Talent Acquisition

Agency Recruiters and Sales Managers: The Bad, The Uglier and The Ugliest

One of the major things I look for when interviewing candidates is past performance – nothing is more indicative of what future performance will look like. In fact, when anyone is considered for a promotion or a raise, past performance is a key – if not the key metric.

Sadly (often because someone is exceptionally good at Task A), they get promoted to supervising people doing their former task – sometimes they continue to do their former task while managing people who are also in the same role. In an agency environment, where commissions come into play, this is often a recipe for disaster.

A bigger disaster is promoting a sales person or a recruiter to a people manager role, because they were a good recruiter/sales person – there is a lot more to being a manager than that. The worst cases are very successful people who use their well-earned money and start their own firm, as if success in Part A will promise perfection in Part B.

I once worked at a firm where the hierarchy went company owner, partner, line manager and then ‘lil ol’ me. This caused problems as everyone still thought they needed to be involved in everything down to the most minor detail, because they had been successful in the past. Not only had times changed, not only had the nature of recruiting and staffing changed, but the way people behaved in an office had changed. This guy still hadn’t caught on. So, some things he did:

1) Lunch:

I was eating lunch and an urgent call came in that needed to be taken right away. As I stood up to go back to my desk, I did that thing where you’re moving back in your chair, a bit hunched over, not quite standing and not quite sitting and I grabbed one last bite. This guy grabbed my sandwich! “Newman, if I say move, you go!” He then threw my sandwich out of a 15th floor window into the street.

2) Exit Interview:

Same guy. I finally resign after years of this. My exit interview was this:

Thanks for the experience of working here, I learned a lot but it’s time for me to move on.

– Me

I knew you were f*cking looking, I told XXXX (my direct manager) you were f*cking looking and to watch you. If you f*cking stole from me, I’ll f*cking hunt you the f*ck down and kill you!

– Guy

Thanks for the experience of working here, I learned a lot but it’s time for me to move on.

– Me

3) Umbrellas:

Did I mention he felt umbrellas being opened inside were a recruiting curse? I saw him break at least 3 or 4 umbrellas after he saw them being opened in an office. He’d just snap them in half.

These are more egregious examples but my point is that success as a recruiter or as a sales person doesn’t mean you will be successful managing people. You don’t become an excellent manager because you were excellent at something else. I have seen it in staffing, I have seen it with technology people, and with support staff. I won’t even call it the Peter Principle as their incompetency wasn’t in their core skill set. It was being thrown into a job they weren’t qualified to do because it is totally different than where they had been successful.

My favorite book and my personal philosophical guide to life is The Illuminati! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. If you haven’t read it, well, it is heavy. One of the main characters, Hagbard Celine, is full of pithy quotes and wisdom. He has, what are known as “Celine’s Laws” of which this is the second:

Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation.

Wilson rephrases this himself many times as “communication occurs only between equals.” Celine calls this law “a simple statement of the obvious” and refers to the fact that everyone who labors under an authority figure tends to lie to and flatter that authority figure in order to protect themselves either from violence or from deprivation of security (such as losing one’s job). In essence, it is usually more in the interests of any worker to tell his boss what he wants to hear, not what is true.

In any hierarchy, every level below the highest carries a subtle burden to see the world in the way their superiors expect it to be seen and to provide feedback to their superiors that their superiors want to hear. In the end, any hierarchical organization supports what its leaders already think is true more than it challenges them to think differently. The levels below the leaders are more interested in keeping their jobs than telling the truth.

How can someone say “No, sorry, Emails are now just as acceptable as phone calls for a first connection”, to someone who “made their bones” on a rotary phone? How can you say that a call log of how many calls made in a day is not a metric that holds value the way it used to? How can you tell someone who made their success by “Cold Calling” and “Breaking Down” a company that those days are over? That if I want to know all about you, the good and the bad, it is a google search away? When the person replies, “I am successful. I won the game. Now do as I say, as I know it works!” they aren’t wrong… about times that are dead and gone. However, when your job is on the line, you “smile and dial” and look for something else. Poor performance is not the only reason people move into recruiting roles faster than a lot of other businesses.

By Jeffrey Newman

Jeff Newman a.k.a. The People's Recruiter, has been a Full Life Cycle IT Recruiter and Full Desk Placement expert for over 14 years. He prides himself on always making sure that what he is offering a candidate is an Opportunity and not just another job. He is a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Mobiquity. Watch Jeff live on stage: "Recruiters: The Good, The Bad, and the Devious."