Five strange things recruiters say

1)  “We’re looking for a big hitter” – Come again? Explain to me what a big hitter actually is? An admission that you’ve failed to develop your internal talent? An acceptance that you normally recruit mediocre talent? I’ve never met a big hitter, I’m not sure I’d recognise one if I did. Except perhaps for the unnatural muscle development in the dominant arm.

2)  “You must have experience in the industry” – Ok….so walk me through this. Either they need specific skills, or they don’t. I get that if you are looking to hire a rigger for the North Sea then a certain amount of experience is going to be required, so just define it. But if you’re looking for a Finance Manager? Or a HR Manager? How does industry really matter?

3)  “We provide opportunities for growth and development” – Oh no? Really? Because I was looking for a job that didn’t. I was really looking for something that had no room for any sort of progression. Everything was looking so good up until that point. We were so close, but yet so far.

4)  “We require a demonstrable record of hitting targets” – I’m good at darts, that works, no? Because otherwise I’ll have to tell you the truth, about the fact that I’ve slightly missed every target set for me throughout my career. Because, of course, I’ll admit that at interview, because you’ve asked me. And we always tell the truth.

5)  “You need to demonstrate progressive experience” – Now I’m at a loss. Can you have regressive experience? Maybe as a recruiter you can? Maybe that’s the thing?Maybe they live in some parallel universe. Maybe.

Or, maybe it is just me?


  1. simonheath1 · October 21, 2013

    Another nicely observed post, Neil. The only one I’d wonder about is #3. I’ve conducted many interviews and “coffees” with prospective employees and they have often used exactly this phrasing unbidden, even when it very definitely not used in comms or written material issued by the business or agent. Is it a bit of a chicken and egg scenario? And I know for sure that there are a good many people out there who sincerely don’t want to develop. They just want to get in, not break anything and get out without bumping against the sides.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Thanks Simon, I’m constantly trying to not bump against the sides!

  2. Andy Headworth · October 21, 2013

    Thanks Neil, these made me smile this morning, as they are so damned true!
    If a client ‘tells’ me the first point – they want a big-hitter’ – I always ask them if they want someone who can hit them ‘business home runs’. 99% fail to see through my sarcasm and think I am being serious!

    The one phrase that baffles me on the same vein, is the business development equivalent – ‘we need a rainmaker’ ………. This request always came from management consultancies!!

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Totally agree, certain large banks were allegedly full of “rainmakers” but then it p***ed it down…..

  3. Meg Peppin · October 21, 2013

    Interesting reading this – all that talk of hitting/hitters. A useful metaphor perhaps for the candidate experience.

  4. changinghr · October 21, 2013

    Hi Neil – You are aware that ‘rock stars’ are the new ‘big hitters’ ? Both an equally boak-inducing thing to say.

    In my latest blog I inlcuded my own personal favourite of tell me your favourite HR subjects and your least favourite. Apparently that allows the recruiter to make an informed choice about a candidate’s suitability in a given role…

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      You mean it doesn’t? *runs off to change interview questions*

  5. Simon Whitehouse · October 21, 2013

    As an In-house Recruiter, these points made me chuckle and I’m completely (nearly) onside with you Neil, apart from point 2. With extensive experience of recruiting into both Finance and HR for several reputable organisations, I could easily challenge why industry experience is of value to a Finance Manager role or HR Manager role, however, this box isn’t going to be long enough to articulate the complexities of why industry experience matters. However, I will briefly add a short example that if you’re seeking a ‘commercial’ and ‘strategic’ Finance Manager as opposed to a generic Finance Manager, then industry experience is going to be of significant value to a business. Likewise with HR; it would really depend on whether you sit in a business that has a transactional/reactive driven HR function or one that that is truly commercial/business strategy focused/business partnering function.

    • interimity · October 21, 2013

      Hi Simon

      I’m not sure I agree – I think that HR, irrespective of the type of HR function, is reasonably sector independent and I suspect if the Finance sector (for example) had not been so insistent on HR candidates having same sector experience then some of the rather extraordinary deviations from ethical behaviour might have been avoided.

      A fresh look from outside the industry might just have made the HR frogs who were being gradually boiled alive realise that something was not quite right.

      • jacobstenmadsen · October 21, 2013

        Ref. ‘if the Finance sector (for example) had not been so insistent on HR candidates having same sector experience then some of the rather extraordinary deviations from ethical behaviour might have been avoided’.

