Recruiters. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them, My guest today, Ben Passaman, is a veteran recruiter and the host of the “A Peek Behind the Curtain” podcast as we talk about how he thinks and operates. And you know I did search for more than 40 years so it is a blunt conversation.


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So, my guest today is Ben Passman. You know normally how we deal with intros; I decided we'd do something a little bit different. Ben, introduce yourself to everyone, who you are and what you do.

Thanks, Jeff. It's a real pleasure to be on this show with you today. I am a staffing professional. Some people might say I'm a headhunter. When I'm out on the golf course people ask me, what do I do and that's usually my answer although it's really much bigger than that. I've been in the business now for about 15 years and prior to that I owned a small business. I've hired and fired a lot of people and now I find myself in this world of talent, workforce management type of stuff. I've been in the staffing agency world that works for corporations. I've worked for consulting companies. So, I have a pretty wide breadth of experience in the staffing business. Of course, I currently host a podcast called a peek behind the curtain where we try to help people understand the reality of what's going on out there, and how they can better position themselves to find a job.

I hope you're not out of breath after all of that.

I'm not out of breath yet.

Excellent! So, let's take a peek behind the curtain about what is it really like at a staffing firm at a contracting for all these joints that drive people so crazy.

Yeah, it's nothing like what you expect. Most people spend hours putting their resume together and making it look pretty and doing all of the things that we think are instinctively the right thing to do, you want to stand out, you want it to look nice, you want to present yourself in the right kind of way and then they upload it, pick a job site or even into a into a job posting on a corporation's website and you find yourself that it doesn't populate properly. So, you have to sit there and re-enter all of your information, and that's because the systems aren't designed to read your resume in pretty formatting. It's designed to read text and things like that. So, typically, if you put your resume out onto a job board, if you update your profile on LinkedIn that says I'm looking for a job, the first line of defense, so, to speak, the first people that are going to get a hold of your resume and give you a call are likely people that have little to no experience. Maybe they're in their early 20s, maybe they have a degree in something not even human resources, they just they went out into the world and they became a recruiter. Not too many people grew up as kids thinking, I'm going to be a firefighter, I'm going to be a policeman, and I�m going to be a recruiter, that's not a thing.

So, nobody really understands that agency recruiter or corporate recruiter. So, large corporations like if you go to the Google and Amazons, they effectively have internal agencies, right. So, if you go to a small company, and you might be dealing directly with the Director of Human Resources or the VP of human resources, and those cases are a little bit different. But if you're looking for a job through a staffing agency, whether the agency is large or small, it doesn't matter; most agencies operate the same way. They gather a bunch of information, they filter through that information, they have a bunch of KPIs around how many calls everybody has to make, and they're trying to fill jobs. The reality is that if an agency is filling about 3% of all the job orders that they have, that's pretty good. So, that means 97% of the jobs they're working on, they don't fill right, somebody else fills them, they get filled some other way. So, if you're putting your resume in front of an agency, and they're talking to 250 people a week, and they're only going to fill 3% of the jobs that they have open, then you have to set yourself apart differently than just, it looks nice on a piece of paper.

It's funny; you spoke about 250 people a week. I remember when I did search; I'd walk in on a Monday morning to 200 emails from people. I am astonished about you talking to 250 people.

Oh, yeah. There are some agencies, I worked for an agency a long while ago, and they actually had a phone dial or system. So, it was like working in a call center. When you finish the call, you have a certain amount of time before you had to push the green button again and the next call came, whether you wanted it or not. They measured how much time you were on the phone, how much time you were off the phone. We are all measured on all this stuff. So, yeah, some agencies are really pushing volume, it's not really about building great relationships sometimes. Sometimes, it's just about I need to meet my numbers so that I don't get in trouble next week. So, they're talking to candidates that may or may not even have a job. So, if you're a candidate and you're looking for a job and you're having a hard time getting to interview stage or things like that, there's probably some things that I can help you with, there's probably some things that are not your fault, that if you just became aware of how the game was played, then it becomes a little bit easier. Imagine walking out onto a baseball diamond and not knowing how to play baseball and someone gives you a glove and a ball and tells you to go on out there. So, yeah, it's the same thing. The job market is very much like that.

