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October  2005 RSS feed Archive for October, 2005

How To Find a Great Recruiter

Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 31, 2005

One of the biggest problems facing directors of corporate recruiting these days isn’t the shortage of applicants, but rather the shortage of great recruiters. Magnifying the impact of the problem is the fact that only a handful of recruiting directors have taken the time to write a strategy or develop an approach that would improve their chances of hiring the best recruiters. In fact, the majority of the approaches that I have seen are so unstructured that they would be laughed at if they were used to recruit an engineer or an accountant. If you’re ready to hear about and try some new ideas and outside the box approaches, read on.

The Problem Is Here Today

Although many experts are talking about a shortage of talent that will hit in 2006, in many regions and industries the shortage is already occurring. Job posting sites that target recruiters, like ERE’s job board, have seen a marked increase in the number of job postings recently, many of which remain unfilled for long periods indicating a shortage. Some directors of recruiting expect to “rehire” the throngs of recruiters that were laid-off following the collapse of the dot-com bubble and the recessionary gap that followed, but little has been done to figure out if that workforce will return. There is no doubt that the demand for recruiters that occurred during the war for talent in the late ’90s brought record numbers of new entrants into the field. It seemed back then that almost anyone with experience or even interest in recruiting was in high demand. Unfortunately, when the boom ended and entire recruiting departments were eliminated, so too did a lot of interest in the role. The feast-to-famine cycle occurred so quickly that it left a lasting impression on every recruiting professional. The inability to get a job for a three-to-four-year period encouraged many recruiters to pursue alternate professions, including a number of professions less subject to cyclical demand.

Many of these “former recruiters” consider a return to this cycle that offers them no real job security a distant possibility. Were former recruiters to return to their desks, many companies would find that the skill sets they possess were developed when the business world, and thus the recruiting world, had not yet become truly global. As a result, most former recruiters just don’t have the skills and experience that is required to recruit and retain talent around the world. The tools and techniques they once mastered, while designed to recruit volume, could not begin to keep pace with today’s practices that have seen dramatic increases in Internet recruiting, the growth of referral networking, metrics, outsourcing and ATS technology. Related to this issue — and further compounding the recruiter skill shortage — is the fact that tight budgets have meant that few current recruiters have received any kind of formal recruiter training in the last three years. Corporate recruiting departments will not be the only ones that will have difficulty in recruiting recruiters. In addition, agencies and outsourcing firms that offer contract recruiting services will battle for what recruiting talent does exist. As a result, those corporate recruiting managers that expected to rely heavily on outsourcing may be disappointed. In fact, some vendors are already unable to accept new clients because they also lack the recruiting manpower. Many companies admit that those vendors who are accepting new assignments are delivering lower quality service because they are having difficulty recruiting and retaining even average recruiters.

Great Recruiters Are Different

The most crucial step in developing a world-class corporate recruiting function is to attract and retain top recruiters. Before you begin looking for recruiters, it’s important to realize that great recruiters are not in the same league as average recruiters. If you use the wrong “finding tools,” you almost guarantee that you will only get “average” recruiters as applicants.

As Chris Forman, the CEO of AIRS, so aptly put it, “A great recruiter is worth a thousand times more than an average recruiter.” I certainly agree with this assessment. For example, in one top firm, I calculated the impact on revenue of a single world-class recruiting professional to be over $20 million. In contrast, a poor recruiter can actually reduce your revenue by hurting your brand and either “missing” or scaring away top performers. The very best that you want to target are “aggressive” recruiters with excellent research and selling skills. I call them “warrior” recruiters. It’s important to realize that if you search for great recruiters using only the typical keyword search criteria, like the number of years’ experience in recruiting, you are dooming your process from the very beginning. You should also remember that many people who were or can be excellent recruiters are not currently in the recruiting field, so you might need to look outside of recruiting in order to find them. It takes a very special set of skills (or competencies) to be a great recruiter, and if your search utilizes the wrong tools and screening processes, you will be easily and frequently fooled. To recruit great recruiters, you need a strategy and a written plan to identify and sell the very best. The foundation of any successful strategy is determining at the very beginning whether you’re looking for active or passive candidates. Although great recruiters are certainly not “passive” individuals, they are very much like the so-called “passive” candidates that they are paid to seek out as recruiters, in that that the very best recruiters do not actively post their resumes on large job boards. In addition, while many read newspaper ads and attend job fairs as part of their job, they don’t use those tools directly to find their own next job. And yes (for those unemployed recruiters out there), I am saying that if a recruiter applies for a vacancy and is easy to find and sell, the odds of them being a great recruiter are so small that they probably aren’t worth the trouble.

Great recruiters are just like great salespeople, seven-foot centers, and great CEOs: If you want a great one, expect to have to poach them away from numerous other great opportunities. If you believe, as many do, that having great recruiters is as important as selecting a recruiting strategy, then it is critical that you use the most effective process for finding them when you do have the rare added headcount to hire for a recruiter position. There are three categories of approaches for recruiting great recruiters. They include:

  1. Poaching away existing recruiters from other firms
  2. keep reading…

Performance-Based Hiring: The New Operating System

Lou Adler
Oct 28, 2005

In my recent article, Does Your Company Really Have What It Takes to Hire Top Talent? I presented a 10-point assessment on how to measure your company’s ability to hire top talent. Take the evaluation to see where your company stands. In this article, I’ll make the case that by implementing an operating system for hiring top talent, companies will finally be able to win the war for talent by making sure everyone involved in hiring is on the same page, using the best tools and techniques available.

Even better, I’ll suggest that a proven operating system (OS) already exists: performance-based hiring. By establishing a set of standards used by every participant — vendors, recruiters, hiring managers, IT, candidates, all members of the interviewing team — you can make hiring top talent a systematic business process. The purpose of this OS for hiring top talent is to maximize candidate quality while reducing time to hire to two to three weeks and cutting cost to hire by more than 50%. These are achievable goals. Consider this: If a company is not an employer of choice, or when candidate supply is less than demand, it takes enormous resources to consistently hire top people.

This situation is more difficult when technology doesn’t integrate well with new and existing tools, when every manager does it his or her own way, when recruiter competency varies from strong to weak, and when best practices are ignored due to lack of time or leadership. An operating system is the key to winning the war for talent, and there is no need to wait for some new solution just around the corner. The marketing knowledge to quickly find and source top people is available today. The technology to process information efficiently and improve recruiter productivity is available today. The skills to recruit and close top people are available today. The assessment tools to accurately assess candidate competency are available today. What’s lacking is a unifying OS tying all of these processes together. Performance-based hiring can become this unifying OS. Thousands of managers, recruiters, and top candidates have already used performance-based hiring successfully. Companies as diverse as Yahoo!, AIG, Texas Instruments, Wells Fargo, Red Bull, the YMCA, Verizon, HealthEast Care Systems, Texas Instruments, and Broadcom are now successfully using performance-based hiring. Position type doesn’t matter. These companies are now using performance-based hiring to hire camp counselors, entry-level call center operators, nurses, engineers, software developers, investment advisors, managers and executives. Furthermore, these same companies are now starting to push their vendors to support these standards. This is the tipping point in converting a great hiring process into an OS. Performance-based hiring addresses three core recruiting and hiring processes:

  1. Describing how job descriptions must be written
  2. keep reading…

Building Creative and Aggressive Sourcing Strategies

Rob McIntosh
Oct 27, 2005

A few people have wondered if I might be dead. They have not seen any activity from me on ERE lately (no articles; no postings; I wasn’t at ERE’s Boston conference). The fact is, I’ve been heads down since my presentation at ERE’s March conference in San Diego (entitled “Central Sourcing: Developing a New Recruiting Model”) trying to deliver on building a world-class central sourcing model, which was the focus of my presentation. Since then, my team at Microsoft has made headway in implementing some interesting sourcing strategies and tactics that have helped us identify key passive talent for the organizations we support. Rather than doing a deep-dive, long article on all of the key strategies we have implemented (after all, I might be convinced to present again in San Diego next year), I will touch on a few of the strategies that, with a little bit of love and care, you can start creating in your own organization today. So let me cut to the chase and outline some of the creative programs we have implemented so far this year:

Conquering and Dividing

Given my sales background, it occurred to me many years ago that recruitment is not that different from sales. In most cases, unfortunately, our business models do not reflect the similarities. If you look at sales, most organizations have “hunters” and “farmers” who hold very different roles in the organization and possess very different skill sets. In my mind, a sourcing structure within an organization is no different. You have experts in leveraging primary and secondary intelligence (i.e., “researchers” — a role on my team) and another group of individuals who romance candidates, build relationships, and sell the talent (i.e., “callers”). I have even taken this model to a level where it includes a function that most staffing leaders agree is important but often allow to get pushed to the side given the other priorities of a reactionary model: I employ dedicated individuals who focus solely on account management, providing proactive, high-level strategic sourcing consulting to the staffing businesses we support. This way I now have individuals who find the talent, individuals romance and sell the talent, and finally individuals who focus on the business issues and solutions that map back to the sourcing strategies, thus allowing the other two functions to focus on what they do best.

