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I am currently taking a couple of weeks off over the
school holidays and normally when I take time off I republish a lead
article from the InSight archives. However this week is different.

Prompted by my lead article last week, Sydney-based
executive recruiter

John Colebatch
contacted me to share a few amusing reminisces from
his 24 years as a recruiter (John started his recruitment career in
1989, four months after I started mine). Included in his stories was a
link to an article he wrote three years ago about an earlier experience
he had with an older, unemployed candidate. 

I was greatly moved by what John shared and given the
Federal Government, only six week ago, released an

Australian Law Reform Commission report
into age discrimination, I
wanted John’s wonderful story (reproduced below with John’s permission)
to be read by as many recruiters as possible. 

A Lesson in Humility by
John Colebatch   

the early days of a recruiting career, the “rookie” recruiter can
consider themselves all too important and also not realise just how much
influence they do have over a person’s career; or more. If the recruiter
remains in the industry for a good length of time, this attitude and
ignorance can perhaps develop into a “veneer” of indifference and
insensitivity to the needs of those they interact with. 

Daily; no, hourly; the typical recruiter is dealing at arms’ length with
people aspiring to find meaningful work or to change their career. It is
all too easy to ignore the complex mix of emotions that are bouncing
around in the typical applicant’s head.   

The recruiter is usually
ignorant of the candidate’s sometimes desperate need to find income; to
regain the social standing usually associated with employment (“Hello,
what do you do?”); to keep a roof over their heads; to regain what they
see as a loss of standing in the eyes of others. 

I am guilty as charged. 

It is impossible to recruit for over twenty years and not be found
wanting in the area of responsiveness and understanding. But when I feel
I have tended too far towards hiding behind a veneer of insensitivity, I
recall this story from my early days in this industry. 

Graeme applied for a role with me. He phoned and asked if there was any
point in him applying as he was 62 years of age. I was able to tell him
in all honesty that there would be no discrimination on the basis of age
and spoke with him for several minutes. His background was not really
suitable for the position and I told him so. I still asked him to
forward his details to me and he did. 

There was something in his tone when he called to follow up. Nothing
caused me alarm, but something that encouraged me to call Graeme in for
a “general interview.” Graeme was a genuine, sincere and likeable man.
He had been unemployed for a while and was obviously not handling this
too well. But he remained up-beat in the interview and had some good
technical skills. 

I referred Graeme to a client who decided that Graeme had a set of
skills he needed for a three month contract. Was Graeme happy? Graeme
was over the moon! His delight and confidence received an extra boost
when after 6 weeks, he was offered permanent employment. 

Was I happy? Yep. I had received some useful contract revenue and then a
permanent fee – all paid on time. Graeme was happy. My client was happy.
I was happy. My boss was happy. Everyone was happy. 

About three months later I was asked to attend reception to meet a lady
who was asking for me. She said it was a personal matter. Julie was
Graeme’s wife. Julie presented me with a bottle of Port as a thank you
for helping her husband. 

When I tried to impress upon her that this was not necessary; that I had
only been “doing my job”, she responded with: “You don’t know what
you have done, do you?”
I got the feeling I didn’t. 

At Julie’s insistence, we moved to a quiet area and she told me Graeme’s
story. Graeme had been progressively selling their cherished assets to
try to remain in their humble family home. As he did this, he was
slipping further and further into depression. His married daughter had
moved back home, leaving her husband to care for their own two children.
She did this so she could assist her mother keep Graeme, her Dad, under
suicide watch. Their precious resources were being directed to
professional counselling and Departmental assistance to try to prevent
Graeme from ending his life. 

Two months after Graeme had been appointed as a permanent employee with
my client; he returned home one evening with a bunch of flowers for
Julie and broke down when he presented them to her. His tears were tears
of love and joy. 

Graeme was back. 

Julie and her daughter were advised the next week that Graeme no longer
needed to be considered a suicide risk. 

Julie had asked of me; “You don’t know what you have done, do you?” 

No I did not. 

But I have never underestimated the potential impact of each and every
interaction I have had with candidates ever since. Every single word we
recruiters utter in a conversation with a candidate takes on a life and
meaning of its own with the candidate. The impact can positively or
negatively impact on the emotions of the candidate with profound


Take the time to call.

Take the time to call back.

Take the time to offer some counsel.

Take the time to encourage. 

Perhaps this story might illustrate the importance for recruiters to
take some time out to reflect on the personal needs of these hundreds,
thousands of candidates. In doing so, hopefully recruiters will sharpen
their perceptive skills, deepen their empathy of the needs of others and
remember what it was like when they were a candidate. 

My comment:  

As individuals and as an industry, we have an
opportunity to make a massive difference in the lives of many people we
come into contact with, even if we don’t quite realise it at the time. I
would hope every recruiter has their own version of John’s story that
makes them very proud of the positive role they play when they might be
thinking ‘I’m just doing my job’.   


  1. Graham Jenkins on 02/07/2013 at 12:55 am

    John, that's a wonderful story. Many thanks for sharing. Recruiters might see two or three candidates each week whereas candidates might see two or three recruiters each year – if that. What we say and do can have a huge impact on people without our realising it. Graham Jenkins

  2. Nicole Underwood on 03/07/2013 at 2:59 am

    Love this story thank you John and Ross. Sometimes, as Recruiters, we really don't know what is going on behind the scenes and to make that difference in someone's life is a big opportunity and privilege. I'm off to make some calls…..!

  3. Barbara Sheehy on 03/07/2013 at 9:41 am

    I love this story, it reminds me why I'm still passionate about being apart of this industry. As a recruitment manager, in my experience the rewards you get back from treating candidates as a person, not just a voice on the phone or CV on your database, are what makes you want to be a recruiter. I engage with candidates all over the global community and when you receive an email or a linkedin recommendation from a candidate in another part of the world and they thank you for taking time to speak to them, providing that positive recruitment journey or opening that career door well that's why I get up in the morning! Thank you John and Ross for reminding me why I love this industry.

  4. Sue Ritchie on 03/07/2013 at 11:33 pm

    Ross & John, thank you for sharing this story, it is wonderful that our professional has such a profound impact on many peoples lives. As professionals it is always important to remember this and what you give usually comes back three fold in many ways………….

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