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Attn: Recruiting Leaders — When Hiring Recruiters, You Get What You Pay for

by May 16, 2011, 2:16 pm ET

Do you know what an experienced recruiter “looks like”? If hiring a recruiter to build a talent strategy, would you know the interview questions to ask to determine if candidates can do the job like any top talent you’re in search of?

I pose this question because I see a multitude of job postings for “experienced” recruiters with five years of experience. To me, this is an oxymoron. I had extraordinary search training, broke the 100k barrier in my third year, had lots of clients, and I was just beginning to really know what I was doing in year six.

Each year I learned more and got better at my craft. Recruiting is highly complex, when done properly, and it concerns me that companies that wouldn’t consider hiring a sales rep with five years of experinece would hire a recruiter to build a talent process who only has five years of experience. There seems to be a considerable disconnect here and I’d like to try to get to the bottom of it.

Since this is my assertion, I posed this question to a number of recruiters I consider “experienced” to determine if I was barking up the right tree. One of them has six years, one has 10, and the rest have at 15-30 years in the industry. They do retained and contingent work. Here are the three responses I found most interesting and believe they say it all:

  • That’s a good question. For me it feels like I am still not an “experienced recruiter.” Mainly because I truly am learning new things and meeting new people every day. But a basic level of experience for me came somewhere in my seventh and eighth year. That’s when I went on my own. From that point on it seems like I am tweaking and learning incrementally with no end in sight to being completely ”experienced.” (He has almost 30 years in the business)
  • That is a tough question because there are so many variables. I will say it is a lot tougher and more complicated than most people think.
  • Having real impact on the process and recognizing where the hard problems lie and chasing those. The experienced recruiter relishes in addressing and fixing any high-impact problems that exist.

I received one telling response I think may be a contributing factor to my original inquiry. It was from the retained recruiter with six years of experience, the first year and a half of which she worked for a staffing company doing technical recruiting. She was the only one who didn’t have the time for a thoughtful response. I’ve had a few conversations with her and she feels like she knows much more than her responses to me indicate. I think, looking back on my own career, I probably thought I knew “everything” at six years. In hindsight, of course, this was not the case. Maybe the more we know, the more humble we get? Maybe the more experienced we become, we realize how little we actually knew in our past? Maybe the reason for this is that we are more secure in who we are and our craft.

At five years, could I have implemented a talent process? Yes. Would it have been successful and effective? Probably not. My concern is that companies think they can hire recruiters low on experience and training to implement complex processes and to find and attract high-level candidates. It’s imperative that organizations get clear on what they want to accomplish with respect to talent, that this process is aligned throughout the organization, and then hire professional recruiters high on experience. And remember, you get what you pay for.

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.

  • Robert Dromgoole

    Carol, I posit that the 5 years is an HR imposed leveling mechanism agreed upon with compensation. HR had to level the recruiter job, and according to some criteria the minimum is 5 years. Just because it’s posted for 5 years minimum doesn’t mean they’ll hire for that. Thoughts?

  • http://www.inboundrecruiter.com Brian Kevin Johnston

    “Maybe the more experienced we become, we realize how little we actually knew in our past? Maybe the reason for this is that we are more secure in who we are and our craft.”

    This is a true statement from my experience (13 recruiter years/275+ TPR hires)… I am still learning so much as I go along… At the end of the day, SPEED is they key, coupled with QUALITY, and QUANTITY of your activity.. (gotta have both) Best to ALL, Brian-

  • http://recruitingviews.blogspot.com/ Ian Harvey

    Carol, I have 25+ years experience in recruitment. Pressure on cost has certainly led to many companies employing cheaper and less experienced staff. When corporates look to set up recruitment operations, they seem to want to create a ‘mini-agency’ internally, i.e geared to winning ‘the CV race’. If you are going to spend time, money and effort in creating an internal recruitment operation, why bother replicating something that the existing market can give you more cheaply anyway? The emphasis internally has to be on delivering excellent recruitment solutions, not just satisfactory ones, using high quality experienced recruiters. I hope!!

  • http://www.verticalelevation.com Carol Schultz

    @Robert: You make a good point. However, if they’re not going to hire someone with 5 yrs experience why is it in their requirement? As far as it being an HR imposed leveling mechanism, this indicates the quality of HR imposed systems (a whole other subject). It’s just not so black and white. Imposing this type of leveling mechanism is like making an offer to any top talent and telling him that X is the salary, no exceptions. Life is gray.

  • Andrew Diffenbaugh

    I am in agreement with Ian in that when bringing recruiting in house, organizations want to replicate the particular result from TPRs. They want to have the look and feel of a retained firm, with the comparable numbers of “placements” of the firms. However, the firm that “places” the candidates has people with substantial experience in recruiting; the ones I know have more than 5 years. There are sourcers, assistants that help that recruiter but the person putting the deal together has done this deal for years.

  • http://www.myaspenadvisor.com Andrew Gadomski

    Like the article Carol. I am a big fan of the 10,000 hour rule on expertise. As we help companies assess recruiters, their ability to learn, and of course their effectiveness, I keep running back to that.

    You can have a recruiter that has worked in a space for 5 years, focused on one area, in one discipline, and they easily could have become an expert in finding whatever. But their expertise is so honed, that it may not translate to other areas well. In fact, some of the learning they have may translate so poorly, that its actually a detriment to the role.

    Of course you could have another recruiter who mixes it up across positions, functions, regions, etc and they could have all kinds of experiences. They probably have 10,000 hours in posting, sourcing, closing, and negotiating – but may not have the technical expertise desired to be effective.

    So I totally agree in figuring out what you need. Figure out what you need accomplished, and THEN configure the experiences and competencies that will likely produce those results – not the other way around (which is way too popular).

    When it comes to leadership / management – this is where I think the rubber hits the road. Experienced recruiters who have been individual contributors for a long time may find themselves struggling in management (I know I did my first time around) as they have done so much work without management experience that managing can be a real problem. Its just like sales – don’t take your best sales person off the floor and make them a manager – take the best leader and make them a manager :)

    Again – nice article :)

  • http://iactuary.co.za Adi Kaimowitz

    Apologies for the late reply, I’m scanning backdated articles.

    I’ve been in recruitment for only 3.5 years however I’ve been in sales forever. All different sales environments. After my first year as an agency recruiter I fell in love with the fact that my product was human beings…. How bizarre. After a discrepancy in how the business should be managed, I waited out my restraint period and a year later opened up my own business and started the grooling process of building my database/network. I work from home so my expenses are virtually nil.

    I’m in a catch 22. I’m definitely not experienced enough to be getting it right 100%, but I’m going for it anyway. If I’m going to be putting effort into growing a business, it may aswell be my own. I’m also lucky that websites and blogs have sprung up over the last few years which allow me to learn from experienced recruiters.

    Just in closing the one issue I’m definitely having a problem with, is… Closing. I’m changing strategies a bit in doing most of the talking in getting the passive candidates to go on interviews but my change is coming in not saying too much once they are at second and third stage interview. I’m hoping they won’t feel as comfortable turning down the offer as they have been of late, because we have maybe become too friendly and they feel comfortable in telling me they are not keen to leave their comfort zone. ( I only send my clients passive candidates)(I don’t post ads, I use my network in sourcing all my candidates).

    I’ve got lots to still learn. Thanks and all the best.