The Silent Treatment – Don’t take it personally

by K B , updated on April 8, 2010

Why don’t recruiters call back?

I receive a lot of complaints from job-seekers about recruiters who don’t return their  telephone calls. In fact it’s the number one complaint I hear. To not have your call returned is frustrating in normal circumstances, but it’s even more frustrating if you’re waiting on the answer on a role. I can’t really point the finger too much here. I found it difficult to manage my workload and return candidates’ calls when I was a new consultant.  So I am guilty myself.

I want to give you the perfect answer on how to woo your consultant, so they’ll readily get back to you, but I can’t. But what I can give you is an insight into the industry from my time at the coal face, and from the many conversations I had with industry leaders, consultants and candidates when I’ve written on the industry.

If you understand why it happens, and that it happens to most people, at least you may not take it too personally. Although it feels personal, in many cases, it’s not.

So why don’t recruitment consultants return candidates’ telephone calls?

Although there is some move to change this, most recruitment agencies pay their consultants a hefty commission when they’ve placed you in a role. No surprises here. Most people know this.  But what this means in practice is that if you are not a hot candidate about to sign on the dotted line from an interview the consultant has organised,  you will not be a priority. So, for example, a consultant may not return your calls for feedback on your resume, give you an answer from the client about an interview you may have attended and not won, or perhaps provide you with information about pay.

The other thing is to remember is that often agencies will not pay their consultants commission until they meet their targets. So again, if you are not at some point in the line up to be placed in a role, then you are not a priority call. The consultant is focusing on what they need to do to meet their targets.

Thirdly, many agencies manage their consultants on the idea that they “can’t manage what they can’t measure.”  What gets measured, managed and rewarded is “activity” linked to results. One place I worked said we needed to undertake a certain numbers of “activities” to be successful. That activity included sales visits, sales calls and interviews.  

Here’s an example to show you what I mean. As consultants we were expected to work off the ratio of bringing five/six candidates into interview with us, then in theory, we would be able to refer three to the client for interview. From that, one person would be successful securing the role. It was the same theory for business development.  Ten sales telephone calls to prospective clients should mean three client visits. From three client visits we should receive one order to fill a job.

When I was a consultant, if we did not do the prescribed numbers of interviews, sales calls or sales visits (the success formula) we would not be paid our commission, even if we exceeded our financial targets. On top of that, each week we would have a review of “our numbers.”  Or we may talk about our “numbers” in a group sales meeting. If we wanted to avoid being stressed out in management meetings or the public embarrassment of not achieving our numbers, we made damn sure we did them.

The manage by measure theory is good in theory. But the back-story is to be “careful what you wish for.”  Consultants will only work towards what management recognizes and rewards. When I was a consultant, management did not ignore how happy we made candidates. They ran regular surveys.  However candidates’ happiness or otherwise, was not linked to commission or other rewards, so there was no punishment or incentive to return a candidate’s call or keep candidates informed.

While some agencies recruit consultants based on their industry knowledge and network of contacts, many still recruit based on sales experience or aptitude.  A typical sales person focuses on what they need to do to achieve the numbers. That’s not necessarily the same thing as wanting to make people happy.  Many recruitment agencies have responded to this, by restructuring roles around sales and service skill sets. Plus looked at the way they reward people and tried to include the way consultants deliver service. However it is such a difficult balance to get right. With so much money at stake in the industry, and a sales/commission business model that seems to have worked for many years to generate that money, it will take some brave management to do away with it.

The level of measurement in the industry has lent itself to consultants feeling micro-managed. When you are micro-managed you do not feel trusted. I’ve never met anyone who likes this feeling.  That and the sales focus, means that staff turnover in the industry is terribly high which means, in turn, that the level of experience in the industry is low. Consulting and time management skills actually take many years to develop. For an inexperienced consultant, it is impossible to do all the numbers, let alone return everyone’s phone calls.  Something’s got to give. And, unfortunately, that’s often you.


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Meena March 26, 2010 at 2:31 am

Karalyn,,this is excellent.., I agree with you that it’s not possible for consultants to return everyone’s calls, but what about just writing back to everyone asap…, sometimes i hear back after 2 weeks that my application may have been unsuccessful…the quicker they tell you, the better..!

Lauren Lucas December 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm

I agree with Meena. So many times an agency has rung me about a job, got me excited, said they’d put me forward and then … Nothing. If I ring back after a few days for any news, they act like they totally forgot about it and I get “oh, they withdrew the job” or “it’s been filled” or “you were unsuccessful” 90% of my work experience is temp work so this is constantly happening and I’ve been temping for over 10 years and things are getting worse. I used to have no problem getting work but now it seems I have to go begging and the consultant/recruiter only wants to know you when they want something. And why is it some agencies, I’ll register with them and only hear from them 12 mths later when it’s time to re-register. Why bother getting me in in the first place if you’ve got nothing to offer me

William Randolph April 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

My issues is when I have a phone screen and I do not receive any reply back. I beleive that this is not only unprofessional and it is just tacky. I don’t agree with all of this talk about performing for the one who pays you and that the applicant is not #1. No, not responding back is not the way to do business. Finally, when I do reach a position within management, I will remember all of these companies who promised to “get back” to me.

Sam October 8, 2012 at 3:32 am

Karalyn, what is annoying about your blog is that you are just looking for excuses to the recruitment agents – given the fact that you are/were one of them. Such excuses are just that – excuses. Who cares how hard the live of a recruitment agent is?

The level of unprofessional conduct by those agents (I refuse to call them consultants because that is such a big title for unqualified sales people) makes me sick.

I have decided long ago to treat them the same way they treat people. They are simply low-life.

Having said that, there are very few of them that are ok – just ok.

Sam October 8, 2012 at 3:36 am

Reading your article again. I really think you don’t have a clue.

Angela October 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I appreciated your article. I personally think that not returning someone’s phone call or email is rude and unprofessional.

Karalyn Brown (@InterviewIQ) (@InterviewIQ) April 24, 2013 at 11:03 am

The Silent Treatment – Don’t take it personally. Why don’t recruiters call back? #jobsearch

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