Are Recruiters Necessary?

Insight Executive Search


Are recruiters necessary?  With LinkedIn, on-line job boards, Facebook, email campaigns, on-line networking and more – maybe not

After all, why pay for a recruiter when you can instantly get your job in front of thousands of people?

However, to be fair, the answer to the question is both “yes” & “no”.


On the one hand, on-line job boards and social media sites seem to be doing quite well linking employers with employees.   In fact, global job board revenue rose 9% in constant currency in 2016, reaching $12.4 billion, according to the Job Board Market Report: 2017 Update, released by Staffing Industry Analysts. 

Forty years ago, when a firm had an opening for a Vice President of Research, who knew about it?  Today, the employer posts the job, and everyone looking for a job knows that so-and-so needs a Vice President of Research.

Prophecy Unfulfilled 

In 1994, with the launching of Monster and NetStart (later CareerBuilder), and additional major on-line job boards in following years, many prophesized the death of the executive search industry.  

Even recruiters started to wonder: Is this the end of the road?

However, this was far from the case.

In 1989, according to AESC (Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants) estimated world-wide executive search and leadership consulting revenues stood at $3 billion.  In 2017, revenue had grown substantially to about $14 billion. 

Even with on-line job boards and social media sites, the executive search industry continues to grow.

Passive vs. Active

Job postings attract active candidates; those candidates who are looking for a job.  But what about passive candidates – all those who are gainfully employed and valued by their employers? 

These are the candidates who need to be convinced – usually on several occasions – to submit a resume.

All these passive candidates are usually the folks employers want!   They are an elite, small pool of candidates; a feather in the firm’s hat.

In fact, just a hint to the boss from these types of candidates about a call from a recruiter can easily translate into a potentially attractive promotion.

And, as you probably surmised, passive candidates are unlikely to respond to a job posting.

People See What They Like 

People see what interests them. 

A runner notices the city track; a climber remembers that perfect cliff.  A surfer is left gobsmacked by the perfect wave; an artist notices the new gallery down the block.  Our minds are keenly attuned to picking out our specific interests from overwhelming sensory input.  Candidates who are not looking, who have no interest in a new position, rarely take notice of job postings. 

There are several reasons why a candidate will not respond to a job posting.   For example:

  • No interest in a new position.
  • It is a small community and the candidate does not want others to know they are interviewing.
  • The candidate is happy with their job and valued by their employer.
  • It is not befitting, given the candidate’s seniority and experience, to apply on-line or respond to a job posting.
  • The candidate is too busy.

Back to our Question 

So, to return to our question.  Are recruiters still relevant?  Every industry has had to adjust to the impact of technological advancements and recruiting is no different. Although the job search market has been flooded with access and information, there remains a stubbornly resilient need for a low-tech approach.

Paradoxically, the problem lies in the solution.

The job board solution can be good for identifying candidates when there is a large potential candidate pool or when candidates are actively looking.

However, job boards are less effective for those hard-to-find candidates, the needle-in-a-hay-stack types, the top-notch passive candidates.  With these types of candidates, recruiters are not only relevant, but necessary. 

Recruiting Passive Candidates – Has Anything Changed in 50 Years?

Before email, recruiting was done over the phone.  It required a person to person connection. 

Although technology has advanced, and we have many devices at our fingertips, the essence of recruiting is still the same as it was 50 years ago.

Recruiting passive candidates requires building rapport and developing trust, rolling up the sleeves and placing call after call.   It requires that person to person connection.

Passive candidates do change jobs.  It just takes a traditional approach, where quality is valued over quantity.

You simply can’t compare the quality of candidates fielded from this approach vs. dipping the net into the waters to see what happens come up.