My team now operates with a mindset that is more akin to a sales and marketing function, which creates strategies around market segmentation, relationships, and strategic selling and deploys permission and viral based marketing programs.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

One of the key problems we initially hit as a sourcing team, given that we do not operate at the requisition level, was trying to provide talent that is relevant and directly targeted to the recruiters we support. Additionally, we found that given the size and complexities of a company like Microsoft, one inherent problem historically existed: Not all recruiters know exactly where a great candidate might fit beyond the business they supported, given that most recruiters do no go deep into every business in the company. So we embarked on an exercise of understanding how all the core tech roles at Microsoft might “bucket” into like requirements, thus enabling us to also understand the unique, but similar, core requirements of each of our businesses. We now have a global map of all development profiles, domains, and the business groups they role up into. The bottom line: 80% of the candidates we supply to the P&L recruiters we support are now accepted, a definite increase. This has also allowed us to focus on what I know a lot of great agency recruiters do, which is to identify a great candidate and shop him or her around to several clients, acting as a “talent broker” for the businesses that have the greatest appetite and need for that person. By being able to step up one level above the requisition and see the similarities of the development profiles across the company, we have removed the issue of playing “go fetch” on multiple reqs from multiple clients. We now have a model that allows us to push candidates into the inboxes of the recruiters who need them the most.

Elevator Pitches

An elevator pitch is an exciting and enticing story or opportunity that can be told in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the top floor to the lobby. Given that my team had embarked on a exercise of understanding all the development profiles at Microsoft, it made sense that we also must create elevator pitches on our candidates so our “callers” would be at there most effective in selling potential passive candidates on the cool opportunities that Microsoft has to offer. If you are like me and you do not subscribe to the “blah, blah, blah” help wanted ads on most job boards and corporate websites — which mostly inspire candidates (especially passive) to do nothing more than flee in horror — then you certainly understand where I’m coming from. Most good recruiters create elevator pitches naturally in their heads after working in a space they support for some time. But I wanted to ensure there was some corporate memory for any new people who came on to the team, so we would be able to confidently and quickly reach out to passive candidates with a common and sexy story to tell. Using elevator pitches to describe opportunities at Microsoft allows all team members to understand the bigger picture around all core technical profiles and adjust to sell other opportunities outside of the business they support. This small adjunct project has gained a lot of traction in the rest of the staffing organization, who are looking to use our elevator pitches for their own P&L recruiters to help sell candidates.

Automating the Web

I recognized long ago that there was a need to work out how to most effectively separate qualified and interested candidates from the high volume of candidates out there in the global talent pool. This was even more apparent in building a high-volume sourcing model, given that we needed to do achieve quantity while maintaining quality, even if we only spend 5% of our time on active candidate identification (vs. the 95% we spend on passive talent identification). Thanks to people like Shally Steckerl, who I hired as a Microsoftie to specifically help me architect such a solution, we have been able to turn this vision into a reality. We have now created a system that allows us to automate the identification and pre-screening of active and semi-active candidates by leveraging “bots” that run every 15 minutes, 24/7, against the core technical profiles we support. We then automated a process by which we personally reach out to these individuals to ascertain their interest and validate their expertise. The approach is one of smart, targeted, direct email contact initiating one-on-one conversations with hundreds of individuals simultaneously. The end result is that we can quickly and ethically identify a very large volume of leads, reach out to a targeted subset of that number, and produce interested and pre-qualified prospects yielding an acceptance of 80% by the business units we support.

This strategy also allows us to track deep metrics against each of the core technical profiles, which show us critical throughput on how many people opened the emails, read them, deleted them, forwarded them, responded, and ultimately made it through to the recruiters we support. With this type of data it makes it a whole lot easier to adjust targeted communications real-time to ensure we get maximum effect and throughput for out efforts. Such automation also allows us to dig deeply into hidden information and process it in such a way as to be able to identify patterns and pools of talent previously untapped. One of the most critical aspects of this is Peer Regression Analysis (Shally and I plan to co-author a joint article on PRA shortly), by which we are able to regress successful industry luminaries and identify the single pivotal point where they “became” or were recognized as a luminary. Once we locate that point, we then analyze their relationships at the time and find other individuals who were influenced by them (or who in turn influenced them), thus revealing a source of potential prospects previously unexplored.

Yesterday Is Not Today

One area that I noticed that usually gets put on the bottom of the to-do list — even though all recruiters agree it is important — is reaching out to candidates who might have been considered years ago but who at the time turned down a job offer or opportunity to interview. My team decided to revisit all candidates who had previously been made offers or declined interviews to see if they would be interested in discussing a career path again. Lo and behold, the majority of people were interested and surprised that an organization had taken the time to reconnect with them. This program has been so successful that is has become part of my team’s recurring core sourcing strategies.

Outsourcing the Administrivia

One of the things that I and most recruiters hate about our jobs is the amount of administration associated with the role. To me, it was critical to remove or greatly reduce this aspect of the role so that talented individuals could focus on what they do best: identify talent and sell that talent on a great career opportunity. To solve the problem I formed a strong relationship with a RPO partner who handles all of our adminsitrivia. I know my team thanks me for it.

CRM Rules!

We could not effectively manage many of the strategies above if we did not use a solid customer relationship management solution that helps us not only proactively capture talent and market to it, but also drive real time metrics and reporting to identify the flaws and holes in our business on call. I could spend just this article alone covering the value that CRM has to play in any model, not just sourcing. I’m sure that if my team is reading this article, they’ll get a chuckle — as they hear this from me almost daily. When you can produce reporting and metrics at will on every part of your business, from individual to team level, that everybody can see real time, you have reached a level of transparency in your business where everyone is accountable (including your customers), everyone knows what needs to be done, and everyone gets solutions quickly and easily. I will leave you with a final thought on CRM that to me this year has resonated louder than any other: Transparency implies openness, communication, and accountability.

If your process, tools, systems, and strategy are transparent, then your customers better understand the challenges and opportunities you collectively face, allowing you to move past the “how to hold both parties accountable” phase and focus on what is really important: spending the time removing the roadblocks and delivering on results. It’s a win/win proposition. I intentionally did not get down into the weeds in this article around how to make all these programs and strategies come to life, because the reality is that what is originally dreamed up or white-boarded takes a large amount of effort to realize. More importantly, it takes a very passionate group of individuals coming together and sharing a collective vision. Without such a team, none of these programs and strategies would ever have been born in the first place.

Fooled by Our Own Rationality

Kevin Wheeler
Oct 26, 2005

Many of us have read the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he postulates that chance and “gut feel” may play a bigger role in our lives than we imagine. Another book, older and more rigorously researched, entitled Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, also takes a similar position. These books make me rethink my own belief in our ability to consistently interview and select the best. They bring to mind a recruiter who once worked for me. He thought that the time we spend interviewing and screening candidates for specific jobs was a waste of time. He insisted that all candidates who had met a minimum number of basic criteria for a job would potentially be able to perform that job equally well. The only remaining need was to determine how well the candidate fit with the hiring manager and, to a lesser degree, with the organization. He felt that it would be more cost effective to make a lot of hires quickly and then let their on-the-job performance determine who should be kept and who should not. His idea was to give the candidate a set of questions, have a short interview or two, and make a decision.

In the simplest terms, he felt it was better to let randomness play a large role in selection, that it was better to have a loose, easy-in/easy-out hiring practice than a much tighter and thorough upfront screening process. At the time I was appalled at the thought, and said so. I felt recruiters had a responsibility to ensure quality and to make sure that the very best were being presented to hiring managers. I also thought that with tests and behavioral interviews we could surely choose the best people. Now I am not so sure. When I think back to the middle of the 20th century, most jobs were filled fairly quickly. There were few employees who had the specific title of recruiter. Those who did were often just clerks who made sure paperwork was properly completed. Most jobs were filled after a brief interview with a hiring manager who made his decision based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics. Most jobs could be learned quickly and it was quite easy to see whether a job was being done well or not. It was easy to get rid of poor performers and plenty got fired right away. However, a lot didn’t.

