Hunting High and Low: Area recruiters use old-fashioned techniques in tight labor market

As a rookie recruiter, Chris Rigan learned a hard lesson after a candidate he had referred showed up to the interview in slippers.

The candidate interviewing for a quality assurance engineering job at a manufacturing company, she was qualified for the position … but didn’t quite put her best foot forward.

“I felt bad,” Rigan said. “Obviously, she didn’t get the job.”

It was embarrassing for Rigan, who was just breaking into the business. “I was working for a large recruiting firm too,” he said. “So, I had to share the story.”

Today, part of his interview preparation is to make sure candidates are groomed and that they dress accordingly. He also recommends candidates proofread their resumes carefully.

“The emphasis is on the technical skills and if they fit the position,” Rigan said. “The other half is presentation.”

Now with more than 20 years of experience, Rigan runs his own Traverse City recruiting agency — Adam Kay Group. The name is a play on his and his wife’s middle names. He said now that the technology market is starting to boom in Traverse City, he has been filling a lot of information technology and engineering positions.

“It is a competitive market for recruiters,” said Rigan, asking that his clients not be named specifically.
With record low unemployment, headhunters like Rigan are playing an essential role in finding the right employees for various companies in northern Michigan and across the country.

As of October 2019, Michigan’s unemployment was at 4.1%; nationally the number is 3.6%.

“Businesses are growing because the economy is doing so well,” Rigan said. “The shortage in talent has candidates looking for specific opportunities.”

According to the Wisconsin-based staffing firm ManpowerGroup, the talent shortage is a serious issue.  Almost 72.8% of employers are having a difficult time finding skilled candidates and 45% of employers are concerned about finding employees with the necessary talents. Hiring is expected to become even more competitive in the next year for 74% of recruiters.

With the job market so hot, it is no surprise that websites like LinkedIn and Indeed are having their day in the sun. LinkedIn currently has more than 610 million members. The network boasts 303 million active monthly users, 40% of which visit the site daily. Ninety million senior-level influencers and 63 million decisionmakers use LinkedIn, along with 92% of Fortune 500 companies.

Rigan said 20 years ago was all the “rage” but that the global employment website is geared toward specific jobs, such as industrial or light industrial.

“…(W)hen you get to software management or leadership positions, you aren’t going to find it,” he said.
He sees the websites as both competition and a tool, adding that the best way to fill positions is through old fashioned networking.

“It is all about networking,” Rigan said, who has a large personal database of candidates. “It is ever-changing. I even tweet and use Facebook. And I am an old guy. There are a lot of resources out there.”

Dan Ellis is an executive recruiter with Townsend Search Group in downtown Traverse City. He helps his clients fill accounting, finance and operations positions. Townsend Search Group’s main office is located in Birmingham, Mich., which is where Ellis grew up.

“I work with clients all over the state,” he said. “I have clients here in Traverse City as well. I work with a lot of private equity-owned businesses too. I get involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions.”

Ellis said it is a “candidate market” depending on where the company is located.

“In Detroit right now, it is low supply, high demand across the board,” Ellis said. “Candidates can be very selective as long as they are patient and can wait for the right opportunity. In Traverse City, it remains challenging in the mid- to executive level.”

He added that candidates who move their families to northern Michigan for an executive level position worry if the job comes to an end they won’t have many options to fall back on.

“It is a huge limiting factor for us living up here,” Ellis said. “That is why we need larger manufacturing organizations outside the start-up community; more mature businesses investing up here.”

A lot of companies rely on job postings, according to Ellis. However, the recruiter said that it is the least effective way to find the right person for the job.

“Good people are not out looking at job postings,” he said. “People who are not happy or not good at their job are the ones looking at them. Using a person like me, I go out and hunt. I find people who are excelling and are really good at what they do. I go tap them on the shoulder and tell them about this other company. They aren’t running away from something, they are running to something. There is a big difference.”

He said employers don’t always have to pay the most to attract and retain talent.

“Sometimes it is about quality of life and feeling valued,” Ellis said. “If you are not fulfilling your employees, they are going to go elsewhere.”

Mario DeCarolis, an independent headhunter for West Bay Group in Traverse City, said employers are offering more than just money as an incentive to attract and retain talented employees.

“A big thing is allowing people to work from home,” DeCarolis said. “Millennials really like that … it is a little less money-motivated and really about appreciating time – time to enjoy your life.”

In most cases, recruiters either specialize in location, industry or discipline.

DeCarolis focuses mainly on auditing, describing his clients as large accounting firms and Fortune 500 companies.

He doesn’t do a lot of work in Traverse City although he has worked for local companies, like insurance firm Hagerty.

“All I need is a laptop and a headset and I can do my job anywhere,” DeCarolis said, who doesn’t get paid until he finds a candidate for a client. “Most of my placements are in Chicago. The last three were in Las Vegas, Fort Worth and Grand Rapids.”

The headhunter said placing candidates can be challenging at times.

“The worst times are when no one is hiring,” DeCarolis said. “But it is almost as bad, if not worse, when there is a lack of talent.”

DeCarolis said he “lives on LinkedIn,” which at times can be like competition, but the platform can also overwhelm candidates with jobs that aren’t really a good fit. “There are so many individuals reaching out through LinkedIn or email, people will tend to just shut it off, because it is like a fire hose,” DeCarolis said. “It can be good, but it is also difficult to get people to respond.”

According to the recruiter, having a good LinkedIn profile is just as important as a resume.

“It has to look really good,” DeCarolis said, who communicates with candidates with LinkedIn. “If I am thinking about hiring someone, I go to their LinkedIn page 100% of the time.”

He, too, has a large personal database of candidates that he relies on. Reaching out to candidates has changed over the years and he admits getting a hold of people on the phone has become more difficult.

“Having a cell phone number is gold,” DeCarolis said. “People don’t listen to voicemails. If you leave a voicemail for a millennial, it’s almost like it pisses them off if they have to listen to it.”

In terms of his own job security, DeCarolis thinks there will always be a need for human recruiting versus technology doing the job.

“We are still going to be around, because there is only so much you can do with automating, emailing, spamming and advertisements,” DeCarolis said, who has been a headhunter for 20 years. “You still need to have that personal relationship. I think that is always going to be the case.”

Recruiters Chime In: How to retain talent in a tight labor market

“So, if you pay your employees what they are worth and treat them with respect, no headhunter will be able to pull them. Usually, it is when someone is unhappy where they are working or they are underpaid. So, that is how you headhunter-proof your company: Pay them what they are worth and treat them with respect and you are safe.”

– Mario DeCarolis, West Bay Group 


“If someone is taking my employees, I think you have to ask what am I doing to retain them? Am I mentoring them; am I listening to them or giving them paths to upward success? I think you need to self-reflect, if you feel like you are being taken advantage of.”

– Dan Ellis, Townsend Search Group



“I would never put someone in the front door and take them out the backdoor. If a company becomes a client, I would never recruit anyone out of that company. Companies that don’t use me (are) considered fair game.”

– Chris Rigan, Adam Kay Group