a couple of interesting experiences in the last several weeks that, put together, make me propose a possibly controversial conjecture: that the outsourcing of hiring, whether intentional by the use of retained recruiters to augment a shrunken HR staff, or unintentional by the proliferation of contingency recruiters, is actually slowing hiring down.

I’ll highlight a couple of recent experiences from my job search, put up some evidence, outline some thoughts-as-I-go, then pull it all together with some possible implications at the end.


Over the course of the last 4-5 weeks I have been approached by no less than six different recruiters about one position.  Since some of them sent me the company’s as-written job description, I easily identified unique elements to it – and had the fact that it was the same company confirmed by five of the six recruiters (the last one, when I asked him to confirm it was this company, never replied).

I don’t know if these are retained or contingency recruiters; my suspicion is the latter.  Let’s go with that assumption first – that these recruiters are out there “trolling” company and other websites looking for open requisitions, and then attempting to place people into them (they might also have been contacted by the company directly on a contingent basis).  The fact that I’ve been contacted by six of them implies there are an awful lot of recruiting agencies out there rooting around to fill what is, relative to the recruiter population, a paucity of positions.

A datum that supports this fierce-competition-to-fill-slots hypothesis is the fact that the towns were different depending on which recruiter it was.  In another instance, perhaps 3-4 months ago, I was contacted by a recruiter for a different position in a specifically-named town; during the discussion the company’s product and industry sounded familiar, so I inquired – and had my suspicion confirmed about the company’s identity… a company whose actual locationwas the next town over than the one named.  I informed him that, sorry, I’d already applied to the company directly, but then I asked why the town was wrong.  He said that was to throw off other recruiters who might poach his business.

Thought one: There are far more recruiters trying to fill positions than there are positions to fill.

The other possibility is that these are retained recruiters.  If so, it means the company is scouring the recruiting industry hoping that in those recruiters’ stables of candidates, there are people who could be perfect fits the role.

Thought two: Companies are not getting the volumes of “qualified” applicants they thought they would, and are going through multiple agencies to increase their odds.

In a similar situation, I was contacted by three separate recruiters over two days for a different position; this time a contract job.  Without proof, I believe that this position was posted by the company to whatever requisition networks it is on, and these recruiters leapt at it like famished wolves trying to put someone in before another recruiter did.

Job Search Agents

I get a lot of job openings emailed to me through different websites on which I’ve filled out search agent requests.  In a non-rigorous survey, the vast majority of these positions posted are through recruiters, not posted by the company directly.  As with the above, when I click on jobs I see many that appear to be duplicate positions posted by different recruiters, again with many listing the locations differently even though – to my eyes at least – the positions seem similar enough that they’re likely the same one.  There are too many similarities in the details of the listed requirements, with the locations in close proximity, to conclude otherwise.  Again, this supports the contention that recruiters – especially contingency recruiters – are swarming around too few openings trying to eke out a living.

Conventional Wisdom on Recruiters

It is common knowledge that job seekers should be careful about using recruiters.  One caution is that if two recruiters submit a person to the same company, the company typically disallows the candidate for fear of legal complications with respect to which recruiter gets paid.

(Side note: A recruiter, with whom I have a good relationship and even something of a friendship, said that he has seen how one recruiter known to him, upon learning a person was already in through another recruiter, would submit the person as a duplicate submission – knowing this would then knock that candidate out of the running and then open the possibility for their own submission of another person.  This is, of course, incredibly unethical and by no means am I attempting to paint all recruiters with such a brush.  But it does indicate that there are “bad apples” out there.  It also is another data point supporting the idea that recruiters are desperate to place people to earn a living.  And, sometimes, desperate people will do desperate – and unethical – things.)

Completing the Puzzle

So if we accept several premises:

  1. There are far more recruiters trying to make a living from placing people into positions than there are positions into which to place people.
  2. Companies are relying on outside agency recruiters (both types) more and more.
  3. Recruiters are intent on protecting their postings through misdirection on location and possibly the specifics of the job itself.
  4. Candidates are rightly worried about duplicate submissions eliminating them from the running.

We can then make a stunning inference – one that I don’t think is unreasonable: the oversupply of recruiters combined with the increasing reliance on them to fill positions is actually hampering the placement of candidates from their tactics combined with candidates’ concern about short-circuiting their application through duplication of submissions.  This hampering happens in two ways:

First, large numbers of duplicate submissions are being made by different recruiters.  It is pretty much axiomatic that companies want no part of a turf battle having to choose which recruiter to pay – so they dump the candidate from consideration.  Even a really good candidate can be washed out of the running because no company wants a lawsuit over which recruiter should be paid.

Second, savvy candidates observe these multiple postings by different recruiters, dope out that these are possibly the same position, and decide to not take the risk and don’t apply at all.

What the Future Holds

  1. If there are this many recruiters scrounging to place people, I suspect over the next year – unless the job market really changes dramatically – there will be a vast fallout of recruiters as they fail to place enough people to make a living.
  2. Companies will enact strict and legally-binding agreements with any recruiter with whom they deal governing what happens with duplicate submissions – and recruiters that just throw people at openings will find themselves cut out entirely.
  3. Corporate decision-makers, faced with falling recruitment successes, will turn to re-staff HR departments again in an effort to regain control of the process.
  4. Candidates will become ever-more reluctant to engage with recruiters, even for promising positions, as they become increasingly skittish at having their resume double-submitted.
  5. This skittishness will contribute to the industry fallout in #1 in a potentially vicious cycle.