        Show me the HRD or HRBP that for real and with teeth and mandate ever stood up to the business and said their honest opinion, and was listened to!
        I have met 1 (one) in my entire lifetime. Only HRD by title but no real say, – far to commonplace everywhere, and in City/finance you find more bullies and ego’s than anywhere else why would take a giant to dare stand up to these ‘Masters of the Universe’

      • interimity · October 22, 2013

        @Jacob – there is a debate to be had which includes our professional body, about the role of HR in organisations. Finance Directors/Doctors/Lawyers have to abide by ethical codes of conduct or be struck off. Perhaps it should be the same in HR?

        As to bullies, people do stand up to them – but they need to realise that the behaviour is unacceptable. We all know that ‘norming’ is a human trait in groups and therefore need to guard against it – look at some of the behaviour in Iraq by US and UK services personnel to see how badly wrong ‘group think’ can go. Which is why you need fresh blood.

        One of the themes of the responses to Neil’s post is that recruiters are taking the easy route and not pushing back on their client, and the client is not pushing back on the hiring manager. Path of least resistance. Which is very dispiriting.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Simon, I agree to a point. My issue though is that saying “must have retail experience” (for example) is just lazy. For me that rules out a lot of good candidates that might have the requisite skills and mindset to be successful. We should try and unpick the actual requirements.

  6. richardsmith0309 · October 21, 2013

    Neil, as a recruiter you’d expect to put up a bit of an argument (note it’s not a defence). In my experience, lots of these “requirements” are driven by the client’s HR department who write job specs and people specs as if they’ve come from the HR Dictionary of correct wording. I definitely see it as my job as the intermediary to challenge this language and these requirements to ensure I propose candidates who can add value to the client. I would also say that as a recruiter of Interims, #2 has been a real issue from clients since the climate changed from 2009 onwards. In Interim, even more so than for permanent roles, the specific skill set should be paramount i.e. HRD, Finance Director, Ops Director should be paramount and experience form a different industry or sector adds so much more value to the client.
    Overall though, I agree with you.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Completely agree. When I wrote the post, I was referring to recruiter in the broadest sense. Sometimes it can be the line manager, sometimes HR and of course sometimes a 3rd party recruiter.

  7. interimity · October 21, 2013

    One stage back at the initial pitch – ‘I can’t tell you who the client is…..’ but then they want you to sing like a canary. Or ‘we don’t take a brief for interim roles, we just know what they want’.

    Bullshit. Square up to your client. Grow some.

  8. jacobstenmadsenJ · October 21, 2013

    Agencies live in a world of their own, and use phrases and terms that have been around for at least 25 years. It is at times like Groundhog Day, everything gets repeated and said by everybody and is so stuck in a time wrap that one wonder how these companies and their people can actually operate in a world that has seen more change in the last 5 years that for the previous 25. It is in fact by now becoming a tedious affair and goes to show how utterly out of touch these people really are.
    Shocking that they are still in business as it directly translate to how they deal with clients and candidates alike.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      I think there are good and bad.

    • Gill · November 28, 2013

      Jacob you sound as if you have had some bad experiences? Like any industry, as Simon pointed out there are good and bad.

      If you are not happy with the recruiter you are working with try another, once you have found one who you can work with, the whole process becomes a lot less tedious. You’ll find all different personalities in an agency, just find one that suits yours.

      • jacobstenmadsen · December 16, 2013

        @Gill, not the time and place to give you a long overview about my trials and tribulations, suffice to say that of all agency interactions had for the last 12 months job searching that I can count on one hand those that 1. keep their words, 2. know their stuff. 3. have more than immediate transactional interest and who can be described with a very low margin to be said to provide a service that is just mediocre. They may be out there, but are as elusive as a Borneo leopard.

      • interimity · December 16, 2013

        Jacob – I do agree with the other comments, that there are good and bad and am surprised that in a year of job hunting you have not come across anyone who you rate. Perhaps it would be of benefit to try and understand the kind of relationship that the agency wants to have. If it is transactional then so be it. You know that and you work out if you wish to engage or not.

        I run a niche agency (after years on the client side – I must be mad) but built on a community. I believe I am professional, knowledgeable and thoughtful on the whole and could regale you with some marvellous tales about the arrogance of candidates – people within the group and potential members. This gives me an insight into their character and they would never ever get near one of my clients. If they treat me in a transactional way and disrespectful manner there is no way I would put them in front of a client. What sort of employee/interim would they be with that kind of behaviour? Both sides are judging – not just the candidate. And both sides fall down.

  9. ohcsolutions · October 21, 2013

    Yes, strange things. But l wonder if they are feeding the beast. I have always wondered what it would take to break HR myths that have evolved into “established” theories. It’s quite sad.

