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One of the great challenges for all recruiters, no matter what their role and where they work is maintaining the very tricky balance between optimism and scepticism.


Optimism is a critical trait for highly successful recruiters. For example, the optimistic recruiter believes … 


  • that no matter how bad today was that tomorrow will be better
  • no matter how many prospects have said ‘no’ to them that the next prospect will say ‘yes’
  • that there is a suitable job, somewhere, for every candidate who wants one
  • that the next candidate they speak to will be perfect for their hard-to-fill vacancy
  • that if they return all their phone calls, one of those people whose call they returned will be sufficiently impressed to recommend them to a hot prospect
  • that referring away a great candidate to a colleague will result in a return favour at some point
  • that walking away from a profit-killing client will provide more time to find a profitable client

This is not to say that all these things will occur just because someone is an optimist, but the optimistic recruiter is empowered each day simply by thinking and acting in the ways I just mentioned (and many other ways not mentioned above).


These beliefs are called pre-suppositions.


A pre-supposition is not a statement of THE   truth, it is a belief   that directs and empowers a person’s actions in ways that help them achieve the result that they are after  . In other words a person acts as if   (pre-supposes) the belief is true.


A pre-supposition could in fact be a long way from the ‘objective truth’ eg ‘I am the best looking guy in this pub full of gorgeous girls and I am sure I’ll hook up with one of them tonight’.


However, using this example, if a guy acts   consistent with this pre-supposition (ie he goes around and introduces himself to all the girls he considers good looking) then, regardless of the objective reality, he is clearly empowered and, most crucially, he has a much better chance   (not guaranteed) of achieving his desired outcome compared to the pessimist who thinks ‘I’m not that good looking and most of these girls are out of my league’.


The pessimist (realist?) may be more in touch with the objective truth but it doesn’t matter   because his thinking prevents him taking actions (talking to a lot of girls) that would lead him to achieve his desired goal (meeting a girl).


The major pre-supposition that I possessed as a recruiter was ‘I’m the best recruiter of accounting temps in Sydney’. This was probably not the ‘objective truth’ but it didn’t matter because it was a belief that empowered me to turn up each day, work hard, learn from my mistakes, listen to those who knew better, improve and consistently beat my previous year’s results.


The point is not necessarily to know, or find out the truth but instead to adopt pre-suppositions that assist you to achieve your goals faster than other people (realists?).


Various research studies prove, with the major exception of lawyers, that optimists outperform pessimists at work. As well known Positive Psychology founder, Dr Martin Seligman, states ‘Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers … a prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction’.#


Optimism is especially important in recruitment, as in any sales-related job, in that frequently much rejection has to be dealt with before a positive result occurs. In the face of rejection an optimist presses on whereas a pessimist loses heart and slows down or stops.


The flip side of optimism is knowing when it is appropriate and wise, to be sceptical. An optimistic recruiter who believes the best in people and acts in accordance with that belief, all the time, is setting themselves up to be very frustrated, disappointed and ultimately unsuccessful.


Here’s a few examples of when it might be helpful for an optimistic recruiter to be professionally and appropriately sceptical;


  • when the client says that if you discount your fee then you will get the next job or jobs exclusively
  • when the client says she is happy for you to be ‘back up’ to their PSA recruiters
  • when the candidate says he left his last job for ‘personal reasons’
  • when your CRM supplier says ‘that issue will be sorted out in the next upgrade which is due out next month’
  • when a client says they will pay ‘whatever it takes’ to fill a job
  • when an Irish traveller says they have to finish their temp assignment because their grandmother died and they have to go back Ireland tomorrow
  • when a client says their vacancy is URGENT
Being professionally and appropriately sceptical means assuming that some element of what you have been told contains some truth (eg your Irish  traveller intends leaving your assignment today and has at least one known grandmother) and the rest is open to expansion and clarification, achieved through your skillful probing ‘I’m sorry to hear that. What happened to her?’ ‘Oh I see. My file notes tell me that this is the 3rd grandparent of yours to die since you’ve been in Australia.’


Scepticism is quite different to cynicism. The Macquarie Dictionary defines a cynic as ‘a sneering faultfinder; one who doubts or denies the goodness of human motives, and who often plays his attitude by sneers, sarcasm etc.’


Being cynical has no place in recruitment. It’s a rapid and certain path to failure. Cynics are miserable people to work with and do our industry no end of damage.


A full dose of optimism mixed with a generous dash of scepticism and a liberal sprinkling of respectful probing, makes the perfect potion for a happy and more successful life as a recruiter.


Try it and see for yourself.

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Really good post Ross. You presented both sides of the argument and there is a lot to be learned from it. I agree with all of it.

Would love to see more of these posts.

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