Some further thoughts here.

© 2014, David Hunt, PE

17 thoughts on “Are Recruiters Inhibiting Recruiting?

  1. What a load of cods wallop. You clearly have a polarised perspective of the recruitment market and lack the depth of understanding required to appraise it in a credible manner. Conduct more research before making such ridiculous statements.

    1. First, you do realize these are my OPINIONS?

      Second, you could have taken the time to point out where you perceive my arguments are wrong. You could have supported those assertions with your own perspectives, which I would have welcomed. It could have become an interesting – and informative – discussion. I certainly would have welcomed another set of thoughts.

      Instead you took the easy way out. But have a good weekend anyway.

      1. Hi David,

        I think I can enlighten you a little as to how recruiters actually work and hopefully reassure you that we are not, generally, the spawn of the devil.

        You are correct that the same jobs can and often are advertised multiple times by multiple recruiters. These recruiters will all be working on a contingency basis – ie they will only get paid if they successfully fill the job opening.

        If I understand you correctly, you seem to be of the opinion that most of these recruiters have not actually been engaged by the actual employer to search for and present candidates to them – however you would be dead-wrong. The mostly unfortunate fact for both job-seekers and agency recruiters is that unless employers ‘retain’ a recruitment agency’s services with an up-front payment then they will (usually) engage more than one recruiter to attempt to fill their opening(s) on a contingency basis. It might be two agencies, it could be 10. By the way, no employer is going to ‘retain’ more than one agency recruiter to fill a role – they would choose one only and that’s it.

        I think I can speak for roughly 100% of agency recruiters when I say that we would much prefer to be the only recruiter working on a role and now and again we do secure ‘exclusive’ openings with our best clients on a contingency basis – but not usually. Most agency recruiters who are reasonably experienced and know what they are doing will not want to waste their time working on an opening on which there are more than a couple of other agency recruiters working. When you see the same job advertised multiple times then it’s usually the case that the recruiters doing so are not yet experienced enough to know that there is almost undoubtedly more effective ways to spend their working day.

        How did we get to the stage where the same job opening is advertised / worked on by multiple agents? A good question. Whilst it is tempting to blame the employers for being short-sighted and not understanding that in engaging multiple recruiters to fill the same role(s) they actually get a far poorer service from recruiters who don’t give 100% trying to fill the role because they know that statistically they might only have a 20% chance of filling it and getting paid for their time – it’s not quite that simple.

        Perhaps the question we should be asking is WHY employers feel a need to engage multiple recruitment agents. I suspect the answers are a) that recruiters don’t try hard enough to gain exclusivity when they take on a role and actually attempt to educate the employers into why exclusivity is actual beneficial to them as well as the recruiter b) those recruiters that DO push for exclusivity and don;t get it are afraid to say ‘no thanks’ to being one of 5 other recruiters working on the same role (because of pressure from their own bosses to continually get ‘fresh’ jobs onto their books). You should realise that recruitment is a pretty tough game, only a few earn a lot of money – most people who join a company will be given around three months, six at the absolute max, to make some money for the agency or they will be shown the door. It’s that kind of pressure that leads to a mentality where recruiters, usually the less experienced ones, don’t feel that they can say ‘no’ to their clients.

        To close off – your impression that there are more agency recruiters than there are jobs for them to work on is 100% correct but it’s certainly nothing new – it has been that way for well over 20 years – competition amongst recruiters is cut-throat and always has been.

        If and when you are next looking for a position then the best advice I can give you, or anyone, is to identify a very experienced recruiter with a track record of recruiting in your particular industry, have a proper discussion with them and give him or her a period of ‘exclusivity’ to find you a role – you may well find that works wonders.

    2. What Dave described is 100% true you liked it or not – I have multiple examples of these manipulations

    3. What Dave described is 100% true you liked it or not – I have multiple examples of these manipulations

    4. Actually (unless he is lying outright, and I don’t think he is), his statements are reasonable inferences based on actual observations. I don’t doubt that he experienced the things that he talks about in his article. Based on those observations, I think his inferences are more than reasonable. Your comment offers little else.

      1. What? My reply above was directed at the first comment. How did it get here?? Oh well.

  2. It’s coming to my attention that recruiters are taking this as a slam. THIS WAS NOT MY INTENT. They are not “the spawn of the devil” as Clive so colorfully put it.

    My thought process was simple: given that I now have had SEVEN different recruiters contact me – out of the blue – about this one company, each time naming different towns than the one where the company is, might be impacting people being willing to engage with recruiters.

    From that potential unwillingness there are straight-forward, direct consequences:

    1. A fallout in the number of recruiters
    2. A lack of jobs being filled

    I have been placed in the past through recruiters, and understand their necessity in the industry. I am, I believe, on good conversational terms with several.

    1. Hard to believe so many non-local recruiters would be deliberately “engaged” by any company. Job searches in my area routinely pick up 6+ replicated entries for jobs even from large companies with well equipped in-house HR. I’ve also encountered the opposite problem, jobs portrayed as local that were anything but.

      My personal experience with recruiters is that they are best useless, and often worse than useless by having blocked me from positions I knew I was qualified for. Or repeatedly telling me to lower my expectations (not just salary wise) to satisfy lowballing or exploitative employers. I avoid them whenever possible.

  3. The author is 100% right. The answer to the title of the post is a resounding YES. I’ve been pushing for a long time for professional regulation of the recruitment industry in the same way that attorneys are regulated…with a set of professional ethics and a board that than pull a recruiter’s licence for violations.

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