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Bright and Shiny Recruiting Objects Are Dangerous to Your Corporate Health

by Feb 5, 2008

Howard Adamsky penned an interesting article the other day that struck a raw nerve with me. So much so that not only did I take the time to respond (which I do not do a lot of these days), but it actually lured me out of the darkness to jump on my soapbox with an article.

For those of you with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), I will give you the abridged version so you can all get back to busily juggling your day. Further on, I will give you the larger, contextual version from a recruiting leader who has learned some hard lessons over the last five years.

ADD Version

As children, we were enamored with objects that were bright and shiny. Our parents would pull their hair out in dismay as they tried to keep us on task and focused on the discussion/lesson at hand, but the magical enticement of that new bright and shiny object was too much.

Fast-forward many years in the future, where we are now adults with recruiting responsibilities, and some of us are even in important positions of management and leadership.

A typical day might involve you reading an article or receiving an e-mail from a colleague highlighting a new tool, website, or technique. Later that day, a recruiting or business leader comes to you saying that recruiting (you) cannot find enough quality candidates, so what are you going to do about it? While in that state of dread, you flash back to childhood. You remember the joy that that bright and shiny object brought you. Back in the present day, you suddenly remember that article you read recently about Second Life.

“Let’s try Second Life,” you pronounce to the leader.

Larger, Contextual Version

Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing wrong with innovation or trying something new. The world of recruiting would not advance if we did not continue to try new things. This is where we have to be careful though, as the correct balance needed between innovations and tweaking or enhancement of an existing model, process, strategy, or structure can be the difference between success and failure. Go too far on the innovation front and you might get kudos for trying something new, but will it produce the results? Go too far the other way and people will frown at you as “old school,” not willing to look to the future, and you are putting your company or yourself at a competitive disadvantage.

It is human nature to gravitate toward things that are new versus revisiting and refining something that you have done before. It is easier and sexier to try that new social networking site (last count, I think we are pushing 100) than it is to take the time to carefully analyze what produces the greatest results, then refine, adjust, and build upon the existing success.

You might be saying to yourself, “Bah, humbug! My employee referral program delivers up to 40% of my total hires, so it really does not need any more attention. I want to focus on some of the new ideas like blogging, social networking sites, or interesting things like Twitter, video resumes, Second Life, or MySpace.”

Of course, that is your prerogative, and just because I am writing this article does not mean you are going to change. But, before you hit the back button or move on from this article, I pose to you the following questions: Do you know all the sourcing channels where you made your hires from last year? Do you know what they represented as an overall percentage? Do you have any ideas as to how much they could be increased this year? Do you know if the percentages are even accurate?

Let’s look at an example of a corporate recruiting function and what the breakout of its sourcing channels might be. (Note: Of course, all companies will vary on these numbers, but for the purpose of this article, I am taking a mix of my own experience, that of colleagues in the industry who track this data, as well as external benchmarking like the CareerXroads Source of Hire Survey.)

  • Employee Referrals: 40-50%
  • Careers Web Page: 15-20%
  • Job Boards: 15%-20%
  • Networking/Cold Calling/Headhunting (generally referred to as “sourcing”): 0-20%
  • Agencies: 5-10%
  • Other (social-networking sites, blogging, MySpace/Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, etc.): less than 10%

So, the million-dollar question that needs to be asked here is: If I am going to help my organization increase the identification of quality talent, where am I going to invest my time, resources, and dollars to try and produce the greatest return on that investment? Is it better to focus on what produces the greatest volume and quality of candidates (employee referrals, as an example), and look to adjust, improve, or re-invigorate the program to increase it by an additional 10%? Or, am I better served investing in dozens and dozens of seemingly innovative new approaches to try and get the additional 10% increase that way?

Don’t get me wrong: Change and innovation is good. Every recruiting strategy must be diverse and look out for potential new sources that identify candidates. I am sure that most people reading this will say, “I am going to do both.”

