Stress and the modern recruiter

No one can doubt that recruitment is a stressful job. Indeed the modern recruitment consultant almost has the perfect position about stress. High pressure, quick moving, unknown sometimes uncontrollable results, uneven pay, cyclical business levels and a reliance on KPI cultures all lead to what could be perfect storm for stress. In this article we discuss, what is stress and what distress is, what is the difference, why we believe that pressure is good for the recruiter?

Why distress is terrible and how using this can improve your recruitment results. This article is not aimed at discussing serve mental health, this is about the stresses and distressed at the workplace especially those of the recruiter. So what is stress?

What is Stress?

Stress is something that is talked about a lot, from tv commentators to newspaper journalists to trade journals, the internet, social influencers, “internet health guru’s” and politicians all tell us that stress is severe. But what is stress? Pressure is the reaction of the body to events both good and bad. It is primarily a physical reaction to do something about a stimulus. It is not a bad thing, it is nature’s way of saying that something has to done to change things around us.

Generally, stress involves a trigger, a release of chemicals and subconscious cognitive decisions before we start to feel stress, and mostly we enter a flight or fight mode. For the purposes of recruitment, this will generally mean picking up the phone.

What is Distress?

Distress is a reaction to an event that causes an extreme reaction that can induce panic, anxiety, sorrow or pain. Generally, suffering emanates from a long period of unresolved stress. It can release a wide range of chemicals and hormones that can lead to depression both mild and severe, hopelessness, anxiety and if is ongoing will lead to feeble health.

None of the above are mindsets that lend themselves to recruitment.

What is the Difference?

Psychologists and other health professionals will offer long and complicated arguments about this, but at the end of the day, in short, distress is stress without the control or resolution. My own personal opinion is that stress is good, distress is terrible and too many recruiters are put in distress by their managers, working environment and business model. For instance, many KPI’s that are promoted as a means of achievement is not in the control of a recruiter.

So instance, we cannot control how often a client picks up, but we can control how many times we pick up the phone.

Why Stress is Good for Recruitment

Stress is not good or bad, it is a neutral phenom that in the context of the day in the life of a recruitment consultant is generally a good thing? Why, as Nassim Taleb states in his excellent book Antifragile states that stress and stressors are a signal of information and also a test of the strength of the system. So if we are feeling stressed in our recruitment jobs, we are sent information that needs to be acted upon. Or we are being tested just outside of our comfort zone. So why are these two good for us?

  • Information means that we have to take action and action in recruitment is a good thing, as is information. This information can take many forms, for instance, we are feeling stressed because we have been cold calling all week and have not decided on one job. It means that we have to take action and change something, from who we are calling to maybe standing up to make calls.
  • If we are taking action and feeling stressed it means we are under pressure and our system of working is being tested, and as we get tested and survive we get better. It is stressful because we are being tested, but as we are tested, we get better and grow. Though this growth we will become better recruiters.

Why Distress is bad

However good stress is our body and mind will always need a respite better bouts of stress. If we do not get this rest bite, then fear can quickly turn to distress. In recruitment, we operate in a world that is full of actions and outcomes that we cannot control, from the candidate who does not turn up at the temp assignment to whether someone picks up the phone when we dial.

When this level of control is eliminated, we become very susceptible to distress that will affect both our physical and mental well being. For instance in the book The hour between Dog and Wolf John Coates notices that distressed city traders end up having a tougher time making decisions and have reduced IQ levels and fail to see opportunities and see more threats. Distress is bad.

How to Integrate these Ideas into your Business or Job.

  1. Map your previous stress and distress. What has been stressful in the past? What has caused you to distress in the past? How can you change how you work to avoid distress but integrate a bit more stress into your daily working regime.
  2. Move KPI’s away from uncontrollable to controllable. As an example, For me what has been a godsend in dealing with BD and sales stress has been to change the way that I think about BD. So instead of thinking about how many BD calls I make each day or week. I think about how many actions I can control in this process. I might not speak to 10 people a day, but if I pick up the phone to BD 50 people a day the number I talk to will average out.
  3. If you are a business owner or manager, get your team to map their stress or distress and then collate them. A particular management style (e.g. unrealistic KPIs) maybe adding to distress or your team gets stressed at offer calls and maybe need more training and guidance. Without asking you will not know.

Thank you once again for taking the time to read this article. As every, please email your thoughts, feelings, and opinions to

Further reading

What is stress by the Stress Management Society

Antifragile by Nassim Taleb – View on Amazon

Top 10 stress busters – NHS

How to deal with stress from Skills You Need

Stress-Proof – View on Amazon

How to manage stress from the charity Mind


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