There were many things wrong with this approach, but the most obvious was that it blatantly discriminated against anyone who did not fit the stereotype of the hiring manager. Greater awareness of discrimination and new legislation drove the growth of the recruiting profession and removed much of the injustice this system perpetuated. But the old system did have one virtue: It was simple and was built on a belief that attitude and performance were what really counted. Many engineers, doctors, and lawyer were trained in what amounts to an apprentice system right up until World War II. Formal skills training only gradually gained acceptance after the war, when thousands of GIs went back to school on the GI bill.

As we moved into the 1950s and 1960s, these more causal hiring practices were replaced by the development of job requirements: things like minimum levels of education or years of experience before a person would be considered for a position. This was seen as fairer and served as a screen against hundreds of people potentially applying for the same job. The problem with this approach is that the defined requirements were almost never connected to actual performance. They only seemed fairer because they eliminated or reduced screening out because of race or sex. However, we have learned over the past 40 years that people who qualify for jobs based on their education or experience alone are not necessarily good performers. We now know that simply selecting people by generic measures like education and experience don’t work very well and discriminate against those with the real skills who do not have the required credentials. Job requirements today are changing so fast that we can’t keep up. During the dot-com boom we saw how quickly new skills became needed and how weak our selection systems were. We just didn’t know what competencies or skills we should look for and we didn’t have time to find out. Managers were, and still are, confused as to what they want in a candidate, and there is a tendency to go back to selection criteria that smack a bit of the past. Referral programs are a bit like family connections, and attitude is now more important than ever in selection. The need for HTML programmers grew exponentially for months in 2000, as did the need for network administrators and other kinds of programmers. Most recruiters didn’t even begin to understand what they were recruiting for and clearly no meaningful generic educational guidelines could be established because few schools offered the education.

On the other side, there were almost no experienced people available either. Managers were frustrated at the recruiters and vice versa. Unfortunately, this situation will be a characteristic of the emerging century as new technologies replace old ones and entirely new skills are needed. It will be very difficult to use traditional techniques or measures or even to figure out the precise competencies and skills that are needed for a job. So, what will we do? Three rules seem to be forming around defining new positions as well as for redefining the more traditional ones.

  1. Use technology to profile jobs quickly. Several vendors now offer software that allows you or a hiring manager to describe a job, pick out key competencies and skills, and draw a profile of what is needed within a matter of a few hours. Older methods might take months to produce profiles, although those profiles were probably more accurate and complete than these. The issue is how permanent are the jobs and functions you hiring for. For example, the duties of programmers change constantly. C programmers have had to evolve through C to C++ to C# in the course of just a few years. How much do you want to invest in perfection? What becomes more important, perhaps, are things like general programming speed, the skill to learn quickly and accept rapid change, rather than the specific language they know.
  2. keep reading…

Rebuilding New Orleans One Job at a Time

Dr. Charles Handler
Oct 25, 2005

As many of you may or may not know, my business was and still is based in New Orleans. Those of you who know me also know that I am extremely proud to call this place my home. I was far away from the city when Hurricane Katrina hit, but its impact has and will continue to affect both me and the city I call home. Being an optimist I feel confident that many of the changes the hurricane’s aftermath will bring will be good ones. Being a realist I also feel pretty sure that some of these changes will be bad ones.

The most frustrating part of it is that we New Orleaneans are currently sitting in limbo, waiting for an understanding of the good stuff and the bad stuff to play out. Don’t worry though, we locals tend to be a pretty patient lot, and we can usually manage to entertain ourselves no matter what the situation. The first piece of good news is that I have found that I am certainly not alone in my diehard affection for my city. There are many others like me who have chosen to put up with what seems like an endless slate of challenges just to have the pride that goes along with saying “I’m from New Orleans.”

We die-hards are viewing this tragedy as an opportunity to undo some of the things that had been holding us back for years. Many of us are here working hard to make sure we have a voice in the rebuilding that will unfold over the next several years. Speaking for all of us, I feel that we are all looking to take things to the next level by doing what it takes to make sure that this city goes beyond just a great place to visit, and instead offers families and individuals of all shapes, colors, and sizes both economic and spiritual opportunities. To this end, I have been staying as active as I can in trying to gather real information about the events that have and are occurring here, and I feel at least minimally qualified to paint a pretty good picture of the current reality here on the streets of New Orleans.

While this reality has many different facets to it, the ERE community is about jobs and work — so I want to take some time to share my thoughts on these issues, as opposed to the 8 million other issues that we are dealing with here. In preparing to write this article, the more I stopped to think about the role of work in shaping the future of our city, the more I realized that it is the single most important factor in both our recovery and our eventual rebirth. This is unfortunate because we are currently living a very difficult catch-22 type situation down here when it comes to our workforce and jobs. Let me provide some background information that will help provide an understanding of the nature of this difficult situation:

1. Many of our residents are still gone and may never return (the paper today says 47% of the workforce from the Gulf Coast has been lost). While more and more people are moving back to the areas of the city that are inhabitable (the French quarter, central business district, and all areas near the river are basically fine) huge areas of the city, and other areas of the Gulf Coast, are completely devastated, and many of them will probably never be repopulated. 2. There are very few children here because of environmental concerns and because of the fact that the school system, which never really functioned well even in the best of times, is currently not functioning (a few schools are re-opening slowly). This is a major reason many may stay gone permanently. 3. There are probably almost as many people who don’t actually reside here (national guard, laborers, government workers, etc relief workers) as there are true residents. 4. There is a real shortage of housing, as many people lost their homes completely, while at the same time there is a need to provide housing to those have come here to help in the rebuilding efforts.

In terms of long-haul economic prosperity, the above factors combine to create a potentially lethal cocktail. For instance, the current mixture of the above factors has created an odd situation in which we have 21 times the regular unemployment rate but there are help wanted signs everywhere. This may not seem to speak of a situation in which much can actually be accomplished. However, I don’t take such a doom and gloom perspective because I view this as a time for all of us to practice patience, perseverance, and activism. It also takes an understanding of where we are in the lifecycle of rebuilding.

Unfortunately, for most of us here, we are at the bottom of our own personal (and collective) mountains, many of which are composed of rotting trash. We are currently at the very start of a phase that requires cleaning and rebuilding. Being a psychologist by trade, I can’t help but make the analogy that we are currently living somewhere towards the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. That is to say we are working hard to remove acre upon acre of rotting trash and toxic debris while rebuilding the infrastructure that our city needs to offer even the most basic of services. Much of the inhabitable area within and around the city still does not have power. In terms of jobs and the world of work, our current state is one in which we need hands, and lots of them. The majority of the work and related jobs available here now fall into two categories, neither of which are glamorous, but both of which are essential. The first of these is trade workers. The city is now riding on the backs of demolition and construction crews who have come mostly from out of state to help us rebuild.

Many of us locals have been adamant about making sure that these hands come from within our area. However, the sad reality is that, even with political backing for this sentiment, there simply aren’t enough locals here to get the job done (see reasons 1-4 above). Hopefully this will slowly change as more persons come back. The second need for work is in the service industry. All of the folks on the ground here need to eat, drink, and be merry. Less than half of the restaurants and bars in the city are currently open, and every last one of them has a “help wanted” sign on it. Most of those serving the public are relatively new at it, as the wages are much higher than usual due to the immutable laws of supply and demand. I know several proprietors who simply cannot open their doors because they don’t have anyone to staff their establishments.

While our current problems in the above areas of work are challenging, I believe they will correct themselves as time slowly marches forward. As more of the city comes back online and the word of good paying work in a wonderful city continues to spread, more locals will return and we will probably even gain some new locals who have decided to call this place their new home. Once we are stabilized our primary industry, tourism will be the first industry to help get us back on our feet. Its no accident that the mayor had the French Quarter cleaned up first and that the powers that be here (whomever they are; I am still not sure myself) are working hard to make sure that our hotels and casinos have what they need to get back online. In my mind, the more critical issues in terms of our working population and the long haul is where the real uncertainty lies. Of course it is too early to tell until time and effort allow us to climb a few more rungs on Maslow’s ladder to self-actualization, but I feel that the writing is certainly on the wall, and it may not say what many of us would like it to. The good news is that we locals can have a strong hand in shaping what this writing will say. In doing so, I feel the real lynchpin for the future success of our city is the re-establishment and growth of three types of industries and their related products, services, and jobs. The first of these is heavy industry, manufacturing, and shipping. We actually have one of the busiest ports in America right here, three blocks from where I am currently sitting. A huge percentage of the goods that are imported from and exported to the Midwest enter through our doors. Coffee, iron, petroleum, and other things you use everyday enter the U.S. through our extensive port facilities. We do have some local industry as well as a NASA assembly facility and several large shipyards. The rebuilding of our city is going to require the facilitation of green field manufacturing sites and new industry that can take advantage of our port status. It is my hope that the local, state, and federal governments recognize this need and respond with the proper incentives. I do believe this will happen as time progresses. The second and perhaps most critical area of work that will be required to get us stabilized is the cultivation of a white collar professional community. In my opinion this is the area in which we have been hardest hit. Before the storm, we were really on the move in this area. I belong to several local organizations that were working hard to try and build an IT industry here. The University of New Orleans (most of which currently does not physically exist) had recently built a technology center which served to help incubate local technology businesses. As a result of this and other similar actions, we were on the verge of really building a solid base of small local businesses offering high quality professional services. For the most part our white collar base consisted of small companies founded by local people who hired local workers. These businesses include things such as media companies, law firms, ad agencies, IT companies, and consulting firms. The diaspora created by Katrina has effectively scattered these individuals all over the country. Many of them have found the hospitality extended to them in clean, safe, family-friendly places so good that they are choosing to stay put and start new lives. When the founder of a small company makes such a decision, it often forces all of the local people working for the company to make a choice between relocating or finding a new job. So, many of those who may want to move back here cannot because they have no jobs to go to. Again, I think this is a good news/bad news issue that requires a long-term perspective. Those of us who have returned to grind it out are finding this to be a land of new opportunity. If everyone is true to their word, local, state, and federal governments should be offering unprecedented incentives for those people interested in contributing to the new economic base of our city. The hard part of this is that even with these incentives, it is going to take time.

