Once In A (Recruiting) Lifetime: This is 40

As I sit here, dedicating a few of my first full 24 hours as a 40 year old to this post, I realize that I’d spent the last four days figuring out what the hell, exactly, I wanted to write.

After all, as you know, our editor is something of a stickler for meaty editorial content (to say the least), and has an expectation for quality that can sometimes be hard to meet – particularly when you have something to say, but you just aren’t quite sure how to say it.

Because frankly, hitting 40 is kind of heavy, at least judging from the past few hours of introspection, soul searching and second guessing.

It’s not so much that, statistically speaking, my life is half over (give or take a few years and a lot of luck), or because I’m having some sort of existential mid-life crisis. Seriously. I’m sure that, were things a little different, I’d be out there test driving sports cars, signing up for skydiving lessons or whatever the hell it is men of my age generally do when they hit the big 4-0.

But as much fun as that stuff sounds, the thing is, personally and professionally, as I turn 40, I’m truly in a good place. I know how lucky I am to be fulfilled in both fronts, and even though I’m now in the next decade, I know, somehow, the best is yet to come.

But the thing about these big birthdays is that there’s something about them that invites introspection, and I’ve been taking the last few days to look back on my career, what I’ve achieved, and what advice I’d give my younger self if I had a Delorean, some weapons grade plutonium and a Flux Capacitor.

Now, that advice wouldn’t include old guy adages like, “nothing good happens after 2 AM,” or “Costa Rica is a bad place to make bad decisions,” but the thing is, that shit is still awesome. It just sucks more when you have to snap back to reality when you realize you just can’t rage the way you used to – although that shouldn’t stop you from trying, because friends and fun are what makes being an adult suck just a little less.

Things Just Ain’t the Same for Gangstas.

dreBut what I really want to write about are the lessons I’ve learned over my years spent in the recruiting trenches; the last few days have provided an awesome opportunity to look back at my own experience, but also to realize that, while my career path might have been somewhat meandering, and incredibly unique to my own personal journey, many of the most important takeaways I’ve learned along the way are pretty much applicable to anyone in this crazy recruiting industry of ours.

So if you’re already riding the recruiting roller coaster, then buckle in, because we’re all on the same ride, and for me, it’s been an exhilarating one that’s been, if nothing else, incredibly rewarding.

And the good news for recruiters in this business is that most of us who have put the most of ourselves into doing the best we can to ensure we do right by our clients and candidates feel an obligation to see that hard work drive forward a mentality that says, more or less, you’ve got to help the next generation of recruiters if you want any of this – or your legacy – to live on.

I think of that phrase a lot, believe it or not, and whenever I do my interior monologue starts sounding a lot likeSteve Levy, because it’s definitely a value (and maxim) he openly advocates, and leads by example. But not all of us can channel our inner Levy, and most probably have no desire to do so – but whatever works with you, remember that what we do today forms our legacy for tomorrow.

So, back to my big dilemma. Here I sit, realizing yeah, this is 40, and that means that somehow I’ve been in recruiting for over 15 years, which sounds simultaneously insane and impossible to me, but that’s what happens with time – you never realize how quickly it goes until it’s gone.

And 15 years in, I know now that my self-perception is the one thing any recruiter – myself included – can control. It’s easy to kowtow to the opinions and desires of other people, but at the end of the day, you only have yourself – no matter how people your job touches each and every day.

The Come Up.

tumblr_m9bv0h82fM1refayoo1_500For the first few years of my career, though – OK, let’s say the first five to seven years out, which is a lifetime in a recruiting career, really, I had one singular mission, one raison d’etre which trumped all others. Simply, I was going to rule the world of recruiting.

Titles meant a lot to me, even though the prestige of a Manager or Director title somehow seemed worth the trade off for the fact I didn’t even own the title to my own car.

I was getting paid, of course, and paid well, but hell – like many of you, I got hooked early on the endless supply of seemingly exorbitant commissions a good recruiter can pull down working for a third party agency.

Those fees are like a drug, and I’ll blame the staffing universe for being the enabler in my original goal of making enough to make it rain. Anyone who tells me that there’s nothing addicting about the high stakes, high reward world of agency work has either never actually spent any time in third party recruitment, or else is nodding out from the smack.

