If you’re wondering, “Should I be a recruiter?” then you’re in the right place.
I’ve spent 5+ years as a professional recruiter, and I’m going to walk you through the pros and cons of being a recruiter so you can decide if it’s right for YOU.
First, one thing a lot of people don’t realize about what it’s like working as a recruiter: If you’re working for a recruiting agency, your job is basically sales.
I had no idea and thought it was mostly HR or match-making. I remember applying to recruiting jobs and writing in my cover letter about how I’d be great at figuring out where different people fit in an organization and matching them up.
I was WAY off – this is the last thing recruiting firms care about when hiring.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything below so you can learn what it’s like working as a recruiter and how to get hired for the job!
Most recruiting agencies only require a bachelor’s degree (or less) to become a recruiter. And you can earn six figures when you combine your base salary and commissions! I’ll explain more about recruiter commissions in the next item on our list…
If you’re like me, work feels a bit pointless when you’re only earning a base salary. Do a great job, or a horrible job, and you get paid the same. That always drained my motivation.
So when I became a recruiter, I LOVED earning commission on top of my reasonable base salary.
You can expect a starting base salary between $30,000 and $55,000 as a recruiter in the US, but commissions can take you much higher.
You see, employers pay recruiters to “place” people into their jobs. So when an employer hires a job candidate that you brought to them, your recruiting firm gets a payout. And you get a percentage of that as commission, or at least you should!
(Note for job seekers: This commission or fee NEVER comes out of your starting salary. Don’t worry. It’s a fee your new employer pays to the recruiter in addition to whatever they’ve agreed to pay you, and it’s just a one-time fee).
In both recruiting agencies I worked for, I was given a ton of freedom to prioritize my own day and decide what to work on.
This can be a good thing or a bad thing, of course. But if you’re self-motivated and capable of planning your own day, this can be a GREAT feeling 🙂 I absolutely loved it.
However, if you just want to push papers around and be told what to do every hour, you’d be happiest working as an internal recruiter for one company. That’s more like a standard HR job.
Being a recruiter for a recruitment agency is much more sales-oriented. I’ll talk about that next.
I mentioned earlier that if you work for a recruiting agency, you get a commission when you introduce a job candidate to an employer and they get hired.
However, you need to find those candidates, and many of them aren’t actively looking for jobs. (Companies who are paying a recruiter want the BEST talent, which often means they want you to contact people who are happily employed).
So you’re going to be chasing people who don’t always want to talk to you… on LinkedIn, on the phone, and via email.
You learn fantastic skills through this, though. And you can take those skills to continue working as a recruiter up to earning six figures and beyond… or you can pivot into a different area of sales… go into business for yourself like I did, or anything else.
As long as you join a good recruiting company that isn’t failing, toxic, or just run by terrible managers, you’ll have good opportunities to grow as a recruiter.
You’ll have the ability to earn substantially more money in your second and third years of recruiting.
I started my first year as a recruiter earning a $30,000 base salary plus a bit of commission. I was quickly up to $42,000 plus a better commission structure in just my second year. I ended up earning $50,000-$55,000 in total compensation (base salary and commission) in my second year as a recruiter.
This was nearly 10 years ago, so you could expect to earn much more now, due to inflation and rising salaries over the past decade.
As a recruiter, you’ll have the ability to work across multiple industries or switch industries if your particular industry has an economic downturn.
It’s a very transferable skill-set. I mention elsewhere in this article that you could transition into sales after this. You can also transition into recruiting in any other industry.
It’s pretty easy to explain to an employer in the interview that you’d be able to learn their industry, as long as you can show them you’re a great recruiter in your current industry. The recruiting skills (i.e. sales skills) are what they care about most.
Now let’s look at some cons or downsides to working in recruitment.
Because you’re essentially trying to sell people on taking new jobs and earning a commission for it, you’re going to have some amazing weeks as a recruiter, but also some bad ones.
You’ll have weeks where NOTHING goes your way. Every candidate who said they’d send over their resume goes silent. You have absolutely nothing to show the employers you’re working with. And that’s not a good feeling.
So if you want to be successful as a recruiter, you need to have some mental toughness and be able to hand the bad weeks along with the good. It all balances out in the long run, but it’s tough to remember that in the middle of a “drought”.
This was one of the biggest cons for me and a big reason I left my recruiting career behind to focus on this blog.
As soon as you fill one position, you’re moving on to the next one. It never ends. There’s always more work. More people to call. People to follow up with. New jobs to learn and study and begin working on.
This is true of any client-based business or service business, I suppose. But it’s definitely a part of working in recruitment.