Finally, many of you may not know it, but at the time of the storm New Orleans was well on its way to earning a new nickname: “Hollywood South.” Initially lured by huge tax incentives and non-union work conditions, the movie industry fell in love with our city, its hospitality, and unique charm. Down here we are about as un-Hollywood as it gets and that seemed to resonate well with an increasingly large number of production companies. My local friends who keep one foot in Hollywood and one here in New Orleans have all assured me that they want to return. We are eagerly awaiting their return as they bring money to spend and will undoubtedly represent one of the quickest short term economic solutions for us.

Even though I look at life through the lens of a hard-core optimist, I tend to cry daily as I try to look around me at my reality and to remember what my city used to be like. In these moments I try really hard to focus my thoughts on what we will need to ensure that we can come back and rebuild what we have lost. It’s hard for me to imagine, but I do know that, whatever our new reality will look like, it is going to be different. Thinking about how it will differ is very stressful to me because I recognize that we are in a very precarious place right now. The line between success and failure is thin, and ending up on the right side of it is going to require large numbers of jobs of all types. Obtaining these jobs is going to require, at a minimum, the following things all of which have a track record of horrible mismanagement and disgrace here in New Orleans:

keep reading…

The Wall Street Journal Recognizes Recruiting Excellence at HealthEast

Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 24, 2005

article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett

One of the goals of this weekly column is to celebrate the best practices of the recruiting profession. In line with that effort, I’m happy to report that the Wall Street Journal has recently run an entire story focusing exclusively on the accomplishments of one of our own, Trudy Knoepke-Campbell of HealthEast. It’s important to recognize this rare event not only because it provides an opportunity to learn from HealthEast’s best practices, but also, more importantly, because it also might be an indication that the Wall Street Journal, the benchmark business newspaper, has begun to recognize the importance of recruiting. Although the Wall Street Journal does occasional feature stories highlighting recruiting trends, it is extremely rare for them to write an entire article highlighting the recruiting best practices of a single firm. We view such recognition by the prestigious newspaper to be just another indication that recruiting is recognized by those outside the profession as something that is of increasing interest to a wider business audience, because it is a function that can have direct measurable business impacts.

From Minneapolis-St. Paul to Wall Street

On October 3, 2005, The Wall Street Journal profiled Ms. Knoepke Campbell in its Theory and Practice column, which appears in the Managing section of the paper (click here to read the column). The column is dedicated to looking at the people and ideas that are demonstrating an impact and influencing managers. Ms Knoepke-Campbell, who tends to shy away from public recognition, says, “My jaw still drops every time I think about it. I was in the Wall Street Journal.” Proud she should, be because we estimate, as external observers, that the changes that HealthEast’s team have designed could have a positive dollar impact of over $23 million.

Stepping Up in a Time When Most Are Letting Down

Twenty-three months ago, this ERE column highlighted the efforts of HealthEast’s team to embrace the new DNA of HR and implement practices senior corporate leaders would clearly view as demonstrating a positive impact on the business. That column detailed the efforts of Ms. Knoepke-Campbell’s team to devise and implement best practices in the area of recruiting and workforce planning for the HealthEast Care System, a hospital system operating four hospitals, numerous clinics, home care, and medical transportation in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota. Fast-forward nearly two years later, and you find a story worthy of the Theory and Practice column in The Wall Street Journal. The Trudy Knoepke-Campbell story is truly one about a professional stepping up to meeting the expectations and needs of the business during a time when most practitioners are letting their organizations down. Survey after survey reveals that most corporate leaders are beyond being frustrated with their HR function; they’re downright unhappy. The Watson Wyatt Human Resource Scorecard Alliance found that while 83% of senior line managers consider the major HR functions critical to the success of the business, only 34% rate the performance of their organization in those areas as being “good” or better.

Contrast that rating with this one: 93.8% — the percentage of line managers surveyed at HealthEast Care System who stated that the recent work of Ms. Knoepke-Campbell and her colleagues to implement new selection tools and improve the processes were adding significant value to the business. Behind this story, and everything that HealthEast is doing with regards to workforce planning, is a theme, one we all could learn from: Stop defending the status quo because it is how “we have always done it,” and embrace new tools and processes that more accurately fit the current business environment. As director of workforce planning, Ms. Knoepke-Campbell, is charged with developing and implementing tools that ensure the hospital system has access to the right volume of employees at the right time and in the right location. While many would accept this role as an administrative one, Ms. Knoepke-Campbell sees it as a leadership role, a job not focused on mere forecasting, but rather one focused on investigating the needs of the business and devising workforce and recruiting strategies to fit those needs.

The Background

Trudy Knoepke-Campbell joined HealthEast Care System in the fall of 1999 as their first-ever director of workforce planning after completing more than 15 interviews. Her primary motivation for taking the job was that it gave her the opportunity to once and for all prove that compensation was not always to blame for people leaving an organization. At that time, the staffing situation at HealthEast wasn’t pretty. Vacancies in several key areas were forcing the organization to contemplate cutting back on critical services, and temporary staffing service utilization was driving labor costs through the roof. The vacancy rate in radiology for nuclear medicine technicians was especially acute: 58% of the allocated positions were vacant. Using temporary staff to fill just this void was costing the hospital group an estimated $1 million a year.

Major Successes

Both the WSJ column and our ERE profile of excellence highlighted the major quantifiable accomplishments of HealthEast’s team. Some of them include:

  • “Best place to work” awards. HealthEast was ranked number one within the large business category as one of the great places to work in Minnesota for 2005 by The Business Journal. HealthEast was the only healthcare organization to be recognized among the 175 companies nominated. The Minnesota Hospital Association also recognized HealthEast in 2004 as the Best Hospital Workplace.
  • keep reading…

Does Your Company Really Have What It Takes to Hire Top Talent?

Lou Adler
Oct 21, 2005

Here in this article I’m going to give you a chance to take a unique evaluation of your company’s hiring effectiveness. In 15 minutes, you’ll find out how your recruiting department compares to the best in the country — and what you need to do to get into the upper echelon. Three interesting articles came out in the national media recently, all relating to the importance of hiring top talent and the inherent weaknesses in most companies. If you’re in the recruiting business, you should read them all:

Four Rules of Talent

Kevin Wheeler
Oct 19, 2005

While human intervention is important to candidates and to hiring managers, we have to change when and how we intervene. As I have written about many times, the skills we need are vastly different from those that ensured success five years ago. In my view, success in our profession is really all about how we interact and live with the four simple rules I’ve outlined below. Each of these rules has been tested over the past five years and stands strong. They cannot be argued about nor can we choose to like or dislike them. They are the way it is and we have to adapt to their implications if we are going to be successful.

1. Talent is scarce and getting scarcer. Talent, defined as people who possess the skills, capacity, motivation and energy to create value for your organization, is increasingly hard to find, attract, and keep. This talent is also extremely fickle and mobile. The average tenure of employees in the American workforce is around three years. This means that half of us, at least, change employers every 3 years. This applies to the senior-most levels as well as to entry-level employees. Some organizations report more than 100% annual turnover. Traditional methods (e.g. job postings, job boards, web site postings) of attracting talented people are losing their effectiveness. Instead, emerging networked, community-based, and referral tools are gaining in effectiveness (e.g. Jobster, H3, email, employee referral programs). Retaining talent is also an increasingly tough area, and again traditional methods (e.g. higher salaries and more benefits or perks) are less effective. Employees are seeking better managers who can coach and guide their careers and who care about them as people.

