The Recruiting Nightmare #8 – No One Knows What They Want

New technology has changed things, the market is fast, but one fact that has worn on recruiters for awhile and gotten worse for nearly a decade is the fact that a lot of clients don’t know what the hell they want.

Look, this isn’t disrespecting people that do hiring.  A lot of them think they know what they want, thy did research, they planned and budgeted carefully.  Of course they’re hideously wrong, but they try.

I first became aware of this trend in 2006, when a recruiter told me how his client was looking for ten years of Java experience.  If you’re any kind of IT person you’re laughing.  If you’re not, let me put it simply: at that time anyone with ten years of Java experience had helped design it.

This trend of ridiculous “asks” didn’t abate really.  Technology, economics, demographics, and everything else have changed things so rapidly that it’s hard for people to get an idea of what skills they need in employees.  it’s hard to know what they need in the future.

This tends not to stop people.  It can’t really, people are busy, and there’s only so much time they have to do job search forms and paperwork.

So pretty much unless the person trying to recruit people outsources to the right folks, does all the right research,  knows the market (and then probably hands it off to someone), recruiters get asked for strange things.

Then they have to look and deliberately fail – in order to make a point.

Or correct a client, which might not go over well.

Or . . . find the request really is needed (or assumed to be heated) and haul backside to try and get it done.

Or try and find what the requestor really wants . . . when you’re not entirely sure of what that is.  Or if they know even if they think they know.

Best of all you can find the “right” person . . . and then it turns out they’re wrong anyway.  Because no one really knew what was going on.

Anyone feel like putting up with this for a few years?  This is exactly why some recruiters are awesome because they survive this.

I find that a lot of of recruiters that are truly good develop, in my experience, a kind of sixth sense for what clients really want/need.  I’ve met recruiters who can almost “smell” a match, detecting it in a near-visceral (or nearly psychic way).  I think that may be the only way some of them stay in recruiting as long as they do – and keep their sanity.

Even then, it can’t be easy.

It’s hard to give people what they want when they aren’t sure or don’t know how to say it.


  • When responding to job postings or opportunities, go out of the way to show how you meet requirements.  Make sure to pay attention on how you actually meet some of the odder ones you may see.
  • When you see an odd set of requirements, show how you have “Equivalent knowledge.”  This helps the recruiter, may give them new ideas, and helps you get the interview.


  • Any recruiters you help with job postings, call out oddball requirements and propose appropriate, realistic substitutes.
  • When you are on job searches, be open to helping recruiters clarify such weird requests, it builds good relationships.
  • Much like when doing a job search, propose “equivalent knowledges” on job postings.


  • I’d love to see sites and books on humiliatingly stupid recruiting requisitions.  It’d at least be cathartic.
  • Could someone build a guide to what percentages of populations have certain skills?  It’d be a useful guide.
  • It’d be nice to have discussion groups on what titles really mean in jobs.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at