But, do all of us have endless resources and deep pockets? Of course we do not. For that matter, I would argue that you are better served doing a few things incredibly well rather than a dozen things with so-so results.

Why don’t you invest heavily in print media anymore? Why is it that you do not go to as many career fairs? The answer to both is they generally do not produce the ROI that you are looking for. Otherwise, you would advertise in every newspaper or magazine where you thought you could get candidates to come to you. Look at the percentage of hires that new social networking sites produced last year. Did it produce the comparable investment (not just money, but recruiters’/sourcers’ time, energy, and effort) you expected, or were hoping for more?

This scenario is just as applicable to a process, program, or recruitment organizational structure. New leaders have a tendency to want to come in and implement the “new thing” so as to make an impact with leadership and save the organization from itself. I cannot count the number of times industry colleagues have told me that they have a new leader in place and they are going to roll out something new that was tried many years prior by a previous incumbent in the same role. Change for the sake of change is bad; innovation for the sake of innovation is similarly disruptive. We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I believe that doing things too widely different or blindly following innovation can have just as dramatic an effect. From a business/recruitment perspective, investing in something because it is new without proper due diligence is just as insane, particularly when you are no further forward from where you originally started, as this is just the same as if you never started at all. What you have ended up doing is wasting your and the company’s time and money.

I know companies selling new products and services will not be big fans of my thinking, nor will some individuals who spend their time writing articles about new, bright, shiny objects. Remember, what I am not advocating is the stopping of change or innovation, but more of a “look before you leap” attitude. Simplify and refine what you already have before adding more to the pile for the sake of saying to your boss that you are trying something new. It takes courage. It takes conviction. But, in the end, it is generally all about results (producing a hire). What we do for a living is quite simple, but sometimes we seem to have a tendency to over complicate it.

The next time you read an article or see someone presenting the latest “bright and shiny” new tactic or tool that claims it will solve all your talent identification problems, you might want to stop, think, and do a little homework before you go blindly investing in something where, in the end, your energy and effort could have been served better elsewhere. Sometimes, the right answer does not necessarily equal what is interesting, different, and new but, rather, something that you know already works and requires a focused commitment and conviction to adjust, tweak, and improve.

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.

  • Ben Gotkin

    Rob – You and I have had a few discussion on this topic so far and I think I know more now where you are coming from on this. I agree that too many recruiters get wooed by every new Silver Bullet that comes along, while not concentrating enough on executing essential recruiting skills and tactics that are effective and proven.

    The problem isn’t the ‘bright and shiny recruiting objects’ however. The problem is that too many people see these ‘objects’ as the next Silver Bullet. Sure, many of these ‘objects’ are long on promise and short on delivery, but there a few out there that are ‘must haves’ in this day and age. LinkedIn, for example, is a very powerful name gen and networking tool. Facebook is gaining steam as powerful recruitment marketing tool. Blogs, and other sites, such as Ning, offer great promise in both network building and delivery of recruiting media.

    I get the sense from your article however that if the tool isn’t ‘proven’, then it’s not worth investing time and resources on it, and that’s where I strongly disagree. Do results drive innovation, or does innovation drive results?

    Yes, spend your time and resources on the tactics and strategies that deliver the greatest quantity of quality talent. But to ignore tools and sites that offer you access to tens of millions of people is rather short-sighted in my opinion.

    What is important is to take a critical view of these ‘objects’ as they come along, and assess if they have any potential to add value to your short and long-term recruiting efforts. Take a few (there really are only a few) that fit this mold and discover how to maximize your effectiveness with them. I typically find that most people just dabble a little here and there, don’t get any results, and declare the ‘object’ a failure. In terms of investments however, the most you typically need to invest is your time, the bright and shiny objects I use don’t cost me a cent.

    If one of these ‘objects’ unearths even just one great candidate that you may not of found otherwise, hasn’t value been added in exploring their use? If effective use of just a few of these ‘objects’ results in identifying quanities of quality talent and in helping to spread your recruiting brand, weren’t the investments worthwhile?

