How We Want Recruiters and Hiring Managers to Behave

Gary Hayslip, my good friend and partner, and co-author of our book: “CISO Desk Reference Guide,” just wrote what I think is a very courageous blog about a hurtful and confusing experience he had while exploring a job opportunity. It certainly struck a chord with me, so I thought I’d relate some of my thoughts as well. But first, I’d like to commend him on the vulnerability he showed in writing his article in the first person. When our leaders are willing to be vulnerable, we all grow. Thank you, Gary.

Gary mentioned in his article, “Cyber Recruiting, the good, the bad and the not so pretty,” several things I’d like to build on. The first was a lack of due diligence on the part of recruiters. He mentioned getting messages through LinkedIn for security analyst positions he would be perfect for. I’ve gotten those messages too, along with some for accounting positions I’d be perfect for. I am good at a lot of things, apparently, including systems administration, database administration, installing certain pieces of software I’ve either used in the past or managed people who did, accounting, and various manufacturing positions (not sure I’ve ever been in a factory) including production line safety programs (that’s scary) and quality assurance. Just before I published this article I got a message from a Houston-based recruiting firm telling me they thought I’d be interested in a Regulatory Inspector job for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Yes, “Regulatory” and “San Diego” do appear on my profile, but really? Other than automation that isn’t well tuned or proficiently used, what causes this?

I suspect at play is the cost pressure put on the sourcing industry by large corporations who are trying to drive down costs. More on that in a bit.

The reality check for recruiters is: you’re not pushing widgets, you’re pushing people! Automation to help identify potential candidates seems like a great use of the technology. But once identified, perhaps the human touch needs to be applied earlier in the qualification process? Perhaps before you reach out to the candidate? And perhaps the automation might be a little more tuned to relationships and a little less on keywords. I’m sure some is, but based on a lot of anecdotal evidence, not enough.

Beyond the idiotic list of jobs I’m perfect for, Gary also touched on a different type of diligence. The guy staring at his beer at the bar in Vegas wasn’t applying for an entry-level or subject matter expert position; he was being recruited for a C-level position that would be critical to the firm’s success. This kind of position is a relationship decision. The due diligence should be done long before the position opens by building your human network. In our next book, we have a chapter on talent and recruiting. One of our recommendations is that every leader needs to build and nurture a human network that, among other things, creates a pool of people who, in various roles, some as advisors, some as partners, some as employees, will be important to the firm’s success. Certainly, it’s sometimes necessary to engage outside partners to help with critical searches, but assuming you’ve only made that decision for strategic positions that are hard to source, wouldn’t you be more thoughtful in describing what you want and need?

We’re Missing the Human Element

Coming back to the cost pressure that corporate HR departments are exerting on sourcing firms. I do think this is a big driver of the number of incidents of poor diligence. Let me unpack my thoughts a bit. Yes, the cybersecurity talent pool is currently more of a wading pool. And yes, this creates a demand for sourcing services to compete for the talent each firm so desperately needs. As sourcing firms rush to fill the void and fight over a small candidate pool relative to the number of positions we need to fill, there will be plentiful instances of abuse and stupidity on display. We’ve seen this before in the IT field, and many of us are still carrying those scars. But in my mind, an equal driver is the approach to cost reduction in hiring that many large corporations take.

Remember that corporations are optimized to efficiently deliver some existing widget to the market. Whether it’s a plumbing widget or a patented software widget, the organizational structure is largely the same, with minor variations in positions and reporting structures. That efficiency is often obtained by specialization, matching skilled pools of workers to specific job outcomes, outsourcing to specialists, and a whole host of other techniques too numerous to list here. This structure and purpose creates a learned, habitual response to any problem – how do we overcome the problem in the most cost-effective way possible? I’ve seen many companies apply the same cost reduction techniques to hiring as they do to their supply chain and building maintenance: “outsource it and put it out to bid.” Cost is not the only factor, but cost is a critical factor. This might seem to drive down the cost, but poorly engaged workforces, poor team composition and higher turnover negate a lot of that perceived cost savings. And the higher turnover, with myriad causes, also drives a good part of the vacancies that companies need to fill.

Certainly, tools like contingent searches that pay search firms only for successful placements are important for reasons beyond cost control. They are a great way to try out a search firm to ensure the candidates they identify are consistent with your team dynamics. But immediately putting a contingent search out to multiple sourcing firms can have unintended consequences, such as making the volume of candidates proposed more important than the fit of the candidates proposed. Retained searches are often more expensive, but the dynamics of retained searches and deep relationships with sourcing partners can create very different outcomes for filling key positions. Recruiters and candidates I have talked to believe contingent searches have been overused as a cost lever and the balance might need to shift back to get better outcomes.