    Thanks for sharing your thought on this subject.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      I could do a whole separate post about the nonsense that HR spouts……!

  10. ethicalcompanies · October 21, 2013

    eCommerce is an interesting case for #2

    Lot of recruiters and job descriptions come out with stuff like “must have eCommerce and industry experience”. Which if you think about it is nonsense for an eCommerce specific job. Clothing and finance is particularly guilty of this. Way I see it who cares what it was you’ve sold in your previous role? What matters for an eCommerce role is an understanding of the whole eCommerce “process”. Most of what I’ve sold is home entertainment (DVDs and games etc, several million sold over 10 years) yet I apply for eCommerce roles for clothing companies and get fobbed off with the “no experience” crap. It doesn’t matter if it’s sausages, nuts and bolts or DVDs, to an transactional website it’s all the same old “stuff”, it’s just an item.

    Personally I think recruitment is a pariah industry, prejudice and discrimination is rife and most of these “excuses” above are just that: excuses. The reality is they are most likely discriminating on some basis. The absolute WORST in my opinion is when they ring to tell you about role then decide after talking to you for fifteen minutes you’re not suitable for it; that’s fifteen minutes of my life I won’t be getting back isn’t it? Multiply that by a few calls a week and the recruitment industry is a serious waste of time and space from my perspective.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      That ecommerce example is spot on and yes we hear that one often.

  11. ethicalcompanies · October 21, 2013

    As for “big hitter” they forget if you’re really really outstanding at what you do then why do you want a job with this client? Obviously it depends on the role, but the real big hitters would probably just go it alone and go self employed.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      I still don’t actually know what one is……I’ve never tried to hire a small hitter.

  12. Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) · October 21, 2013

    All of which basically means they want someone who doesn’t need any onboarding and will start producing tangible results inside an hour.

    In defence of agency recruiters (I’m assuming they’re the main target here), they are being given incredibly narrow briefs by clients who want to only pay a fee for that elusive ‘perfect candidate’.

    Obviously it should be within an agency’s powers to change that dynamic, but I still think for the most part it’s the client’s responsibility to drive the recruitment agenda.

    If agencies can’t get better at selling themselves as real recruitment consultants, then clients are probably going to have to get better at buying.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Not entirely Mitch, I think inhouse recruiters and HR people are just as culpable.

  13. Paul Griffin · October 21, 2013

    Used to have an old chap whose description of an office job was “driving a desk”. Imagine the pictures that painted in my mind!

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Love it!

    • Gill · November 28, 2013

      I was hired to ‘Heat up a cold desk!’

  14. jacobstenmadsen · October 21, 2013

    In case you need more empty words and ‘out of touch reality’ look at this job advert:!

    It really cannot likely get an worse than this, as much as I acknowledge the abilities of ex rugby league players in the recruitment industry, rarely have I seen bigger evidence of being totally stuck in 70’s 80’s, 90’s definitely not in tune with current world and markets!

    Extraordinary is all I can say, and they are out there by the tens of thousands! God help us.

    • Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) · October 22, 2013

      Jacob, what was it you disliked so much about that ad?

      • jacobstenmadsen · October 22, 2013

        @Mitch, where to start. If we for a minute dwell on what it is an agency is there to do and achieve for their clients, at basic level a match and cover of needs, for the more aspirational supply of an asset someone who can make a difference and bring the company to the next level (and that can be at a n y level) If we furthermore assume that this particular agency operate in the B2B sector where matters may be a tad more complex than stacking supermarket shelves (no insult intended) then that mean perhaps having a slightly above norm business understanding. As such and looking at what emphasis is on more than anything else (please note role is within finance) then applying sports ‘fighting for the trophy’ ‘run until exhaustion’ and ‘I wanna win’ mentality may be a useful ingredient, but only to a certain degree. If we take that to win the credibility of clients and candidates alike is about knowing your stuff and applying a business attitude, then a ‘bulldozing’ sports mentality is perhaps not the best methodology. I object to it being so simplified, so stuck in ‘if you run fast and hard enough you will be successful’ and little else. I have enough times been on the receiving end of these guys/gals that apply little else than a strong push effort with near to no brain behind, and they get nowhere in majority of cases through this. I object to that in a world so utterly complex that a global business like Page use the lowest possible denominator when they could if they wanted and treated them right get brainy grads that could hold a meaningful conversation rather than ‘match of the day’ talk. This is about business and business solutions and as such should be tailored to that, what I am seeing is simplifying and keeping things at a pretty low level where it adds no value, has no relevance and subsequently is a waste for candidates and clients alike. I see and hear what these agents have to ‘offer’ every day and let me tell you trying to take a conversation to a minuscule of higher level is not possible as they are rarely capable of doing so, have no background and training or incentive in trying to actually understand much of what goes on within the sector they work, the roles at hand and/or industry. There are those agents out there who knew their stuff, but I dare postulate that they are in single digit percentage figures.

