Six Blind Men And An Elephant

The first recruiter says there is a shortage of qualified candidates. The 2nd recruiter says younger candidates require too much training. The 3rd recruiter says that more experienced candidates expect too much compensation. The 4th recruiter says this is a candidate driven marketplace. The 5th recruiter advises candidates to apply on their firm’s website. The 6th recruiter says the ATS can select the best candidates. Doubling down always works or is that it never works?

Many are familiar with the tale of the six blind men that encounter an elephant. It is told as a parable, as a joke or even as a teaching aide. At its most basic level, it is a tale of perspective, the man grasping his trunk thinks it is a snake-like creature, the man grasping his tale think it a rope-like creature and so on. Since the men are blind they have no real way of grasping the larger picture. It is a familiar way for us to describe a situation that is almost entirely dependent upon one’s perspective and circumstances. Six job seekers encounter a recruiter or six recruiters encounter a job seeker, and they are virtually blind in every way.

The first job seeker says if you get a great CV it will get you a job. The 2nd job seeker says to build out your network. The 3rd job seeker says to use the job boards, there are thousands of jobs. The 4th job seeker follows all the directions and applies on firm’s career sites. The 5th job seeker is told he must not be working hard enough there are thousands of open positions. The 6th job seeker gives up after thousands of applications and becomes a “non-participating” member of the workforce.

Just like the blind men and the elephant on one level they are right and on a more important level they are completely wrong. Paradoxes are by their nature hard to accept.

Job seekers are blind to the vast majority of the facts. They have no idea for instance if the firm already has an internal candidate in mind. They also have no idea what sort of candidate the firm is seeking, often there are hidden agendas. There is a strong age bias both against younger and older candidates. A bit like Goldilocks, they don’t want a candidate overly inexperienced or one that is over experienced. Meaning they don’t want to pay to train someone and they also don’t want to bring someone in at the top of the salary range. There is no transparency, there is only blindness and guessing. A job seeker can make a guess based on their experience but they only have one part of the elephant.

Recruiters are blind to the vast majority of the facts. The recruiters use the metrics handed to them, they almost become like the “blinders” put on a horse to keep them from being distracted. Finding the best candidate becomes secondary to fitting the “metrics”. Both the recruiter and the job seeker is left with the same task, making a sound conclusion based upon only a portion of the information available. The problem is obvious, bad data rarely leads to good decisions or success.

Since I am using metaphors I might as well go all the way. I once had a great trader in my office, he was a national figure in the trading of distressed bonds. LF was a great guy and it was my pleasure to have him as a client, he had emigrated from Russia and would on occasion tell me in his Russian accent “it is like looking for black cat in dark room.” It sounds a lot like my job search and also likes the frustration many recruiters and job seekers alike feel. Maybe we aren’t so different after all. Cats, elephants, what’s the difference? It tells the same story.


Robert J. Hardy
Robert J. Hardy
I was born in Camden, NJ, the oldest of eight and graduated from Villanova University with a BA in PSC/ENG (Political Science and English) with a pre-law concentration. Originally the plan was to go to law school but I had an opportunity to work on the trading floor at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (NASDAQ-omx) for what is now Goldman Sachs. I worked for a boutique clearing firm and helped to build our office from the smallest to the largest clearing firm on the exchange. The more moving pieces the more I enjoy it. My background is primarily sell side and have hands-on experience in risk and compliance, KYC, AML, regulatory and client management. I’ve traveled extensively and am a passionate rugby player and fan. I enjoy contrasts and what they tell us about ourselves and others. I am a polished senior executive comfortable in any boardroom and yet I enjoy a good rugby match and getting banged around a little and meeting people I otherwise would have no contact with. I am actively seeking a new role and enjoy writing an article once a week or so to keep my skills sharp. My greatest hesitation is exposing my innermost thoughts to complete strangers, but quickly realized I had nothing to bring to the table without an honest dialogue. Once I opened that door and walked through it I realized I had far more to gain than lose.


  1. I talk to a lot of recruiters that are asked to find “purple squirrels” – candidates that just don’t exist. I remember one recruiter sharing with me a job requirement about finding a “Java expert”. At the time, Java has been around only for 5 years; and the job requirement was asking for “20 years of Java experience”. And no, it wasn’t a mistake on the client’s end. I told the recruiter, please don’t invest time in this one.

    • Yes, the disconnect that exists between candidates and recruiters is most likely the single greatest impediment to a successful conclusion for either party. Recruiters have the advantage since they have the jobs and get to act as gatekeepers but they sure don’t make it easy either for themselves or the candidates.

  2. Robert, You brought back so many memories from the time when I was a Staffing Agency/Independent Recruiter. The challenge (it seemed like an unending one) was to discover the job order within the job order. What was presented (job specs) to the recruiter via spoken word or various other medium was not what the hiring manager was looking for. On the candidate side I looked at many resumes of those candidates who were not even close to being a “fit” for the position. Many of them were so sure their prior jobs gave them the necessary for the role you were recruiting for. They always felt their skill set was transferred to a new industry. How does one go from being a Teacher to a Java Developer. Each recruiter has their own methodology they feel is best. I always advised candidates (if I had no openings that matched their background &/or skill set) to use all available vehicles. Many never even thought to look in the places I taught them to look nor had a clue had to write a cover letter that would grab attention. My training came from Barb Bruno in addition to the principals of the first agency I worked for. I became an expert at Business Development, Fee Collections in addition to preparing candidates for an interview. What you describe in your article is the life of a recruiter. I worked in the industry for several years and finally “retired” from my own business. There are times I miss all parts of the industry and get the “itch” to return but for the most part I am content (except financially) with the way things are now. Thank you Robert for this very enlightening article that as I said earlier was a trip down memory lane for me. Let me wish you much success now and in the future.

    • Thanks Joel, I appreciate your kind words. As you said I try to look at the problem from both sides and find striking similarities. The real problem in my opinion is the complete lack of transparency. The recruiter “thinks” he knows what is best for the candidate and the candidate thinks he is the best fit for the role in question. Both sides are at a considerable disadvantage and neither side effectively communicates with the other leaving everyone less than satisfied with the experience.