The Changing Face of the Modern Recruiter

Early in my career as a recruiter, I used to take a lot of pride in being able to find people with “hard to find” skill sets. When I started recruiting in the late 90s I had the benefit of being trained in the art by some great people. I also had an advantage because I was a natural with the new and intimidating “world wide web” everyone kept talking about.  I saw myself as  a wizard with AltaVista before Boolean was a household name. I loved using databases and finding clever ways to store and find people when I needed them. I saw myself as the very model of a modern recruiter.

The Changing Face of the Modern Recruiter


Much has changed while I was busy getting older and in the last 15 years recruitment has undergone a complete transformation. New technologies and social media sites have made the “finding people” part of our work much easier, perhaps too easy for people in the recruitment world. Having good research skills (i.e. being able to find people) is not nearly the differentiator it used to be. Everyone has the same easy access to everyone’s career information. As a result, third party recruiters have watched as more and more companies have seized the opportunity to do more work in house for a whole lot cheaper, which impact the pocketbooks of all recruiters (third party or in house).

What is the modern recruiter to do when threatened with so much rapid change? Some in-house and third party recruiters have used these developments as an impetus to rethink their own value proposition. Here are the top three most common changes I see people making in our industry:


People like hiring experts. When you understand the recruitment market for a very specific niche, it becomes easier to have a memorable brand. Many people who used to be called IT recruiters are now “Android Mobile Developer” recruiters. They go to the very hottest skill sets and make their entire living there. Of course you have to be able to move with the trends.

Moving up the value chain

The deeper the relationship, the less threatened that it is by change. This is why many recruiters have become more focused on being consultative. Recruiters have all the front line conversations with the most sought after candidates. They have the best view of a company’s employment brand as seen by those who matter most. Even if recruiters no longer add the same value with their research skills, they still have an opportunity to provide valuable advice as the company makes critical hiring decisions, both on individual jobs and as a part of larger HR strategies. This requires a more sophisticated and less transactional approach.

Going corporate

As the old expression goes “If you can’t beat’em, join ’em “. Recruitment used to be an excellent vocation for lone wolves who wanted to work independently. However, these days recruiters have much more to gain by joining larger groups with more sophisticated data and technological tools. I strongly believe the greatest innovations in recruitment are now coming from large companies and specialist RPO providers; places that used to viewed as more administrative.

Despite all of the new developments, many will change nothing. They will see too much risk in change and will continue to take what they can in the short term. I certainly understand the temptation to stay the course. Where I once felt completely up to date with tools and technologies I now struggle to catch up as new young recruiters join the fray with a more natural understanding. Part of me just wishes everything could stay the same so I could just focus on doing the job I know how to do.

Change is always scary, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Modern recruiters have come to accept that change is part of the game. If you take pride in finding better ways to help your clients, all of these changes create opportunities for being creative and innovative.

One thing is certain. We recruiters are living in an interesting time.

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Mark Nelson

Mark has spent his career in executive search and human resources as a recruiter, a salesperson, an HR leader and a business owner. He also writes and manages the career advice site Career Digressions. Connect with Mark.


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