Are You a Strategic Recruiter? A Quick Assessment Checklist

Can you think of a more universal goal among corporate recruiters than to be recognized as a strategic recruiter? Where being classified as strategic means having a longer-term impact on corporate strategic business goals by going beyond simply meeting your monthly recruiting targets? Although there’s nothing wrong with being a tactical recruiter, being recognized as a strategic recruiter means that you have excelled as a professional and that you are making a significantly larger contribution to your team and firm. Reaching this status is in my experience something that less than 20 percent of all corporate recruiters actually achieve. So, if you want to move beyond simply “calling yourself a strategic recruiter” the following is a list of measurable benchmarks that you and others can use to assess how close you are to this prized status.

The Top 10 Qualifying Factors for Becoming a Strategic Recruiter

The most critical assessment factors of the 10 are listed first. If you need more detail on a particular qualifying factor, hyperlinks to relevant supporting articles are provided within each factor.

  • Strategic recruiters serve as talent advisors — The ultimate goal of any strategic recruiter is to serve, at least part-time, as a talent advisor, a broader talent role that extends beyond recruiting to include proactive consulting responsibilities with additional emphasis on helping managers assessing and meeting future talent needs and improving internal movement and talent retention. It also means that within your recruiting function you take the lead in recommending shifts in strategies, metrics, and tools.
  • Strategic recruiters make data-supported decisions — Historically many strategic recruiters were intuitive decision makers. That is no longer possible in the data-driven environment demanded by today’s executives. Strategic recruiters build their credibility with hiring managers by providing data showing that they have used the most effective sources, marketing research, assessment tools, and selling approaches. Strategic recruiters also provide executives with the dollar value added by hiring exceptional individuals, and the costs of slow hiring and hiring weak performers. Strategic recruiters also strive to provide both predictive and prescriptive metrics for current and upcoming recruiting problems.
  • They measure and quantify the performance and impact of their new-hires — all recruiting metrics are not equal. Professionals in every field and strategic recruiters consistently find a way to go beyond output volume and measure the most important metric — the quality of their output, even when their recruiting function doesn’t facilitate measuring quality of hire. A strategic recruiter measures the performance level of their new hires compared to the average (at least in jobs where performance is already quantified). They also make at least an estimate of the dollar impact that results from hiring better performers who stay longer and who have a positive career trajectory. Strategic recruiters never whine about the supposed difficulty of measuring their quality of hire.
  • Strategic recruiters conduct external competitive analysis — There is literally nothing in HR more competitive than recruiting. To be strategic, a recruiter must periodically analyze their external recruiting competitors with a competitive analysis. And, use that external analysis to come up with their own continually evolving strategy and approach for building a measurable competitive advantage for beating the recruiters from each talent competitor firm in every recruiting area. Understanding the competition also allows a recruiter to successfully recruit/poach top talent directly from product competitors.
  • They have an active talent pipeline — tactical recruiters exclusively source and hire for immediate openings using a process that I call “hectic sourcing.” While strategic recruiters are forward-acting, they have a formal pipeline process for pre-identifying talent for future openings for each their key jobs. Identifying top talent before they are actually needed (pre-need) allows more time for building trust, and for the more effective assessment and selling of fully employed prospects who already have a job.
  • They recruit for jobs that their firm rates as strategic — You, obviously, can’t have much of a strategic impact unless you at least occasionally recruit for open strategic jobs. Normally, strategic jobs include mission-critical positions, executive/manager positions, global leadership positions, and any innovation and revenue-generating jobs. Strategic recruiters prioritize their own jobs and business units and then focus on those requisitions with the highest business impacts.
  • They shift their recruiting strategy with the changing talent marketplace — Rather than maintaining a consistent recruiting methodology, strategic recruiting functions and recruiters must be agile. This means that they shift their strategies, tools, and attraction approaches as their firm’s business needs and the economy changes. They also shift their approach to meet the continuing changes in the talent marketplace, industry changes, unemployment rates, and candidate expectations. Focus areas that should change significantly include speed of hire, hiring when the competition is low, the candidate experience, sources used, scientific selling approaches, and emphasizing the latest attraction factors.
  • Strategic recruiters remain on the leading edge of recruiting technology — even if your corporate function has yet to buy it, it is the obligation of strategic recruiters to stay current on the latest developments and capabilities of recruiting technology. A strategic recruiter needs to be the leading developer of the business case for this new technology. They also know when to recommend robotics and software solutions, in cases where they perform better than hiring new people.
  • Direct sourcing is their primary tool — The clearest identifying factor for tactical recruiters is their reliance on job postings to attract active candidates. Strategic recruiters with sourcing responsibilities get at least 30 percent of their applicants through direct sourcing approaches. These so-called passive recruiting approaches should include employee referrals, LinkedIn searches, direct poaching, and finding the work of outstanding prospects. Their advanced sourcing capabilities also allow them to excel at finding innovators and diverse candidates.
  • Strategic recruiters regularly contribute to the recruiting profession — Being strategic involves strategic thinking and taking “big picture global actions.” Part of that “beyond their job obligation” is consciously acting to build your firm’s employer brand and having a continuous business/HR/recruiting learning and skill development plan. Strategic recruiters must also have a plan for taking a leadership role in their own function and helping others, including formally mentoring other recruiters. Strategic recruiters also contribute to the advancement of the profession by writing blogs, or creating how-to YouTube videos. They further contribute to the advancement of the profession by joining the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals and by speaking on webinars and at professional recruiting conferences like ERE.

Final Thoughts

If you’re going to be 100 percent honest with yourself, realize that a quick passing mental thought covering “I have done that” isn’t sufficient to qualify under any of these factors. Instead, in my experience, true strategic recruiters can physically produce a written plan or outline covering their approach for continually meeting at least seven of the listed factors. And, of course, if you are a recruiting leader, use a modification of this checklist and the principles of strategic recruiting as assessment tools for assessing your own recruiters and your overall recruiting function.

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Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s April event in San Diego on “recruiting in a candidate-driven market.”

Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.