A Recruiting Life – What’s The Path For Me?

By Conor Nicholson
Ask a recruiter where they’ll be in five or ten years and see what they say. I’m willing to bet the vast majority would respond with “I have no idea” or something to that effect. That exact scenario played out last month when recruitDC founder Ben Gotkin asked the crowd if they had a career path for the next five years. There were more than 100 people in the room and at most, one or two recruiters raised their hands. The fact of the matter is, we are in a constantly evolving field with no clear path. In many cases, we make up the rules as we go along.

My own career mirrors that of many recruiters out there. After graduating from the University of Maryland, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Somehow, I landed at Sapphire Technologies as an agency recruiter. This is where the majority of recruiters learn the fundamentals of recruiting; networking, sourcing, screening, negotiating and closing. I worked with an incredible team and to this day, remain close friends with my old co-workers, including recruitDC board member Pete Radloff.

As every agency recruiter can attest to, you will eventually burn out. The agency world is akin to a roller coaster as there are unbelievable highs and excruciating lows, sometimes in the same day. I spent 3 ½ years at Sapphire and was able to land a corporate recruiting job at TASC. It was only then that I saw firsthand the impact a quality recruiter can have on an organization.

In 2010, after more than ten years as an individual contributor, I started to yearn for a new challenge. Some folks naturally progress to Recruiting Manager but that that never appealed to me. During that time and by sheer coincidence, an old co-worker asked if I could help him find a contract recruiter. We found a guy and for the first time in my professional life, I found something I was truly passionate about. Three months later, I dedicated all of my time and efforts to growing Nicholson Staffing Solutions.

Every step taken was my own decision and there were never clear directions and no one gave me a roadmap. My career progression amounts to taking a number of calculated risks. Certain fields have a defined path like Law, Accounting or Medicine. After a certain number of years of hard work, you can make partner or become the head surgeon. Recruiting is a stark contrast as the field didn’t exist until the second half of the twentieth century and to my knowledge, no university in this country offers a Talent Acquisition degree. Hopefully that changes in the future but it won’t help those of us already in the profession.

As recruiters, we constantly interact with people both inside and outside of our organization. The savvy recruiter is constantly networking and extending his/her sphere of influence. They are always on the lookout for a new challenge and on occasion, an opportunity presents itself. Odds are, there is no guarantee for success. You have to be willing to take a chance and fail. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world and you are better prepared for the next opportunity to advance.

My advice to any recruiter wondering what their next step should be is to ask yourself the following question: “What am I truly passionate about?” Your answer provides insight as to where you can potentially carve your niche. When fellow career development panelist Celinda Appleby asked herself that question, she realized she wanted to become a social media expert. Now she is the a Digital & Social Media Program Manager at HP. I doubt this position existed before she accepted it.

Some aspire to lead a recruiting organization so they work diligently and get promoted to Recruiting Manager and eventually, Recruiting Director. In many cases, the current Recruiting Director isn’t looking to leave so they have to look outside of the organization for advancement. As more and more companies realize that Talent Acquisition is directly connected to the bottom line, more and more Recruiting Director positions are sprouting up. This gives recruiters the chance to test their own theories in terms of what works and what doesn’t. While they might not want to admit it, a lot of what they do is experiment as there is rarely, if ever, a clear cut answer to the problems that they face. This is where metrics and return on investment come into play.

For others, training and organizational development suit their skills and personality so they seek out roles at large organizations, which typically have a much larger training budget. Some are able to take a consultative approach and bill themselves out to all sorts of companies, large and small.
There are an infinite number of potential career paths in the world of recruiting. Are you a superstar sourcer? Do you like tracking metrics? Do you enjoy public speaking? Maybe you can secure a spot in the conference circuit and make presentations at places like ERE and SHRM. Some prefer to write and are able to make a living by freelancing.

The unifying theme is that the responsibility for career development rests squarely upon the shoulders of the recruiter. No one is going to sit you down and tell you what you need to do. It really is up to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible mentors in my career and advise every recruiter to seek out those willing to share their wisdom. Overall, we are a helpful breed and most are willing to guide folks with less experience.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Recruiting is like life; you get out of it what you put into it.

Conor Nicholson of Nicholson Staffing.
Conor Nicholson is the founder, President and CEO of Nicholson Staffing Solutions, a DC based firm that specializes in placing recruiters. He learns something new every day and loves helping fellow recruiters meet their potential. Follow him on Twitter at @nicholsonstaff

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