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The Secret Lives of Recruiters (and the question you should never ask them)

  • 21-11-22
  • user Richard Malpeli

Ever hear a recruiter say something like this…?

“We’re specialists in our industry with an unparalleled network of high-quality candidates.”

“We guarantee a shortlist of at least five candidates within two weeks.”

“Our fees are reasonable and lower than 90% of recruiters.”

Assuming you’re still awake, would you like to know why recruiters keep using the same tired promises to try and win business?

These are the secrets recruiters don’t want you to know and the question you should never ask…

Most Recruitment Work is Unpaid

When a recruiter receives a brief from a client and is working on a “results-only” basis, they know only too well that they’re probably competing with at least one or two other recruiters.

Because a fee is only earned by producing the “winning” candidate, there’s a strong likelihood that the work carried out won’t result in a fee.

How strong a likelihood?

On average 75-80% of a recruiter’s work DOESN’T result in a placement and therefore DOESN’T produce any income.

Add to this the fact that the recruiter is probably on a fairly low salary and depends on commissions for the bulk of the earnings, and you can start to understand why a recruitment firm is such a stressful environment.

The result is that recruiters are under intense pressure to take on as many assignments as possible, gather candidates as quickly as possible, and hope that at least 20-30% hit the spot.

Put another way…

Your recruitment campaign is only ever getting 20-30% of your recruiter’s attention.

Recruitment is a Numbers Game

When there’s so much uncertainty in the recruitment business model, it’s not hard to see why it operates like a numbers game.

It may sound glib but throwing a lot of mud at the wall and hoping some of it sticks is not a terrible metaphor for the day-to-day grind of recruitment.

This is why recruiters pitch to clients using the same tired clichés about networks, low fees, and speed of delivery. It’s a transactional business in which candidates are commodities and the selling points reflect this.

Apologies if that sounds harsh, but it’s hard to argue against.

Recruiters Benefit from Their Failures

This one is going to get me some stick…

It’s estimated that as many as 25% of placements leave the role within 12 months. When this happens, the employer has two choices…

1)     Go back to the recruiter and pay another fee for a new candidate.

2)     Take a punt on another recruiter who looks and sounds suspiciously like the old one.

Hang on, hang on…

Does that mean that the recruitment industry benefits financially when they do a rush job and place a candidate that is a poor fit for the role?

And THAT is the question you’re really not supposed to ask.

Don’t get me wrong. The recruiter WANTS to give you a candidate that stays in the role, but there’s little financial incentive for them to do so. And they’re far too busy trying to juggle multiple campaigns, and far too anxious about hitting their targets, to think too hard about retention rates.

There’s a Recruitment Revolution Happening

When you strip away the marketing fluff and cut right to the heart of recruitment, the most important factor is putting the right candidate in the right position.

The candidate wins. The client wins. And while some might argue that there’s little benefit to the recruiter, I would argue that as long as the employer understands the benefits of high employee retention the recruiter stands to benefit from a good client relationship.

This is why a small, but growing, portion of the recruitment industry is abandoning the traditional, transactional method of recruitment and working with their clients on a consultative basis.

Instead of rushing to compile a shortlist and prizing quantity over quality, these recruiters are focused on conducting measured, intelligent recruitment campaigns and maximising retention rates for their clients.

While the retention rate for new hires, after 12 months, is estimated at somewhere between 70-80% across the industry…

These recruiters are seeing retention rates of approximately 96%.

Put another way…

When you hire a candidate provided by these recruiters, there is a 96% chance that your new hire will still be in the role after 12 months.

And once a new hire has been in place for at least 12 months, the odds of them staying in the role for many more years to come increases exponentially!


The secret lives of recruiters isn’t always pretty. But there are still plenty of recruiters who care deeply about their work and want to produce meaningful results for all concerned.

Yes, it should be up to recruiters to improve the results of their own industry, but you can do your part by choosing recruiters who, instead of trotting out the same clichéd selling points, focus on the result that really matters.

The RIGHT candidate in the RIGHT role.