    Bottom line is what you choose to use is just another tool in the toolkit.

  • Bonnie De Mets

    Rob,

    Thank you for taking the time to get on your soapbox. I agree with your assessment.

    Bonnie de Mets

  • Scott Kahle

    Rob,

    I think this posting is right on, and I say this as I prepare to do a webcast for the Human Capital Institute (HCI) entitled ?Recruiting in Virtual Time and Space: Second Life and Other Online Communities?. I’ve always been an early adopter of ‘bright and shiny’ recruiting solutions. Like a lot of the folks here on ERE, I love to hear about new products and services in our space. While I can honestly say that I’ve had some great success stories, I’m equally aware of the hours I’ve waisted on new products or services that didn’t produce a good ROI.

    While working on my presentation for HCI, I found myself questioning if and why I’d recommend investing time and resources in recruiting on Second Life to my recruiters. The answer so far is no, not at this time. As the practice matures, I can see a day when it might make sense for our recruiters to set up a recruiting office on Second Life, but at this time there are just too many other ways we could spend out time and get better results.

    Thank said, I did become a member of Second Life and I’ll be keeping my eye on the results IBM, TMP and Semper International come up with.

  • Jeff Weidner

    First I don’t know of any companies that blindly invest in new technologies to help their recruiters source candidates. I do know plenty of individual recruiters that do so on a seemingly daily basis. But most of them end up being ‘partners’ with the company that is pitching their technologies in the first place. Time and time again, even on ERE, I see the same Sourcers and Recruiters pitching the technology du jour. But hey that’s all part of the marketing and branding landscape today. I take it all with a grain of salt.

    My recommendation is to take the free trial period and run it through it’s paces to see if it’s somthing that should be rolled out to the entire team. I usually have a team of 2-3 researchers test it out for as long as possible, tracking results, gathering specifc feedback. Then if it passes the test I move it out to a limited group that will most benefit test of 3 months then if it’s still proving it’s worth roll it out company wide. BUT even then I re-evaluate all technology solutions yearly to see if they’re worth keeping. Most aren’t..

  • John Sloan

    This was a great article but it leaves me sad as I sit here with my ‘lifetime supply’ of seat belt buckle polish just now realizing my investment in the latest technology is unlikely to solve my corrosion issue. There is no silver bullet???????????? Well, that’s not what the package/sales rep said!

    BTW, I need a more corporate word than ‘tweak’ for my new/enhanced/adjusted/refined corporate bingo card, any suggestions?

  • Steven Landberg

    I concur with your premise that many new hot tools and techniques do not add much to tried and true recruiting approaches. I also wanted to point out that my firm, Claymore Partners, recently did a survey of Financial Service firms, and which asked sources of hires for executives versus overall. The participants indicated that 70% of financial service executive hires are from third party search firms, 15% from referrals, and 15% from internal sourcing. Seems like executive recruiting has changed least despite the emergence of all the online recruiting approaches. However, there has been a shift from largely retained to both retained and contingency search even at the executive levels in the financial services arena.

  • Matt Roland

    I couldn’t agree more with your perspective, especially in regards to Second Life. When I read in Newsweak or some such mag about it boasting a viable place in the recruitosphere, I was madder than Donkey Kong. It’s a video game, bottom line, and I found it hard to accept that anyone outside that particular industry (or related) would coo over an applicant’s virtual lemonade stand.

    M Roland
    Appendant.com

  • Simon Evans

    Excellent article and a good build on Howard’s piece…and about time! I have been in recruiting 20 years (yes it did exist then) both in Europe and the US both ageny and corporate. I benefit from innovation, use Social network sites, web based sourcing tools and am looking into search engine optimization but at the core I still rely on real contact, real networking and cold calling.

