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Stoicism and a Grateful Mindset in Weathering the Ups and Downs of Recruiting

By Noah Dresser

Sto·​i·​cism (noun): not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Yes, I am quoting Zen. And yes, I am trying to tie this into recruiting. For comparison’s sake, let us just change the words “Enlightenment”, with “Placement” and for “chop wood, carry water,” we will use similar recruiting metrics. 

So now we have “Before placement, source candidates, call candidates. After placement, source candidates, call candidates.”

I know that this seems like a massive oversimplification, but I think it hits close to home for a lot of recruiters, myself included. It is very easy to get drawn into the emotional aspect that comes with a commission-based job, where our performance is solely based on our revenue-producing capabilities. The problem is, at a certain point, things get out of our control.

Getting back to the fundamentals

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” -Epictetus (55 – 135 C.E.) This quote by the famous Stoic writer Epictetus dissects one of the fundamental truths in life: that there are many things outside of our control. The less we give mental energy and power to those things, the more happy/free/calm we will be.

In recruiting, there is a ton of work that goes into each submittal, interview, and offer. On our worst days we can seem like a nuisance to the already happily employed candidates we reach out to, and on our best days, we become the trusted career advisor for our candidates and find them a fulfilling, growth-inducing role that will truly open doors for them.

The thing is, there are many states in between and we get exposed to all of them. Throughout our career, we will inevitably face kicked offers, closed roles, and clients passing on great candidates whose hearts we must break with the rejection phone call. Those days are the days where we go back to the fundamentals of “chop wood, carry water.” Sooner or later, we get back on our feet.

A Stoic mindset

One might say that optimism is one of the most important qualities for a recruiter, to be able to navigate through the darker days of many voicemails left, rejections by candidates, and interviews that do not go well. Although optimism and a positive demeanor are important,I would argue that Stoicism – a tempering of the highs and lows of the role –  are what build the foundation of a successful recruiter.

A Stoic mindset is all about tempering the highs and lows of life, weathering the storms, and living a life of complete and utter gratitude for the OPPORTUNITY to improve ourselves.

The good days? A gift. The good days bring us rewards, customer satisfaction, and financial growth.

The bad days? Also, a gift. They teach us humility and give insight into what NOT to do the next time we are in a certain situation.

Those freak one-off situations that come out left field? A gift. Those situations teach us never to put all our eggs into one basket.

The candidate that rejects you before you have a chance to speak? A gift. A harsh one, but still a gift. Now we know that he or she is not looking without having to jump through hoops.

The point that I am getting at is EVERY DAY that we can work and grow as recruiters, salespeople, and individuals is a gift.

Be prepared for setbacks

Too often do we sulk in our own pity parties when things are not going our way. Conversely, how often do we celebrate excessively or slowly take our foot off the gas pedal as soon as one of our candidates gets an offer? It is in those times that it is ESPECIALLY important to keep working, keep calling, and keep sourcing candidates.

The law of nature dictates that bad things will happen to all of us within our lifetimes and certainly within our jobs. The best thing that we can do is to be consistent and have a cautious optimism that accounts for these inevitable setbacks along the way. The highs of a placement or a hard-fought offer accepted may not be as much of a celebration with this way of thinking, but the lows of kicked offers and days of dials that lead to voicemails and rejections won’t sting as badly.

Instead, we can approach each day in our roles as a gift, working brutally hard to find the right fit for our candidates, acting as trusted advisors in a major decision in their lives – a job change…an OPPORTUNITY.

And I don’t mean oPpOrTuNiTy as in those terrible “EXCITING OPPORTUNITY, FULLY REMOTE” job templates we’ve seen written to candidates by us recruiters. I mean a real opportunity for growth and change.

Practice gratitude

When we focus on passionately putting ourselves out there to help the customer (candidate and client), the job becomes so much more than “Offer vs No Offer.” At the end of the day, we can turn off our computers knowing that we put ourselves out there. The wins will come after consistent smart work. Be grateful for the bad days as well. They are fuel and only help us appreciate how good things can truly get.

 Painting by Jan Peeters I (1624-1677)

About the Author:

Noah Dresser

Noah Dresser is a recruiter with 5 years of experience in a variety of verticals, with a specific focus within the Life Sciences. Noah draws from his unique background in music education and his passion for fitness and ties them into his interests on mindset, discipline, and self-improvement, while using recruitment and building relationships with candidates and clients as a vehicle for all of the above.

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