High Wire Act Without a Net – Part I

High Wire Act Without a Net – Part I

Dawn Whitney, CEO and founder of EmPower HealthIT, shares her perspective on the changes in the recruiting industry over the past two decades. This is the second part of our client focused series.

After being in the recruitment industry since 1992, I have recently had friends ask me, “how did you ever get into recruitment and why do you stay in it?”  They think it is some kind of glamourous job where piles of cash are landing on my desk everyday just by introducing someone to a company and setting up an interview.  The reality is that many people don’t truly understand the hard work of your recruiter. Not understanding what they endure everyday just to find that one awesome person that made their day.

The reality is that most people don’t dream about becoming a staffing agency Recruiter; they either fall into it and realize they have a talent or someone recommends they should “give it try” because they seem outgoing and friendly.  The truth is people think the recruiting job is an easy one and all you need is some sales ability and a likability quality.  That is certainly true for those who initially start out in the recruitment industry, yet a very different story for many of us who have endured the tough years (and the good years) in recruitment.

There was a period of time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s where employers were landing in our laps with job reqs on almost an hourly basis and where candidates were falling out of the sky onto our desks and clients would hire just about anyone to fill their need.  These were the days when many people got into this industry thinking they could make a ton of money really doing not much of anything except networking with a few people, attending some conferences to meet clients and setting up interviews.  If any recruiter that was immersed in this time tells you otherwise, they are lying.  This also gave recruiters a bad name for becoming opportunists or not really caring about the client or candidate’s needs.  I watched some of this happen at the company I worked for and I admit that some of my accounts were much easier to work with so I spent my time there.

After many years of working for someone else, I decided to start my own company to see if I could become even better at this job that I too “just fell into.”  This was around early 2005 and I had no idea what was in store for me in late 2007-2009.  Tough years were ahead.  This is the time where many people who got into recruiting for the wrong reason fell by the wayside. People started vacating recruiting jobs for staffing agencies and going to work for large corporate HR departments that were not sales driven positions, or completely left recruitment altogether.

I remember my first solo year and how challenging yet exciting it was for me.  I realized that this notion of finding someone a job and being a matchmaker was actually something I was really good at and wanted to perfect my craft.  The days were long and there were plenty of no’s from targeted clients and candidates…and these were the good days!  When the bottom fell out of the economy in late 2007/2008, many clients were laying people off, let alone working with recruitment agencies and paying a fee.  Ironically, those years were some of my best years in my new company.  The reason was that I had found a handful of amazing clients that believed in me and knew I was working exceptionally hard to find the people that couldn’t be found.  No one wanted to leave their jobs with the recession happening; that would be much too big of a risk. So it took a particular talent to find someone that would take the risk to leave for one of my clients. I had an amazing talent of recruiters working with me and we embraced these tough years head on.  It’s where the best of my talents were born and where the hardest lessons were learned.

I realized that the only thing that would get me through tough times would be to continue with my authentic passion for this business.  I reflected on questions like, “Why do I love recruiting?”, “What makes me different from my competition?”, and “How do I improve and change with the times?”  My strategy then is the same as it is today: you need to have a niche. 

You need to be known as an expert for what you do and specifically for an industry. If you are an expert in that industry, then you have a huge network that clients are willing to pay for. They will respect that you know the industry and have a pulse on the supply/demand of the current employment market and know the trends. You can’t be everything to everyone; you have to pick a lane and stay in it. You have to master it. Become the very best that you can in that space and know it better than any other in-house corporate recruiter does because they are generalists and are working on hundreds of different types of reqs. They aren’t specializing but you are. The other competing agencies are trying to fill engineering jobs and admin jobs at the same time, but not you…you have a niche and you have created some value from your competition.


Tune in for part three of this series, where Dawn shares her advice for smooth relationships between recruiters, clients and candidates.