At the same time, there have been several jolts to the job market, such as right-sizing and down-sizing and significant improvements in productivity that have allowed many companies to achieve higher output and generate higher profits with fewer employees. This has created intense competition for positions in many fields. Employees have been trained to act in a way that maximizes their outcomes in any job search. They’ve been taught to maximize their outcome by tailoring their resume to each job, apply for anything close, peppering the resume with as many “hot” keywords as possible, and working hard not to get deselected. And it’s understandable when you are out of work and have bills to pay; you become less picky.

To echo another of Gary’s points, we all have a role in fixing this. We are not likely to get to parity in this market for a while and yes that creates a gold rush of sorts. This is ultimately good for the economy, but we need to collectively work to smooth out the rough edges. And at the end of his article, Gary called on us all to have a dialog. So, if I had a magic wand, this is what I would wish for…

Hiring Firms

  • Hiring firms should put greater emphasize on better fits with candidates. They all pay lip service to this, but when costs produce a surprise, the heat is applied throughout the internal hierarchy and everyone gets pushed to squeeze out costs. I know that’s natural, but firms need to fight it a little harder. The impact is on people, the lifeblood of your firm. Even discounting for a moment that you have a right to get the best low-cost outcome for your firm, bringing in an inferior hire because you scared away the quality candidates by working with the lowest cost sourcing firm does not help you achieve that.
  • Firms need to invest more in talent creation. I’ve seen first-hand several firms that believe the recruiting experience begins when they open a req. Wrong! It begins when you strategize about the talent you will need five, 10 and 15 years from now. Talent you need to attract and talent you need to grow. Sometimes you grow talent internally through development programs and internships, sometimes externally through education programs and outreach and retraining. Sometimes you hire experienced people who can “hit the ground running.” Be thoughtful.


  • Recruiters need to focus more on relationships and less on volume. There are lots of ways to be profitable and have an impact, but not all of them are compatible with volume growth. Are you looking to solve your customer’s problem or make a buck? You can do both, but the customer must come first in that equation, perhaps not in the way they think.
  • Recruiters need to be a source of guidance for the firms they help. As Gary pointed out, an experienced recruiter in a specific discipline should help the hiring firm understand experience, skills, and market, and model good behavior. How many times have you been through some portion of the interview process and never heard back? That is unconscionably rude behavior. Recruiters, don’t let your client firms behave in that way. It’s funny that Gary mentioned CyberSN as an example of good recruiter behavior. I have also enjoyed working with Dawn Saenz of CyberSN. I would also give a shout out to Kelly Feest over at Proven (just look at the ten questions on her profile). I know Kelly helps her clients understand what jobs they are qualified for and I refer people to her all the time. I’ve also had a great personal experience with Charles Betzip at Gatti & Associates, who does take the time to call back and follow up and Pat Flynn at Errigo Group, who is great at two-way due diligence. All of these folks care enough to invest in both the client and the job seeker.

Job Seekers

  • Job seekers need to disabuse themselves of a couple of myths. The first is that recruiters are your buddy. Even if they behave impeccably, they are still hired and paid by their client firms. They are beholden to them. You will often get a guide, but you will rarely get an advocate. That doesn’t make them bad people, but you should know that going in. Another myth follows in the next item.
  • A mentor of mine once told me it is not about the title, it’s about the scope and the pay. Scope – are you solving meaningful problems that allow you to bring your passion to the job every day? Pay – are you being paid what you are worth for the value you are delivering? Culture and perks that don’t show up on your W-2 are great, but they can’t make up for deficiencies in these two critical factors. Liz Ryan, who founded the “Human Workplace” knows this only too well. She’ll tell you straight out, if you are bringing your passion every day, the doors will open before you. There are way more important things that need to get done than there are great people available to do them. Please note, I mean passion, not hard work. Hard work often follows passion, but it is not the same thing.

Senior Leaders

  • For the seasoned part of the workforce that is in coming up to the last couple of chapters of their careers, please give back. I have been fortunate to affiliate with Everwise, a firm that matches mentors with protégés that have been enrolled by their companies. I have had the pleasure to mentor four spectacular people at various stages of their growth, and I must say, if I had access to this kind of help when I was at their stage of career development, I could have avoided a lot of painful mistakes in my career. Julie Vanderheyden at Everwise has been my Experience Manager since day one, and I recommend this program to senior leaders who want to give back.
  • And again, for the seasoned pros, follow Gary’s lead and share what didn’t work so well. In each of my mentoring partnerships, I have surprised my protégés by sharing times when I totally mucked up the works. Unpacking what didn’t go so well is a very powerful tool and I promise, you will not feel exposed or weak. You will feel powerful and you will have empowered. Share yourself.

As Gary said, a dialog is needed on this and I am glad he had the courage to start it by putting a piece of himself out there for us to examine and learn from. We are going through an interesting transformation in the job market today. The lack of qualified talent is the single greatest inhibitor to success in the digital age and the dearth of good-paying jobs is keeping many people in dead-end spirals or out of the workforce entirely. We all can play a role in changing that.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on Feb 15, 2017