Why are recruiters so useless?

I've dealt with both internal corporate recruiters and external (headhunters) and I continue to be amazed at how awful they are as a rule.

I applied to a super regional bank, a recruiter reached out with some questions and stated that after I filled it out they'd reach out to set up a time to speak. Sent it back they responded positively and then radio silence, I followed up a week later then two weeks after that, radio silence. When I lateraled to my current firm, had the same issue with the same recruiter at that super regional firm.

I have had recruiters reach out for roles that have been awful matches either way too senior (Sr. Relationship Manager with 15+ years experience) or way too junior (temp to perm business analyst). What is wrong with these people and how do you deal when they go radio silent?

Comments (66)

Jan 25, 2018 - 12:35pm

I can't answer your question, but I can attest to your experience. Last recruiter that contacted me was super personable on the phone, cracking jokes, etc. He says he'll set up a time for first round interview with the hiring firm. Never does. Send follow-up email, nothing.

My best guess would be recruiters end up where they are because they're basically useless, ineffective people who couldn't do much else. Like HR, most of it is "make work" to keep the unemployment rate down.

Mar 4, 2018 - 3:08am

They often say that about professors and teachers too which sounds funny until you realize it's your failed mortgage broker saying it about Ivy League professors :)

Matthew H. Greene
  • 1
Jan 25, 2018 - 4:12pm

I've gone through buyside (corp dev) recruiting twice and have interacted with close to a dozen headhunters from the well known ones that are frequently mentioned on here to small mom and pop types shops. All, as in 100%, of them have been god awful and utterly useless. They are either rude, know nothing about the industry, or are simply lying about actually having a position.

I think the reason for this is simple: there is no hurdle to become a recruiter. This isn't like PE where targets weed kids out and then banks weed kids out and then PEGs weed kids out, leaving what should be, at least in theory, the cream of the crop in terms of candidates. Also, it doesn't help that most of these recruiters cut their teeth in accounting where everyone and their mother is looking for exit opps. That type of buyers market lets recruiters get away with being sloppy, and they then carry that over into trying to recruit for finance positions.

When a recruiter emails me now, I simply respond by asking for the name of their client, a job description, and a salary range. That eliminates 99% of the non-serious sharks.

Mar 4, 2018 - 3:17am

There's no hurdle to be anything if you truly care to master your craft BUT recruiting is one of only ways us BC hockey guys even get into your firm so hey I decided to learn people cold as well as learn as much as I could over 20 years about the business. Moral: you find your niche and specialize the F out of it and you can overcome "recruiting" stigma, it's just you don't wanna do commission based agency recruiting where you can't make any real money. wait you guys make real money so I should shut up now :)

Matthew H. Greene
  • 2
Jan 25, 2018 - 4:36pm

Recruiters are very much like real estate agents. They get paid on the transaction and often dont care about anything else. After 5 minutes talking to you, they determine if you're a golden goose for them (you'd have to be willing to accept the role and the client would have to want you). At the lower levels, it is not much more than that.

I will say that when you get more senior and the executive recruiters or more established veterans call, it can be much better. I still get an occasional idiot, but I weed them out pretty quickly. Now I'm pretty much in touch with a few people who know me better and know what's going on in my area. I'm still a means to an end for them (as they could be to me), but it's MUCH better.

Even Sally the new recruiter is better than LinkedIn's broken algorithm. In the past month or so they've sent me emails stating that I should consider the VP of Operations for the Chicago Bears and a Bank Teller, neither of which are remotely close to my experience in FP&A.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy
  • 9
Jan 25, 2018 - 5:31pm

In the HF industry, it's best to bypass the recruiters and go directly to the biz development people who are talking to PMs and know what spots are open... And sometimes more importantly, which roles are about to open up (someone getting blown out or team looking to get bigger).

I once had a useful recruiter actually get me an interview like 6 years ago. Other than that, useless shit heads. I'm talking to you, Mercury Partners.