2. Talent is wherever it is. Talent is found everywhere and recruiters have to recognize that. The talent equation is complex. Good people are found in both the active and passive candidate pool, as well as from within the current employee population. College students also are poised to become strong talent given fertile working conditions and solid managers. While even five years ago external recruiting was a very effective primary way to find talent, in many industries this is no longer true. There are no single good sources of talent and there is no one reliable source. Talent is wherever it is. It may be less expensive and faster to develop the talent you need (e.g. nurses or technicians) or to seek out talent from your current employee pool. What this requires is a broader and better defined set of selection criteria. The focus has to shift to selecting people for basic skills, key behaviors and for their accomplishments. Traditionally we have relied on “input” indicators to find talent. These are degrees, years of experience, and proof of previous activity. These “inputs” do not necessarily mean that the output will be good. There are numerous ineffective employees who have stellar “input” criteria. What does matter is what the person’s behavior is like and what their success or failure has been. Evidence of frequent financial success, for example, under a variety of conditions may be a much better indicator of financial skill than five years of experience without such evidence. The trick, of course, is getting the evidence you need to make a decision. Almost by definition, output-based criteria are more difficult to get than input criteria, but they are also much more valuable.

3. Develop talent or lose. Throughout the 20th century, talent was easy to find and easy to employ. Work was less skilled, and most organizations could quickly assimilate a new employee through some very basic training programs. If an employee had worked somewhere else for a while, then the training required was even less. Training and development were seen as perks and not as essential to success. That has changed as talent has become more a competitive advantage and less abundant. Now, talent has to be developed. This is the only way to guarantee that there will be a supply of talent no matter what happens in the marketplace. Manufacturing companies long ago realized the value of developing their own proprietary sources of raw materials. Service organizations are just now understanding that the ability to do this on a consistent basis is a competitive advantage. Changing to a development philosophy after 100 years of acquisition philosophy will take time. Only the best see it, but they are prospering mightily. General Electric consistently posts great profits and increased sales that can be attributed to its extremely well-developed leadership. So do IBM and a host of other firms. Not all development is formal or expensive. In fact, most of what we learn (maybe as much as 90%) is from informal sources such as books, friends, networking, observation, trial-and-error, and inquiry. Environments where people exchange ideas and teach each other are emerging in the best organizations. This allows recruiters and managers great flexibility in finding and placing people where they are needed.

4. Technology is both talent blood and glue. Technology is blood, as it carries the life sustaining “nutrients” or information and decisions about talent to each cell of our organization. Technology is also the glue that holds disparate systems together and makes sense out of what we see as chaos. By integrating a complex mixture of websites, referral tools, collaboration sites, screening material, application, and candidate relationship management software; effective organizations will achieve a systematic paradise. Candidates can be attracted and “sold” by good websites, vetted and recommended by screening tools, and educated and informed by the various collaboration and communication tools at our disposal. Without these tools we limit our reach and narrow our sources to the point where we will most likely fail. By using and mixing these tools in ways that deliver good talent to us and to our managers when needed, we ensure our success.

Using Blogs as a Strategic Recruiting Tool

Dave Lefkow
Oct 18, 2005

Blogs represent an emerging and rapidly growing communication vehicle. Today, there are over 14 million blogs, and this number is increasing fast — over 80,000 are added each day. The applications for recruiting have been fairly limited (Microsoft’s brilliant marketing/finance and technical blogs aside). Yet there is a very real and powerful place for blogs in a recruiting strategy. Done well, blogging can save you time and money, inexpensively generate brand awareness and word of mouth, and do a more effective job at employer branding than your employment website.

Blogs as a Marketing Tool

In the excellent book, Creating Customer Evangelists, authors Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell demonstrate with real-world examples how “buzz marketing” has started to level the playing field between large, advertising-driven companies and small companies with limited budgets. Rather than spending huge sums of money on media and advertising plans, companies that embrace buzz marketing know how to have more personal dialogues with their customers and prospects. In our increasingly connected world, word of this approach has the potential to spread quickly. Another suggested reading on the topic of word of mouth and buzz marketing is The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. Blogs are becoming a de facto tool in the buzz marketing arsenal for emerging companies. They allow these companies to rapidly communicate information, get customer feedback, and create a community of potential customers that are more likely to purchase their products or services and spread positive word of mouth. Done well, a blog reduces the need for a big marketing budget to generate brand awareness. This is exactly why some CEOs, who are quite busy running the day-to-day operations of their companies, choose to spend their valuable time blogging. Even a company mascot has joined in the fray.

The Microsoft Recruitment Blogging Strategy

Microsoft has an interesting, love-them-or-hate-them employer brand challenge. They employ some of the most brilliant developers and business minds in the world, yet there is an entire population of their colleagues that would never work there. It is no secret that the reactions from candidates are often virulent. So how do you make Microsoft seem less like a slow-moving, bad-intentioned giant and more like a nimble innovator with a policy of open communication? Enter the Microsoft recruiting blogs, which now include an Australian entry. Add to this a host of blogs from Microsoft employees (over 3,500 of them in all), and you’ve got a phenomenon that has started to create a human face for the company. The Microsoft recruitment blog approach gives the company a competitive advantage for semi-active candidates by providing a level of personal interaction with candidates even some of the smallest companies don’t offer. If you post a comment, you’re almost guaranteed to be answered by the Microsoft recruiting gods and goddesses. In contrast, most candidates refer to employment websites as either “black holes” or “resume vortexes.” Posts are not always about recruiting or the Microsoft culture, which is exactly the point: create content that interests your target audience, and you can create a community of passive job seekers. In Microsoft’s case, there are literally thousands of readers of the recruiting blogs. Anyone researching a technical, marketing, or finance career will likely stumble upon one of the easily indexed blogs through a major search engine. This is low-cost, high-impact buzz marketing for recruiting. Microsoft has set a trailblazing example for the rest of the recruiting industry.

Blogging Strategies You Should Take Advantage Of

Today, blogs are a competitive differentiator used by an elite group of pioneering recruiting departments. As more companies realize their power, they may soon be an integral part of every recruiting department’s strategy. I’ve spoken with quite a few companies about incorporating blogs into their strategies. The most common reasons I hear that they don’t blog today (with my usual responses) are:

  • “We don’t have the resources.” My response: Focus your resources on a better way to connect with passive candidates and you will see a return on investment.
  • keep reading…

Best Recruiting Practices from the World’s Most Business-like Recruiting Function, Part 5

Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 17, 2005

This the final article in my series profiling the benchmark recruiting best practices and strategies of the Valero Energy Corporation. After a lengthy study, I have found it to be the most business-like recruiting function, and one of the best overall in the world. Their comprehensive utilization of a “talent pipeline” model, which was borrowed from a business supply-chain approach, is truly revolutionary. This final part of the case study covers a profile of their leader, weaknesses that still need to be addressed, and my own conclusions.

Dan Hilbert, Manager of Recruiting

When you meet Dan Hilbert, manager of recruiting at Valero, you see right away that he is someone who thinks differently from the typical recruiting professional. Among the many things that prepared him for his current role were four years of Jesuit training, an all-male high school education, MBA training, a stint as a CEO, and Marine training (probably not coincidentally, Michael Homula, the best practice leader of the world-class recruiting department at FirstMerit bank, received West Point training to prepare him for his current role). I asked for Dan’s thoughts on a number of issues affecting his job and his recruiting organization. Here’s some of what he had to say:

What are your strengths?

“Confidence. I thrive in high-exposure, high-pressure, ultra-high-expectation projects. That’s why I love to build a department from scratch under tight timelines and high objectives, to turnaround underperforming departments, and to implement new mission-critical systems and processes. I cannot stand to finish second. I am driven to do anything it takes to help my company be first in its industry.”

What are your weaknesses?

“Patience, or lack thereof. Under-estimating the power of bureaucracies. Forgetting how often many business leaders lack respect for HR. Delegating critical projects. I am getting better here, slowly. I find myself wanting to automate just about everything, and I have worked myself out of multiple jobs by automating my processes.”

Who do you learn from?

“John Higham, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems who ended up at Tivoli. He’s one of the smartest men I ever met. He said that everything was going to supply chains, and I listened, bookmarked it mentally, and then pulled it out when I got to Valero.”

Have you outsourced, or are you planning to?