I used to tell people, and I just gave up because job hunters invariably love to argue that they're right, and recruiters are wrong and we understand that. But the thing I always remind people of is you can only handle what's in your control. On their side, they've got jobs fulfill their job is not to be your friend, their job is to close deals, and you're not paying them anything for this. So, that expectation that they are working for you and my favorite line is, my recruiter said, when did they become yours? How did they become yours? Did you give them all the chain? How did you purchase them, and purchasing loyalty from them? I don't understand this and so many people actually operate that way. My recruiter, even if they don't use those words, Joe said this, Ben said that, and they take it as gospel. It's crazy, absolutely crazy.

Recruiters are salespeople. We might be on the business to consumer side of the sale, but we're still selling. So, when a recruiter is telling you, oh, yeah, I'm going get feedback, or oh, you're still in the running and this and there might just be blown smoke, because they're trying to keep you engaged, maybe they've got another opportunity that hasn't been approved, yet. They're waiting to tell you about it. There are all these kinds of things that are happening behind the scenes that if you're not aware, and if you don't know how to manage your relationship with the recruiter or the recruiting agency, then you're going to miss out on those kinds of opportunities.

You mentioned before, is the scenario I should hear from them later in the week, early part of next at the school and then how does this work, they're stalling for time. Maybe the client told them that I got one other person or two other people to talk to and we'll have a decision later in the week, which invariably slips until the following week and its part of the game.

It is part of the game and it's really about knowing the rules, and understanding how to play within those rules. If you don't understand the rules, then of course, you're going to have a harder time. It's like swimming upstream and it's not too hard to figure it out. If you're working with a recruiter right now, just start asking some probing questions like how many other clients have you work with? What other kinds of requisitions do you work on? Do you pay a referral fee if I know somebody that might be interested in a job, things like that, and start to understand what's going on in the culture behind the scenes, and be compassionate about the fact that like, hey, I don't want to be overly persistent about finding a job, it's an emotional thing. I understand you're under a lot of pressure. But can you just give me 10 minutes? Then you got to have good questions to answer in those 10 minutes. Some of the questions might be, I was listening to this podcast, and they were talking about 3% as a fail rate, things like that, and start to understand, are they successful agency? Is your recruiter, a successful recruiter?

Could the agency be a good agency for you just need to find a new recruiter to work with, things like that? There's a lot of different ways to skin the cat. I think you're right that a lot of people think of their recruiter as their real estate agent or they have some fiduciary responsibility to you. But they don't, they have a job to do. They're being paid by a corporation that is invested heavily and making sure that they fill as many jobs as they can. If you're not the right fit, then you're not the right fit and nobody has time to call you and tell you why and give you a bunch of feedback and coach you up and tell you all the great things about you and why you just didn't quite make the cut. Nobody has time for that. So, you have to cut your cut your emotions out of it and recognize that the people you're dealing with there, like you said, they're not there to be your friend, although they are. They're there to be your friend in the moment to get you through the process to help you understand, and then maybe in the future to help walk you through the next time. But at the end of the day, you probably are never going to meet the recruiter face to face.

That's not a COVID issue. That's just the reality. I used to work in New York. I was filling jobs in 49 out of 50 states plus Canada.

Nowadays, recruiters are virtual, everybody is virtual! The job can be done over the internet. I know recruiters that live on boats, I know recruiters that work out of RVs. I know recruiters, like myself that move around the country from season to season if we can. There are other people out there that are hunkered down in their hometown, and everybody kind of has their own scenario. But the fact is that we're not recruiters as a field of expertise is no longer a cube farm in an office building, those days are behind us, I think.

I hope. So, what else don't people understand about recruiters that you can highlight for them?

