Crossing the Badlands: What’s Your Future as a Recruiter?

Tough times offer opportunities that do not exist in good times.  The brightness of good times means that shadows are deep, and lots of creative ideas and innovations lie in the dark shade cast by the glow of success.  But when clouds roll in, suddenly, many things are revealed.  We are now in such a time.

The pandemic is far from over and continues to drive permanent changes in how we work, what a career looks like, education, and our relationship with technology.  The Second World War was the only event in recent times to have created as much change.  That war made it acceptable for women to work, increased the number of college graduates, spurred the eventual creation of the EU, gave independence to hundreds of colonies worldwide, and led to improvements in living conditions in both Europe and the United States.  All changes that almost no one expected, foresaw, or believed would occur.

So, what does all this have to do with recruiting or with being a recruiter?

Maybe everything.  This pandemic has already changed the recruitment world. Workers are choosing different lifestyles and demanding salaries, benefits, and accommodations that were unheard of just eighteen months ago. We may well be entering a very good time with better opportunities for many people and tougher times for recruiters.

We are heading through what might be called the Badlands of recruiting. There will be uncertainty as to what direction to go and many recruiters will stumble into dead-end box canyons and perhaps perish. Talent will be elusive, turnover will rise, and hiring managers’ demands will increase.

Recruiting and recruiters cannot operate under the same assumptions and rules that have guided them for decades. They will need to make major adjustments in how they work, learn new skills, and be open to a widely different kind of candidate and changing corporate needs.

Organizations will need recruiters who can help slow turnover, find internal candidates with the potential to grow, work with learning and development to find ways to accelerate skill development, work with hiring managers to define jobs realistically, and influence them to hire for potential as well as for accomplishments.

Candidates are more demanding, less subservient, and much more confident than it may seem. This is especially true if they have scarce and needed skills. Women are demanding equal wages and more flexible working arrangements. The age of employees who feared layoffs and were willing to put up with overwork and bad bosses is dying, although perhaps hard to see.  These are forcing HR and recruiting to make major changes in policies and hiring practices.

As a result, many employers will find ways to hire fewer people as full-time, regular employees and more as part-time, freelance, or contract workers.  They will introduce more automation and streamline work processes. They will try very hard to hire more carefully and develop employees more completely than they have.

This means recruiters will have to be better at assessing candidates for potential, adaptability, and flexibility.  Finding people with specific skills will most likely become less critical for some positions and more critical for others. Recruiting models will be far more complex than they tend to be now, as I have outlined in previous articles. Good employers will try harder to anticipate needs and re-skill workers as much as they can. It will simply be a cheaper alternative than hiring. Internal transfers and movement have already increased, and recruiters are sourcing internally as well as from outside.

If you are a recruiter today, how do you thrive? What should you do? What’s your future look like?

 I believe there will be a need for fewer recruiters overall. Automation and streamlined processes will lessen the need, especially for those with minimal skills and experience.  Those who remain in the profession will need deeper and more strategic skills than they have today.  Here are some of my thoughts.

1.     Ask yourself, what core value do I provide my organization that some other recruiter couldn’t?  And your answer cannot be that you are the only one who knows a certain process or technology. Your uniqueness needs to be seen as strategic and future-focused. You need to identify what characteristic, skills, or knowledge is valued and needed.

2.     Recruiters should not be as interchangeable as they seem to be today.  You will need a thorough knowledge of your industry and what your company does, including its business prospects, strategy, technology, processes, and competition.  Sometimes this is gained by spending time outside of recruiting in some other function. Rotations or temporary assignments are great. Take a class, talk to the CFO, CEO, CTO, CIO, or whoever holds knowledge around your products and services. Learn what the key cultural elements are for success. Study successful employees and try to determine why and how they are so successful.

3.     Broaden your skills beyond recruiting. Learn the basics of employee and career development, coaching, and succession planning.  The best recruiters will have interchangeable skills – they can interface with an RPO, influence a hiring manager, work with an employee to help them develop a new set of skills, and still find that elusive candidate. Recruitment and employee development are merging rapidly and may be considered as a complementary set of skills.

4.     Technology will replace much of what a recruiter now does. The tools for almost everything from finding candidates to onboarding them exist and are becoming better every day. The skills recruiters have prided themselves on for decades, such as sourcing and interview skills, are of less and less importance. What is growing in importance is your knowledge and comfort with technology, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and machine learning.  You need to know how chatbots work, what automated assessments work best for different candidates, what algorithms are not good at, and how to overcome those weaknesses.

If there is anything I know about what’s coming, it is this: we are in a new era when learning the new and forgetting the old will be a primary skill.  Grasp new ideas, even if you don’t at first understand them.  Waiting will just put you behind a huge wave that will be hard to surf.  My best example is Twitter.  This seemed like a limited and, frankly, dumb tool when I first saw it a few years ago.  But I could see that it had potential.  If enough people began to use it, it presented a novel way to engage candidates and connect with them. Many recruiters are resistant to automated assessments, often with good reasons, but this will not stop them from becoming a normal way of determining the quality of a candidate.  Time waits for no man, as the saying goes, and it has never been truer.


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