The ‘high turnover’ elephant in the recruitment room

If you have had any exposure to working in the recruitment industry, you would have been bombarded with either

  1. Materials on how this is the best industry to work for – pictures of recruiters in glamorous resorts or on a yacht happily enjoying a drink/meal, or
  2. Materials on how recruitment is soul crushing and gut wrenchingly difficult.

If you work in the industry however,  then you know that recruitment could be both at times, but more often than not it’s somewhere in the middle on that spectrum.

The truth is that where you position yourself as a recruiter on that spectrum also depends on a number of intrinsic factors such as:

  • How resilient are you?
  • How well equipped are you to work under pressure?
  • How strong is your internal drive?
  • Do you have a naturally persuasive style of communication?
  • How comfortable do you feel outside of your comfort zone?
  • Do you have the right work ethic?

But also on a number of external factors like:

  • How good is the match between you and the company you work for?
  • What about the match between you and the desk/ industry you are covering?
  • Or the match between you and your manager’s leadership style ?

If you are reading this and have been working as a recruiter for over nine months -congratulations, you are amongst the 57% of recruiters that haven’t left the industry after nine months (There is conflicting data around industry attrition, but majority of sources suggest figures between 41-45%). Let’s face it, this makes recruitment sound a bit like a career gamble, right?


Whether a hire is successful or not shouldn’t be a gamble and addressing the issue starts with the recruitment process.

Let’s make one thing clear – I am not suggesting that there is a magic formula that guarantees successful hires. Not even the slightest.  If there was, I’d bottle it and sell it……However after three and a half years  of recruiting recruiters, you learn that there are certain things you can do better in the recruitment process in order to minimise the chances of an unsuccessful hire.

Addressing high turnover starts with asking the question: ‘Why do our recruiters leave?’  In my opinion, all reasons can be generalised in these two categories:

  1. They are leaving recruitment
  2. They are leaving your company/manager/industry

Leavers in category A are more often than not, junior level hires in their first or second recruitment role. Somewhere along the way, category A leavers realise that recruitment is ‘not for them’, which essentially means that their expectations of what recruitment is were not met or they simply changed their mind about what they want to do with their careers. Fair enough. There is very little that can be done to predict such changes of heart, other than making sure that during the interview process we get a solid understanding of the intrinsic factors (listed above) affecting the candidate’s possible longevity in the industry.

So how do we influence the attrition of category A leavers through the recruitment process?

As obvious as it sounds, the answer is by setting the right expectations early on. You will be surprised how many candidates that I have met have been ‘sold the dream’ of recruitment. Recruiting recruiters is a highly competitive gig- there are plenty of options for talent to choose from, so selling the role you work on is, of course, an important part of securing a candidate, but being realistic about what recruitment is, does not mean underselling or undervaluing the actual opportunity.

This doesn’t always apply to people new to recruitment either. I have spoken to consultants who were considering leaving their agencies because someone did not deliver on their promises and failed to mention that winning the competition to go on that Ibiza trip is actually quite a lot of hard work. The risk of being brutally honest about the challenges in recruitment is that you may lose some candidates in the process, but surely that’s better than the alternative?

Leavers in category B on the other hand, could have a particularly negative effect on a recruitment business if they are performing recruiters. Needless to say, if that is the case then it is imperative that we investigate the reasons for this person to want to leave the business.

So how do we influence the attrition of category B leavers through the recruitment process?

Frankly speaking, a lot of the reasons why those people would leave, are often a product of personal factors that employers may have little influence over. When this is not the case however, you may find that some of the external factors (listed above) may have a part to play in that decision. The good news is, by tweaking the recruitment process slightly, we can increase the chances of getting company, team/manager and industry/desk fit right.

Let’s take team/manager fit for instance. When hiring new people a lot of the team/manager fit decisions tend to be made on the basis of whether there is a vacancy there. In an ideal world, that would make perfect sense, but in such a personality lead industry like recruitment, things are not that simple and making sure candidate A is the right fit for team B could have the effect of ‘make it or break it’ for a specific hire. That’s why at SEC, when possible, we have a more flexible approach to recruitment; we focus on getting the right person into the right team as opposed to trying to fit a candidate into a vacancy. A lot of our consultants will confirm having met more than one leader in the business during the hiring process to make sure the fit is just right.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that recruitment is a two-way process and this is true for any field.  Both parties should enquire, engage, test, and promote themselves professionally to increase positive experiences for all, regardless of the outcome.

The bottom line

Perhaps recruitment as an industry does have a high turnover. We can all agree with that and continue to recruit the same way we did.


Perhaps we can start scrutinising the way we do our own hiring and ask ourselves ‘how can we do this better?’ and make a difference.