Corporate Recruiters: Who Is Your Customer?

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Nov 28, 2018

Who is your customer? If you’re a corporate recruiter, you’d probably say the hiring manager, or maybe the candidate. But, I want to challenge us to think differently about the idea of “customer” in the context of providing good customer service to our clients. 

A year out of school, I worked for a “best company to work for,” award-winning, customer-service-oriented company, that really taught me that — as a tech recruiter — my customer was my hiring manager.

I loved this mental model. I gather my internal customer’s requirements. (In other words, the hiring manager’s needs, such as target candidate profile, their preferences on process, how they wanted to run the interviews, etc.) Then I delivered. (By the way, I’m old now — this idea of an internal customer was cutting edge in 1993!). Recruiters who are naturally people pleasers love this model — hiring managers ask, we deliver, we get the “A,” they’re happy, we’re happy, and the surveys come in with all five out of fives!  

But …

The problem with this model is that too many hiring managers are unrealistic, or uneducated about the marketplace, or ask us to do things that are low ROI. I have 47 examples of doing things I shouldn’t have done, just to please the customer, when I knew — I knew — it was a bad idea.

Example 1: I once hired a pilot to fly airplane banners over the 101 highway in the Bay Area — advertising tech jobs at my company — because a hiring manager asked me to. I knew it was a bad idea, a bad use of money, and that there was no way to measure ROI. But I did it anyway, and it was one of the most embarrassing “pleasing the customer” moments of my early career.  

Example 2: I let a hiring manager include 12 (!) people on an interview process, despite the fact that I knew — I knew — it would take weeks to schedule an interview loop for 12 people, we’d get feedback from the candidate that their experience was bad (repeat questions, disconnects on what the priorities for the job were using Q&A time, unprepared interviewers, a long interview day), and it’d be nearly impossible to ever reach consensus (heck, you couldn’t get 12 people to agree on where to go to lunch, let alone who to hire).  

I could go on, but you get the idea. Pleasing the customer — at least the way I interpreted it early in my career — was to largely just do what they asked me to do. I wasn’t pushing back, I wasn’t being a “talent advisor,” and I wasn’t being nearly as effective as I could and should be.

So, who is my customer, then?

Many of the best corporate recruiters and corporate recruiting leaders I know see the company as their customer. If we lift our heads up, and look above the individual hiring manager, and think about all hiring managers — in other words, all of the business, the whole company — as our customer, then it re-frames what we focus on, what we say yes to, what we push back on.  

If the company is my customer, then I need to think about providing good service (including good ROI) to the company, where the I in ROI includes my time. It wasn’t a good use of my time, of my hiring manager’s time, of our money, to do things like fly airplane banners over the 101, or put together 12-person interview teams. We didn’t make great hires or fast hires from either of those activities.  

When the company is my customer, I think about my role as being in service to the greater company, and think about my time as being too valuable to invest in things with a poor yield. As a corporate recruiter — and talent advisor — my job is to challenge bad ideas and recommend better solutions when the customer asks me to do something that I know will not get them that they need, even if it’s not getting them what they say they want. In other words, I have to be prepared to say “no” or “not now” or “instead, let’s try this, and here’s why” as an alternative to catering to every hiring manager request. (By the way, if you’re interested in all this, you’ll be interested in my session in San Diego in April on “5 Critical Conversations with Hiring Managers to Deliver a Talent-Advisor Experience.”)

So, can you be customer focused and still say no? Yes, of course. But, I think one of the keys to doing this well is to think of the company as your customer first.  

Of course you can still accommodate a hiring manager’s special request. You will have many opportunities to deliver just what the hiring manager wants, just the way they want it. But if you regularly get asked to do things that are low ROI or that have too high of an opportunity cost, then think about your customer differently. You will not scale, you will not love your job, and you will not be successful if you get stuck in a hiring-manager-is-always-right, please-the-customer mental model.  

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