    It is interesting, managing teams of recruiters who have only known the web/ATS world how often they hide behind technology as opposed to making calls and taking a risk of rejection. It is incredible how little they know about structured sales calls, open and closed questions etc, despite having years in ‘Recruiting’. When push comes to shove recruiting is sales and recruiters need to be able to take the knocks and make the calls not rely on technology to do the work for them.

    The best source for any company should be the current employee base, yet so many companies either have no ERP program, a feeble one or do little to market the program. Use technology and marketing savvy to leverage what works by all means but do not use new tools as a screen to hide behind or as an excuse to avoid making the low tech hard work options that already deliver better.

    OK rant over….

  • Ross Clennett

    Spot on Rob. Your article is a great example of how the 80/20 rule should work in recruitment sourcing. Invest 80% of your budget in proven sourcing strategies for your target market. Invest 20% (the 20% you invested last year in the least effective sourcing strategies) in a wide range of new or newer sourcing methods, measure the results across an appropriate timeframe and then re-invest or seek other sourcing pastures in line with the results.

  • Jeremy Langhans

    well written Rob ….
    as always, your stuff is timely & relevant! ;)

    Can you provide us with any Data/Theory around ‘Executive Talent Sourcing’ strategies?
    (exec defined as dir/vp+)

    Thank you,
    Jer

  • Howard Adamsky

    It would be easy to comment on Rob?s article in a positive way as it tends to be in alignment with my thinking.

    As such, I will avoid that type of response and call attention to his broader concept of presenting a solid argument that puts innovation clearly where is should be; under careful scrutiny until it clearly shows its ROI and ability to make a consistent, ongoing and measurable difference.

    Also consider this; Rob is not trying to sell anything to anyone. He is a respected recruiting leader whose advice should only be ignored at the peril of the reader. I can assure you that he has not achieved his level of success by failing to carefully evaluate where he spends his time, his money and his resources.

    The internet, combined with its ?thought leaders,? has a free and open ability to sell anything to anyone in the name of innovation and promises of great things to come. This is not necessarily bad but we only have so much time, money and cycles to deal with the increasing demand for attention and evaluation of new and different ?innovations.?

    I for one am not against innovation and I suspect Rob is not either. On the other hand, it is wise to remember that ?bright and shiny recruiting objects? can indeed be a great danger to your corporate health.

  • David Rees

    Does anyone really take Second Life seriously?

    They have like 30-50k users – in no particular geographic concentration, no specific professional orientation or age group or anything. Your local newspaper is focused advertising by comparison.

    If you are going to fish in that pond, why not go to World of Warcraft – they actually have over 10,000,000 paying users.

    All top talent in their industry, for certain…

    If we are going to recruit people out of ‘games’ then why not go to the Boston Marathos or the Iron Man in Hawaii or even your local church softball league. I think your odds will be much better.

    I liked the article.

  • Joshua Letourneau

    There is one parallel/consistency here between Rob’s and Howard’s article:

    They are telling us the truth. Why? Because they don’t stand to economically benefit from lying to us.

    Rob’s article comes from a guy who operates a highly-successful Sourcing Function day in and day out . . . ‘in the trenches’ at at a 40-ft level, not 40,000 feet.

    As IBM so creatively displays the point of innovation in its ‘Innovation Island’ commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ9N8v7kl0M) . . .

    ‘The point of innovation is to make actual money!’

  • Danielle Sayles

    I agree with the article, in the sense that it is very important to make sure you are investing in tools that have an overall positive impact on your recruitment goals. There is never going to be ONE way to find all the candidates, whether you choose to source from job boards, networking sites, referral programs and so on. Recruitment requires skill and diligence, however, just like any sales role, it is a numbers game. I believe many companies invest in the well-known boards to widen the pool of candidates they have to choose from. This is fine, if quantity is important. This also works when you do not have a specific niche. The problem with it is you end up filtering through a lot of what you are not looking for, which takes up a lot of time and we all know that time=money. I agree with both Howard and Rob. You must innovate. However, what is most important is making sure that what you invest in is working. Change and trying new things is good, especially if there is a positive outcome. How will you ever know what works best if you have not tried everything available.

