Why Recruiting Firms Leave a Bad Aftertaste – Part 1

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After my last 9 month deployment with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in late 2012, I decided to leave the Army. I had served on the Active Duty as a Paratrooper and a Green Beret for a decade, and my wife felt we should move on to a less hazardous lifestyle. For on and off the next year, I spent a lot of time processing my separation paperwork and attending mandatory transition briefings, and I soon found myself a few months away from an official transition date of 5 October 2013. Still, I had no clue what to do next.

To be honest, I didn’t prepare myself mentally for the transition, and it hurt me. At the time, I was confident, even arrogant, that I would land a decent job after service – who wouldn’t want to hire a Junior Military Officer (JMO) who was a West Point grad and a Special Forces officer with over a decade of leadership experience? I thought I’d be a hot commodity and could use my network to slip into any job I wanted. I was wrong. From my own research and networking, I did land some job opportunities offered, but they were not what I wanted to do nor something I could see myself doing for the long-term. Other opportunities were simply unavailable because I wasn’t qualified for them at the time, such as tech roles and/or management consulting. This led me to go around and around on what I thought I wanted and confused me even further in looking for my new start in life.

Eventually, since my wife and I had no geographic preference, we decided to be open to the best opportunities and sought out the services of a headhunter/recruiter. (Having flexibility in location is an unofficial prerequisite to most of these veteran recruiters.) I researched several prevalent veteran recruiters at the time and eventually decided on a company that offered to cover my flight and hotel to its hiring conference, if I signed an exclusivity clause. Simply put, an exclusivity clause states that a candidate will not accept a job outside of the recruiting firm’s own offers, including ones you may find on your own. To cover a mere $500 in expenses, I had signed a document that drastically narrowed down the near endless spectrum of job options throughout the country, to only the handful that the recruiting firm would have prepared for me at the conference. This was a major mistake.

To cover a mere $500 in expenses, I had signed a document that drastically narrowed down the near endless spectrum of job options throughout the country, to only the handful that the recruiting firm would have prepared for me at the conference. This was a major mistake.

This particular recruiting firm hosted invited companies to conduct in-person interviews with transitioning veteran candidates through an initial match “by preference.” In preparation for this hiring conference, we had to complete some pre-work, which consisted of attending several webinars on what various business functions were and what types of industries we could pursue. I also ended up building and revising my resume that (sort of) translated my military experiences into civilian concepts, as I learned what skills civilian employers coveted in a transitioning veteran. Armed with this general information about the private sector, I headed to my first conference in Chicago and spent the next two days drinking from a fire hose.

The two-day event was structured so that Day 1 was all about preparation (mock interviews and online research) for Day 2, which was the day of interviews. About 30 candidates arrived for the event, and we were matched to be interviewed by approximately 15 companies. On Day 2, we started at 8AM and had around 8 to 12 back-to-back interviews with HR representatives of various companies. Sessions were about 30-45 minutes long, and candidates were peppered with questions ranging from “tell me about yourself” to “what was your biggest failure in life?” It was essentially speed dating between companies and candidates, but the stakes were super high, as it impacted the start of your professional career. After a grueling day, both candidates and companies ranked each other by either saying “yes” or “no” to each potential match, and both parties turned in their results to the recruiting company. If there were positive matches with one another, the recruiters would arrange follow-on interviews and (ideally) deliver an offer.

It was essentially speed dating between companies and candidates, but the stakes were super high, as it impacted the start of your professional career.

As a competitive individual, I obviously tried to get the most “wins” from each of my interviews on Day 2, regardless of what they were, as I thought this would also give me the most options to choose from. I found myself saying “yes” to opportunities in food service, steel mills, waste management, and construction companies located all over the country, though most were NOT industries that I had much interest in at all. After the conference, I ended up spending more time traveling to various on-site interview requests to meet with the hiring managers, for jobs I wasn’t excited about, solely because I wanted to have safety jobs in hand in case none of them worked out.

When my recruiter saw that I eventually leaned towards one particular company that I had qualified for, he pushed hard to sell me on the company… like super hard, to the point where I thought I was buying a used car. I was, however, fortunate to land a great opportunity at a specialty construction firm with a very promising Leadership Development Program, but many of my peers during this process complained that they were forced into taking options that were low on their list, simply because they were running out of time and their recruiters were also selling them super hard to take a job, any job -- also, the next hiring conference was a good 4-6 months away. In retrospect, we all greatly limited our chances of a successful match with a company, because we were initially presented with only a limited array of opportunities, thus forced to choose the “least bad” option in the end.

I am not in denial that this is the very nature of many recruiting firms. Most recruiting agencies work directly for the companies who pay a fee for the search, so these agencies provide a valuable service. These recruiters are given a company’s open job posting, then they screen and find candidates who may fit what the company is looking for. The downside is that this usually results in a  transactional relationship, where candidates are basically handled like exchanged commodities to make revenue. As illustrated above, many are pressured into taking a job that may not be a good fit – like shoving a square peg into a round hole. Shortly after the “mis-match,” candidates are forced to look for another job while working, which wastes more time, energy, and money for both the Veteran and company.

What’s special about MilSpec Capital is that we ensure a cultural match with the job opportunity and recruited Veteran, which includes identifying key professional interests and motivations of our Veterans. We believe that when a career is aligned with these factors, they are the best predictors of personal satisfaction and professional success. MSC is dedicated to helping our Veterans know themselves, so that they can identify and leverage their greatest strengths to find their ideal fit in the corporate world. We focus on specifically working with Veterans who are looking for mid-to-senior level roles, but we can evaluate your particular circumstance to gauge fit for our services.