Jan 25, 2018 - 8:09pm

I think you may be looking at this the wrong way. Recruiters are "useless" because to them you are not a person, but just another number. You don't matter. Recruiting is a numbers game which involves placing the largest number of qualified applicants in front of a client. From that standpoint, as long as you meet the client's criteria, you will be given an opportunity to be reviewed by that firm.

On the other hand, I think you should change your entitled outlook. Be thankful that someone is willing to be the broker between you and your future goal or ideal firm. Do everything you can to make it easy for them to sell you, and be accommodating and polite. If you market yourself as someone easy to work with and flexible, recruiters will have no problem positioning and selling you to their clients. If you are aloof and entitled / dismissive, do not be surprised that you won't have much success with them.

Having said the above, I took a proactive approach before the beginning of the cycle by reaching out to as many headhunters as possible. You have to take as much control of the process as you can, given the uncertainty of outcomes. If you play the numbers game as well, you are more likely to find success. At the end of the day we're both playing the same numbers game, but for applicants its how many firms can you get interviews with. For the headhunters, often they don't get paid unless they're closing so I wouldn't expect any "special" treatment. A little self awareness goes a long way in life.

Jan 25, 2018 - 8:29pm

If you read what I posted my complaint was primarily about a recruiter who had stated that they were interested in speaking to me about a role for which I was a good fit and whom I had corresponded with, answered their questions and followed up with after they went radio silent.

This wasn't a headhunter, but an internal corporate recruiter. At risk of sounding pompous, I have a resume that is strong for the role, this is for a corporate banking associate in the same vertical I currently cover. The job is at a super regional bank, I'm at a top corporate bank think BAML, JPM, WF, Citi.

My other complaint was how few actually try and think about fit. I was annoyed when someone said I have a job at a BB to get me on the phone and then said it's a temp to perm business analyst. I've also had the exact opposite happen where they've gone and pitched opportunities that were very senior think MD-level. My LinkedIn profile leaves no doubt as to what I do now and what I've done in the past, while I might be open to a role that is one degree away from what I'm doing now I'm sure as Hell not looking for a more junior role in the back office.

Jan 29, 2018 - 10:45pm


“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
  • 4
Jan 26, 2018 - 11:20am

Look, the fact is, service is complete ass these days. You can't even sit in at a decent restaurant and expect your server waiting on your table to actually know what's on the menu anymore. Either the overabundance of resources presents too many options for people in charge, leading to confused service people, or it's an education and training issue. I believe it to be the former. When something isn't working, I believe it starts at the top.

The recruiters I've worked with, no matter if they're internal or not, all suck. I mean it's gotten to the point where I don't even think I should follow-up anymore to stay in contact. I know that if there is an available role, someone will reach out at a competing firm, named some street partners, that no one has ever heard of before, and try to get me in front of the hiring manager. When it doesn't work out for whatever reason, I just don't care so I feel no need to follow-up.

When it comes down to it, the best route to a job is to actually get in touch with some good people at the company, and just stay in contact until they're letting you know roles are opening up.

Another issue I have is with these "leaders" having so much power and selectivity. I come from a non-target, so I have little to no leverage in most cases. It's depressing the way you 'end up' in places no matter how geared or inclined to one way or another you might be. I look at it as inefficiency, because these people really have no idea who they're looking for. Typically, they want certain 'whats' in an individual, such as previous company employment and certain very specific duties. But it would seem that the individuals searching for a job are the ones who can speak to their own interest in an opportunity to grow at a firm or an industry.

For example, there are many boutique banks and pe shops out there now. In fact, there now seems to be an abundance of said shops because all of the information is out there and everyone is doing it now. Yet, breaking into a different role in banking is harder than ever, because most of these companies stick to one, blinded view of looking for candidates. I can say to recruiters, that if someone is looking for a new job, stepping down to your no-name, who gives a fuck boutique is not going to make them happier no matter what they say.


