It was 1995, and I had just graduated from Ole Miss, the Harvard of the South. I couldn’t fathom what my first job would look like. I considered moving to Memphis, Tennessee but I really didn’t really have any business connections. I packed my things and moved back to Austin, Texas where I spent the first 18 years of my life. It was the only solution I saw that made sense.

I had met with most of my parent’s friends and considered every career path from selling cars, selling insurance, and working at Enterprise Rent- A- Car in their management program. I just couldn’t see myself doing the things I was interviewing to do. It had been 6 months when I received a phone call from my fraternity brother who worked for a company in Memphis called Aerotek. I had no idea what they did or what I was getting myself into. He told me he would get me an interview with the manager in Austin and I was thrilled.

When I interviewed for the role, I was terrified. I was shy, lacked confidence and experience. Other than summer jobs, I had no real work experience. For some reason, Aerotek took a chance on me. My manager at the time, Matt Burke, told me the reason he hired me was because he liked my integrity. Whatever the reason, it has shaped who I am today and am grateful that my first job was a recruiting job.

Here are 10 things I learned at Aerotek and why you MUST join an agency if you are considering a career in recruiting. Everyone I know who has worked at Aerotek, Robert Half, Kforce, or other recruitment agencies have extremely good work ethic. Whether you stay with an agency is your choice, but you have to start here if you want to get anywhere.

  1.  A Sense of Urgency – From the minute I was hired at Aerotek, I realized that things could no longer be done on my time table. When you get an order from a company, you must work harder, longer and be more creative than anyone else. The only people that are successful are the ones that have a little more skip, and can act on a dime. Think of a medical emergency. Seconds can make a difference in someone’s health. If you instill this attitude, you will become extremely successful; if you don’t, you will fail. An agency environment will give you all the tools you need in recruiting and you can apply them to any other industry.
  2. Competitive Nature – Let’s face it, recruiting is competitive. Agencies are competitive on so many levels. You are competing against other companies, your peers, and the other corporate recruiters. It is not easy, and only the strong will survive. Good recruiters will weed out bad recruiters quickly. This will make you better at whatever your career path becomes. You are always trying to win.
  3. A Can-Do Attitude – It is engrained in your head the second you walk in an agency. You can and will do whatever it takes. Whatever task I am given in life, I have the attitude that failure is not an option. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control, like a requisition being cancelled or put on hold, but you will know you will have given everything you can to get the job done. You make the impossible, possible.
  4. Interviewing Skills – Do you know how to interview? You will after joining an agency. You will be required to have a set number of onsite interviews a week. This will teach you that people are people. People lie, people extend the truth, and there are some people we just don’t need to hire. There are also gems. You will also make a network from these interviews. I am still in contact with some of the onsite interviews I had back in 1995, and I am able to connect them to roles when the time is right.
  5. Networking Skills – Everyone starts in an agency, not everyone stays in an agency. Make personal connections with everyone you work with and you may be able to help them in the future. Aerotek is one big fraternity, as are most agencies. We all worked really hard at Aerotek.
  6. Dress and Appearance IS Important – This may sound a bit ridiculous, and times have changed, but one thing remains the same. The better you dress, the more important you feel. The more important you feel, the more confidant you are and the more you will succeed. Not many people wear ties in Austin anymore. Other cities ARE different. That being said, personal hygiene and clothing make a big difference. If you wear a tie and suit, make sure your shirt is pressed. Remember also, stay in shape, people notice.
  7. Perception IS Everything – In a small cubed open environment, everybody sees your every move. If you work hard, you have nothing to hide. If you don’t, people will notice. If you don’t attend company events, aren’t involved with others within the agency, they will advance quicker than you will. If you choose recruiting as a field or not, this is important to know. If you spend half the day on Facebook, people will take notice.
  8. Everyone is on a First Name Basis – Being 22 and calling Dr. John Thomas by his first name is not an easy thing to do, but we are all people. As I said in an earlier blog we all put our pants on the same way. We are all on this earth together and we can all help one another.
  9. A Requisition IS a Requisition – You have to be flexible. It is great to specialize in one specific area, but times are changing. You have to be a generalist. In the Aerotek days, we would gather as a team and we would recruit any requisition that was “Hot”. I may have not recruited a C++ Engineer at the time, but I learned more about the roles by asking the candidates specific questions. In recruiting, nothing prepares you better for this than an agency.
  10. You Won’t be Penalized for Being Overaggressive – This goes back to the competitive point. If you don’t take risks, then you won’t be successful. I apply this every day. Agencies take you out of your comfort zone.

If you are contemplating a recruiting role, please do yourself a favor and join an agency first. If you have been an agency recruiter, and now are a corporate recruiter, you know exactly what I am talking about. As stated earlier, you may not be an agency recruiter forever, but the foundations you learn will separate you from the pack.

If recruiting isn’t your field, you can apply these 10 lessons to anything you do, and you will be more successful than the average person.