For me, though, good as the cash was, the prestige was even better; I got off on being known, and “building my empire,” whatever the hell that actually means – I never even knew what that was, but I knew it sounded bad ass, and made me feel like I was actually in control instead of being an intermediary in soft handing candidates, on one hand, and taking care of business on the other – and conducting that business with clients in that unrelenting, Type A, entitled way that is a rookie mistake for so many recruiters out there.

The Player’s Ball: Raising A Recruiting Chalice.

56095738_15d318e0141Experience teaches you, however, that those recruiters with that same heavy handed approach are a dime a dozen – it’s when you actually care about your craft enough to continually refine it, and admit to not knowing what you don’t know, that you inevitably stand out and, as the cliche goes, do well by doing right by everyone involved in every hiring process you ever touch.

And so far, I think I’m doing pretty well, but even after 15 years, I know I’ve still got a lot to learn about recruiting – and always will, if I’m doing it right.

I really care about becoming the best recruiter I can be, and continually focusing on professional development and personal improvement, because I’ll be the first to admit, I’m kind of obsessed with recruiting.

Not to sound like a nerd or anything, but this is genuinely my calling – and I know that this, for whatever reason, is what I was destined to be doing for a living. First off, there’s the fact that I get to talk to people all day, which, as an extrovert, is kind of my thing. Second, recruiting is a dish best served organized, and I’m about as anal about organization as anyone I know. Finally, I’m hypercompetitive – every fiber of my core needs some carrot to stay motivated.

Whether that’s a new project to work on, a new tool to tinker with or a new position to close, I relish knowing that every req is a race to find a better candidate faster than anyone else out there. I mean, I love recruiting metrics – how else would you keep score and know how much ass you’re kicking without analytics backing you up? As an aside, this need to win, win, win no matter what probably also explains my aversion to the ‘sport’ of jogging. WTF? Who are you keeping score against?

When people say, “it’s about competing with yourself,” I always think that phrase is intrinsically a load of bullshit, because if you’re competing at the highest level, you’ve got nothing left to prove to yourself. But there are always other people who just might be better than you – which is why, 15 years in, winning still hasn’t gotten old. Unlike me, of course.

5 Lessons Learned From A Life In Recruiting

kanyeSo, looking back at a career that’s a decade and a half in seems like a daunting task – at least, it did at first glance. But what I found is that the cool thing about experience is that it also leads to having at least a little advice worth imparting to my counterparts and colleagues out there.

Maybe you’re a rookie recruiter just starting to hit your stride, and realize that this random gig is going to become your career (and are excited about it).  Maybe you’ve got more experience than me, which is great, because you can feel for what I’m going through at this point in my professional development as I round the 15 year mark and my 40th birthday.

All I know for sure is that these little tips have made a big difference – and gotten me through both the good days and the ones that you need three shots of whisky just to make it through. Hell, we’ve all had them.

1. Find a Mentor.

1016639-dr-dre-eminem-grammy-2011-show-617-409Every time I meet a new recruiter or someone figuring out their way in the industry, I’m drawn like a moth to a flame. I can’t help it. I love seeing someone have that “a-ha” moment, where all the darkness illuminates right in front of them.

I could not possibly have been any luckier the way I came into the industry, getting hired by someone who was willing to take a chance on me. That same person became my career mentor, and I soaked in everything he was saying.

And while he showed me the proverbial nuts and bolts of recruiting and staffing, he did something that was even more valuable: he provided an open forum for debate.

We could go back and forth around the merits of doing something this way or that, but every option was on the table as long as you could back it up with why and where the value was. In full disclosure, he dressed me down a few times when it was warranted, thankfully. After all I was a 25-year-old kid who was completely winging my ass off in this new career I fell into.

Get out and find a mentor. I got lucky and happened into one, but I’d encourage you to step up and ask someone if they can mentor you. It says a great deal about your character when you seek out advice and the input of colleagues.

It’s a fortunate thing to have someone who, while you might not work with them every day 5 years from now, will provide you with unbiased insight and viewpoints, and will be your sensei for making the tough calls in your career. Hands down, this is the single best thing I’ve ever done in my career. I thank him as often as I can, even though we might only see each other 1-2 times a year.