Yeah, I'm glad you asked. A lot of people feel like they're so emotionally attached to their job, because it provides their lifestyle. If you understand that most recruiters have a very full plate, they have tons of calls, bunches of meetings, lots of managers, and their job is to weed you out, right, their job is not to weed you in. So, if you can make a recruiter's job easy, then you're going to have a much smoother path through the noise than somebody who is making their life more difficult. I can tell you, every agency has their list of frequent fliers, or they call them other things. I worked in an office once where we had a donkey list, because there are some people who are just donkeys and they believe they belong on the list, and every firm has some way of referring to the people that kick the can, they just kick it over and that's not good. You don't want to be that. There's also the other mistake that people make and that's just too completely disengage. Well, I sent my resume, I had a phone call and that's it. No follow up, no email, no, thank you, nothing and so, there's a balance. You have to find the right amount of persistence and you have to provide some value to your recruiter that why you're a great candidate, why you should be presented. You can't just post and hope, that's not a good strategy.

You don't think the idea of posting your resume online and making prayers that someone's going to call you is good.

It's not going to hurt you but it's not going to help you either. If people want to pray for a job, go for it, that's fine by me. But when you're done with that, you should get on the phone and call a recruiter because you have to do the work, you have to do the follow up; you have to get in front of a person, that�s how you find the good ones.

How would you recommend someone really identify someone who can help them?

That's really one of those soft skill things. I worked for a manager long time ago, and he gave me good advice. He said, hire people you like and you can train people for competency, you can give them skills, you can teach them language and stuff. But if you don't like them, if you don't have that kind of personal connection, then it's really hard to work together and work through problems and have those kinds of things. Now, finding people that you've liked doesn't mean finding people just like you, because there's a lot of people that I like that are not like me at all. So, you're not trying to mimic yourself and create a team of drones, that's not good. But you want to find people that you have some kind of engagement with that you connect with at some kind of primal level, and that I think is really important. I think recruiters and job seekers should have that same kind of basic foundation. If you're talking to a recruiter and you're just not getting a good feeling, then ask to talk to a different recruiter and don't be rude, don't be a jerk, just say, hey, you know what, I really appreciate it. I think I have a certain kind of expertise, I'm not sure that you're the right recruiter for me, I'd like to talk to maybe somebody that's been in the business a little longer, or that focuses on a particular skill or that kind of thing, you just find a different recruiter, if you're not finding help there, go to a different agency. There are a lot of agencies.

So, you got to find a recruiter that you really and that really likes you back and that focuses on your area of expertise. If you're in the world of marketing, and you go find a recruiter that specializes in everything except marketing, then that's not going to be very helpful, because it's about being likeable, like each other, but they can find you a job in finance, just not marketing. So, that's not helpful. So, you've got to be smart about whom you're making relationships with and then you've got to cultivate the relationship just like anything else. I remember the old clich�; we've probably all heard it before. It's easier to find a job when you have a job and it's because you don't feel all that pressure. It's like wow, I got to work, I got a job, so, no issue, you don't have that sense of like, oh my god, I have to land this job, if I don't get the job, I'm not going to be able to feed my kids because I'm going to go work. But when you don't have a job, you have to find a way to center yourself so that you sound like the person who has the job, because otherwise the person who has the job is going to be calm and relaxed, and you're probably not going to get it right. So, those are the kinds of things you got to smooth the path, you got to make it the path of least resistance for your recruiters and for everybody in the process, the hiring managers, and the people who are doing the interviewing all the way along the line.

I'll remind you of folks that there are times as a recruiter is going to knock on the proverbial door, to send you a message that want to talk with you about a job. This is your moment where if you're not looking for someone suffering right now, you can listen, don't just simply say, I'm happy where I am now. Now, folks, I want to remind you, I used to work in recruiting, and I don't do that anymore. So, I'm not speaking from vested interests. But let's get practical. Would you be happier if they paid you $20,000 more than my thing now, probably, if there was a job that might cut your commute, now, might you be a little bit happier, if you were doing comparable work for a decent for making $20,000 more?

