The Opportunity Cost of Being a Recruiter

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

“13-1071: Employment, Recruitment, and Placement Specialists…198,190…$54,530”—U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics data: sector code/job category/number of workers/average annual income, May 2009.

If you are what the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes in its 2009 occupational survey as a “recruitment specialist”, an “employment specialist” or a “placement specialist”, you may be interested to find out what you gave up in order to have your job. That is, you may want to know the “opportunity cost” of having the job you have, measured in dollars.


Implications of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Recruiter Data

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2009 clearly reveal what job opportunities you could have (had), if you were not doing what you are doing now and still enjoy approximately the same annual income, give or take a few hundred dollars. Such income-based alternative job comparisons are what I have called in other articles here at “resource opportunity costs”. That is to say, by this measure what you gave up in order to become a recruitment specialist, an employment specialist or a placement specialist is to be identified by what job your salary could have bought for you, so to speak.

More precisely, and less figuratively, at the microeconomic level, it is a measure of what other kinds of employees (with the differences among them defined by their different job categories) your employer—if you have one—could have gotten for the same money and of what you could have done to earn the same salary, all measured in terms of the dollar-denominated resource, money.

If you are self-employed, you can think of the opportunity cost of being a recruiter or similar professional as being the alternative ways of making the same income that you forfeited by your career choice.

At the macro-economic level, the average salary for your recruitment profession is a measure of all the alternative jobs that the entire U.S. economy could have paid for, per comparable job, with that money paid to you for doing what you are doing now. If you want the even bigger picture, you can think of the global opportunity cost and try to find out what someone in Ho Chi Minh City is doing to earn an income very similar to yours in cost-adjusted, purchasing-power-parity-based converted calculations, and the like.

Such dollar-denominated resource-based opportunity cost comparisons are very different from “decision opportunity costs”, i.e., the costs of a decision, measured not initially in terms of dollars, but in terms of consequences. For example, if at the last minute you decided not to accept the admission offer to Harvard Medical School so that you could become a recruiter, that decision’s opportunity cost measured as annualized average income of a Harvard Med grad would, in all likelihood, match the $173,860 average of “physicians and surgeons”—more than triple that of the average recruiter annual income of $54,530.

Your “Opportunity Benefits”

By the same token, if, after deliberation, you decided not to become a bartender, the decision-opportunity cost becomes an “opportunity benefit” or “opportunity gain”, since the average bartender’s annual income of $20,970 is only about 37% of the average recruiter/employment/placement specialist. [Note: in any reckoning of your personal bottom line, which I have expanded into the notion of a “bottom plane”, to do a thorough job, you may want to consider your “opportunity benefits”, i.e., the comparative benefits you enjoy for not having taken a different career path. In this case, your decision to become a recruiter instead of a bartender has netted you an “opportunity gain” of $33,580 per year—the difference between the incomes from the two kinds of jobs.

What You Gave Up to Become a Recruiter

Below are data that suggest your “resource opportunity costs” of choosing your recruiter-type job, in terms of occupations with comparable salaries in the $54,000-$54,999 range—a range I selected given that all retail outlets depend on and manipulate consumers, who, for the most part, round off the entire range to a single point, viz., $54,000.

The first number represents the number of workers in each field; the second is the average annual income, i.e., the mathematical mean, not the median [middle figure] or the mode [the most common figure]. The Bureau’s table, reprinted below, gives a clearer breakdown of the income distribution within the recruitment field, save for “HR managers, all other” whose average is $105,510—almost double the recruiter/employment/placement specialist average.

Before perusing this, ask yourself: What, besides income, do these jobs have in common with my recruitment job? Intuitively, it is an interesting question to ask, given the basic notion that any two things similarly priced in the market place are supposed to have comparable micro/macroeconomic “value”, “utility”, “scarcity” or some combination of these.

Caveat Employee

The fallacy to watch out for is the one committed in arguing that because the two jobs have comparable value in two very different sectors (e.g., employment agencies vs. rail yards), they somehow have comparable value in and to society as a whole—which is a variant of the “fallacy of composition” committed when one argues that what is true of all the parts must be true of the whole.“  Example: “Every recruiter will eventually disappear. The total of all recruiters is the recruiter profession. Therefore, the recruiter profession will eventually disappear.” That may be true, but not for the reason given. (Equivalent logical point: The recruiter industry is not a fractal.)

The total disappearance of the recruitment industry is far more likely if all 198,190 of you decide to switch from “employment, recruitment and placement specialist” to one of the following careers…

…Provided that none in the categories below makes the reverse switch.

Vocational Education Teachers, Secondary School 92,980    $54,420

Respiratory Therapists 107,270  $54,200

Therapists, All Other 13,440       $54,400

Radiologic Technologists and Technicians 213,560   $54,180

Fish and Game Wardens 7,530   $54,950

Chemical Plant and System Operators 45,750     $54,010

First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Transportation and Material-Moving Machine and Vehicle Operators 205,780   $54,750

Railroad Conductors and Yardmasters 41,540   $54,900

Electrical and Electronics Drafters 30,590    $54,800

Special Education Teachers, Middle School 102,490   $54,750

Income distribution among recruitment/employment/placement specialists:

Hourly Wage$13.64$17.03$22.21$30.95$41.86
Annual Wage$28,370$35,430$46,200$64,380$87,060

Read more in Recruiter Salary

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).