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The 20 Principles of Strategic Recruiting

by
Dr. John Sullivan
Jul 7, 2008, 4:06 am ET

Corporate recruiting is an interesting field. There are no books entitled The Theory of Recruiting or Principles of Strategic Recruiting. As a result, most individuals in recruiting tend to make it up as they go rather than follow a more defined set of rules or principles.

There is no formal body in recruiting that “codifies” the established practices. In this article, I am attempting to help resolve that problem by compiling a list (from my 35-plus years of experience in the field) that can serve as a foundation for your actions.

Of course, principles are guidelines to point you in the right direction. Remember to vary your direction depending on your business situation and global location.

20 Principles of Recruiting and Talent Management

The following is a list of 20 principles, laws, or guidelines to help you design and implement effective recruiting strategies and approaches:

  1. A well-defined strategy. The foundation of any recruiting effort is a clearly defined and communicated strategy that illustrates the brand message, target candidates, primary sources, and most-effective closing approaches (the who, what, when, and how). Poorly defined or communicated strategy elements results in wasted resources and weak hires. In addition, the best strategies have the capability of “shifting” as the economy and the demand for candidates change.
  2. Pipeline approach. The most effective recruiting approach is to build a steady stream of applicants (a pipeline). In order to build a continuous “talent pipeline,” use a “pre-need” approach that includes workforce planning, branding, continuous sourcing, and onboarding.
  3. Competitive. The most effective recruiting approaches are compared against and are clearly superior to those of a firm’s talent competitors. Because competitors will quickly copy your most effective approaches, a continuous side-by-side assessment of “yours versus theirs” is necessary. A sub-principle applies to candidates: because the very best are always in high demand, if you don’t have to literally “fight” for a candidate, in most cases, you do not have the best candidate in the field.
  4. Employment branding. The approach with the highest impact and the only long-term recruiting strategy is employment branding, the process of building your external image as an excellent place to work. By proactively making it easy for potential applicants to read, hear, or see the factors that make working at your firm exciting, you can dramatically increase the number and quality of your applicants over a long period.
  5. Global. For jobs that require top talent, the process must have a global recruiting capability. This is because the very best talent is unlikely to live within commuting distance of your job.
  6. Target employed “non-lookers.” The best recruiting processes are designed to identify and successfully hire currently employed top performers. This means that the process needs the capability of identifying and convincing employed individuals who work at your competitors and may not be actively looking for a position. Unfortunately, most corporate recruiting approaches are designed to attract “active” candidates.
  7. Speed. Making fast hiring decisions is essential whenever a candidate in high demand decides to make a job switch. Top candidates must be hired using “their” decision timetable. Research shows that top candidates are off the market in less than half of the normal corporate time to fill.
  8. Sourcing is critical. If you don’t utilize sources that attract a high percentage of top performers, it is unlikely you will make a quality hire. After employment branding, effective sourcing is the most critical element of the recruiting process. Generally, the most effective source is employee referrals. Other effective but under-used sources include recruiting at professional events and contests. Using ineffective sources means that you must spend inordinate amounts of time and money on candidate screening in order to avoid a weak hire. The source that is used must be shift, depending on the type of candidate required for that position. Unfortunately, many recruiters use the same exact sourcing scheme for every job.
  9. Data-based decisions. Base decisions on sources, screening tools, and which individual to hire on facts and data, not emotion or even common practices. Making decisions based on objective data helps eliminate biases and causes the recruiting process to produce more consistent, reliable, and high-quality results. It’s also true that in a fast-changing world, “what works” changes quickly so recruiting practices become obsolete quickly. Unfortunately, rather than being a small part of recruiting decisions, emotions and “it’s the way we’ve always done it” tend to dominate corporate decision-making.
  10. Build a recruiting culture. The most effective approaches build a corporate-wide “cultural of recruiting” where every manager and employee is a recruiter. Because of their continuous contact and interaction with outside talent, everyone must play an important supplemental role in identifying talent and in spreading the employment brand. The most effective recruiting strategies convince employees to be 24/7 talent scouts, making every employee a recruiter.