Probably, if it was in a state where you wound up not paying the same tax rate, and it was half the taxes that trip, you might be a little bit happier. Listen to what they have to say, take it with a grain of salt, wait until you get to their client to test it out because they may talk about we've got this great job, it is phenomenal, a sweetheart, everyone loves working there, then you go into LinkedIn, you see 20 people have worked for this person in the last six months. So, suddenly you go, okay, they blew smoke, it means I can smell the ball. Even then, I would say, take a phone call from the client, check it out, listen, and then make a decision, because you don't know as much as you think you do, folks.

Yeah. Now the other thing that you got to consider the recruiter, an agency recruiter especially does not have the authority to hire you. But they absolutely have the veto power to make sure that you never get through. So, you have to treat that first encounter with a recruiter as an interview that is as important if not more important than the first round, second round interviews you might encounter with the client itself. So, don't mistake the recruiter even though they might be 20 something years old and really up from down yet not have enough life experience to really empathize with your particular situation, you have to treat that as important or maybe the most important interview in the process.

Every interview is that way and with the screener, that's the way I view it. On the agency side and the first call with most organizations, the screener is there with a checklist. Have you done this? Have you done that? Okay, great. What about this, have you done this that year and they're just going through, they don't have the capacity; most of them don't have the capacity to delve deep. So, don't oversell, just give them what they want, because they want to get on to the next call.

Yeah, there are five things, they want five things, and they want you to be able to explain your skills. Number one, you can't explain your skills, then it's like okay, that's great but what did you do? So, you have to be able to explain your skills and your skills have to be relevant and match with the job that you're that you're applying for. They need to know what your geographic situation is from a location, and are you able to travel? Are you willing to travel? Can you be on site and you should you know whatever the job requires? Some jobs require you to be on site? If you're not in the right city, would you be willing to relocate and things like that? They have to understand what opportunity you're looking for. Are you looking for a place where you're going to land and plant some roots and you're going to learn and grow, you're going to try and become part of the organization? Or are you looking to be a recruiter and a contractor rather, because you want that flexibility of being able to do the kind of work and take time off.

Maybe your lifestyle requires you to be a contractor, that kind of thing. So, if they don't understand what kind of opportunities you're looking for, then it's really hard for them to fit you into one. Money, of course, is going to be an important part of the conversation. Another thing people make the mistake of is thinking that in that first conversation with a recruiter, they think that that's just a gauge of what kind of salary are you looking for and that is in fact your salary negotiation. If you're looking for an hourly rate or an annual rate in that first conversation, if you're working with an agency recruiter, that is the time to negotiate because once they submit you, once you go through the interview process and they make you an offer, it's all based on the information that the recruiter had from that very first conversation with the screener, whoever. So, you have to be clear about upfront and then of course, availability. If you can't make yourself available, then forget it. If I call you as a recruiter today, and you can't make yourself available in the next 48 hours, I'm moving on to the next bunch of candidates, because you're obviously real busy. So, even if you have a job, find 30 minutes, if they need you to get on to an interview, make yourself available, cancel something, and do what you have to do. If you're actively looking for a job in the marketplace, and you're unavailable, then you're not actively looking, you're just window shopping.

Very true! I want you folks to hear the thing about money, because I know most of you think that you negotiate salary at the very end when they make the offer. It's easier if you deal with some of this stuff at the front. Even if you use hedge phrases of I'm looking for range between sessions and such and such, it's going to depend upon what I see at the interview. Because I haven't spoken to the hiring manager, I don't really know anything more than what you're telling me. I haven't met the team; don't really have an idea of what their expectations are, time constraints, budget, that sort of thing. So, I can give you a range and you may hear the lower number. After I talk to them, I may only want the higher number. So, this way you set a marker for yourself so that they don't simply hear the low number and oh, he is willing to take 120 not just simply the 140 and that zero number that would really take a lot for you to go to.