      • ethicalcompanies · October 22, 2013

        The most offensive part of that ad is the two words “Michael Page”, truly the most obnoxious, most useless and most arrogant recruitment consultancy in existence in my opinion.

        The whole ad is just “waffle”.

      • Mitch Sullivan (@mitchsullivan) · October 22, 2013

        But Jacob, that ad is for themselves. They’re looking for ex-sports people to work for them as recruiters.

  15. Darren Ledger · October 22, 2013

    Wow this is like some kind of recruiter or recruitment blogger love in. In fact the praise and hugging is bordering on the almost sexual. Maybe this blog should come with an Age Restriction Warning – probably one which says that for anyone over the age of 16 it will probably come across as pretty infantile.

    Now, before you all begin jumping up and down and get your little cliques in a twist let me just go through the triviality of these 5 Strange Things that recruiters apparently say:

    1) “We’re looking for a Big Hitter…” Clients generally tend to say stuff like this and the recruiter simply mimics it. There is nothing wrong with this. I have a client right now who wants a Deal Maker, Rainmaker, Big Hitter. In their minds they want someone who can walk into a FTSE100 / Fortune 500 Board Room and have instant credibility, get down to brass tacks and close deals. These people are easy to identify, they come with a track record, they are usually extremely high profile and well known in their sector or discipline. It makes my life and my job easier because we all know exactly what they want. How would your prefer them to describe this person? “We would like someone who can walk into a FTSE100 Board Room who has is instantly credible, has a reputation which precedes them because of the truly magnificent deals they have completed in the past and who the CEO trusts implicitly because of their record of success…” Or maybe just a ‘Big Hitter’ or Rainmaker (which is pretty exclusive to consulting or professional services firms).

    2) So you guys think a Finance Manager is a Finance Manager and industry or sector experience is pretty irrelevant? Jesus I’m glad you ain’t recruiting for me. So tell me why some organisations have an immense focus on amortisation and why that may be pretty significant when taken in the context of a constantly depreciating asset driven business such as Arval PHH for example or any major motor dealer? Or maybe the industrial manufacturing company who need a FM with extensive experience of securitisation?

    3) “We provide opportunities for growth and development” again this is something the hiring company would say not the recruiter. The recruiter may mimic it in the screening and interviewing process. But not all companies do provide opportunities for growth. Ask them to prove it, as a recruiter say to the client “How can I evidence that, what succession planning, career development, professional training policies and funding do you have in place?” If they can and they don’t then ditch it.

    4) “We require a demonstrable record of hitting targets” nothing wrong with this. As for telling lies in response to an interview question on this subject. Come and see me and make sure you bring your brag file and your last 3 P60’s or commission receipts with you. If you are a Big Hitter you don’t need to, your reputation will precede you anyway and rather like Harvey Spectre I’ll probably know what you earned.

    5) “You need to demonstrate progressive experience” if you don’t understand this parameter then you really shouldn’t be recruiting. I look for career progression that is driven by success and development of skills. If you have been a Sales Director in decreasingly smaller organisations with an decreasingly smaller sales value and number of direct reports I want to know why. If you have hit your professional ceiling and struggle on the next rung of the ladder then that isn’t a problem providing you are taking steps to skill up and recognise the need to do so. Hell, I may even recruit you and take a shot at getting you those skills. But ideally I want someone who has a demonstrable progressive career path, more responsibility, broader remit, skills development. I want that guy who has gone from Sales Exec to Sales Manager to Regional Sales Manager to Country Sales Director to Sales Director (Board Exec) over a period of 10 years in 3 companies with an ever increasing level of responsibility and revenue accountability. Why is that so much to ask for?

    So is it me who entirely misread this post and the banal attempt at either having a jab at recruiters or maybe it simple was just a really poor post. Despite all the love in and hugging that it prompted. I’l await the lovey back lash now from all the recruiters who should be out there selling their non-existent USP’s and differentiators when they should be asking the hard questions and challenging their clients instead of bending over with a smile to sign up for another PSL so some in-house recruiter can ceremoniously thrash their backsides every week for non-performance in a bid to stroke their ego’s because masturbating is generally frowned upon in the workplace.

