Lies My Recruiter Asked Me to Tell

The daily hunt for a new job is exhausting. After a long day at work, it’s tough to trek home and then hop on the computer to scour or for the latest postings, all while eating leftover Pad Thai.
Enter: The Recruiter.
I thought adding headhunters would be a good addition to my job-seeking arsenal. I contacted two—both whom were recommended by friends. The first recruiter fizzled out after I told him I was interested in a graphic design position, but couldn’t afford to live on a junior-level salary. When I told him I was thinking of just abandoning the whole design route altogether and that I was extremely open to other fields, I never heard from him again. I chalked it up to a good rehearsal experience, and moved on to the next agency.
With some practice under my belt, I confirmed my appointment with my next recruiter and prepared to meet with her. I picked out my outfit (a gray shift dress, a purple cardigan, and heels), purchased a new portfolio for my resume and notes, thought about answers to questions she might ask, and selected jobs from their website that I was interested in. I went in prepared, ready to get a new job.
The meeting seemed full of promise. Her agency specialized in placing executive assistants—the type of job I thought could provide an opportunity to get my foot in the door at a company I found interesting. After I arrived, she even brought over a few of her colleagues and gave them her pitch, and they all seemed excited and said they had a few positions in mind for me.
“This is fantastic!” I thought. “I’ll be giving my notice in no time!” I started envisioning my week off before I started the new gig. Oh, the things I would accomplish.
After going over my resume and giving me some things to tweak or expand on, the recruiter told me she wanted me to change my current title (luxury sales) to “Executive Assistant to the President.” I know a lot of people pad their resume and tell white lies, but it would become very clear in three minutes that I have never been an executive assistant to any presidents.
Could I be an executive assistant and be awesome? Absolutely. But I’m a terrible liar. I went home, made some tweaks, and, as a compromise, included that administrative assistant had been part of my job description at one time, which was true. But I wasn’t going to go any further than that.
A few days after the meeting, I sent the recruiter back my updated resume, with a note that I thought it would be misleading to call myself an executive assistant. I said I was excited about the possibilities and was eager to learn. It became clear to me that she was not impressed by my honesty, because the trail quickly went cold.
Contact with her has been one-sided: “Hey there! Just checking in. Do you need anything from me? Here’s an updated resume! Please call me! I’ll name my first born after you. Do you like homemade cookies?”

I can’t get a response. It is so frustrating to go from being hopeful to dejected. I have one more recruiter to contact via a friend’s recommendation, but I’m wondering if it will just be a waste of time. Has anyone had any good experiences with recruiters? There has to be some good ones out there.


Previously: “I’m Stuck in a Career Rut”

Maggie Hamilton lives in New York City and is an avid pie-baker, cat-stalker, and park-runner. She’s awaiting your job offers at


22 Comments / Post A Comment

The thing about recruiters is that while they’re ostensibly there to find you a job, they’re really just sales people and you are the product. They’re really just looking for that commission check when you accept the offer and/or stay on the job for 6 months.

That being said, I’ve had plenty of good experiences with recruiters in NYC, from both the hiring and job searching sides. In fact most of my solid leads over the years have come from recruiters. Good recruiters tend to build up good relationships with either HR departments or individual hiring managers.

But I’ve also seen recruiters rewrite resumes before submitting them! Plenty of sketchy practices out there. My advice, if a recruiter balks at honesty, they’re not worth the trouble or emotional investment.

Not Quite Sonic (#2,887)

I was (briefly) a recruiter in Toronto, and, sad to say, this is pretty much exactly how it is. I was given roughly an hour a day to peruse (and yes, “tweak”) resumes, and the rest of the time I was expected to be on the phone making cold calls to drum up orders. Interviews with applicants were just an excuse to get a look at them – attractive people were always presented to clients first, even if their qualifications were weaker. At times I was even directed to only present applicants of a certain race. I was 100% not there to help the job seekers, only to quickly determine whether or not they could help us get the sale.

For the record, I hated this job and during the period of time I had to keep it in order to pay my rent and eat, I became very depressed and dreaded going to work each day. I was absolutely not built for sales, especially the human variety.

Now, to be fair, I can only speak for myself, and maybe not all agencies are as bad as mine was. And there were times when I did help connect applicants with great jobs, though not as often as I (or my boss’s bottom line) would have liked. But nowadays when I’m job-seeking, I will do just about anything to avoid having to go through a recruiter. And I’m much happier in my new career as a public servant.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Not Quite Sonic Who else feels like . . . The more you learn about anything, the more it contains disgusting niches you wish you hadn’t found.

