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The One Single Thing You Must Do to Become a Better Recruiter in 2008

by
Lou Adler
Dec 14, 2007

This article describes the most important factor involved in individual-recruiter success. From my personal dealings with over 2,500 corporate and third-party recruiters in the last five years, it seems that only 10-15% of recruiters develop this to improve their overall performance. In the past year, I’ve written a number of articles about the importance of applicant control and understanding real job needs, and, while these are vitally important, they are far less effective without this third factor in place.

But first, a little background.

We’re almost finished with our annual Recruiting and Hiring Challenges Survey for 2008. (There’s still a short time for you to participate. Here’s the link to take the survey.) While there were many problems highlighted, including handling too many requisitions, the lack of effective technology, and the declining effectiveness of job boards, five problems were ranked by nearly everyone as significant or of huge concern. Since more than 600 recruiters participated from corporations and independent recruiting firms, these results can be considered statistically relevant.

The one problem that stood out from everyone else was predictable: 96% of the respondents indicated that they were not seeing enough strong candidates for important positions, and 78% said that this was a growing problem of major concern or a huge current problem. Better sourcing will not solve the root cause problem; it will just mask it. The underlying challenge, and the most important factor involved in making more placements, is highlighted by the responses to four other questions. As you’ll see, they all involved problems with hiring managers.

Survey participants were asked to rank each of the problems described below on a five-level degree-of-concern basis, from “Not a Problem” to “A Huge Problem.”

  • Hiring managers are not willing to devote the time necessary to recruit top people. Eighty-two percent of the respondents indicated this was a significant problem, with 60% considering it a major growing problem or a huge current problem. Although recruiters can’t convince hiring managers to spend more time here or to take time to recruit the best, this message is important to get across somehow.
  • Hiring managers are not strong at assessing candidate competency. It’s hard enough finding good candidates, but when 85% of the respondents indicate that this is a major problem, and 60% indicate that it’s growing or it’s a huge problem now, recruiters are just spinning their wheels. This is the primary reason why new sourcing programs aren’t the universal solutions to a company’s hiring challenges.
  • Managers overvalue skills, experience, and academics before seeing candidates. Unfortunately, most managers refuse to consider great candidates who have comparable, but not identical, skills, or have achieved success in a different industry or field. Eighty-four percent of survey participants said that their managers were unwilling to bend their specifications despite major sourcing challenges, and that this problem was getting worse or it was already huge.
  • Managers are not strong at recruiting top people. For a variety of reasons, top people don’t want to work for managers who aren’t strong leaders and potential mentors, so this is a problem that isn’t going to go away without some type of high-level intervention. An unbelievable 87% of those taking the survey considered this to be a problem they were currently facing, and while a few from this group indicated it was manageable, 63% indicated it was worsening or it was already affecting their ability to meet their recruiting targets.

Effectively coaching, developing, and guiding hiring managers in a declining-supply-and-growing-demand recruiting environment is essential if companies ever expect to meet their hiring needs for new talent. This is the single most important factor preventing companies from hiring more top talent. However, from what I can tell, HR and recruiting executives are afraid to tackle this problem head-on.

While training recruiters can help a bit, and developing a series of creative new sourcing programs can help a bit more, nothing will overcome the bottleneck imposed by hiring managers’ attitudes and their inability to attract the best. With this in mind, here are some ideas you might want to ponder:

  • Build a team of great recruiters. Great recruiters can offset some of the deficiencies in hiring managers. If you’re a recruiting manager, here’s a unique 10-factor, self-evaluation scorecard you should have all your recruiters take. This will allow you to compare your team across 10 competencies we’ve found to be the most predictive of top recruiter performance. If you are a recruiter, you’re invited to evaluate yourself, but reduce your final score by 20% for a true reading. (There’s always grade inflation in any self-evaluation.)
  • Recruiters need to be partners, not vendors. Recruiters who become partners with their hiring-manager clients have the ability to minimize some of the hiring-manager recruiting weaknesses. One aspect of becoming a partner involves having real job knowledge beyond the job description. This is one of the reasons recruiters who have performed the job they’re now recruiting for have more credibility with hiring managers and candidates alike. Preparing a performance profile with the hiring manager when the assignment is taken can help the recruiter better understand real job needs. You might need to talk with a strong person currently in the job to better understand what it takes to be a top performer before you discuss the job with your hiring-manager client. Hiring managers trust recruiters when they understand the real work required for on-the-job success.
  • Clarify performance expectations up-front. As far as I’m concerned, HR is remiss in not requiring hiring managers to prepare something like a performance profile to get a requisition approved. When managers know real job needs, they come across to candidates as more insightful and knowledgeable during the interview. All managers, even the weak ones, seem better when they can describe real job needs to candidates. Managers also are more likely to see a candidate who has achieved comparable results even if he or she is a little light on the qualifications. Clarifying expectations up-front has been shown to be the primary determinant of job satisfaction and improved on-the-job performance. The use of performance profiles also enables a company to integrate its hiring, on-boarding, and performance-management process into one common system.
  • Conduct more panel interviews. A well-conducted panel interview can help hiring managers who are weak interviewers more accurately assess competency. As long as the panelists don’t stomp all over each other or overtly challenge the interviewee, most candidates find panel interviews appealing and appropriate. Panel interviews can also be used to mask some hiring manager deficiencies as long as there is another strong leader on the panel. This is a real aid in recruiting.
  • Train managers on how to recruit. Talking and selling don’t constitute recruiting. Most managers don’t know how to recruit, but sadly, many recruiters fall into this same boat. Regardless, managers need to learn how to use solution selling and needs analysis to position their open opportunities as far superior to any others the candidate is considering.
  • Use an evidence-based assessment process. In too many companies, the interview assessment is akin to a popularity contest based on an archaic yes-or-no voting system. The hiring decision should be based on a deliberative evidence-sharing process. This is particularly important when unskilled managers are given full voting rights or base their decisions on a narrow range of competencies. This change alone will prevent many good people from being excluded due to a weak assessment process.

Any new sourcing program that is implemented to meet the hiring demands of the future will be far less effective than possible unless the problems associated with hiring managers are addressed first. While recruiters can be of some assistance here, leadership at the HR-executive level is required to change the outdated and clumsy recruiting, interviewing, and assessment processes used by most companies.

Companies with great brands and compelling stories will always be able to attract the best. For everyone else, the solutions require creativity, leadership, and hard work. The effort is all worth it if hiring top talent is considered a major strategic objective.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Marc Nolan

    Good Afternoon,

    As always another great article by one of the thought leaders in our industry,and most of the points are spot on.

    I won’t bore everyone with my credentials because most of you who have been around this industry for more then 30 days knows that we all bring some valid points to the table- and there is no better way to help us all out, by providing timely and serious points that just could help us all become better.

    I bring a different view- and that is one from coming full circle in our business on the technology side (I started out as a mainfram programmer- then became a hiring manager- then got into sales/recruiting (and wrote what many believed to have been the first book about the IT staffing ‘world’ back in 1995)and now run a professional services firm.

    From my standpoint- I do find it interesting that some of the repondents seem to look at pointing the finger at the hiring manager- and that may be true in some cases- but in the world I live in (Technology) every day that goes by where we are losing revenue and where we run a P&L NOT having people on board hurts our business, our bonuses and our team.

    So unless you (as a recruiter/HR department) are running a true P&L and are not a ‘cost center’ you cannot appreciate the role of the ‘hiring manager’. It might be an interesting survey to have someone ask the HR and recruiting departments if they run a true P&L.

    The ‘deficiencies in hiring managers’ may be an issue- but truly IMHO the deficiency in the recruiters is even MORE apparent. Many of them have no understanding of how to talk to candidates and take them downstream and the lack of follow-up from many recruiters is just amazing to see.

    How do I know this? Because every year (since 1999) I conduct a survey within a well defined group of 200 IT consultants and line managers (who many of you may even recruit for)I have worked with (and yes placed-several times) do you know what has been consistent with all of them-when I send them my survey?

    93% say The true lack of kowing what these consultants do and have no ‘functional knowledge’ of the application the consultants are working in-continues to bother them.

    They are amazed that with all the technology out there to assist them (and yes books as well) the recruiters of today (in their opinion-not mine)lack a real understanding of the tasks associated with what the consultants do on a daily basis- which many times shows in the ‘you are really a great fit- and I want to put you in front of the hiring manager’ then nothing happens. They state that the recruiters have no idea (in the IT world) what a ‘Functional person does over a ‘Technical’ person (and even less what a techno/functional person does).

    The hiring managers get frustrated with receiving resumes from TPR’s and the HR department that have less then 50% of the required skills (and yes- they sometimes do put a large ‘laundry list’ together- there is a secret behind this- and if you ask them they will tell you why)which leads to the second highest response (89%) that recruiters have a horrible ‘hit rate’ in following up with candidates.