Mar 4, 2018 - 3:20am

Keep in mind hiring managers begin avoid us recruiters the SECOND we deviate from their "must have list" to try to get them someone perfect for them. It's honestly not far off from dealing with getting a mid 20's girl to date you when their list is key to them :)

Matthew H. Greene
Jan 26, 2018 - 2:18pm

Important to keep in mind that headhunters get paid by the interview (for most buy side stuff), so for them it's all about volume and none about your fit for the role. That's why you'll waste a lot of time speaking with them as they try to sell the fund on fitting a square peg into a round hole. Getting the contact info for the business development people is a much better way to go. Make the connection, stay in touch, and periodically check in with them to see when something might open up.

Jan 26, 2018 - 3:48pm

I am glad that others have similar feelings about headhunters. I have been consistently disappointed in them over the years.

When you are a good candidate, they are stage 5 clinger level (they e-mail on personal e-mail, professional e-mail, they somehow find out the personal phone number in addition to the professional phone, they call your current employer on their main line, introduce themselves as a headhunter and ask to be connected to you, etc.). When you are a less good candidate, they never respond to e-mail, when you call them they don't pick up, when you call the main line of the headhunter firm, they are in meetings, etc.

These days I primarily rely on my own connections to learn about potential openings and contact potential employers. Once you are hitting a senior associate / VP level, you should be able to pull this off.

Jan 28, 2018 - 2:10pm

I seldom have to deal with them except this is a bank where I have limited connectivity on the corporate banking side. It's a super regional so far fewer alums to talk to and all are in other divisions. Plus they tend to focus on more mid-corporate names so not running into them on transactions. Generally speaking I usually have a friend or acquaintance push my resume.

Jan 26, 2018 - 3:58pm

Recruiting is fundamentally broken in the short attention span era. Only going to get worse.

Stakeholders>Leaders>Hiring Manager>HR>Recruiter>Occassionally head hunter.

Most hiring managers write silly, hard to quantify job descriptions. 10 years of exp. Ok, doing what exactly?

If you ask for the top 5 skills, theyll give you 10. They simply can't create a recipe because they don't have a proper view of themselves and their team.

This occurs 50% of the time.

Now, interviews are poorly constructed. Many times, interview groups wing it with zero planning of who will cover which topics. I've had debrief where 3/4 interviewers all spent an hour interviewing for personality fit. For engineering roles. God awful planning. I've seen SVP's basically act like robots and be the least welcoming people ever. "Dude, if you can't warm up to people and drop the corporate mask for 30 minutes how long do you think we'll be able to staff your P&L?" Me thinks. $100 MM business unit here. I've seen the gotchya questions, etc, etc. And lest we forget, the managers who fully disqualify candidates over font type or the occasional improper use of syntax or grammar.

In other words, the evaluation process is retarded. 70-80% of cases.

And then you have the feedback loops. All roles are open ended. There is never a "good enough" and we'll coach the rest.

Time kills all deals. This lack of proper, pertinent feedback and decision making is a boon to anything but especially to recruiting.

So you have poor requirement planning, inconsistent interviewing approaches, sporadic evaluations, and lagging feedback loops.

And now you get to a recruiter, which yes, they fall into. Most have IQs of 100-110, tops. Who has zero power and many times, doesn't know what good business looks like anyways.

It's a perfect storm of incompetence.

I say this as a former recruiter that's billed millions in a given year. 95% are just dialing for dollars. A majority are very dumb. Most internals are HR drones. The good ones do their best but as you can see, they can only plug so many holes.

Recruiters should always be a last resort. Direct emails to hiring managers are your best bet.

Jan 26, 2018 - 4:42pm

The small agencies are the worst too. They blast you through LI for an irrelevant position and like Sil I ask about the salary range just to entertain myself and they never reply.

26 Broadway where's your sense of humor?
  • 1
Jan 27, 2018 - 9:21pm

My limited experience with S&T headhunters has been pretty solid. The roles they have reached out about were all a decent fit from an experience standpoint, and in terms of scheduling and follow up they have all been timely. I have never gone beyond the initial phone call with the headhunter, as nothing they have shown me was better than my current role. If anyone in S&T has ever used a headhunter to actually find a job I would be curious hear about your experience.

