Starting a Recruiting Business

John Weiss, principle partner at Weiss & Associates
John Weiss

Starting a recruiting business takes basic business skills, advanced people skills, and good connections. LovetoKnow spoke with John Weiss, a principle partner at Weiss & Associates, an Executive Recruiting firm specializing in the education industry. John's warm style and almost uncanny ability to match potential executives with the best positions makes his firm highly sought after in the education assessment, publishing, and related education industries. Before starting a recruiting business of his own, John held positions in education technology and publishing. He worked at Harcourt, Apple Computer, and The Learning Company and worked in both domestic and international management, marketing, editorial, sales, product development and more. He's a well known face at education and publishing conferences and a trusted advisor to both executives seeking work and the companies who look to him to match excellent people with open positions. John took a few moments out of his busy day to share his insights into the recruiting industry and how one may start a recruiting agency.

About the Recruiting Industry

Can You Define a Recruiting Business?

Recruiting is a business that conducts searches for job candidates for a particular company. The process begins with a defined need for a candidate to fill a position within a company. For example, Company XYZ decides that it needs a Vice President for Sales and Marketing. The person to whom the position reports, in collaboration with the Human Resources Department, crafts a job description that delineates the responsibilities and the requirements necessary for potential candidates. The next step is for the company to begin an active search to locate qualified candidates using its own internal recruiting resources or by outsourcing the search to a professional recruiter. There are two distinct sides to the recruiting business; the client and the candidate. It all begins with the client (the company) who needs candidates for a particular position. Once you learn that need and establish a business relationship with the client, the other side of the business comes into play, finding job candidates.

Do You Think It's a Good Time to Start a Recruiting Business?

One can start a recruiting business at any time in the economic cycle, but there are advantages when the economy is expanding and companies need to hire additional staff to handle the increase in business activity. Right now is a good time to start a recruiting business because our economy is expanding and companies will begin hiring again in the not too distant future, like in Q2 of this year.

How can this be when BLS numbers indicate that we have a 10.5% unemployment rate? First of all the flip side of that statistic means that we have an employment rate of about 90% which in itself is miraculous considering that the USA has a workforce of about 150 million people, a number that is exceeded by the entire population of only three other countries. Whatever the number, companies always need to hire employees to replace those who retire, those who voluntarily leave the company, those who are fired for cause, and unfortunately to replace those who die. When you read that a company has just laid off 3,000 staff members, you can be sure that during that same week it most likely hired several hundred new employees. Our economy is the most robust in the world which is why immigration to the USA (both legal and illegal) has continued during the most severe recession since the Great Depression. Also, it's important to remember that employment is a lagging indicator meaning that it's at least six months after the economy bottoms that companies begin to hire again. This is a fact, not conjecture, and to understand what is truly happening, we must tune out the politics from the agendas of our national media.

Starting a Recruiting Business

Next, we asked John to outline the basics steps of starting a recruiting firm.

Steps to Starting a Recruiting Business

First, decide if this is really what you want to do. Like any business, recruiting has a number of definite requirements. If you have the passion for making this your career or occupation, make sure that you have start-up capital AND money in the bank to get you through the first two years of business. Conducting a search for a company is a lengthy and time-consuming operation and will most likely not generate revenue (the full recruiting fee) for three to six months. Recruiting is not merely a matter of firing off dozens of resumes to many different companies hoping one will hit the target. Another basic step is to determine the industry you wish to service and the job sector within that industry. Successful recruiters work an industry they know from prior experience. They do not work the business world at large, a mistake made by many people who aspire to make recruiting their career.

Background and Skills of Successful Recruiters

Successful recruiters almost always have hands-on experience in the industry they have targeted. If you are working the insurance industry, your employment background should include extensive work in insurance whether as a sales representative, an actuary, an underwriter or a claims specialist. If your experience was in underwriting, then a natural transition to your new recruiting business would be to specialize in conducting searches for employees in the underwriting field. Recruiting is a people business first and foremost so you should possess excellent interpersonal skills and outstanding communication skills, both written and verbal. In addition, it's important to have an extensive list of contacts in the industry you're serving.

Important Skills

It might sound opposite to the stereotype, but listening is a skill of utmost importance. The tendency of many recruiters is to talk with candidates before they fully know client needs resulting in the rejection of a great number of submitted candidates.

Legal Considerations

Legal considerations include strict adherence to all federal, state and local laws regarding discrimination of any type, and maintaining strict confidentiality regarding personal and business matters of both the company and the candidate.

Weiss & Associates

We asked John to describe his own firm, Weiss & Associates, and how he got started in the recruiting field.

Tell Us About Your Business

I began my recruiting business, Weiss & Associates, Executive Recruiting, in 1997. After working in education all of my career as a teacher and as Editor in Chief and VP Sales for several major educational publishing and technology companies, I decided to follow my passion and start my own recruiting business specializing in a particular segment of the education industry. We limit our practice to serving companies that publish curriculum materials and provide administrative and student services for K-12 and Higher Education.

Startup Advice

What Advice Would You Give?

Starting your own recruiting business is a serious commitment that requires time and patience. You must set aside two years to learn the particulars of the business and to develop both client and candidate contacts. During these two years revenue will be limited and you will work long hours, but in the end your tenacity will pay off handsomely. Begin your business as a retained recruiter rather than a contingency recruiter. It will take longer but you will establish a lifelong career that will provide a substantial income and job satisfaction.

Parting Thoughts

Starting your own recruiting business is a daunting task, if you have no experience whatsoever as a sole proprietor. Today's challenges include increasing competition from digital forms of recruiting, company outsourcing rather than hiring full time employees, competition from a large number of contingency recruiters who come and go and in the process degrade the industry, and industry consolidation resulting in fewer positions. An alternative is to seek employment as a recruiter for an established recruiting firm to gain experience in this business before hanging out your own shingle.

Following the market action of multinational recruiting forms such as Heidrick & Struggles and Korn Ferry International will provide an interesting perspective on the recruiting business generally. What we've seen recently is heartening. Since April of 2009 the share price of both companies has increased by more than 50%. As we know the stock market is forward looking so investors who are buying both stocks have great confidence that we will experience a substantial increase in hiring in the months to come.

Weiss & Associates caters only to the education market. If you are interested in learning more about their services, please visit

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