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Triumph and Disaster: How Recruiting Mimics Sport

By May 21, 20152 Comments

I’m often reminded of the close ties between the roller coaster world of recruiting to the giddy, emotion-laden world of professional sport.  The ups and downs of running a recruitment desk and steering a recruitment business through the choppy waters of business appear, to me, tightly woven with the same triumphs and tragedies played out on the fields of play in all competitive sports.  It’s probably a good thing I’m a tragic sports fan, otherwise I might not have the stomach, or fortitude, for recruiting, which is something I’m sure many recruiters can relate to.

Master strokes of recruiting genius include Sir Ben Ainslie’s late capture by Oracle Team USA to wrestle the 2013 America’s Cup from New Zealand’s jaws of victory, something still weighing heavy on many kiwi hearts.  On the flip side Liverpool’s recruitment policies, squandering the $75 million windfall from selling Luis Suarez on a bunch of sub-par players this season, has been roundly criticised (by pundits luxuriating in the warm glow of hindsight, of course).

And so I was reminded of our industry’s similarities again last night, hearing on the news that kiwi sailor Dean Barker will be the skipper and CEO of newly formed Japanese challenge, Softbank Team Japan.  When recruiters resign and move to a competitor, most recruitment company owners get their knickers in a twist over the Restraint of Trade clause, prohibiting the recruiter waltzing off to fresh environs with all of their previous firm’s clients in tow.  Lawyers letters are sent, threats are made, chests are roundly thumped and, I can tell you from experience, rec-to-recs responsible for arranging the employment shift are often grumpily snubbed (by some, not all!)

But it seems to me that the real area of focus should be the relationships that the exiting recruiter has with current members of the team who are staying behind.  These relationships are often much tighter and deeper than more superficial client relationships, and loyalties often run deeper.  In a market where finding good recruitment talent is so difficult, it seems to me that the focus should rest far more heavily on consoling the team members left behind and spending time on them, investing more into them and rebuilding wavering loyalties to make sure they aren’t tempted to follow in the footsteps of their recently departed office buddy.

That’s what struck me, anyway, when Dean Barker said that he has not ruled out the possibility of former teammates or other Kiwi sailors joining him.

“We’re still in the process of looking how it all comes together,”

Hmmm.  Look out, Team New Zealand.

And as for the roller coaster rides of recruitment desks, any agency recruiters out there needing a reminder of why it is we do what we do should look no further than this excellent piece of writing from Derek Zeller, including this tragi-drama line:

“Agency recruiting is one of the most challenging and often least rewarding jobs out there, a constant struggle that tears at your soul, scars your psyche and, ultimately, leaves you with a thicker skin and a new appreciation for how lucky you are to have a job, and what a pain in the ass finding one actually is. I won’t deny the fact that, if you’re not careful, agency recruiting can suck the life out of you.”

It’s a long read, but well worth it.  And don’t worry, it takes you towards a happier place in the end!

Happy Friday y’all.


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.


  • Louise Amey says:

    Excellent article! When I heard about Dean Barker the similarities with HR struck me too, but I’m not so familiar with the world of agency recruiting. Thanks for the insight and opportunity to learn more.