Candidates can be complete monsters while the hiring ball is in their court. I’ve had plenty of complaints online that recruiters aren’t rainbows and sunshine all the time, either.

Some recruiters may agree, or scoff, at this rendition of The Cleared Recruiting Chronicles.

Those people are correct. Recruiting horror stories go both ways, as do recruiting FAILS. Recruiters are confronted with a myriad of challenges on the daily, but there are some traits that you can easily overcome.

Three Recruiting Fails to Avoid

Here are a few instances where some defense recruiters might fall flat on their face, but could easily avoid the failure.

1. The Impatient Headhunter

This type of recruiter never wants to hear from a candidate unless they are available at that very instance. Just passively networking 3-6 months out from your ETS date? They don’t have time for you. Have a question about a company’s hiring process for when you do start formally applying? They’re likely to ignore your message. Give them a call out of blue to reconnect and let them know that your job seeking requirements may have changed, and you’ll be ignored as quick as you can say ‘ya fired.’

This is one of the double-edged swords of the recruiter personality and it’s also one of the biggest fails. While defense recruiters are competitive, fast paced, and work in an organized chaos, they are also impatient, potentially giving the wrong impression to candidates they will most certainly need later. Don’t think about the short game and remember the big picture. And just respond to your candidates. You don’t like ghosting and neither do they.

2. The Greedy Talent Acquisition Specialist

This one is at the detriment to their own team, and it stems from a commission structured salary coupled with awful management. Sales teams are allotted prospects / potential customers between their team, and track progress in some type of SaaS program. Recruiters do the same with candidates in an Applicant Tracking System. The issue is that in dry candidate markets in locations outside of the beltway, recruiters are not only poaching candidates from competing defense contractors, but they are also trying to poach candidates that are at some point in the hiring process with one of their own recruiting counter-parts. Play nice with your teammates.

Now if a candidate says they aren’t interested because a salary is too low, the timing is off, etc, and another recruiter on your team reaches out to them a few months later, work it out. But it’s a huge fail if you do it knowingly and constantly, creating a terrible working environment, passive aggressive meetings, and overall low morale.

3. The Dumb Defense Recruiter

I certainly have heard enough dumb blonde jokes and will always admit when I’m wrong. But another big recruiting flop is when you fail to admit that you’re ignorant. Staffing, especially for technical or scientific positions in defense can lead you to some really strange, theoretical programs and work that you are just probably not familiar with. Sorry, I didn’t learn about the nuclear fuel cycle pertaining to weapons of mass destruction and definitely didn’t get my PhD in materials science, but that’s ok – you’re the recruiter, and not the scientist.

A huge fail is when you say you’ve grasped a position, what skillsets the program manager is looking for, and what a candidate’s military background might be, but leave clarifying questions you have unanswered. You might spend a week diving down a rabbit hole, sourcing candidates, conducting interviews, and checking clearances, just to find out that you completely failed the first step in the defense recruiting lifecycle. Knowing what the heck you’re recruiting for in the first place.


Your story may not make a great movie plot, but have a recruiting fail you want to anonymously share? Send me a note at  It could serve as a how-to not guide for younger recruiters, and I promise I won’t be laughing at you, but with you.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 7+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