  • Anonymous Monkey's picture
  • Anonymous Monkey
  • Rank: Chimp
Jan 28, 2018 - 4:54am

They are horrible. Their only job is to filter people out based on mechanical Q&A format. They look at your resume and determine if it meets the minimum requirements, then will ask basic questions as to "your experience" at XYZ firm or to give details about filling in any gaps or why you left a position.

They just filter people out, then after the initial phone screening with a recruiter, the next step is "Okay we will forward your resume to the Partner of XYZ office and they will contact you if they are interested."

It is a very flawed and "useless" system, however somewhat necessary if it is a company/position that receives plenty of applicants per each job posting.

Jan 29, 2018 - 10:29pm

Don't want to go off on a tangent, but wondering if anybody can assist me with this HH / recruiter query...

Do HHs reach out to BB / EB Analysts at every bank, irrespective of location? For example, the buy-side in Australia is tiny and long-term I want to be on the buy-side, but based in the US. I've done a summer gig at a non-elite boutique and will be on track next year for BB SA recruitment. Will I not get HH emails / interest (assuming I get a FT offer) as I'm in Sydney, Australia?

KKR have an office here, TPG Capital have one in Melbourne (1.5 hour flight down the coast) but have heard that Analyst hiring is almost nil.. The whole floor is no more than 30 employees and generally comprise of very senior MD bankers who then made the leap to buy-side.

Don't want to get ahead of myself (Good GPA, target, IB experience as a freshman since I transferred ect..) but wondering if I will need to transfer to a US office ASAP and then recruit. Can think of a few people who have done this.

Thanks in advance

Ignore my Title and Industry - I can't seem to change it under 'Edit Profile' lol
  • 1
Mar 5, 2018 - 12:37am

Thought this would be the case, thanks for confirming.

Ignore my Title and Industry - I can't seem to change it under 'Edit Profile' lol
Jan 29, 2018 - 10:48pm

My experience with recruiters is generally good. Their experience with me, on the other hand...

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
  • 1
Jan 30, 2018 - 2:24pm


My recruiting experience has been best when they stay far away until it's time to sign an employment agreement. It's amazing how smooth the process goes when it's just the line of business/hiring manager involved.

Quoted for emphasis.

Feb 3, 2018 - 10:06pm


My recruiting experience has been best when they stay far away until it's time to sign an employment agreement. It's amazing how smooth the process goes when it's just the line of business/hiring manager involved.

Pretty much this. When the one hiring and the one being hired are in direct contact it's smooth AF, the HR people need to just wait for paperwork. Stay in your lane.

Feb 2, 2018 - 4:28pm

Long time lurker, first time poster here.

I'm actually an engineer and mostly browse these forums for entertainment. I make 1/3 to 1/2 of most of your salaries, but I work ~45 hrs/wk avg, have no idea how to put on a tie, deal with 80% less stress, and way less people and shitty social situations (you won't ever see me on a golf course, unless it's a driving range with a DQ next door).

When I saw this topic come up, I had to add my two cents, albeit some of my points have been covered already.

So why are recruiters shit as a rule?

First of all, as a habit from back in my early career days, I would always add recruiters that reach out to me on LinkedIN. I've done this for about a decade now and what I've noticed 99% of the time is that these folks are headhunting for fields they have absolutely no background or experience in. Next time someone reaches out to you, check them out on LinkedIN, see what their major and previous employment looks like. To wrap up my first point I ask what business does someone with a BA in art history, sole work experience as a university cafeteria clerk and no technical background whatsoever have trying to fill a process engineering role for Dupont?

Second, most reputable professions employ various methods meant to keep riff raff out. For engineers it's calculus, diff eq, and the PE licensing, for finance I'd imagine it's understanding and application of complex investing theories and series 7, for law and medicine it's lots and lots of things. For my second point I ask what barrier-of-entry keeps Jane Q. Public and her idiot cousin from quitting their crappy shelf stocking gig at Dollar General and getting into recruiting?

