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Careers in Recruitment: Do They Really Exist?

By August 7, 201414 Comments

It’s your turn this week.  I’m after your feedback and am hoping to get some good commentary action going for those of you brave enough to add you voice to The Whiteboard.  I’m in the middle of writing an article for the careers section of a magazine, and they want me to write about Careers in Recruitment.

I’m not particularly stuck, as I can usually rustle up some kind of spurious opinions on almost any topic, but having worked my way through this article I couldn’t help but constantly come back to the same question:  Is there really such a thing as a career in recruitment?

There are those out there who have regularly stated that no such thing exists.

There are others who claim that anyone who hasn’t built up and sold a recruitment business by their mid-50’s hasn’t had a career in recruitment.

Others claim that those who have sat in one place, stuck to a desk, failing to climb the ranks towards management have not had a career.  But what if they did it out of choice?  What if they were smart enough to recognise their lack of leadership skills were more than balanced out by an innate sales and matching ability that would make a nonsense of walking away from a $1m desk, and instead build up a rental portfolio on the side while their managers fight and scrabble their ways to the top?

Even the well-trodden path of agency recruiters “developing their careers towards internal recruitment and HR” is proving a rocky and winding path, as many find themselves disillusioned with the onerous administrative and process elements of that side, and come back to the agency dark side.

Trying to regard a career in recruitment is as problematic as trying to describe the taste of water.  In an industry famed for its low barriers to entry, the musical chairs games that recruiters indulge in during their careers means the industry is probably best described as being fluid.

So really, whether or not there is such a thing as a career in recruitment is the wrong question.  The career is in the eye of the beholder and one man’s career is another man’s job hop.  What I think it comes down to is what do you personally regard as a career?  If you sell up at age 40 and move into another job entirely, you’ve still had a career in recruitment, right?  Or if you retire at 65, still flying solo on a desk, the go-to guy for your local specialisation, you’ve had a career right?  More so than the guy who worked his way up to General Manager before entering more altruistic endeavors?  And how about those who dip in and out of recruitment, bearing a CV studded with stints in real estate and telesales with recruitment roles reappearing every time the jobs market picks up again.

What do you reckon?


In other news, but very much related to this topic, we are today bidding a fond farewell to David Gordon who is swapping the hipster end of town for the swanky end of town and returning to the fold of Emergent.  David has done awesome work this year in developing our virtualRPO brand and getting it into a strong position for continued growth.  Thanks DG, we hope you have enjoyed your secondment at Rice, and if there’s a DG2 out there, ready to continue the v.RPO journey and revolution, let me know.  Please note: growing a beard is not a stipulation or policy of Rice (especially if you’re female)  But DG did excel himself in that area:

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Do you think that because as recruiters we spend all day listening to what others want from their careers we worry our own career path is limited within an industry of typically flat organisation structures?

    When we witness candidates “climbing the ranks” and coming back to see us whenever they want their next step we maybe then reflect on our own career development and start to worry when we don’t see the same changes in our own careers?

    Just because we may not have the typical job title change or structured career path that other industries offer I think we need to take more time to look at what we have achieved and be proud of that. Maybe if we spent more time reflecting on the development we get by osmosis in this industry we would be able to identify that there is actually a career path it’s just not as obvious as a title change every couple of years?

    As someone that’s been in agency environments, internal environments, consultant roles, management roles, HR roles, project roles, recruitment roles, and done a total 360! I admit I have worried about this (and I’m only half way through my working life!). But now I can happily sit back and reflect on what I have achieved so far and know that a title means nothing, it’s what you are actually doing with your day that’s important. Job satisfaction means so much more to me than physically climbing the ranks just so that I can say “I have a career” at the end of each day.

  • Kevin C says:


    Of course there is a career in recruitment. If just doesn’t necessarily follow a traditional path. Perhaps start with a multinational, then a management role, then your own company, then on your own, may be back to your own company, perhaps some search? Many of us have spent most of our “career” doing it in many different guises, and may continue with new guises as the market shifts.

  • I quite simply love working a recruitment desk, specialising in Pharmacy recruitment over a few states within Australia. After 13 years, many others might think how boring, but I enjoy the relationships I enjoy with clients and candidates alike and the challenges they can sometimes bring. It’s not rocket science, as was mentioned by Luke Collard on his blog this week, but it’s my career and I’m owning it and enjoying it very much. The fact I work with an awesome small group of people who work together as a team has gone a long way towards me being happy to claim recruitment, this particular recruitment role anyway, as my career. No climbing ladders for this happy recruiter!

  • Chris says:

    I agree Jon, a career does not mean you need to be climbing ranks to achieve one. I note (from google – career description) “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.”

