The truth about life as a Recruitment Consultant and the £100,000 bonus

Katie Harrison
Campaigns Executive

After graduating, Alex Ridley spent three years working as a Recruitment Consultant. Now he has progressed to a role in Operations, he shares what he feels made the experience worthwhile and reveals what you can expect when offered a £100,000 bonus.



At the close of my degree, I was left with the decision of where to go next. When you're coming to the end of your student loan, there's no denying that the promise of a £100,000 bonus and a company car hold a certain allure - even if you are a little sceptical. The reality has to be better than that lump of student debt and the second hand Corsa you're driving, right?

I don’t doubt many other graduates become tempted to step into the shoes of a career that promises high commission, city living and plenty of progression. Straight out of uni, Recruitment Consultancy was certainly one of the most attractive looking career choices to me.


"Recruitment as a long term career isn't for everyone...but there's definitely worse things to do starting out as a graduate."


Everything I wish I had known the first time

It’s been three years, a dozen trips to London, a few hundred meetings and two promotions later. ​From the long hours to the misconceptions around the commission, I want to share everything that I wish I had known the first time. I want to set the record straight and share what Recruitment is really like. 

I've had to take calls from clients while on holiday and at 10pm on a Saturday night, when I was far too drunk to be of any professional use. I've spent my day in a suit from 7am until 9pm to meet with that candidate who was hard to pin down, but could have been ‘perfect’ for that niche role (they weren't).

I jumped in at the deep end. I mastered the jargon and I became invaluable to clients, even if on occasion I was actually just spouting bullsh*t in a blind panic. Luckily, I landed a role recruiting for the Finance sector, where I was making placements for top roles: from an Assistant Accountant at an Advertising Agency, to the Financial Controller of a multi-billion pound, international Healthcare Company. Recruiting across Finance gave me a brilliant overview of how businesses work; there is a lot to learn about that commercial world. I'm not saying I could put together a set of accounts, but I could do a much better job than a random person you’ve pulled from the nearest Starbucks

“At times Recruitment is a complete pain in the arse”

Clients will challenge you to find a diamond and expect you to smile, even when you’re being paid peanuts for your time. You’ll work with people who think that The Wolf of Wall Street is an inspirational film and you'll be putting in a lot of extra hours working towards that £100,000 bonus your dreams are pinned on.

Yet for all of the flaws, it will introduce you to all the right people and teach you a lot of skills to prepare you for your next role (and at times, life in general). I got to see behind the scenes of British Aerospace and visit AstraZeneca’s headquarters, complete with a village that has peacocks roaming around. Take the opportunities to travel and enjoy the days spent at client meetings.

You’ll often be on the train to London for meetings (I complained about the travel, but secretly I loved it). Whether it’s the satisfaction of getting a meeting with a big household brand or seeing a candidate post their new job on LinkedIn, there are moments where you can take real pride in your role.

Plus, there is a sense of satisfaction in seeing a bonus you’ve worked hard for land in your bank account.

The truth about the £100,000 bonus

With bonuses it’s best to be realistic: you will see £100,000 OTE (On Target Earnings or commission) incentives advertised, but be sure to understand what you can really look forward to taking home. The role you’ve stepped into and the candidates you’re hiring can determine the commission you can make.

“In their first year I would expect most new Consultants to earn an extra £5,000-£8,000. In general you can earn a third of your total billings. If you bill £150,000 you will earn £50,000, made up of your basic salary and your bonus."

Lysha Holmes, owner of Qui Recruitment

Is that £100,000 bonus possible? Technically, yes. Probable? Certainly not as soon as they claim. 

Recruitment isn't a job you should be doing if you're scraping by on your basic salary, it's far too frustrating. But for a graduate role, when you’re taking home a monthly salary with "only" £1,000 a month in bonuses, you're still doing really well in comparison to most grads. You'll also quickly grow to despise the taxman.

Take advantage of only being a graduate

Recruitment is a Sales job, but it's also an opportunity to build a network.  I was headhunted by my second Recruitment Company because a previous Manager started working there, called me and asked if I wanted to join. I couldn't say yes quickly enough.

Make the most of the people you’re working alongside. Many of these people were once graduates too and they will be your go-to. There's still plenty of friendly competition but a good team will work together and keep one another motivated. Even experienced recruiters can learn something from a novice. Everyone sells their services differently and no single approach is perfect. Graduates often offer a fresh approach. 

If I did ever open my own business, I would want to train graduates in Employability as I feel most universities fall so short. With this in mind for the future, it’s really good to know I can call upon dozens of people that I've met during my time in Recruitment; all of whom are experts in their field and would be glad to help me with everything from balancing books to coding a website.

Some graduates start off in Recruitment and wouldn't dream of doing anything else, while others can't get out quickly enough. Yet, even those that leave, couldn’t be better prepared for sending an application and securing their next role. After working in Agency Recruitment, I'm much more commercially aware, confident, and ultimately better at my job than I would have been with purely administrative experience.

Recruitment as a long term career isn't for everyone. But, in terms of providing a great grounding for your career, a lot of transferable skills and a bit of spare cash in the bank, there's definitely worse things to do starting out as a graduate.