    When it comes to quality, it is important that the tools used relate to the niche you are in. If you are recruiting for technology, you should be using tools geared towards technology. If you recruit for contract and consulting positions, you should not be only looking on general job boards, but also boards specific to that niche. Likewise with other industries such as finance and engineering. If you go straight to the source of the types of candidates you are looking for, you will spend less time finding them and more time filling positions. Competitors and Niche sites are a great way to find quality. General job boards are a great way to find quantity.

  • Rob McIntosh

    Ben – you make some excellent points and I want to make sure I am very clear with little wriggle room left for interpretation.

    The roadside it littered with recruiting strategies that are directly related to trying to be an early adaptor and catch the next big wave or gain that competitive advantage. If we boil down my article in 2 simple points (maybe I should have written a 2 point article in the first place :-) it is this:

    (1)If you are going to test out a new tool/approach??Measure the heck out of it and even if it might not be quite right now revisit at a latter day if you think it is a possible winner and test and test and test some more. But, please measure it vs. sticking your finger in the air to gauge the wind.

    (2)Don?t get sucked into the innovation spiral as you can never win (like buying a TV). I see it akin to betting on the penny stock market. You might hit a winner once in a blue moon that pays off big but you also have to look at how much time/energy/money you have invested along the way. The issue is that most business leaders have little patience for running a business like playing the penny market as they are looking for as much as a sure thing that produces results as often as possible.

    Example: I love a certain social networking tool and I continue to look at different ways that it can yield the best results but at this stage we are still early adopters where it only produces a small fraction of the hires. I am not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater as I know that there is something there and I am trying to position the firm at the top of that wave I think is coming???But that wave is still a little way off in the distance IMHO so my investment and approach reflects that.

    I will continue to evaluate and scan the landscape for new tools and approaches, but maybe the gray hairs I have collected over the years remind me that when the geek in me see?s something new and cool I stop and remind myself that it might just be a penny stock play. I do not turn my head and go bar-humbug but I do weigh it up carefully against where my time and companies money needs to invested.

    Rob

  • Maureen Sharib

    There’s an old Clay Walker song I’ve always liked and one of the lines goes:

    ‘…what you gonna do
    When the new wears off and the old shines through…’

    The whole song:
    Well I got a good friend who’s got a good life
    He’s got two pretty children and a real nice wife
    But he never seems quite satisfied
    I said I know what’s on your mind
    But you better think about it before you cross that line
    The grass aint always greener on the other side

    Then what, what you gonna do
    When the new wears off and the old shines through
    And it aint really love and it aint really lust
    You aint anybody anyone’s gonna trust
    Then what, where you gonna turn
    When you cant turn back for the bridges you burn
    And fate can’t wait to kick you in the butt
    Then what

    Well I aint saying that looking’s a crime
    Well I’ve done my share from time to time
    It dont mean that you gotta take that leap
    When you’re standin’ on the brink
    Before you jump you gotta step back and think
    There’s price for ever promise you dont keep

    Then what, what you gonna do
    When the new wears off and the old shines through
    And it aint really love and it aint really lust
    You aint anybody anyone’s gonna trust
    Then what, where you gonna turn
    When you cant turn back for the bridges you burn
    And fate can’t wait to kick you in the butt
    Then what

    Do want you want, do want you wish
    It’s your life but remember this
    There’s bound to be some consequences
    Sneaking under other fences

    Then what, what you gonna do
    When the new wears off and the old shines through
    And it aint really love and it aint really lust
    You aint anybody anyone’s gonna trust
    Then what, where you gonna turn
    When you cant turn back for the bridges you burn
    And fate can’t wait to kick you in the butt
    Then what
    ******

    THEN what?
    ;)
    Do something today you don’t think you can do.

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