Recruiting Lessons from the Movies

There are countless films that highlight the glamorous (and usually unrealistic) lives of people with fast-paced jobs.  Stockbrokers, salespeople, realtors, even accountants. All of these professions have had their time in the cinematic limelight.  Recruiters? Not so much.  There are, however, a few movies about recruiting do highlight the profession in ways that give it its due.  Here are four films that feature recruiters in some capacity, from the corporate world to the crime world to the military world, and the lessons that come with them.

  1. Headhunters (2011)

Headhunters is a Norwegian film that enjoyed a lot of critical acclaim, and one of its stars is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the man famous for portraying Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones.  The story revolves around Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), one of Norway’s most successful recruiters who finds himself helping Coster-Waldau’s character, the slick Clas Greve, find a job at a successful GPS technologies company.  The flipside of the plot is that Brown is an art thief who targets his high-profile recruits and takes their prized paintings.  Brown and Greve enjoy lunch and a game of squash to talk more about the job, and it is here where the plot takes a sharp turn away from recruiting. Brown’s success as a recruiter stems from his charm and connections with big-name companies, but his failure lies in the fact that his charm is disingenuous, and Greve picks up on that. The takeaway from Headhunters? Don’t try to trick (or steal prized art from) your candidates.

  1. Sexy Beast (2000)

Movies that deal with crime almost always involve a seedy character trying to rope in a former criminal gone straight for one last crime. Sexy Beast, a British heist movie, features ex-con and expert safecracker Gary “Gal” Dove, played by Ray Winstone, who is targeted by Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), an old criminal associate, to join a bank heist headed up by a formidable crime lord (Ian McShane). Don Logan is more or less the crime lord’s recruiter, doing whatever it takes to land the right person for the job. Unfortunately, Logan is also an unhinged sociopath whose efforts to enlist Gal involve threats, barrages of insults, and attempts to woo Gal’s friend’s wife.  Eventually, Gal, his wife, and his friends end up killing Logan after Logan attacks Gal in a hate-fueled rage.  Gal actually winds up performing the job to quell suspicion in the wake of the murder, so at least Logan accomplishes his goal, even if it does cost him his life. The takeaway from Sexy Beast? Don’t be too aggressive in pursuing your candidates.

  1. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

This financial success from earlier this year has the word “recruit” in its title, so its relevance speaks for itself. While the Jack Ryan franchise has never featured any kind of recruiter from the staffing world, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does involve an entertaining recruiting process. Jack Ryan, played by Chris Pine, has an MBA from the London School of Economics and experience with the Marines, so his unique skillset attracts the attention of Thomas Harper, played by Kevin Costner, who is a high-ranking CIA officer working in counter terrorism. While Ryan recovers from a military injury, Harper tracks him down and gets Ryan’s full attention when Harper says to him, “I’m in the CIA.” It is a ridiculous moment that is heightened by Ryan’s incredulousness, but Harper’s recruiting strategy is sound. He doesn’t even need to describe the position to Ryan; he just sells him on the CIA brand. When the two do talk, Harper mentions how he enjoyed Ryan’s thesis from his MBA studies and how invaluable Ryan’s education is.  Ryan is sold even further, respecting the fact that Harper does not just see him solely as a military asset, and he opts to work undercover for Harper as a compliance officer.  The takeaway from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit? Always be knowledgeable of the depth of a candidate’s prior experiences.

  1. Friends with Benefits (2011)

This might be the only film out there that truly zeroes in on a staffing company’s actual process, albeit there are a few flaws with it.  Mila Kunis plays Jamie Rellis, an executive recruiter who tracks down Dylan Harper, played by Justin Timberlake, for a creative role with GQ, the popular men’s magazine.  Jamie goes about her recruiting in a rather unorthodox way (but perfect for the movies) in that in her effort to convince Dylan to move from Los Angeles to New York City, she takes him out in the big city to show Dylan how great it is to be a New Yorker.  Of course, Dylan is convinced because Jamie makes NYC look amazing. Anything to land that commission check, right? Jamie’s recruitment of Dylan leads to a friendship and then a casual romance, so the business side of things ends pretty quickly.  There is one crucial moment later in the film that revolves around Jamie’s commission, because Dylan hints at possibly leaving his new job at GQ before his contract ends, which would mean less money for Jamie. It all works out in the end, because it is a lighthearted romantic comedy, but that does not mean there is not a lesson to be learned. The takeaway from Friends with Benefits? Don’t let your candidates get away with too much, because your commission may be at risk.

Hollywood has not figured out yet how to make a blockbuster based solely on the staffing industry, and it does not seem like The Wolf of Recruitment will be coming out any time soon. For now, check out these movies about recruiting and have fun trying to think up the next great archetype.

This Bullhorn Blog post was written by Ryan Galvin.

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