“We use RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) on an as-needed, temporary basis depending on workflow. We use RPO for assistance in candidate acquisition and screening. With our metrics, we assess our internal recruiting cost, speed, efficiency, and quality versus all other labor suppliers. If Valero ever chooses to outsource on a more permanent basis, we will know exactly what should be outsourced and will have the monthly metrics to measure SLAs (i.e. performance on service level agreements).”

Have you had any bad experiences with vendors that don’t jive with your processes and approaches? “You have touched on area ‘near’ to me. I’ve found that very few vendors have any real understanding of the needs, challenges, and problems faced by corporate recruiters. I’ve also discovered that a surprisingly high number have little technical understanding of how their products actually work. The staff augmentation and sourcing vendors come to mind quickly here. A few of the ATS vendors have savvy sales personnel, and this distinguishes them quickly. We interviewed 11 ATS vendors. The reps from HRSmart, Authoria, and Recruitmax were clearly in a separate class. “Staff augmentation and sourcing vendors’ sales personnel seldom ‘get it’ when I try to explain that we are actually using more sophisticated mining tools and posting processes than the vendor is offering. For those vendors who offer valuable services, the vendor personnel are often lacking in conversations about integration. They don’t understand that a disparate, non-integrated system is counterproductive to any supply chain — or for that matter, just about any high-production system. Vendors usually have little understanding of how difficult it is to train existing personnel in new technology. They often sell cosmic features and functions, but miss the fact that if their products are not easy to learn and use, the chance of adoption is near nil and the investment would be a waste.”

Any interesting vendor stories?

“I called one major vendor to speak to a sales rep about their ATS two years ago. After a 20-minute conversation, the sales rep decided that without getting Valero’s retail business, our company was too small for them to even consider. At the time we were Fortune 55. I was stunned. A week later I called and had the exact same conversation with a second salesperson. Ironically enough, now that we are Fortune 15, a month doesn’t go by when their salesperson doesn’t call us. In terms of staff augmentation vendors, we were referred to Novotus out of Austin. Mike Mayeux has built a superb, multi-faceted product suite. My guess is that Mike has created a standard-setting model here. The key is that they deliver.”

The Future of Recruiting According to Dan

Dan Hilbert also shared many of his views about recruiting and the future of recruiting. I find his projections to be 90% in line with my own (he underestimates the importance of brand, events, and employer referrals, in my opinion). Here are some of his profound insights on:

  • The Future of HR: “I can’t see HR existing much longer in its current design. It’s going to be a flat out war, and it isn’t going to be nice. I see half to two-thirds of HR people getting wiped out in the next decade because they simply don’t have the right skills for the new generation of global business.”
  • keep reading…

Sourcing in the Sweet Spot

Lou Adler
Oct 14, 2005

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, the iPod offers a great model for sourcing and recruiting. Three things stand out:

  1. It’s a system. The iPod is a fully integrated information system — not simply a standalone music player. In comparison, most corporate recruiting departments resemble a hodgepodge of different technologies, tools, competing processes, and poorly linked information channels.
  2. keep reading…

The Myth of the War for Talent

Howard Adamsky
Oct 13, 2005

Contrary to what many people believe, the war for talent is a myth. What is not a myth, however, is the frightening social/organizational/political situation that has been caused by downsizing in recent years, in the name of achieving higher and higher levels of productivity. This downsizing has decimated many organizations, creating the need for each new person hired to be a superstar — because where it used to take twenty employees to do the job, now there might only be room for seven.

I spoke with an IT Director recently who once had eighteen employees. Now he has four. He is living with goals he has no chance of ever achieving, bug-ridden code he can’t even dream of correcting, and four employees who can barely cope with the workload or the stress. This is what happens when you try doing more with less, not as an all-out effort to make a deadline or complete a special project, but as a day-in, day-out way of life. Those of us in recruiting and HR at all levels need to recognize this newly emerged reality, because it will clearly impact how we can drive genuine and meaningful change at our organizations.

Simply stated, the never-ending drive for higher levels of productivity is killing the American workforce. According to a recent three-part series in The New York Times entitled “Sick of Work,” 62% of American workers say their workload has increased over the last six months. Fifty-three percent say their work leaves them “overtired and overwhelmed.” One reason stated in the article is that white collar workers take their work home with them. Furthermore, the American Institute of Stress in New York states that “workplace stress costs the nation more than $300 billion each year in health care and missed work.” It should be obvious that we have wrung about as much juice out of our workforce as we are going to get. Today’s employees are being hard-pressed to achieve these high levels of production, not because of reasons that are intrinsic and prideful, but because of layoffs that have resulted in having employees compensate by doing the work of two or even three of their missing coworkers, all the while coping with the stress of wondering whose head is next on the chopping block. This is not a civilized way to live one’s life. When I write or speak, I generally try to provide answers. So permit me the luxury of asking a few questions instead today:

  • How productive should a person be? When is enough, enough?
  • keep reading…

The Great Eight: How to Identify, Select and Hire Great Recruiters

Michael Homula
Oct 11, 2005

In my article entitled The Next Great Weapon in the War for Talent, I contended that all the technology, job boards, and recruiting software in the world will never replace or generate the kind of results a great recruiter can deliver. In other words, the next great weapon in the war for talent is the skilled and artful recruiter.

I do not challenge the notion that technology may make important recruiting initiatives less cumbersome. Activities like name generation and sourcing are made a bit easier thanks to the Internet and other technological advancements. But really great recruiting results can only happen because of the hard work and effort of skilled and artful recruiters who can make the right calls, develop centers of influence, build relationships, interact with prospects and candidates, understand the opportunity gap in a candidate’s current situation, determine the decision-making criteria a candidate will use to make a change, work with a candidate to help them land a better opportunity, and navigate the delicate offer, negotiation, counteroffer, and notice-giving minefield. All that’s just a highlight the things great recruiters do well.

Many articles, discussion groups, and blogs all around the recruiting landscape extol the advantages of hiring sales and marketing types as recruiters. I couldn’t agree more. While it is true that recruiting is fundamentally a sales and marketing role, simply stating this obvious fact really misses the deeper behaviors and skills that must exist in a recruiter in order to generate better results and higher performance. Hiring a candidate with proven and verifiable results from a sales and marketing background does not necessarily mean you have hired the next great recruiter. So what should you look for in a recruiter? What critical behaviors and skills should you identify and then hire for? How will you know the talent can be coached and developed? How can you more accurately predict how well they will perform in the future? In my years of experience working as a recruiter (both third party and corporate) on teams with some very high-performing recruiting talent and having to hire and lead recruiting teams myself (including the very talented award-winning team I currently lead at FirstMerit) I have discovered eight key skill and behavioral competencies that exist in great recruiters. Not so creatively I call them “The Great Eight.”

These eight key recruiting skills and behaviors must be part of your identification, selection, and hiring strategy if you want to hire great recruiters. If you aren’t in a position to lead and hire recruiters, these eight key factors should be areas where you strive to develop and improve in your daily recruiting behavior. (Or they may send a message that you are in the wrong profession.) Though I have performed some analysis on these behaviors in my recruiting teams and tied them to performance outcomes, The Great Eight are derived from my experience in working with great recruiters as well as hiring and leading high performing recruiting teams. I do not claim these eight items are the end-all be-all for hiring great recruiters. I do, however,believe the following Great Eight skills and behaviors apply to both third-party and corporate recruiters.

1. Interaction: The ideal recruiter is able to communicate with others in a warm and helpful manner while building credibility and rapport. I have raged on an on about the importance of relationships in recruiting. Talent relationship management (TRM) is another critical function of a great recruiter. In order to truly be successful, a recruiter must possess this interaction skill or behavior. I have yet to meet a great recruiter who wasn’t exceptional at building rapport quickly during a sourcing or direct call situation. When contacting a talent prospect or candidate for the first time, you have a few limited moments during which you must establish credibility and, at the very least, a surface-level rapport. Once the talent prospect or candidate gets engaged with you, it becomes your responsibility as the recruiter to further strengthen your credibility and deepen the relationship. Great recruiters get this. They work hard at carefully scripting their calls to very deliberately gain instant credibility and lay the groundwork for a firm relationship. This is primarily done by focusing more on the talent prospect or candidate than talking about actual opportunities.

2. Spoken communication: The ideal recruiter is able to present information clearly through the spoken word. He or she listens well and influences others through oral presentation in either positive or negative circumstances. Listening well. It is a dying art in the recruiting world. As we will see in a minute in a discussion on insight and needs analysis, too many recruiters spend way too much time talking and not listening. With all the focus on scripting, overcoming objections, or getting a client or candidate’s attention, many recruiters neglect this critical skill. Tone of voice, verbal cues, and word choice all provide valuable insight into what a candidate’s values are and what pain they might be experiencing in their current position. Prospects and candidates give up so much information about these important variables through these kinds of cues, but few recruiters are savvy enough to pick up on them. Though this skill and behavior is called spoken communication, the importance of decision influencing should go without saying. The focal point for me is listening.

