Are Corporate Recruiters Capable of Hiring Top Passive Candidates?

In my mind, there are four types of corporate recruiting styles. These are shown below. In fact, I’ll contend (and attempt to prove in this article) that this style directly impacts the quality of people brought into an organization. If quality of hire matters, recruiting leaders need to take this “recruiting style” issue into account as they build and develop their recruiting teams.

The Four Primary Recruiting Styles and the Impact on Quality of Hire

1) The “Farmer” — aka the “post and pray” or the Dilbert model. This type of recruiter reposts the job description with the hope a good person will apply, does not challenge hiring managers to understand real job needs, has only basic knowledge of the company and industry, uses skills and experiences to screen candidates, follows the rules, and makes excuses when someone complains about not seeing enough good people. The primary target in this case is the active candidate who somehow found the posting. If you have a strong employer brand and candidate supply exceeds demand, this style can actually work.

2) The “Transactional” — aka the used car salesman – makes lots and lots of calls, looks for someone with almost the exact skills as the job description, and hopes someone says yes. This is the aggressive variation of the Farmer, with a focus on harder-to-find candidates that requires some recruiting skills to influence the candidate. The prey here is some candidate between active and passive who meets the basic skills of the job. While not too efficient, this style can actually work as a result of sheer effort and audacity. If there is a good candidate with the right skills somewhere out there, the “Transactional” will eventually find the person. My primary concern with the Transactional is that top people — those in the top-half of the top-half — move at a far slower speed than the transactional recruiter wants, and are often missed in the rush to make the next call.

3) The “Technocrat” — aka the technocrat — is up on all of the latest cool sourcing tools and Boolean search techniques and is profound in his or her wisdom, but down deep is more a sophisticated Farmer with a GPS and iPad on the tractor. The prey here is a candidate on the margin who has just decided to look, or has some deeply buried resume just waiting to be found. While Technocrats can unearth some great talent, few are able to personally draw them into the fold and get them hired without the help of a strong employer brand, a great hiring manager, or a great recruiter. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this type of tag-team approach, if that’s what it takes to make the great hire.

If a company, due to factors like employer brand or industry buzz, can attract top performers, then the types of recruiters described above are more than sufficient. On the other hand, if the supply of top talent is far less than the demand, or if the company must proactively seek hard-to-find people, than the above recruiting styles will prove ineffective. In this case, the company must either rely on the Corporate Headhunter style as the recruiting model of choice. This fourth recruiting style is defined below:

4) The “Corporate Headhunter” — aka the go-to recruiter who gets the job done — this person is a strong networker, gets great referrals, is up on all of the latest company and industry news, challenges the hiring manager when taking the assignments, screens on potential not skills, keeps the best engaged throughout the process, and can close by balancing compensation with opportunity.

This complete corporate headhunter bag of tricks is not required for every job or every organization. From an organizational standpoint it’s more important whenever the company’s self-attracting power is weak. From a job standpoint, it’s particularly well-suited when top talent is required to fill critical positions or when candidate supply is far less than demand.

Yet even with a solid brand and a talent-rich market, there are two core skills all corporate recruiters should learn in order to improve their performance on a Quality of Hire basis. (Note: in a recent ERE article I defined Quality of Hire as how well the new hire met the performance needs of the job.) In my mind, overreliance on the job description in combination with an inability to differentiate between the high potential and fully-qualified is a key weakness of most corporate recruiters, regardless of their dominant style.

The problem I have with job descriptions is that they define average performance and average performers. Early in their careers, the best people tend to get promoted more quickly or get assigned bigger projects. As a result, they tend to be lighter on a years-of-experience basis and get overlooked using a traditional skills/experience resume screening process. This effect is worsened when job descriptions are used as advertising, since even fully qualified top people won’t apply since they aren’t interested in a lateral transfer. High-potential candidates won’t apply either since they are apparently “not qualified” on an absolute level of skills basis.

To remedy this dilemma, I suggest that recruiters ask hiring managers what the person would need to do over the course of the first year in order to get into the top half of the top half. I refer to this list of 5-6 performance objectives as a performance profile. Then ask the hiring manager if he or she would at least be willing to see a person who has achieved similar results, even if their skills and experience aren’t exactly what’s described in the job spec. Few managers resist this.

Tossing the job description aside also requires a different approach to screening. For this I suggest a two-step approach, first determining if the person is in the top-half of the top-half and second, if the person is a reasonable fit for the job. Each step takes about 15 minutes on the phone.

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To quickly determine if the person is in the top-half of the top-half, I’ve created what I call a super competency. It combines all competencies into one big competency. In this case it’s called the Achiever pattern. The idea behind this is that rather than look for a bunch of hard-to-measure individual competencies, look for the results or impact of these competencies as part of the work history review. High-potential people get promoted more rapidly, get more recognition, get bigger bonuses, are assigned to more important projects, have more visibility with upper management, have more patents, write more whitepapers, take on more leadership roles, and are more well-known in the industry, among other similar indicators. This is the Achiever pattern. Since the pattern starts becoming evident in high school and college, you can use this filter regardless of the position level.

Once I find the Achiever pattern I then ask the candidate to describe the biggest task, project, or accomplishment they’ve handled most related to what’s described in the performance profile. If it’s comparable from a scope and complexity standpoint, I present the candidate to the hiring manager as a high-potential person worth meeting. Getting the hiring manager to meet the candidate is where most recruiters fall short. That’s why the performance profile is so important. It switches the criteria from skills to performance.

Hiring more Achievers should be the primary goal of all recruiters. It starts by becoming a Corporate Headhunter. If you’re a recruiting leader I’d suggest start hiring recruiters who can challenge hiring managers, who are willing to call people who aren’t looking and engage with them in a career discussion, and who can fight hard for their candidates who are Achievers, especially those who have a different mix of skills than listed on the job description. In the long run these are the people who will be running your company in the future.

Lou Adler

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).