    Progress in our world (in my eyes) is the break through in the relationships we form throughout our career. Having a successful career in recruitment can be moving through the ranks, but it can also be staying put and building a stable desk with long lasting relationships.

  • Ryan says:

    Much in line with what Chris says, I feel that “career” is becoming more complex to define, and the traditional view of a career is in my experience diminishing rapidly. You only need to look at the statistics around career movement of our generation and the kids that are starting to enter the world of work.
    Personally those around me who I look at who have had traditional careers – mother was a nurse, father was an engineer – if anything almost appear trapped in their “chosen” profession, and it seems the pinnacle of the working career is retirement, at which point you look back and determine if you did well enough to sit on your deck on Waiheke sipping a Red, or end up in the burbs in a town house relying on your offspring for support to pay the Sky bill.
    I personally propose “career” is defined as the measure of one’s realisation of their potential – the ability to continue learning skills that allow one to find their true purpose and further proliferate in the world of employment.

  • Paul says:

    I’ve seen one or two really good HR-type graduates straight from Uni coming into a recruitment agency, flourishing, and going on to build a HR career. An agency is a great place to learn a lot about business, people. life etc

  • Steph Doran says:

    Great question Jonathan – one I’ve been asking myself for the last wee while. I’d echo Paul’s sentiment in my own career path, having quickly realised as an HR Grad that internal wasn’t for me and agency offered great exposure to business and relationships to further my career. Now I’m 2 years into an agency role and loving it, I can’t align myself with being ‘a recruiter’ and seeing it as a career path instead of just a temporary launching pad. I’d be interested in the discussion on this one too…

  • Carmen Bailey says:

    I am not so sure it is a career as such more one dimensional. If you are really good at it you can do very well if you are not so good you won’t be around for long. What does it take to be really good….. treat people well, be inquisitive, care about the end result, invest time in the people you are meeting and create great relationships.

  • Adrian Coysh says:

    The great thing about our profession is that it is interchangeable. You can drift into whatever direction you want it to, depending on your current needs and obviously your ability. Even people who are crap at recruitment can do management instead – and thinking about it now many Managers were actually crap at doing the job. Or if you were no good at selling you can do internal (although there is still plenty of selling to do, getting a candidate over the line etc).

    Even if you leave the profession, recruitment experience will serve you well in the future – not just the ability to recruit, but the difficulty of the job will teach you some great life skills, whether in sales, marketing, or just plain perseverance. The ability to spot an idiot at 100 meters is a honed skill.

    A lot of recruiters who have gone into a full HR job and have done really well probably bought a few commercial skills on board as well, having had to run their desk – skills that might not have been learnt if they went straight into HR as a grad.

    So yes, it can be a career if you have done it long enough, or just a transitional part of life where you picked up skills which can be utilised after you have moved on.

  • Jane Wimsett says:

    After 25 successful years in the recruitment trenches it’s not about career it’s about the money baby!! And don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t!
    And I’ve loved every bit about it.

  • 1frog says:

    Hey JR. It’s stood me in good stead for 25+ years.
    1) I fell into it.
    2) And time went something like this…Consultant (with a different name – thx JVW and that’s another story!!), Snr Consultant, Team Leader, Business Div Manager, National Manager, ………………….(when we went through the ‘non-title phase’) Account Manager, BDM, Regional/Marketing Manager, General Manager (region) GM (NZ), Executive Committee Manager, MD.
    I still see people gravitating towards it today – with gusto.
    You have to be special to do this people thing.
    “The soft stuff is hard to do!” Dr Philippa Reed.
    Rock on people people!

  • Leigh says:

    Try turning up to the RCSA conference and asking this question, if you’re brave enough.

  • Very useful conversation to have Jon.

    I started my career in recruitment in London with a large multi-national (soon to be publicly-listed) company, twenty five years ago, and since then my ‘career in recruitment’ has taken me to four other cities, three other employers, has given me leadership roles and now I’ve been self-employed as a coach/trainer/speaker within the recruitment industry for the past ten years.

    This is not the typical (of last century) career but it’s been a career I have immensely enjoyed (and still do) and would recommend a ‘a career in recruitment’ to others, should they ask.

    Debbie’s comment, above, is a perfect example of how a recruitment career can be richly satisfying even when others, using more traditional assessment means, might not judge her ‘career in recruitment’ in the same way.

  • Thanks for the excellent range of comments guys. The general consensus seems to be: hell yeah there’s a career in recruitment, but it’s not your “traditional” kind of career path. Sounds good to me, glad I’ve chosen this profession then 🙂