3. Commitment to task: The ideal recruiter is able to start and persist with specific courses of action while exhibiting a high degree of self motivation and a sense of urgency. They are willing to commit to long hours of work and make personal sacrifice in order to reach goals. Great recruiters are motivated and driven to succeed by a fire that burns inside them rather than a fire that is lit under them. The drive and push that comes from being passionate about recruiting and finding great talent cannot be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Recruiters that have it require very few “pep talks” or motivation by any external factor. As the labor pool shrinks and the war for talent becomes more intense, the recruiters who possess this sense of commitment and the selfless drive to sacrifice in order to reach a goal will win and be deemed great. Great recruiters also see their most important positions as urgent. In many CEO and executive-level surveys, the chief complaint against HR as it relates to recruiting is the apparent lack of urgency when it comes to acquiring talent. Great recruiters know how to prioritize their work based on corporate business goals and strategies and then create a sense of urgency in the recruitment process in order to be more efficient and effective.

4. Insight and needs analysis: The ideal recruiter is able to 1) interpret verbal and non-verbal behavior, 2) develop accurate perception and understanding of the needs and values of others while using a systematic approach to gathering information, and 3) attempt to meet those needs through analysis and evaluation of alternative solutions. Maybe these could be two separate skills, but I couldn’t find a good word to rhyme with nine so I put them together for the sake of poetry (just kidding). Perhaps no where in the recruiting profession is this skill or behavior more important than in the profiling of talent. All too often, recruiters are too busy pitching a job rather than understanding the needs of the prospect. For example, I get this kind of call all the time: “Hey Michael, my name is Joey Recruitemall with ABC Executive Search (or ABC Company). I am currently working with a Fortune 100 company to identify a high-performing, results-oriented leader to take their global talent acquisition team to the next level. I understand you are a smart guy who leads a successful recruiting practice, and I think you would be a great fit for this opportunity. Would you be interested or do you know anyone who would be?” Don’t laugh, I actually got that call recently. I just changed the names to protect the innocent.

The used car salesman flattery garbage aside, this is an absolutely awful call from a desperate recruiter who is just trying to fill a job. High-performing passive talent will not leave their current situation unless they get a better opportunity and trust that you, the recruiter, have their best interests at the front of your agenda. Even active candidates are offended by recruiters who put filling a job ahead of the candidate’s needs. This means taking the time to be more interested in the talent than you are in filling a job. The only way to accomplish this is to make the effort to fully understand the talented prospects and candidates you talk to. If you’ve done your homework and gained a proper amount of competitive intelligence about the talent you are calling, you should know the person is talented, meaning you have some evidence that they are a high performer and that they posses special, often creative, mental or artistic gifts. Once that information has been gained, great recruiters use their intuition and engage in needs analysis — i.e., profiling — to find out who the talent is, what decision making criteria they will use to make a change, how they will decide if the opportunity is better, when they might be open to moving, who influences their decision, etc. Great recruiters get this information before even talking about a specific job or opportunity with a prospect or candidate. As a result, they fill more jobs with better talent for their company or bill more placements than their peers in third party. It’s all about properly profiling the talent.

5. Creativity: The ideal recruiter is able to develop unique and novel solutions to obstacles or challenges. He or she uses intuition and a new way of thinking to give birth to new ideas and presents information in a way that gets attention and holds others interest. Whether it is name generation, networking, or relationship management, great recruiters are quick to get out of normal thought patterns and traditional recruiting tactics. They are risk takers. They have the courage to keep trying new things. Using their previous experiences and intuition, they give birth to new ideas in the recruiting space and aren’t afraid to execute them. Great recruiters also know how to articulate their creativity and outside-the-box thinking in clear and exciting ways. When talking to a prospect or candidate, they know how to inspire candidates and hold their interest throughout the recruiting lifecycle.

6. Tolerance of ambiguity: The ideal recruiter is able to withhold actions or speech when important information is absent or lacking. He or she can deal with unresolved situations as well as frequent changes, delays, or unexpected events. Let’s face it, things change very rapidly in the field of recruiting. Client hiring managers change their mind, candidates change their mind, expectations change, job requirements change and even candidates decision-making criteria can sometimes changes. But great recruiters are flexible and capable of changing with the business, the economy, the labor market, or any other changes that might occur. Often, recruiters get limited information and have to resist the urge to react and make a decision in absence of this information. Great recruiters don’t get lured into presenting candidates to client hiring managers before they have the right information for a send out. They don’t present the position to a talented passive prospect until the expectations are clearly defined and the success profile is complete.

7. Reading the system: The ideal recruiter is able to recognize and use information about an organization’s culture and its key players to accomplish legitimate organizational goals. He or she possesses a healthy awareness of the importance of timing, politics, and organizational process in managing change. Every company is different. The systems and politics that exist within each require a knowledgeable and savvy recruiter to navigate what can be a treacherous labyrinth of confusion. Candidates can be sucked into an organization’s little nuances, quirks, and structure and never be heard from or seen again. Great recruiters know these difficulties exist and know how to navigate through them with great skill and effectiveness. They know when to put their foot down, when to back off, how to push something through, and when to grease the skids to make it seem seamless. Keeping the corporate goals and business objectives in mind throughout the recruiting process, great recruiters mesh all of these things for the benefit of the talent and the company.

8. Tenacity: The ideal recruiter is dedicated to customers, client hiring managers, prospects. and candidates. He or she is willing to maintain long-term relationships, to take commitments seriously, and to follow through on promises. A commitment to the people that matter most and a desire to do everything it takes to meet the needs of those people separates the great recruiters from the merely good. Great recruiters act more like a career coach or consultant to the candidate and as a subject matter expert with the client hiring manager. They extend themselves past the boundary where average recruiters stop. They meet passive candidates on their terms and under conditions that are optimal for the candidate rather than what is convenient for them. This sometimes means doing the things that are less than glamorous, but these kinds of actions can be the difference maker in these critical relationships. I have talked much about relationships and the ability to maintain them for long periods of time. The best in the recruiting profession do that and more. They know that every interaction could lead to a talent referral, a new networking source, or center of influence. Great recruiters exhibit a dogged pursuit of excellence with candidates and clients that is reflected in their recruiting results.

My Great Eight sets the bar high for excellence in recruiting. Using these key skills and behaviors to identify and select your next recruiter will give you an advantage over many in the recruiting industry. Trying to model these behaviors in your own daily recruiting activity will separate you from your peers. But failing to do either will only make you less valuable to your corporation or clients, and ultimately lead you into recruiting mediocrity — if not recruiting obscurity.

Best Recruiting Practices from the World’s Most Business-like Recruiting Function, Part 4

Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 10, 2005

This is a case study profiling the benchmark recruiting best practices and strategies of the Valero Energy Corporation. After a lengthy study, I have found it to be the most business-like recruiting function and one of the best overall in the world. Valero’s comprehensive utilization of a “talent pipeline” model, which was borrowed from a business supply chain approach, is truly revolutionary. This part of my case study covers their metrics and business results.

Valero’s Metrics and Measurement Systems Valero’s business of recruiting approach is revolutionary because it is almost 100% metrics driven. Valero utilizes the widest variety of recruiting-related metrics of any corporation I have encountered. The importance of metrics to Valero’s recruiting approach can be seen in the following quotation from its manager of recruiting, Dan Hilbert:

I’m a fanatic about constantly monitoring the performance and health of all systems and key processes. Metrics, analytics, and indices are the language of system monitoring. In the ’90s I worked for software companies that designed systems to monitor the speed, availability, and performance of computer operating systems and networks. I know the huge business advantage for companies that have high performance, highly available, fast, dependable and adaptable computer systems and networks. I am sure the same applies to staffing departments, and this needs to be applied at both the macro and micro levels.

keep reading…

How Performance Profiles Will Make You a Better Recruiter

Lou Adler
Oct 7, 2005

For years, I’ve been writing about the use of performance profiles as the lynchpin of effective recruiting. Everybody who has ever used one for conducting a search has experienced better results. By this I mean more and stronger candidates, improved relationships with hiring manager clients, better understanding of real job needs, more consensus about candidates, candidates who are easier to close, a significant reduction in salary demands, fewer counter-offers being accepted, a reduction in turnover, increased job satisfaction and far better on-the-job performance. You’ll experience these same things once you shift to using performance profiles rather than job descriptions. (Here’s an article you can read for more background on this subject.)