But ugh, this sounds awful, I’m glad you got out of it since it was clearly not for you. Pushing around human capital.

221b (#2,933)

@Not Quite Sonic Same story with me. While the recruitment agency I worked for was quite small (and had a very good reputation), it became rapidly apparent that the focus would always be on the client, rarely the candidate. Applicants were genuinely thought of as commodities, and I often came home feeling gloomy and guilty about how few of the people I met I could actually help (or how many times we were told to recommend getting more – unpaid! – work experience).

I can think of conversations about specific candidates’ looks, intelligence, class/background, even smell… which make my stomach turn to recall. One candidate was quite overweight, and while she made a great impression at interviews, and secured a good job through our agency, she was given a really cruel nickname in the office, and was the butt of a lot of nasty jokes. It’s jarring to think that something which is billed as a helpful service (“we can find you a job!”), is so unpleasant under the surface.

I’m glad that you got out!

BornSecular (#2,245)

Wow, this sounds super familiar. I’ve tried using recruiters, but got a similar response. My second time down this track, I met with a gal who seemed nice, and she even called with a job opportunity for me to look into the same day I met her. Even left her cell because she was going out of town. I called cell & office numbers for days straight, left messages, emails, etc, and never once heard another word from her. Finally I gave up. Recruiters suck and do no good whatsoever in my experience. Only you have your best interests at heart.

BornSecular (#2,245)

@BornSecular Also, the honesty thing seems to be detrimental to finding a new job for me as well. I do not lie on my resume, nor am I comfortable even stretching the truth in interviews. Thus, I am still in my miserable yellow pages job after job hunting for over a year and a half.

sintaxis (#2,363)

I got my current gig through a recruiter. It was wonderful! They even interviewed me to join their company. I have recommended mine to several people that are job hunting, but I know that for those that they couldn’t help the problem wasn’t the recruiter. They can only up-sell a person- they can’t make you a better candidate. It also helps to find a specialty recruiter, because if you want something in your field a general “all we have are sales jobs” recruiter isn’t going to help. The recruiter asked me how much money I wanted when it was time to become a full employee, and then he pressed my boss for even more (because he gets a cut, presumably).

peanutbutterpie (#1,450)

I had a very similar experience a few years ago. A recruiter got in touch with me and I had a great and positive meeting with her. Shortly after, she sent me a potential job but it had nothing to do with the field I was interested in. After I said I didn’t think I should apply to that job she never contacted me again and ignored my emails. I got a job in my desired field not long after without her help. She had also asked that I send her the contact info of friends who were looking for jobs and I did and she never contacted my friend. I don’t understand how they get any business done this way.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@peanutbutterpie Do you think it’s a matter of scale, if we’re all fairly small potatoes? I can’t imagine a recruiter doing anything other than laugh in my face.

peanutbutterpie (#1,450)

@aetataureate possibly! Probably also not being willing to tweak a resume or apply to a job you aren’t interested in labels you as “difficult.” They just want someone to fill the available job, I guess!

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@aetataureate small potatoes, definitely. If they can choose between spending time of finding a CEO candidate a job or an admin assistant a job, guess who they’re going to focus on if one will almost certainly lead to a higher commission than the other?

Tatiana (#194)

I too am a graphic designer and when I first moved to SF (I moved here sans job in 2009! Yeah, my mom was a little afraid for me) I applied for tons of jobs every day, and signed up with 3 staffing firms. One in particular had me interview for what turned out to be a programming job. I design websites, but obviously the recruiter didn’t know the difference between web design and straight up programming, which is a problem.

I wish you the best of luck and hope you can find something you like soon! A few other places that I’ve found helpful are: Creative Hotlist, Monster, and just writing an ad on Craigslist talking about your skills. I got a great freelance gig by doing that.

NinetyNine (#1,864)

Preface: was a designer in NY for 15 yrs. Hired over 20 people in that time, ran/managed three different studios.

1. If you don’t have experience you will NEVER get anything other than entry level salary as a designer in NYC. Too many young, talented people, and a good portfolio can always be faked. The only way a firm will trust you is work done for them. Good firms will pay you a subsistence income and give you a fair bump in 6-12 mos. Note that there are very few good firms.

2. Recruiting in design has always been a low return for generalized recruiters, and the old line firms (Janou Pakter, et al) at this point can only make money placing senior positions (they all used to place freelance as bread and butter, but internet), so they probably won’t even acknowledge receipt of your resume.

3. All recruiting firms in New York will only call you if your resume is an exact match. Nothing less. They see too many resumes, and remember someone is paying them $10-20K to not have to look at the wrong resume. Be very specific about what you want. They probably can’t help. Move on.

