Insight by Mark Surrette, President


I came into the recruiting business almost 25 years ago. When I look back at the attributes we thought were important then, it is almost humorous when compared to today. Let me give you some examples.

Age of candidates was always a major concern. Although we were not allowed to discriminate on age, we did. Our ads would use lines like ‘…up and coming…’, ‘…looking to build a career…’, ‘…significant upward mobility…’. These were simply disguised messages trying to screen out older candidates from applying. Our clients were always looking for someone in the mid 30’s to mid 40’s age range.

Today, age has fallen off the table completely as a variable for recruiters. With so many people taking early retirement, and the fact that most people change careers every 4 to 5 years, clients now accept and seek out older workers. Our lifestyle also allows us to be more fit and more youthful than our chronological age portrays. It is not uncommon at all to have a client looking at a short list of candidates in their 50’s and even 60’s. As I write this, I have a leading short list candidate for a very significant assignment who is 61 years old. And I’d bet he will get the nod!

Another key indicator of success in my early days was the tenure, or length of service, an individual had with one organization. Long tenure was equated with loyalty, and this was good. More than two, maybe three, job changes demonstrated instability and was a sure way of being screened out.

In today’s market the opposite is true. Long tenure with one firm is viewed negatively as you have not had a variety of experiences. Multiple job assignments means diversity, varied experiences and a more well rounded and worldly candidate. Obviously this can be taken to the extreme, which is negative, but broadly speaking, a job change every two to three years is almost expected and certainly viewed positively. An extreme change from when I started in the business.

Having been terminated, outplaced, downsized, or simply fired was a severe knock against you in the early to mid 80’s. You were encouraged to do everything possible to disguise this blemish on your record. If it became obvious you had left your employer, then you had to claim it was voluntary (you resigned) and that you were not currently unemployed, rather you were ‘consulting’. The trauma faced by folks who were between jobs was severe.

Nowadays, having been fired is almost a badge of honor. Many of us have had the experience. It is very commonplace and the worst thing you can do is try and hide it. What clients now expect is for you to be honest about the situation and make sure you learned something from it. Hiding it or claiming it was your idea is a slight on your credibility and employers see through it very quickly.

Years ago compensation was a very simple issue to resolve when recruiting a new employee. Basically it was a base salary, maybe a bonus or commission and some benefits. A few dollars may be spent on relocating the employee but not much more entered the equation. As well, our focus was simply on recruiting the employee not the family.

What a difference today. Compensation packages are very complex, especially when you enter the areas of pension, deferred compensation and stock. Relocation costs are much higher, preset amounts for termination are regularly negotiated and signing bonuses are not uncommon. We often face the issue of a two career family, so the spouse will need assistance in finding employment. All in all, a much more complex situation than was the norm for many years.

As you can see, much has changed since I first got into the recruiting business. But you know, much has stayed the same. Great people get great jobs with great employers.