So I’ve been reporting on the staffing world for a while now – talking with industry pros, going to conferences, reading all the niche pubs, etc. – and I’ve definitely gotten a very specific vibe during the process. And that vibe is a middle school lunchroom.

Not a very flattering comparison, I know, but that’s my outsider perspective, so take it for what it’s worth. If you agree with me after reading the rest of this, maybe you can shed some light on how it got to be this way. If you don’t agree, you can just say I’m full of crap. Because that’s always a possibility.

Lots of Cliques & “Enemies”
Chances are, you went to a middle school where the jocks, geeks, musicians, skaters, etc. all sat in their own separate little pods. (If you didn’t, refer to Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club for a frame of reference on cliques.) And because hormone levels are at a constant state of DEFCON 2 among middle-schoolers, there’s a lot of distance between the groups. That distance breeds judgment from afar, talking behind backs, gossiping, etc.

One of the first things I noticed about staffing is that it’s similarly insular in nature. Companies operate in their own individual worlds (or silos, if you prefer that analogy), and they very much pay attention to what their competitors are doing, but they very rarely have contact with them. I don’t know how it got this way, but it’s certainly not an industry where people refer to competition as "friendly." To some (myself included), competitors are an asset because they make you strive to be better at what you do, among other things. But that’s rarely the view in staffing.

Lots of Breakups & Date-Swapping
Maybe I’m answering the how-it-got-to-be-this-way query from the previous point with this, but it seems to me that staffing is an incestuous biz. By that I mean a lot of the workers used to be with other companies or – if they haven’t – they will be … soon. Some break away from their old employers and start their own competing firms; others get poached by competitors with a better offer; and others still just choose to join a competitor of their own volition.

In the middle school lunchroom environment, a very similar phenomenon takes place. The cliques create an environment of back-stabbing, frenemies, and secret liking from afar. So couples and friends break up on a weekly basis, then they swap their allegiance with someone close to the original group. And this cyclical process repeats until emotional maturity or emotional scarring sets in (whichever comes first).

Lots of People Who Care & Lots of People Who Don’t

You remember what it was like. There were certain kids in that lunchroom who genuinely enjoyed being in the school environment. They’re surrounded by friends, gaining new knowledge, and so on. But then there were the “other” kids. The ones who seemed to want nothing more than to cause problems and get in others’ way. No matter who it affected or what stood in their destructive path.

Now tell me, honestly, isn’t this exactly like staffing companies? Some genuinely care about providing a valuable service to candidates and clients, and have recruiters who love what they do. But the others – the “bad apples” – just cause trouble. They look for loopholes to exploit and skimp on people, and the result is it drags the entire industry through the mud and gives staffing a bum rap.

It’s Demanding & Stressful For All Involved
For the vast majority of people, middle school was as awkward and difficult a time as any. Your hormones were all over the place, puberty changed your body practically daily, you wanted to be treated seriously in the worst way, and you were overcome by insurmountable insecurities.

When I first learned the ins and outs of what a recruiter does every day, I couldn’t believe it. You people deal with insane demands, challenging deadlines, a rapidly changing market, and no matter how hard you try, you disappoint someone on a daily basis. By subjecting yourself to the good, bad, and ugly of this industry, you live in a constant state of middle school lunchroom. And for that you all have my deep respect and condolences. Also, you deserve a freaking medal.

Tags: Business, Lunchroom, Mean Girls, Middle school, The Breakfast Club