Bright and Shiny Recruiting Objects Are Dangerous to Your Corporate Health

Feb 4, 2008

Howard Adamsky penned an interesting article the other day that struck a raw nerve with me. So much so that not only did I take the time to respond (which I do not do a lot of these days), but it actually lured me out of the darkness to jump on my soapbox with an article.

For those of you with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), I will give you the abridged version so you can all get back to busily juggling your day. Further on, I will give you the larger, contextual version from a recruiting leader who has learned some hard lessons over the last five years.

ADD Version

As children, we were enamored with objects that were bright and shiny. Our parents would pull their hair out in dismay as they tried to keep us on task and focused on the discussion/lesson at hand, but the magical enticement of that new bright and shiny object was too much.

Fast-forward many years in the future, where we are now adults with recruiting responsibilities, and some of us are even in important positions of management and leadership.

A typical day might involve you reading an article or receiving an e-mail from a colleague highlighting a new tool, website, or technique. Later that day, a recruiting or business leader comes to you saying that recruiting (you) cannot find enough quality candidates, so what are you going to do about it? While in that state of dread, you flash back to childhood. You remember the joy that that bright and shiny object brought you. Back in the present day, you suddenly remember that article you read recently about Second Life.

“Let’s try Second Life,” you pronounce to the leader.

Larger, Contextual Version

Don’t get me wrong: There is nothing wrong with innovation or trying something new. The world of recruiting would not advance if we did not continue to try new things. This is where we have to be careful though, as the correct balance needed between innovations and tweaking or enhancement of an existing model, process, strategy, or structure can be the difference between success and failure. Go too far on the innovation front and you might get kudos for trying something new, but will it produce the results? Go too far the other way and people will frown at you as “old school,” not willing to look to the future, and you are putting your company or yourself at a competitive disadvantage.

It is human nature to gravitate toward things that are new versus revisiting and refining something that you have done before. It is easier and sexier to try that new social networking site (last count, I think we are pushing 100) than it is to take the time to carefully analyze what produces the greatest results, then refine, adjust, and build upon the existing success.

You might be saying to yourself, “Bah, humbug! My employee referral program delivers up to 40% of my total hires, so it really does not need any more attention. I want to focus on some of the new ideas like blogging, social networking sites, or interesting things like Twitter, video resumes, Second Life, or MySpace.”

Of course, that is your prerogative, and just because I am writing this article does not mean you are going to change. But, before you hit the back button or move on from this article, I pose to you the following questions: Do you know all the sourcing channels where you made your hires from last year? Do you know what they represented as an overall percentage? Do you have any ideas as to how much they could be increased this year? Do you know if the percentages are even accurate?

Let’s look at an example of a corporate recruiting function and what the breakout of its sourcing channels might be. (Note: Of course, all companies will vary on these numbers, but for the purpose of this article, I am taking a mix of my own experience, that of colleagues in the industry who track this data, as well as external benchmarking like the CareerXroads Source of Hire Survey.)

  • Employee Referrals: 40-50%
  • Careers Web Page: 15-20%
  • Job Boards: 15%-20%
  • Networking/Cold Calling/Headhunting (generally referred to as “sourcing”): 0-20%
  • Agencies: 5-10%
  • Other (social-networking sites, blogging, MySpace/Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, etc.): less than 10%

So, the million-dollar question that needs to be asked here is: If I am going to help my organization increase the identification of quality talent, where am I going to invest my time, resources, and dollars to try and produce the greatest return on that investment? Is it better to focus on what produces the greatest volume and quality of candidates (employee referrals, as an example), and look to adjust, improve, or re-invigorate the program to increase it by an additional 10%? Or, am I better served investing in dozens and dozens of seemingly innovative new approaches to try and get the additional 10% increase that way?

Don’t get me wrong: Change and innovation is good. Every recruiting strategy must be diverse and look out for potential new sources that identify candidates. I am sure that most people reading this will say, “I am going to do both.”

But, do all of us have endless resources and deep pockets? Of course we do not. For that matter, I would argue that you are better served doing a few things incredibly well rather than a dozen things with so-so results.

Why don’t you invest heavily in print media anymore? Why is it that you do not go to as many career fairs? The answer to both is they generally do not produce the ROI that you are looking for. Otherwise, you would advertise in every newspaper or magazine where you thought you could get candidates to come to you. Look at the percentage of hires that new social networking sites produced last year. Did it produce the comparable investment (not just money, but recruiters’/sourcers’ time, energy, and effort) you expected, or were hoping for more?

This scenario is just as applicable to a process, program, or recruitment organizational structure. New leaders have a tendency to want to come in and implement the “new thing” so as to make an impact with leadership and save the organization from itself. I cannot count the number of times industry colleagues have told me that they have a new leader in place and they are going to roll out something new that was tried many years prior by a previous incumbent in the same role. Change for the sake of change is bad; innovation for the sake of innovation is similarly disruptive. We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I believe that doing things too widely different or blindly following innovation can have just as dramatic an effect. From a business/recruitment perspective, investing in something because it is new without proper due diligence is just as insane, particularly when you are no further forward from where you originally started, as this is just the same as if you never started at all. What you have ended up doing is wasting your and the company’s time and money.

I know companies selling new products and services will not be big fans of my thinking, nor will some individuals who spend their time writing articles about new, bright, shiny objects. Remember, what I am not advocating is the stopping of change or innovation, but more of a “look before you leap” attitude. Simplify and refine what you already have before adding more to the pile for the sake of saying to your boss that you are trying something new. It takes courage. It takes conviction. But, in the end, it is generally all about results (producing a hire). What we do for a living is quite simple, but sometimes we seem to have a tendency to over complicate it.

The next time you read an article or see someone presenting the latest “bright and shiny” new tactic or tool that claims it will solve all your talent identification problems, you might want to stop, think, and do a little homework before you go blindly investing in something where, in the end, your energy and effort could have been served better elsewhere. Sometimes, the right answer does not necessarily equal what is interesting, different, and new but, rather, something that you know already works and requires a focused commitment and conviction to adjust, tweak, and improve.

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