  11. A candidate-centric approach. Focus the process on the candidate’s needs, their job selection criteria, and the candidate experience. A significant part of recruiting is “selling” the candidate on applying for and accepting the job. At least in part, recruiting must follow the customer relationship management (CRM) and the sales and marketing models. Often, the number-one reason why candidates reject job offers is the way that they were treated during the hiring process. It’s also important to note that candidates may be current or future customers, so treating them poorly can directly impact future revenue.
  12. Prioritize jobs and targets. Effective recruiting processes maximize resource utilization by identifying and focusing on the positions with the highest business impact. That generally means revenue-producing and revenue-impact jobs, as well as jobs in high margin and rapid growth business units. The process should also target high-impact individuals known as top performers, innovators, and gamechangers.
  13. Managers are the delivery system. Although corporate recruiting designs the process, managers “deliver” and execute a significant part of that process. As a result, hiring managers must understand its elements and support its precise execution. You must effectively demonstrate to individual hiring managers that they will suffer whenever a bad or “butts in chairs” hire is made. Therefore, recruiting must make a strong business case to individual hiring managers that convinces them of the importance of executing the process precisely. The most effective way of influencing hiring managers is by converting recruiting results into their dollar impact on that individual manager’s revenue and profit.
  14. Diversity. An effective recruiting process must include enough variation and personalization to meet the unique needs of diverse individuals from around the world. Diversity and inclusiveness are becoming not just legal terms but critical components in building global sales.
  15. Selling applicants. The very best recruiting processes builds “relationships” with potential applicants over time in order to increase their level of trust and interest. Unfortunately, no amount of benefits or job features will be convincing to high-demand applicants without this level of trust. Because all candidate-screening processes have flaws, stretching out the assessment process over time allows you to learn more about the candidate and decrease the chances of making a bad hire. The best approaches are designed to take advantage of the fact that a target candidate’s willingness to consider a new job changes quite rapidly, as a result of changes in their own job and organization.
  16. Technology. The best processes rely heavily on technology and the Web in all aspects of the recruiting process. Technology can improve screening, increased hiring speed, cut costs, and provide the firm with the capability of hiring globally.
  17. Integration. Recruiting processes must be integrated with other HR processes. Those recruiting processes that operate independently rather than in unison with other HR functions like relocation and compensation will produce diminished results.
  18. Talent shortages. Although industries often face talent shortages, individual firms can actually have a surplus of candidates if they have a strong employment brand, a great referral program, and a candidate-friendly hiring approach. For example, handsome movie stars seldom have difficulty getting “dates” even when the average “Joe” can’t find a single one. Talent shortages are relative and depend on your image and what you have to offer.
  19. Remote work options. Offering candidates remote work options dramatically increases the candidate pool. Firms that have the capability of managing candidates who work from remote locations have a distinct competitive advantage. They can attract the top performer who doesn’t live in the area, who desires working at home, or who isn’t willing to make a long commute.
  20. Metrics and rewards impact recruiting. Every aspect of recruiting improves dramatically when managers and employees are measured, recognized, and rewarded for their contribution to recruiting. By convincing senior management and HR to place metrics and rewards on key aspects of recruiting, you send a clear message about its importance.

Final Thoughts

Almost every business function has come to realize that if you want consistency and excellent results, you must clearly define the rules of the game. There are, of course, exceptions and perhaps even additions that can be made to the principles outlined above.

But, after working with recruiters and recruiting managers from hundreds of companies, I found that these guidelines will give you a pretty good idea of the essential laws of recruiting and where to focus your efforts if you want superior recruiting results.

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. Ryann Reddy

    Great article. You couldn’t have summedit up any better. The only problem is we deal with people. We alyways say around the office here This would be a great job if it wasn’t for the people. The hiring manager who can’t take a min out of his day to interview someone is the best or the one who can’t seem to pull the trigger.

    Ryann Reddy
    Dir of Search
    namegeneration.net

  2. Donna White

    This is an excellent comprehensive guide to recruiting and an outstanding resource. Thank you! I am an external recruiter, but find that many of these principles work for my practice as well. I would also say that if more of my internal recruiting counterparts fully applied these principles, my business might dwindle…or on the otherhand, we might partner even more effectively! Nevertheless, I will share this every chance I get!

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