Understand that employers are getting flooded by resumes. We never listed anywhere besides the RISD alum list (my partner was an alum) and could get dozens of resumes overnight (and this is when things were relatively good). If we didn’t like the first batch, we would post to CommArts (still an okay resource). That would get us over a 100. In 6 years I posted to CL once. It got me over 300 resumes in an hour. Never again.

If your income requirements mandate a more aggressive earnings path, consider seriously bailing on design. Here’s the ugly truth: if you were really good and came from a name program, people would have helped with leads by now (professors are the best way to network). If you are really good but came from a minor school or state school, no one will ever look at your resume. Ever. If you can get some sort of online profile (portfolio site, good gimmick site, etc.) that might help. Don’t want to insult your skills without seeing your work, but being even being a great designer doesn’t necessarily make a difference. It’s easy to find a great designer for literally nothing in New York as an employer. Why people get hired is that they project they are responsible and responsive, understand the business needs of the studio and their clients, and never complain that the work isn’t sexy enough.

You can probably find more production-oriented jobs, by why would you? Salaries stagnate and it’s dreary and repetitive. Get an accounting degree or something with earnings potential and do that for a decade. Then start a letterpress studio or something fun. It might grow into a full time thing and it would be far more rewarding that 70% of the design jobs in NY.

homotextual (#897)

@NinetyNine i have no real addition to your comment, but i just wanted to say all points of this are spot on, ugly truths and all.

brassmonkey (#2,898)

@NinetyNine I’ve hired a few designers in my day and I’ve never held their alma mater against them. Having gone to a high profile art school, I know that the name of the school has little to do with the talent of its grads.

This is pretty typical of my experience with recruiters, and generally preferable to the other side, where, one time I was “working” with a recruiter who asked me to call him before applying to any job online -even ones that had nothing to do with him- so he could contact the company on my behalf. This sounded pretty fishy to me, so I never complied, and wound up finding a job on my own. He called me to check in and I explained that I had found a job, thanks for your help, etc., and he then proceeded to yell at me for not calling him first. Seriously got nasty. So… sometimes their complacency is preferable.

honey cowl (#1,510)

I feel you on this one. Still job searching & “my” recruiter has become a phone ghost. At one point I had her ON THE PHONE and she faked a call on the other line, telling me she’d call back right away! That was a week ago. Sigh.

This article makes me a little sad because I’m a recruiter. And yes, there are a lot of crappy ones out there. Honestly, I’m a good recruiter and I definitely would never ask somebody to change their title and the most “tweaking” I do to a resume is formatting or spelling errors based. I’m a technical recruiter, but the process is the same for almost all of them. I’d be happy to answer anyone’s questions about working with a recruiter, how our commissions are structured, etc.

ahlyne (#2,894)

I’m a technical writer working for a large federal government contractor. We, (like nearly every other contracting company) employ graphic artists, writers, technologists, etc. for our various projects. This is identically true for our massive commercial business as well. I have never used a recruiter. Have I been recruited by them? Yes, 100% of my work as a contractor has been through a recruiter that reps whatever contracting company, 95% of them are in-house recruiters (i.e. employees of the contracting company).

I probably get…3-5 emails a day from recruiters, and about that many calls a week, when I am in passive mode, not looking for a job. When I am looking for a job I probably get 15-20 emails a day and 4-5 calls a day. I am not super special. I do have some impressive work assignments which heightens their attention, but this is a fairly standard response for people in my field (contracting, govt. contracting).

I would never ever use a recruiter trying to find jobs for me, the ideal situation (for everyone, always!) is that the recruiter is coming at you with a job already. My two biggest tools for letting recruiters know that I am looking for a job are, and LinkedIn. My LinkedIn profile is crazy, I mean that shit is extensive. I spend hours putting all that stuff up there and getting recommends and verification of my awesome-ness from all previous jobs. The nice thing is, recruiters will generally connect to you even if they don’t have a job that you want right now and then will post new jobs on their LinkedIn profile. I put the address of my LinkedIn page on my resume, right next to my email.

Seriously, if you are looking for a quick job in the right field, tech industry ALWAYS needs graphic designers, and the base salary is much MUCH higher than other industries because the workload is demanding (good for some people, bad for others). Those are my two cents.

AlliNYC (#1,725)

There are some great recruiters in NYC – GreenKey, Atrium, Solomon Page (in that order) worked really, really well for me.

Thanks for sharing superb informations. Your website is so cool, keep so !

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