In many recruiting jobs, you’re expected to be available to answer emails or make a phone call into the evening if needed.
It’s normal for the most successful recruiters to take a phone call at 8PM if necessary.
You’re constantly trying to get in touch with job seekers and candidates during the workday, but they’re busy at their jobs at those same times.
So they get off work at 5PM or 6PM and start returning your calls and emails, just when you were planning on relaxing for the evening.
So that’s a major downside of being a recruiter.
Although you’re not selling an actual product, recruiting is very similar to sales. Most people who ask “Should I be a recruiter?” don’t realize how much “selling” and cold calling is involved. You’re often calling people that aren’t actively looking for jobs and trying to sell them on a job opportunity that they hadn’t previously considered. Recruiting has more similarities than differences when compared with a typical inside sales job.
This can be great for some people, and you’ll be learning a very valuable skill. (I’m SO glad I did all that cold-calling and cold-emailing. I learned ridiculously valuable lessons that I still use today to make money).
But for some people, this is a turn-off, so it’s worth mentioning as a con of being a recruiter.
If you’re not at least a bit competitive, you might struggle to enjoy working in recruitment.
Like most sales jobs, there are quotas and goals to hit, and pressure that comes with that.
You’ll also face competition from other recruiting firms; while you’re trying to contact job seekers and present them to the employers you’re working with, other recruiters from other firms are contacting them, too.
And only one person can place them into a job! So you will lose some commissions due to competition from other firms, which can be frustrating when you’ve put in a lot of time to working with a candidate.
The best recruiters use this competition as motivation. If you hate competition, you might not want to work as a recruiter.
The average entry level recruiter salary is $30,000-45,000. Some firms may pay higher if you have prior work experience in a related field like sales. With commissions, you can end up earning $50,000 or more in your first year as a recruiter, and much more in your second and third years.
Over time, many recruiters go on to earn six figures. The top recruiters within recruitment agencies can earn $200,000-$300,000 or more through commissions.
If working as an “internal recruiter” for one single employer (not a recruitment agency), you can expect to earn a starting salary of $30,000-$60,000, but have the same uncapped earnings potential as an agency recruiter being paid on commission.
The answer to whether you should be a recruiter depends on many factors. If you enjoy helping people and are motivated by tangible goals and the opportunity to earn commissions, and can handle fluctuations in pay from month to month, then you might find recruiting to be a rewarding profession.
And it’s one of the top ways to earn a lot of money with just a bachelor’s degree.
However, if you want to check out at 5PM every day and rely on the same amount of money being deposited into your bank account each month, recruiting might not be what you’re looking for.
If you’re still wondering “Should I become a recruiter?” you can always try it for a year and see first-hand. That’s the best way to see if you’ll like a job.
You do not need to be naturally extroverted to succeed as a recruiter. Some of the best recruiters are quiet and introverted. Being able to listen actively and understand objections is one of the strongest skills you can have as a recruiter. The ability or tendency to listen more than you speak can be a very valuable asset to any recruiter. This is easier said than done!
However, there’s one scenario where you’ll pretty much have to be outgoing, and that’s when it comes to networking and building contacts in whichever industry you choose to recruit in.
The ability to build trust and rapport as you develop relationships with candidates and hiring managers is what sets the best recruiters apart from the rest of the field. This becomes more evident after one or two years in the industry, when a recruiter will get calls from the same hiring managers and candidates rather consistently, resulting in a decreased need for cold calling.
The bottom line is this: There isn’t one single type of person that is fantastic at recruiting.
Some of the best recruiters I’ve ever met are shy, quirky, and quiet. That’s not to say that there aren’t many outstanding recruiters that are loud, outgoing, and extremely attracted to large social gatherings.
This outgoing type of person is more the norm than the exception, from what I’ve observed. But there’s room in recruiting for all personality types as long as you have the drive and determination to succeed. In the end, you’ll get out whatever you put in.
Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons of being a recruiter, I’m going to share some tips on how to get hired for the job! Because I really struggled to get my first recruiting job because I didn’t understand it was really about sales.
(If you don’t know what I mean by this, go back and re-read the article, because I explain in detail why recruiting is basically a sales job).
So if I were doing it over again, I’d focus much more heavily on showing employers that I’m interested in the sales aspects of recruiting. Tell them that you’re eager to learn cold calling, network-building, deal-closing, etc.
They’ll LOVE this.
And show a bit of a competitive nature. You don’t have to be the most competitive person on earth to get a job as a recruiter, but if you played a sport in the past or can point to any other competitive activity you’ve done or enjoyed, it’ll help persuade them to hire you.
This advice above for how to get hired as a recruiter is relevant for cover letters as well as job interviews.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.