2. Success > Failure.

tumblr_ngosw6GyNh1tmh7cto1_1280It’s easy as a recruiter to get downright belligerent when you don’t lock up the “sure thing” candidate you had locked in on. And so it is again with the next one, and so forth, until you are at the bar on Friday at 3pm sucking down Alabama Slammers to forget the pain. But those positions still need to be filled on Monday anyway.

Instead, I encourage you to focus on the careers you helped launch or blossom because of your ability to spot and secure the match. Why?

Because the good hires and the ongoing benefits those provide last a lot longer than the sting of someone who turned you down because there was a foosball table in the office at the other company.

The people you hire and build strong relationships with will be your referral chain for years to come, and the success they have in their career will cause you to smile just a little, I promise.

We just lost someone after 8 years whom I/we had taken a big leap of faith on hiring out of school. She’s off to do some amazing work out west, and I couldn’t be happier for her. Sure, it creates more work for me, but I like to think I had a big hand in jumpstarting her career. And I doubled down anyway, since I hired her brother too. But those situations will always win out over the ones that don’t end with the miracle hire.

I’m not saying don’t learn from your mistakes, but I am saying “don’t fester” on the crap. Sometimes it’s healing enough to relish in the fact that today you didn’t have to use your AK. (And people say rap doesn’t promote good messages?)

3. Shut Up And Listen

maxresdefault (5)This piece of advice is probably just as simple as it sounds.

Stop your ranting and complaining, your nay saying and tune out your general hater-at-large persona. Listen to what others are saying.

Whether that’s in a meeting in a boardroom or when you have a candidate on the phone, just…shut…up and listen to what’s being said. So much of what is said that matters doesn’t come from your own mouth.

This is blasphemy to most recruiters, I know, but y’all best recognize that your candidates will appreciate someone listening to their story, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to realize how many of the answers to your questions (and concerns) come to light when you are actively engaged in listening.

You hear me?

4. Learn Your Craft & Get Involved

biggie-studio-thumbDon’t be afraid of technology. Embrace the technology available to you, and be open to new ways of finding out how to kick ass on your next req. The balance here is being able to call bullshit on the noise and know what shiny new tool is fluff to be filtered out.

Find what works for you and ride those out, but always assume at least one of your tools will be obsolete in the next 1-2 years, and keep assessing what’s out there so you can stay ahead.

While you are at it, get out of your office. Get involved in Meetups, local recruiting organizations and also do some general networking with people that make sense for you.

The rapport you build with your peers, fellow recruiters and the talent you are seeking is by being present. The vast majority of recruiters aren’t doing that, and that’s the differentiator for you.

You get to know people on a personal level and thereby reduce the “transactional” feel of your interactions. What’s even better is that you build trust. Unless of course you are just some type of troll or a general jerk, then just stay home and surf Monster, since it’s almost over for your kind anyway. Better stop posting and start praying. For real.

5. Find A Balance

Most of us come into this profession young, spunky, equipped with ample energy to focus entirely on work. Which makes you look like a human dynamo…until you inevitably burnout.

All the late nights, the endless weekends in the office, the Red Bull and the extra strength mocha-frappa-whatever adds up to…another fresh set of jobs to fill and people to find on Monday.

When/if you get married and have kids, you’ll be forced to put things into perspective. How great would it be if you can do that before the universe forces your hand?

Don’t be the recruiter who is always “on”. Step out of the suit every now and again. Find a purpose or motivation for yourself outside of the office. Maybe that’s yoga, photography, sports, or something else important, like family. Recruiting like any profession you love will always be there, and it an fills an important niche in your life. But this road ends, and when it does, you need to have other things you can love just as hard.

But what do I know? I’m just a 40-year-old guy showing his age. Fortunately, I grew up in an age of music where you were guaranteed to have a song that spoke to your life at that very moment.

This time is no exception, thanks to 3 guys from Brooklyn (R.I.P. MCA)…

“Well everybody rapping like it’s a commercial
Actin’ like life is a big commercial
So this is what I’ve got to say to you all
Be true to yourself and you will never fall.”

– Beastie Boys, Pass The Mic

Word. Now, that’s old school. And, I’m quickly discovering for myself, there’s nothing wrong with that.

This post first appeared on RecruitingDaily on May 19, 2015

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