Times are tough for recruiters, too

By Laura Raines, for the ajcjobs

With high unemployment and low job growth, it’s no secret that job applicants are having a tough time in this market. Contrary to public opinion, it’s no picnic for recruiters either.

“I’ve been a recruiter for 15 years, and everyone thinks that my job should be really easy right now, but it’s not. This is a very challenging market,” said Michelle Robinovitz, internal recruiter with AGH LLC, a 35-year-old Atlanta accounting firm.

Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC

Michelle Robinovitz, Director of Recruiting at AGH, talks with Paul Paris, Managing Principal at AGH, a CPA firm in Buckhead. Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC

Although many have lost jobs, not all have been because of the economy.

“It’s sometimes difficult to decipher what is really going on,” Robinovitz said. “You think someone is fantastic and you dig a little deeper and find out that he isn’t as qualified as you thought.”

She has been trying to fill a job that requires two years of accounting experience without success. “I’m looking for a relative newbie or new grad, and I’m getting applications from people who’ve been laid off after 15 to 20 years or people with an accounting degree whose experience is in logistics,” she said. “People will apply for anything. They just throw their résumé out there to see if it sticks.”

She advises candidates to apply only to positions that fit their qualifications and to prepare carefully for interviews.

“Focus on the position at hand instead of telling everything you could do,” Robinovitz said. “That tends to scare recruiters off.”

She finds herself having to do a lot more research and constantly networking to find the right candidates because passive candidates are harder to dislodge from their present positions.

“They’re staying put because they’re too scared to jump in this market,” Robinovitz said.

A new Corporate Executive Board study titled the New Realities of Recruiting shows that the challenge Robinovitz faces is widespread. “Recruiters are fighting five commonly held myths about this job market that the data showed to be false,” said Todd Safferstone, a managing director with the Corporate Executive Board. They include:

  • More applications equals high-quality hires.
  • There’s an abundance of the right talent.
  • Prospective candidates are easier to dislodge.
  • Employers can press their advantage with prospective candidates.
  • Maintaining talent pipelines will be easier.

“Everyone is saying this is a buyer’s market right now and there is lots of opportunity for employers to trade up on talent,” Safferstone said. “In fact the data that measure high-quality hires only went up by a tenth of a percent from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009.”

Recruiters are getting more applications, but many don’t fit the requirements. The study showed that only 23 percent of candidates spend more than 30 minutes researching a position before applying; 38 percent spend less than 10 minutes. “A client in the energy industry told us that he posted a job for an attorney and got 1000 applications in a week. Only half of them had a law degree,” Safferstone said.

“That jump in active applicants is severely dampened by the decrease in the number of passive candidates willing to look at new opportunities,” he said. “They’re sticking with the devil they know rather than risk the unknown.”

In 2006 a similar survey found that 35 percent of passive candidates were willing to take a new position with a 15 percent compensation increase. In 2009, only 21 percent were willing to say “yes.”

“Candidates are hunkering down and scared of being ‘last in/first out’ at a new organization,” Safferstone said.

Nor does this seem to be the time for employers to press their advantage. Only 35 percent of the unemployed candidates surveyed said they were willing to take a 5 percent decrease in pay; only 9 percent would consider a position poorly aligned with their talents.

“People are willing to wait rather than take a step back that costs them for the next three to four years,” he said.

Given the new market realities, “recruiters need to eliminate all but their effective sourcing channels to cut down on the number of unproductive applications,” Safferstone said.

They’ll need to be more strategic in approaching passive candidates — going in, perhaps, when a company is going through turmoil and candidates are more likely to listen, he said.

“They need to be very specific about what the new job offers; people are no longer receptive to general promises,” he added.

Finally, with most companies only hiring for critical positions, recruiters should use this time to capture information about high-talent people who could feed their pipeline later.

5 comments Add your comment


July 20th, 2009
9:06 am

Why does Ms. Robinovitz immediately jettison candidates who have been “laid off after 15 or 20 years”? Are they not qualified, or is she simply afraid to hire an older, more experienced worker who might give the impression that not everyone in her firm is under 30 years old?

It is a depressingly common story, and one I have run into at every turn: I have the experience and the skills in my field, but I am no longer 25 years old and aesthetically flawless. It is the worst kind of hypocrisy when employers whine about the lack of qualified applicants in a market flooded with people who can do the job, but have had the bad luck to pass into middle age. The tyranny of the employer-funded youth movement has consigned many able, eminently qualified people to obsolescence, and I would think–wrongly, by such accounts as this story–that people who would be overjoyed to have the talents of skilled, stable, time-tested employees on their side. However, it seems that we are no longer wanted.

I don’t feel sorry in the least for this woman, and I would be willing to bet that when she does find her young protege to fill the position, he or she will be looking for greener pastures at every conceivable opportunity, waiting for the moment they can find something better. I would like to see how much fun she would have if she were laid off from her position and had to batter her head against the new glass ceiling based on age rather than sex or race.


July 20th, 2009
8:22 pm

Hello , I graduated last year with a Associates Degree in Surgical Technology. What I don’t understand, Is how can you get experience if the Hospitals won’t hire new grads. They want you to be certified which cost $300.00 and experience. I can’t become certified if know one will give me a job. Hospitals post on there website looking for a Surgical Tech, Qualifications are, surgical tech degree or so many years of experience. I have the degree and only my externship for experience. I thought I would be able to get an entry level postion. If I apply for other jobs recruiters feel like I’m over qulified and when I appy for the position I went to so for I don’t get the postion. I fee like me degee was a waste of my time. What do recruiters and employers want?


July 22nd, 2009
10:58 am

ABaum: I appreciate your situation (as I have been laid off recently too…It is difficult and deflating) and I wish you the best, however, for you to think that you are a strong candidate for any position that requires only two years of experience with your skillset, based on that alone, is presumptive of many things. You do not know the dynamics of the department, the personalities, the internal career plans of the company, etc. If the company wants someone to be excited in their role, and to get behind a new manager that is only a few years out of school himself/herself, it is doubtful that you are going to come in and really learn alot from that manager, since you do have so much more experience. Don’t you want to go somewhere and be challenged and learn new things? What you are looking for is income, period. The employer wants someone who needs to be developed from a standpoint of where they are in their career.

Do you think Chipper Jones would be a good fit for a T-ball team who needs a new player?

Do you think Donald Trump would be a good fit for an entry level sales job at a real estate firm?

Again, I wish you the best of luck, but try to remember what you were looking for when you were hiring someone and consider other viewpoints instead of blaming others (Recruiters and Companies) for your misfortune.


July 23rd, 2009
1:04 pm

Boo-hoo for the recruiter! I have been the recruiter route and find them to be worthless! If you have been looking for an accounting person for two years and haven’t found anyone then your standards are too high or you’re not being truthful when advertising. That’s the problem with recruiters!


July 29th, 2009
9:00 pm

Sam: In response to your comment that you “find them (recruiters) to be worthless!”

This article was written about an internal/in-house corporate recruiter. It is their job to find and screen candidates for their hiring managers. In my opinion, these recruiters have a tendency to “screen out” job seekers.

And on a similar note, external/third-party recruiters are paid by their clients, the employers. The employers dictate their requirements and they get paid to execute the search/screening process. Typically these recruiters have the mindset to “screen in” a candidate.

Either way, recruiters are just doing their jobs.

I’ve been a recruiter for over 10 years now and have never worked so hard to find good qualified candidates for jobs. Even though I’m receiving probably 3 times the resumes I used to get. I agree to several points in this article.