Yeah, I would also say in relation to that, make sure that your low number is a number that you're willing to accept. Because even after you go through the entire interview process, you may find that it's a great opportunity. Its great job, great people great situation and you told them I need to be between 120, 130 and they came back to you at 120. You've got to be willing to accept that low number. So, don't price yourself out of the market. If the job realistically pays in that 120 range, don't come in at looking for 210 and that's not going to get you there. So, you got to be realistic, you got to be at least within the right target. But once you zeroed in on the right target, and you find out that yep, I'm in the right ballpark, and then you have to be willing to make the move and accept that okay, this is especially for contract roles. There's almost no negotiation when you're talking to contract recruiters and contract, hiring managers� right there. They're just looking to put butts in seats, and they have budgets, and it's a commoditized function, even though we're not talking about commodities, we're talking about human beings and what have you, but the function has become a supply chain management exercise in the world of talent workforce and that's the reality. It might be terrible, but it's the truth.

Of course, you know the game, let's not kid ourselves. Basically, you're there, you're doing it for money.

That's it and they might offer you a full time job, but they might not and that's fine. The thing is that contracting is great, because it goes both ways. You could take the job and in three weeks, you find out that you really hate it, that the work is terrible, your boss is terrible, your team is terrible, you could leave, and you don't have to give a whole bunch of notice. There's no sense of burning bridges. It's just I was a contractor. That's all the explanation you need to the next agency. So, it's one of those things that contracting has its flexibility, but it works both ways.

Exactly! For the contractor, what should they be looking for when they're looking for the next organization?

That really all depends on what you want, and you have to really have a clear sense of who you are. It's one of those things, if you don't know, if you can't come to terms with your own strengths and weaknesses, if you're not comfortable in your own skin, so, to speak, then it's really hard to figure out what you want. If you can't articulate what you want, then it's really even more difficult for recruiters, especially busy recruiters to help you find what, if you don't know. So, you have to be clear, and that's all part of making a recruiters job easier, you have to have clarity about what you're looking for. You have to be willing to say, I appreciate you sharing this opportunity with me. It's not what I'm looking for, even if it's close. It's one of those things you have to have some integrity in your search. Does that answer your question?

You did fine with that one. I want to come back to the money one. Because folks, I'll just give you a sense of how I used to play with salary in conversations with people. So, I'm looking at 120, 140 so, if the client came in at 115, would you turn it down? At which point do you hear the vacillation? You say, okay. I do it for 150, great. How about 110?

No, definitely.

Well, when I hear certainty, I know that's the number, not to bother with. But when they start about the 115, then I am suddenly like okay, they probably do that, because they definitively said, no, remember, recruiters are salespeople, they're there to try and do the deal. Make it easy for them to know what the numbers are and what the quality of the assignment of the job is that you're looking for all the minutiae and if they get 70% of it, probably be thrilled.

Absolutely! There are all kinds of other math games that are going on in the background, too. So, sometimes agencies work on a percentage markup, and sometimes they work on a bill rate. If you're working on a markup, then it's in the recruiter�s best interest to pay you as much as they possibly can, because then they mark it up and they get a bigger margin. If they're paying you on a bill rate scenario, then it's their job to try and drive your rate down as far as possible so that they can maximize their margins on the bill rate that they have to work with. So, again, if you don't know to ask the question of whether or not this client is on a bill rate or a markup, then you don't know what the motivations of your recruiter are, then you can't help guide your recruiter to your destination of success. So, if you can understand that, those are the kinds of mechanisms that are motivating the recruiters to decide whether or not they're going to pay you that 120 or 115, or recommend 110 and maybe you're not the best candidate in the mix, but at 110 you are good investment. So, they've got another candidate at 130, or 135, who's over. So, now they've got you and an overpriced person who's the better investment now they're selling you again, and they don't care which one of you gets the job. So, there are those shell games happening, that you're not even aware of, you don't even know that's happening around your profile.