Following is a performance profile my company prepared for a recent search for a department manager. It’s presented here without the tech jargon, so you can modify it for any management position. If you’re a third-party recruiter, you’ll also be able to use the performance profile to differentiate your search practice without having to compete on price (you won’t have to reduce your fees!). A performance profile is a well-thought-out, prioritized list of the top six to eight things a person in the job needs to do to be considered successful. It describes the primary performance objectives, plus the key sub-tasks and challenges a person is required to achieve. By looking for people who have accomplished similar tasks, you’ll tend to find more top performers by matching their motivating interests and skills directly with real job needs.

To be most effective, these objectives should be SMARTe (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-defined, and Time-bound, and with a description of the environment and culture). This ensures that recruiters, hiring managers, candidates, and everyone on the interviewing team are on the same page. This is how you reach consensus more quickly, by getting everyone on the hiring team to agree to real job needs before you begin looking for and interviewing candidates. The result is a huge time savings, achieved by minimizing the number of candidates who need to be seen. The performance objectives noted below represent the general scope of activity for a first-line manager. The examples represent a number of different positions. By preparing performance objectives this way, the balance between team and individual competencies is better understood. More importantly, it gets managers and other interviewers to shift their decision-making away from subjective criteria like skills and experience and toward something more measurable: past performance doing comparable work. When you think about it, it’s what people do with what they have that determines their success, not the absolute level of their skills, experiences, and competencies. A performance profile captures this information in a very simple way.

Performance Objectives for a Department Manager

  1. Primary department performance objective. (Describe the most important performance objective for the position.) Some examples:

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Anatomy of a Test Vendor

Dr. Wendell Williams
Oct 6, 2005

A few weeks ago, I was asked about a certain test vendor. Being a good researcher, I visited their site and was absolutely astounded by the misinformation contained therein. “Wow,” I thought, “this could be the basis of an entire article about what NOT to believe about testing!” Here are some of the areas where I foresaw major problems for employers who chose to use their tests.


What they state: Their tests have passed a review to ensure a fully legal program. They can ensure users that they will “fully comply” with the new EEOC rules. A personal letter from an attorney states the test does not violate the law. The test complies with all EEOC regulations. What users should know: According to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, under no circumstances will the general reputation of a test or other selection procedures, its author, or its publisher, or casual reports of its validity, be accepted in lieu of evidence of validity. Specifically ruled out are:

  • Assumptions of validity based on a procedure’s name or descriptive labels
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Skill Shortages, Ethics, and Innovative Thinking

Kevin Wheeler
Oct 5, 2005

We all get so caught up in our own perspectives, careers, and day-to-day activities that we often don’t see alternatives to problem we face. Instead, we continue to follow traditional approaches, even when they are obviously inadequate. Almost everyone involved with talent acquisition is squirming under pressure from hiring managers to find more qualified candidates. Recruiters are quick to grasp at any solution that offers hope of giving them access to better people. Hence the rapid rise of niche job boards and referral and networking tools and the greatly renewed interest in Internet searching and “poaching” candidates. At the same time, recruiters face pressure to source in ways that may be legal, but not exactly ethical.

The recent discussions about ethics on ERE and on other various blogs are not encouraging. I do not believe in or advocate many of the practices that are being offered. All is not fair in war, as the Geneva Convention, the Nuremburg trails, and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague demonstrate. It is easy to mark patently dishonest and deceitful practices as unethical; the real test comes in the “gray” areas. These are the areas where it is not clear if certain practices — such as willfully discrediting a company to make an employee feel that it would be best to move on — are wrong, and where our ethical thinking is tested.

Recruiters who use methods they know are deceitful or dishonest do no one a favor. They harm their employer’s reputation and sully their own. Recruiters who are not sure if a practice is wrong or not might do well to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate or the manager on the other side. They might also look at all the options they have and ask which of them does more good than harm. Good ethical practices treat all the parties concerned with dignity and respect and advance the values of the organization. In the long run, it is not important whether you “win” the candidate but whether you have done so with integrity and fairness.

So assuming you practice ethical recruiting, how can your organization meet its needs for talent? Conventional thinking about careers and a lack of imagination on the part of HR and recruiters is probably contributing to the perception that there is a growing lack of skilled talent available in the workforce. There are many alternatives to unethical recruiting and to filling talent shortages.

Look Inside

Larger organizations have many talented, culturally aligned, and productive employees who would welcome an opportunity to do something different. Leading-edge firms, such as Dell and Schlumberger, have developed internal systems that allow recruiters to locate people with specific skills within the organization. The systems capture employees’ skills, performance history, educational background, and interests. These employees are usually passive; they’re not looking for an internal move and not aware of the opportunity. Yet they are often eager to take a look at that opportunity once they are approached. These systems also allow actively looking employees to add personal information or to apply directly for posted positions. When there is a need to fill very highly specialized positions, internal people are frequently the best qualified to do so with the least amount of training.

Short-term Training and Coaching

Many times employees can be given skills more quickly than we think. Cisco, IBM, and countless other organizations have put together short-term, intensive training programs that enable employees to gain new skills and become productive in a matter of weeks. This is often no longer than it takes to source, screen, interview, and hire a candidate from outside who, after being hired, still needs time to become productive and learn the new culture. E-learning, mentoring, and coaching are all ways that employees can be given skills they need quickly while being productive.


Sometimes it is a good practice to let people rotate through several jobs so that they acquire at least some skills in many areas. This way they can be moved to fill gaps very quickly and with a minimum of additional education. Rotations can be done frequently but on a short-term basis so that the impact on the employee’s current position is minimal. It just takes some creative thinking to make this work without much bother. Often they can be squeezed into slower times or offered when work tends to be less than normal.

Formal Development

Corporate universities are being established at a record pace to provide more formal education to current employees either to meet future anticipated needs or to strengthen employee skills to better meet current needs. There are organizations with internal corporate training functions designed to provide employees for highly skilled or specialized jobs or for management and leadership positions. General Electric, IBM, HP, and Intel are leaders in making this a cornerstone of their people strategy.

Educating Hiring Managers

Times are changing, and with this comes the need for managers to better understand the talent marketplace. It will be harder and harder to find qualified people over the next decade. For some jobs — including certain finance positions, nursing, and pharmacy jobs, as well as management positions — there will be a crisis. Even aggressive stealing and blatantly unethical practices will probably not meet the needs. Managers must have a better understanding of these issues, and you as recruiters need to make the business case for managers approaching talent acquisition from a variety of ways, rather than simply going outside to meet every need. Talent acquisition is getting more complicated and requires recruiters, as I wrote last week, who are strategic talent advisors more than just “order takers.” The best recruiters do not need to use unethical practices because they have learned more options and have sold those internally.

Best Recruiting Practices from the World’s Most Business-like Recruiting Function, Part 3

Dr. John Sullivan
Oct 3, 2005

This is Part 3 of my case study profiling the benchmark recruiting best practices of the Valero Energy Corporation. After a lengthy study that began in January of 2005, I have found it to be the most business-like recruiting function — and one of the best overall — in the world. This one-of-a-kind business-like approach is due in large part to the department’s support from senior management and to the fact that the manager of recruiting is a former CEO. Here in Part 3 of the case study we’ll continue coverage of Valero’s best practices in recruiting.

Recruiting Department Structure: Best Practices

The recruiting team at Valero applied the management science principles of agility, “mass customization,” and customer relationship management when it designed the organizational structure of its recruiting department. Unlike most recruiting departments, which typically have a single strategy and a consistent approach that is applied across all business units, Valero’s recruiting management developed a system to “mass customize” how it delivers recruiting services depending on the unique needs of the business unit. The practice of both identifying the unique business needs of every major business unit and then making a customized service delivery plan for them is only given lip service in most companies, unfortunately. Some of the best practices in the area organizational structure include:

  1. Mass-customized recruiting is used to meet the needs of each business unit. The fact is that the majority of recruiting departments (82%) do not have a written recruiting strategy or plan. Those that do tend to have a single, company-wide strategy that employs a one-size-fits-all approach. This approach offers little flexibility if the recruiting needs of different business units vary dramatically, as is the case at Valero. In order to meet the distinct needs of the units and to ensure alignment with the business, Valero has borrowed a mass-customized approach (often seen in outsourced manufacturing) and applied it to recruiting. The system works like this: Upon receiving the projected labor needs data, each refinery defines their staffing, developmental, and training needs. Instead of providing the traditional inflexible support, staffing and OD, working together, can now provide customized solutions for each individual refinery. Consequently, staffing is being driven by the unique business needs of each refinery in the system and a plan to develop the target workforce is developed specifically for those needs, which coordinates training, development, attraction, redeployment, and retention.
  2. keep reading…