5 Critical Things Recruiters Need to Do to Become Partners With Their Clients

Sep 14, 2006

Our recently completed 2006 Recruiting and Hiring Challenges survey revealed some significant conflicts between recruiters and their hiring managers that aren’t abating. Between 50 and 60% of the survey respondents indicated these were significant problems at their companies:

  • Most hiring managers were not able to accurately assess candidate competency.
  • Most hiring managers were not able to recruit top performers.
  • Too many hiring managers overvalued skills and experience and/or were unwilling to be flexible regarding the selection criteria.
  • Few hiring managers were willing to spend time reviewing real job needs.
  • Little feedback was provided from hiring managers after candidates were interviewed.
  • Very few managers were trained to interview candidates, and none were trained on how to recruit candidates (over 75% of the respondents indicated this was a problem).

And the list goes on.

Not surprisingly, separate surveys of hiring managers indicated these problems with their corporate and third-party recruiters:

  • Recruiters were not responsive in delivering quality candidates on time.
  • Few recruiters understood real job needs.
  • Few recruiters were capable of accurately assessing candidate competency.

While it’s sad to say that both groups are 100% correct, collectively these problems impact a recruiter’s productivity, on-the-job effectiveness and job satisfaction. Worse, they impact a company’s ability to consistently hire top people.

The underlying cause of these problems is that recruiters are considered vendors in the hiring process by their clients, not as partners. As vendors, managers expect recruiters just to deliver good candidates quickly based on box-checking the requirements on the job description. Managers don’t want to provide the time or feedback because they don’t believe it will do any good. Making matters worse, these managers believe they are extremely competent in assessing competency and hiring top people, so all the recruiter needs to do is deliver the candidates.

Given that most corporate recruiters have too many requisitions to handle, this sorry state of affairs continues ó with the perspective judgment of both recruiters and managers validated each day. To break out of this endless second-guessing and disappointment, recruiters must become partners.

The biggest change you’ll observe in moving from a vendor to a partnership relationship is a huge reduction in the number of candidates needed to be seen for any position. This by itself will increase recruiter productivity 20 to 50%. The reason: Top people who don’t have perfect credentials or who don’t have perfect interviewing skills won’t be excluded for dumb reasons. Here’s how to pull this off.

Five Critical Things Recruiters Need to Do to Become Partners with Their Clients

  1. Know the job. Recruiters who don’t know real job needs get little respect from their clients or their candidates. To change this right away, start your next assignment by telling your hiring manager client that you’re throwing the traditional job description into the trash. A statement like this will clearly express the point you’re making: “This is the most useless thing I’ve every seen. I thought you wanted to hire a top performer, not some dodo.” Wait a few seconds for the shock to wear off, and then add, “If you want to hire a top person, you need to tell me why a top person would want this job.” Now you have control. Over the next 15 minutes, have the hiring manager tell you some of the big challenges involved in the job and some of the reasons why the job is important to the company. Ask the manager what a top person would need to accomplish in order to get an outstanding performance review after one year. If the manager says the person must have five years experience in a certain area, ask “What will the person actually do with this five years of experience?” Once this is clarified, ask, “If I can show you someone who can do this work, would you meet the person if he or she had less experience than the five years?” You will get a yes to this question. Job descriptions that describe what candidates need to do, rather than list what the person needs to have, are called performance profiles. Preparing performance profiles is the first step you need to take to become a true partner with your clients.
  2. Quickly find top talent. There have been about 20 or so articles written on sourcing top performers this year alone on ERE. The theme of them all ó don’t post traditional job descriptions! Make sure that you follow this advice. Instead, post a marketing version of the performance profile you prepared when you took the assignment. Start with a compelling title like “This CRM Job Rocks!” Then make sure the copy is exciting, focusing on what’s in it for the candidate, not the company. Tactics like this could fill a book, but the real point is that if you want to retain your partnership status you must deliver top people quickly. From what I can tell, most companies have set up their sourcing processes to find average people slowly, so you might want to conduct a major process reengineering overhaul in this area. In the short term, ask your clients where the best people might go to look for the compelling job you jointly created when you took the assignment.
  3. Accurately assess candidate competency. When you took the assignment, you found out what a top person needed to do to get an outstanding performance review. When interviewing, just reverse this process by asking candidates to tell you about some major projects where they received outstanding performance reviews. Then spend fifteen minutes digging deeply into these projects. Do this again for a few other major accomplishments spread out over the past 5 to 10 years. This technique will give you all of the information you need to determine if the candidate meets your job needs. (Here’s more information on this performance-based interviewing process.) The real point here is that if you want to become a partner, you’ll need to demonstrate that your candidate has achieved great success doing work comparable to the work that needs to get done.
  4. Defend your candidates from dumb decisions. If you’re tired of getting good candidates excluded for an apparent lack of skills or the wrong experience or the wrong education, you need to take the assignment exactly as described in step one. This converts the decision to see a candidate from one based on skills and experiences to one based on performance criteria. By itself, this will dramatically increase the size of the pool of top performers. Then use the information obtained during the performance-based interview described above to defend your candidates from superficial, narrow or emotional decisions. Even better: lead a formal debriefing session where managers need to justify their rankings, good or bad, using specific examples of performance. (Here’s a form you can use to lead this type of group session.) By implementing this type of open and evidence-based assessment process, you’ll be able to more accurately assess your candidates against real job needs ó not some ill-advised standard or preconceived ideas of competency.
  5. Close the deal. If you can’t get top performers to accept your offer, all of your previous efforts have been wasted. Good recruiting skills can offset the need to pay premium salaries ó if you can demonstrate that the job offers both short-term stretch and long-term growth. Using the in-depth interviewing process described above, the interviewer will quickly see the gaps between the candidate’s accomplishments and the real job needs. The interviewer and hiring manager need to team up here (in partnership fashion) to present these gaps as opportunities for growth and learning.

If you’re a recruiter with too many reqs to handle, you won’t be able to invest the time necessary to become a partner with every client. Regardless, you should try the techniques described above on just one or two assignments. You’ll quickly see improvements in productivity, effectiveness and job satisfaction. This is what happens when recruiters become partners with their clients. Hiring top talent will never become a systematic business process until this occurs.

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