    • jacobstenmadsen · October 22, 2013

      Likely several answers to this subject Darren, for sure got you fired up. One aspect is of simply trying to elevate the entire discussion, subjects and wordings to a level more in tune with 2013 and not 1990. If we as man going through evolution that require ability to also express ourselves in a more updated and in tune with today’s world, and in that respect 99% of a l l job adverts and phrases used by anyone are so utterly dated and overused. And for those that have seen it repeated for the last 25 years it gets tiring and looses any impact. Time for all around growing up and applying it

    • s2law · October 22, 2013

      Brilliant Darren!

    • darthlaw · October 22, 2013

      I agree with Darren, apply common sense and be a consultant to your client, not an order taker.

    • Neil · October 22, 2013

      Thank you Darren for leaving such an informed and informative comment on such a poor and banal blog post. This recruitment blogger appreciates the love.

      • Julie · October 22, 2013


      • Darren Ledger · October 22, 2013

        Delighted you liked it Neil. Amazing how some truly insightful honest opinion can open debate.

        Anyway I’m off to write a blog now called “Why the emancipation of HR people is a myth in general”. It’s not going to be very interesting, will be based on loose stereotypes and be littered with cheap shot, ill informed assumptions aimed at generating loads of comments along the lines of “wow, you are so cool” “you nailed it sweetie” “top drawer, you should comment in the Guardian” “The David Thorne of recruitment, go get them Dazzler” alternatively I may just concentrate on providing strategic advice, guidance and world class recruitment solutions to organisations who outsourced their HR years ago when they realised that it rarely contributed anything of any tangible value.

      • Neil · October 22, 2013

        Excellent. Good luck with that. They’re clearly in safe hands.

    • Ed Scrivener · October 24, 2013

      Darren it does come across that you have misread this as an attack on recruitment consultants. By Neil’s own admission this is aimed at everyone involved in the recruitment process and not just agents.

      I don’t agree with all of Neil’s points but some have genuine value. I loathe with a passion jargon filled adverts. I work within professional services and the thought of using terminology such as bit hitter and rainmaker leaves me cold and I strongly believe would make my firm look rather naff. Nevertheless, there are numerous times when an external hire is need in such roles and I presume Neil is being tongue in cheek with his comment that a company has failed to develop its employees in to the role. To use the jargon I loathe, we can’t all be Chiefs!

      For me the big point here is the industry experience. There are of course specialist roles where prior industry experience is vital. But in general this is used as qualifying tool to reduce applications. There is no thought given to what behaviours make someone successful in the role, just an assumption that because they have worked for a competitor they can work for you; completely overlooking that they may well have failed at that competitor and you’ll just recycle rubbish! In my experience HR are one of the worst offenders of this practice and yet are also the most vocal about the barriers.

      Finally, if your organisation do provide development and growth why not say it? The reality is that a fair amount of companies don’t provide this. The statement can be used just as a filler in an advert, but if it is genuine tell people about it.

      • jacobstenmadsen · October 24, 2013

        Ed, what I believe you are referring to is the level and the content of many job adverts, that are so utterly entrenched in overused, dated, cliche and ’empty waffle’ that they have no meaning at all, and make no attempts to stand out, to ‘tell it as it is’ and come across as anywhere near enticing or interesting. As said earlier really time for some serious growing up and showing that something has evolved over the last 20 years!, – and yes that apply all around agency, – in-house/corporate, anyone.

  16. cavegirlmba · November 18, 2013

    If only the strange things recruiters say would be limited to 5. It seemed more than 5 billion…
    Very much liked your points – I love it when business interactions are based on meaningless empty phrases, so the “big hitter” and the “progressive experience” put a big smile on my face!

  17. jacobstenmadsen · December 16, 2013

    @Julia/Interimity, Just to be clear. OK I am of Danish origin which is next to Germany, meaning I have an expectancy that I am treated with professionalism and respect. That said every single ‘agency relationship’ start with being nice and friendly and accommodating and ‘playing along’ I do my bit, (send updated CV/resume, answer JD in detail and am as accommodating as I can possibly be (honestly I am) However when updates are then not happening, emails unanswered, request for information ignored and what happens most, total silence, zilch, zero, nada then the German/Danish nature come up in me and I get angry. I know however that my anger is wasted and that I will achieve nothing, but that still leaves me steaming inside. Of agents that have actually come back, kept their word, provided update out of approximately 75, shall we at the most say 5!!!!
    So as much as it may be seen that I could be ‘a difficult candidate’ nothing could be further from the truth, … treat me nicely and with professionalism is all I ask for, sadly most agency recruiters are simply indifferent.

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