These two facts presented so far alone are pretty damning, yet recruiting is proliferating to a point where you don't even need to live in the same country or speak the language all that well to get involved- most of you know exactly what I'm talking about. So what gives?

Companies, both big and small, do not know how to hire-anymore. What's sad is that this wasn't always the case, HR people along with division and hiring managers were previously given the resources needed to make well informed decisions as to who gets in and who doesn't. This included being given leeway in things like conducting exit interviews to properly develop the role requirements and expectations, keeping regular communications with peers in a given field to keep expectations realistic and relevant, not employing time-saving cookie-cutter approaches to hiring that exclude rockstar back-officers for the same reasons you'd ding a customer facer. Most firms cut a lot out of their internal hiring process during the recession and saw no reason to reconsider that approach due to the labor market glut at that. Since then the labor market has vastly changed yet good luck convincing an exec that. I'll conclude this third point by asking why on earth does a perfectly profitable/successful firm, with all its in-field knowledge and resources decide to go with a bunch of complete outsiders in almost every sense of the word, as discussed earlier, to make some of its most important long-term strategic decisions?

As an aside on reputable professions, what other field do you know of which hires most of its new entrants at a very young age, gives the majority of said entrants a very short career shelf-life (6months-year) as they work with colleagues they'd rather not whilst pursuing the field as a last resort? I'll answer this one for you, porn.

Feb 3, 2018 - 10:47am

This is an example of people getting butt-hurt when they get a taste of their own medicine. Think about how many unqualified people apply to jobs through job boards. You've probably done it yourself. It's no different. People find semi-relevant jobs and cast a wide net. Recruiters find semi-relevant candidates and cast a wide net.

It is true that most of them go into it because they can't get a serious job with their directionless Liberal Arts degrees. Recruiting is the college graduate version of customer service or retail for high school graduates/GED recipients.

Feb 3, 2018 - 4:53pm

Internal recruiters aren't great (after all they are HR), but the real offenders are 3rd party HR vendors aka headhunters.

They work mainly on commission so right away volume and speed to close are critical. So don't expect any white glove treatment. Either you fit their mandate or you don't.

Additionally, I'm very skeptical of headhunters that send me a blast email on LinkedIn ending with the classy 'send resume in word ASAP'. Headhunters rarely have an exclusive to shop a position and other times they just want to collect resumes to show a potential client how many candidates they have. Definitely seen headhunters copy and paste job listings that are no longer active just to sweep in resumes.

With that said, some headhunters are good, but you really need to dig. Just because they come from a brand name doesn't mean they're quality.

Feb 3, 2018 - 6:04pm

I don't think ghosting a candidate after saying you want to tee up a time to talk is appropriate. Especially if you have asked them to jump through hoops, like responding to their questions. If they're not interested that's fine, no hard feelings, but have the common decency to say so, particularly if you say you want to talk regarding next steps.

Feb 3, 2018 - 8:59pm

Ive dealt with good and bad recruiters. The good ones are (usually) internal, respond to emails within 24 hours (often immediately - good recruiters I mean) respect my time, honest with expectations, and the best ones will even send me likely letters if I performed well in a round or unlikely if the competition is just too tight.

Bad recruiters are usually external (headhunters), will insult my background (like you are a recruiter, get over yourself), make disparaging comments about millennials, ignore emails. Those who can't do, recruit.

Feb 3, 2018 - 9:52pm

I'm working with a company's HR group, and this is interesting. I applied November 20th.

I got an email asking for a phone interview on December 8th, sometime the week after. We booked Monday December 11th.

At the conclusion of our interview, I asked for a timeline. He said they want somebody in the seat no later than Jan 15 and he will follow up with me on Wednesday (December 13).

December 13, nada. December 15, I get an apology and said I'll get a call Monday or Tuesday of next week(18-19). Nada.

Fast forward January 5, I get an email apologizing again and for two dates in the near future I'm free and by January 7th, he'll be back with the confirmed times.