So true! In the time that we have left, what are the things that they should know, that they probably don't?

I could go on for this, I could go on all day about this kind of stuff, because it's just unbelievable what people think, they feel like things should just work better. The reality is that the recruiting industry, as a whole as an industry, there are some elements of it that are automated, we're getting smarter and better with technology, of course, the job boards, and there's some functions and things but it's still very much a human engaged in this business. So, there's a lot of touch, there's a lot of individual people that are keeping spreadsheets and doing data entry, and that are managing workflow and all of this kind of stuff that's going on. I think that if you as a candidate can recognize that it's really a big business and when I say it's a big business, to put it in perspective, the owner, founder of aero-tech, tech systems, owns the Baltimore Ravens. So, that's a big industry, there are companies out there that are hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, they're huge, humongous organizations, gigantic operations, 10s of 1000s, if not hundreds of 1000s of employees.

So, you have to know that when you put your resume out onto the job boards, dice and monster, and LinkedIn, and all of those kinds of things, you're going to get bombarded with big giant corporate recruiting agencies. I think that still in today's world, even with all of the technology, or maybe because of all of the technology, still by far, the best way to land, your next job is most likely through your existing network and using agencies and recruiters can be very helpful. But there's also a sense of if you're not also working your own network and socializing your situation with the people that you've already done business with, or your co-workers with in the past and things like that, then it's going to be hard to uncover those opportunities before they hit the market. So, I know I talked about people think their recruiters a lot like their real estate agent, and at the same time, they don't think of the job search is the same as a house hunting. So, you should be in touch with the recruiters because they're the ones that have access to all jobs are a lot of the jobs. But you should also be working your own network, you should be trying to figure out who knows who, how can you get in front of somebody? How can you present yourself in a way that expresses some value that somebody is going to say, hey, I don't have a position, but I might create one because you provide some kind of value!

At the line wherever possible, folks, if you throw your resume into the ocean, and hope that one fishermen is going to throw a line out, catch you, versus all the other fish in the ocean, you're going to be hungry for a while. But if you're cutting the line and getting introductions from people, which is the best of the law, not that you're hearing about a job from someone, but someone's actually introducing you, it's social proof. Its qualitative proof that you can fit this organization, obviously, you have to substantiate it for someone. But it's a lot better than waiting for the fisherman to come and throw out a line and have all the fish try and jump on it because only one of you is going to get on that hook. This has been fun. How can people find out more about you and the work that you do, Ben?

Well, I'm really easy to find on LinkedIn, you can just look me up, , I have a picture of myself standing on a dock in New York City. So, that's the picture of me if you find multiple Passman's because I think there are some actually, but I'm really easy to find right now, if you want to go ahead and just book some time on my calendar, I've got a link on my LinkedIn, I will spend some time with you and go through your resume with you give you some suggestions. You can take it or leave it, do what you like, and I'm willing to extend that out. It's just a free service. I'll do a resume review. If I can't help you immediately or directly, then I can certainly get you in touch with some folks that I know that might be more aligned to your skill set or your field of interest or your geography or all of those things.

Super, Ben!

Thank you. My pleasure, thank you, Jeff!

You're welcome. Folks, we'll be back soon with more. As you know, I'm Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter. If you're interested in one-on-one coaching throughout your job search, or with hiring more effectively, reach out to me, my email address is You can also schedule time at my website. Again, the big game ,there's a lot on the blog to help you but it's like 11,000 posts and it's not customized for you. So, in my coaching, I try and take all that information and consolidate in a way that makes sense for you. I'll mention one of the new things that I've introduced mock interviewing online 24/7, 365. If you go to online Q&A, come back and review your answers afterwards. Its video recorded. It is a breeze and very inexpensive. Lastly, connect with me on LinkedIn at Hope you have a great day and most importantly, be great. Take care


JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes.

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