Okay, maybe that's not how the line really goes.
This afternoon, my supervisor was on Monster and did a search for recruiters (we're not necessarily hiring anyone soon; he likes to check sometimes to see what's going on in the market), and his search brought 250 candidates. For reference, a similar search 18 months ago would have yielded about 100 candidates. We all probably have some guesses as to why this is.
The result was significant for two reasons. First, the sheer magnitude of it. Despite the faulty methodology of the analysis, a 150% increase is bracing. Second, the quality of the candidates was noteworthy. When he was looking through them, he wasn't finding people with only 5 months experience in an explicitly HR and recruiting role. He was finding candidates with 5 years experience with a variety of staffing firms or as in-house recruiters.
I have not done any sort of valid research into this (and I don't plan to), but I do have a couple of thoughts as to why this might be (beyond the simple, the economy sucks and everyone is getting laid off).
It seems to me that recruiting positions could be a fairly solid leading indicator for the job market. As the economy slows, stalls, grinds or implodes, employers do not automatically start clearing house. Not all employers are sociopathic villainous capitalists. Most of them are actually, you know, people. So, as a company's business slows, they'll generally still try to keep their employees. Most people don't like the idea of starving others, so they'll take a cut in profits (or an exaggeration of losses) in order to keep their team together (which can be quite useful if you think it is just going to be a short downturn - if you've got good people, you don't want to ditch them, have them get other work, then be out of luck when the economy starts churning again).
However, new hirings will cease in this sort of atmosphere. Not only will companies refrain from expanding their pool of labour, they may allow it to shrink by attrition. Eventually, though, this may not be enough, and the lay-offs must start.
So, now they've started lay-offs; what division should be first? Seems pretty obvious to me that if you're not hiring people, you don't really need recruiters. As such, we are the first fat to be trimmed. You can always tell your managers and team leads to do the hiring (assuming you're in a position to do any hiring at all). As well, even though some recruiters are better than others, they're often a dime a dozen, and don't, necessarily, require any special training or experience (compared to, say, a structural engineer). There's probably less concern about replacing the talents of your recruiters (especially if you had bad ones) than replacing the talents of the employees who actually 'produce' things.
Another hypothesis as to why recruiting positions seem to be procyclical has to do with the mentality of some corporations. From my limited experience as a company's in-house recruiter - and from some guesses about human nature - I'm quite willing to believe that a lot of bosses don't really see recruiters as part of the team. This isn't a slag against negligent bosses or the work of recruiters. It's just that if you work for a web company and the boss is/was a developer, he may see the contributions of recruiters as external to what the company produces and offers. It seems to me that a boss, even just subconsciously, is going to identify with the development team rather than the recruiting team, in this scenario. Thus, it'll probably make more business sense to him to release recruiters rather than releasing developers.
This is, of course, no great comfort to the 250 recruiters looking for jobs in Ottawa. However, it does make me want to hold on to the job I have all the more. I would hate to become #251.