    The third highest response was 86%- and the question is ‘when you don’t receive feedback from the recruiter- how many of you tell your network of friends and fellow consultants/managers about the recruiter/company in question?’

    They view themselves as part of a ‘club’ who are looking out for one another- and I can tell you from my personal experience when I was on an implementation this happens a lot (good and bad).

    Lastly, back in 1998 I sponsored a panel discussion between local members of the NACCB and ICCA to see how to bridge some of these issues.

    One of the panelists (who was a consultant) stated ‘I view HR as an Albatross around my neck’ and another called HR ‘The Business Interruption Unit’ and am sure many TPR’s would rather deal directly with the hiring manager and NOT HR/inside personnel.

    I won’t bore you with the rest of the questions- but anyone who would like to view these questions please feel free to e-mail me and I will send them to you.

    I would encourage you to have a meaningful conversation with the candidates you have placed and moreso with those who you did not place and truly start to build a knowledge garden around these areas.

    This will allow each of you to have a true 360 degree of your organization and even a better way to see how each of you can improve upon yoursleves from one year to the next. That to me is the real measurement of a person in any profession.

  2. Andrew Gaynor

    Marc, Your points are well taken, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they are being received in shock and disagreement in many quarters. No doubt by many of the recruiters who are, if they are really honest, guilty as charged.

    Personally I think we have a long way to go before these issues will be addressed. HR itself is often only seen as playing a minor, supporting role, there to take care of the immediate and near term needs of the company workforce (do I hear more gasps out there?) Sadly, then, recruitment plays an even more minor part, reporting in to HR.

    Frankly, I would like to see VPs of Talent Acquisition, Recruitment, whatever title you prefer, not reporting to HR but directly to the CEO. Recruitment is not a function of HR, it is a function of every department with a need for a hire. Both belong at the top table, because both can be huge contributors to a company’s success. Recruitment should be fully accountable not simply for filling open reqs, but for the overall perception of the company’s reputation/brand as an employer.

    There’s a bottom line, a cost to poor follow up with candidates. Indeed, all applicants should be treated with dignity and respect, even if 200 applicants per opening means you can’t have a conversation with all of them. There’s an enormous cost to not understanding the role, because until you do how can you possibly fill it? There is a cost to overselling a great candidate (who leaves once reality sets in), and poor interviews that cost good candidates, and unappealing websites that fail to attract the candidates in the first place. Yet how many companies associate value, and cost, with these and many other critical components when they calculate those inevitable ‘cost per hire’ stats with which they are so preoccupied?

    Recruitment should be held accountable, yes, fully P&L accountable, and their feet should be held to the fire with every poor showing and disappointing statistic in their performance matrix. Just as they should be recognised (and rewarded) when they create great value. They are vitally and strategically important, but that will never be recognised as long Recruitment reports to HR, and HR is an also ran in the executive sweepstakes. HR will decide what they think is important for Recruitment to know, and information will filter down accordingly. People will still get hired; poor and underqualified recruiters will get away with doing a mediocre job. By the time mistakes are uncovered recruitment will be too far back in the cause and effect chain to be recognised as the culprit.

    Oh well, Christmas soon … maybe this year my Christmas wish will be granted :-) Happy holidays everyone.

  3. Debbie Schmitz

    Marc, I am with you and have been for many years. I have always viewed recruiting as a profession, not just a job. As a professional, I act as a consultant and partner to both the client/hiring manager and the candidate. I do my homework and learn about the job before I meet with the hiring manager. If you hit the brick wall in your initial communication, a well-put intelligent question, not one on the surface level, can re-start the flow of information. The respect the hiring manager has of you that you have at least made an attempt to understand the position is the start of building a stronger relationship that will bring better results. I see too many recruiters focus on the numbers or the process, when in fact, each job you recruit for should be a learning process first and foremost. We have some control of how others perceive recruiters, and if you put yourself in the hiring managers shoes, you will see clearly what you should be doing.

  4. Wayne Wauters

    I do agree with the most of what you say. That being said I work for a first class organization. I find it interesting that all recruiters seem to fault the hiring mangers. If you polled the hiring managers I wonder if they would blame the recruiters. I looked at the survey but did not have time to complete it. The questions and answers seemed a little off or leading.I would like to see how many that took the survey were corporate recruiter and how many were agency. I think that the two perspectives are quite different.

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