January 7, nada. January 15, I get a call profusely apologizing and basically scheduling one for the 17th and an in person January 24th. On January 15, I also applied to a dream role separately. January 18th, dream role calls back and schedules phone interview for 23rd. I asked them about timeline, they said top of April body in seat latest.

So Jan 23 dream role phone interview. Round 1/2 for Company B.
Jan 24 final interview. 3/3 rounds done for Company A

I ask A for another timeline. They say they'll let me know by January 31. January 31, nada. Jan 26 Company B asks me to fly in, we choose Feb 3.

Feb 3 I fly in, interview goes well. Feb 3, Company A tells me they will have a firm offer by Feb 10 presented to me. Anticipated start date to be March 12, but negotiatable.

I'm in a little dilemma contemplating what to do, but thankful one company's incompetence and one company's delivering above the other have given me this chance. Had I got the offer prior to applying to this dream role, no one knows where id be. I may not get it, but I think recruiters are handicapped by who they report to. The common denominator in all this.

The guy I spoke to in HR at dream role is the one who would make the final call. The one guy I spoke to in Company A, is just doing the diligence and background work for his superior.

Feb 4, 2018 - 10:57am

Maybe it's because the recruiter does what's best for them and their clients.

You're the one looking for a position so it's you that has to go knocking on doors. You can't expect anyone to chase you around begging you to work for their firm. You're just lazy and entitled

Feb 8, 2018 - 11:25am

Unfortunately, not the case.

There ar institutional barriers that no amount of smarts, hustle, or rapport can overcome.

You simply have too many cooks in the kitchen.

And managing the guests at the FOH?

Lol, everyone believes their career decisions have to be 150% certain, expect 24 hour turn around on everything (have you seen your average HR reps urgency), and that they're in line for a 20% raise because they read some article on negotiating tactics.

Steve Jobs was replaceable, so is everyone else.

It's daunting trying to manage that many personalities around 100% subjective and abstract processes like hiring. You're trying to get someone else laid while dealing with cockblocks, motherhens, and unpredictable wingmen. Results will vary as they say.

My understanding is that prior to 2008 hiring was a lot more simplistic. Or so I've been told.

One thing which I forgot to mention in my prior response. Third party recruiters rarely have access to hiring managers. HR many times prohibits it.

For example, my old company ran hiring for multiple sections of big WM firm. Think Vanguard, Fidelity, Capital Group, Wellington, etc

It took years, upon years, for the team that landed the account to gain credibility, influence, and access to the point where they had unfettered access. These guys are incredibly smart and savvy

Pretty rare situation.

Nonetheless our success rate was minescule.

It's systemic ☹️

Mar 6, 2018 - 5:53pm

Not to any way make excuses or disagree that there is rampant laziness and incompetence within the system, but I think the biggest reason that no one brings up is recruiters refuse to "read" the way a normal educated person used to. Now the fear of "THREE LINES OF TEXT" makes them shudder at idea of critical thought. Even if you have hundreds of resumes, still the same point. If they can't handle the load of resumes just because they don't want to do that in recruiting, then...perhaps it's the wrong career for them. Thinking out loud folks.

Matthew H. Greene
  • 1
Feb 6, 2018 - 5:48pm

I can only add that (surprisingly), recruiters are equally bad when you are trying to hire someone.

I have a friend who lives in the country, and it's supposed to be an hour from 42nd Street. A lie! The only thing that's an hour from 42nd Street is 43rd Street!
Feb 8, 2018 - 11:49am

Actually though??? Would love to see blinded excerpts from this convo...

Thanks, let me know if you ever need an introduction in the industry.
Feb 8, 2018 - 12:04pm

I have a good one.

For one of my internships I had sent my CV to the HR and to the team lead. I got an interview from the team lead and after the interview he says I'm cool and to join next week.

I was like cool and join the coming week. One day later I get a mail from the HR that I have been rejected for that post since its been filled by someone who awas better suited.

So I basically rejected myself from that internship by accepting it. That day I realised HR don't know sh1t.

Feb 15, 2018 - 3:54pm
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