Hiring Managers Are Not Talent Acquisition’s Customers

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Jan 24, 2023

Each day talent acquisition teams work with HR peers, candidates, hiring managers, and leaders. The dynamics of each of these relationships are unique to the nature of the engagement. But what if managers are actually not your customer? 

Because, they are not. 

The long-held belief among TA pros that hiring managers are their customers — that we as TA professionals are here to work at the request of managers — has created troublesome posturing that serves little benefit to the organization. 

Let’s first talk about the word “customer.” A customer is someone who purchases a commodity or service. We could stop here, because by definition managers do not purchase services from TA. Nonetheless, the notion that TA provides a service to managers is something we can probably all agree with. 

But to the extent that the dynamics of the relationship assumes the standard tenets of customer service is not accurate. Think about it: If you go to a local fast-food restaurant and order a cheeseburger, fries, and a large soda, that’s exactly what you expect to receive. As you leave the restaurant and peek inside the bag, you see that there’s no cheeseburger, only an order of fries. As a customer, you may decide to return the items, ask for a refund, and then possibly decide to buy lunch at a different restaurant. 

The ladder portion of that scenario is where the TA and manager dynamic goes awry. If managers do not like the service provided by TA, they cannot simply go to another TA organization. Further, the concept of managers as customers led to the creation of customer-satisfaction surveys circulated to obtain feedback. That feedback is typically centered on a manager’s satisfaction with the service provided by a recruiter. Again, this is potentially problematic. 

What if a manager asks a recruiter to do something that is not legal, ethical, or a good practice and the recruiter declines? Do you now have an unhappy customer? Would that manager be justified to complain about the service? Does a recruiter have permission always to do what’s right and not just what a manager requests? 

In other words, the concept of managers as customers risks persuading recruiters to abide by managers’ requests to ensure favorable feedback — but that may be in direct conflict with definitions of organizational success. 

The relationship between TA and managers is and always has been that of partnership, whereby each group is mutually invested and committed to doing its part to ensure the organization’s success. TA pros do their best job to create strategy and process to identify qualified talent in a timely and effective manner. And managers commit themselves to providing information about the role, interviewing in a timely and objective manner, providing validated feedback, and making the best possible use of talent when candidates are confirmed for hire. Moreover, in a partnership, when challenges occur, both groups are genuinely committed to doing the right thing. 

A distinction here between partners and customers is that the former are committed to getting through challenges via a genuine commitment to doing the right thing. On the other hand, customers are not invested in their preferred establishments in this manner. Customers simply want what they want. And if they don’t receive it, they will identify an alternate provider. A partner is knowledgeable, understands the path toward success, and functions within the collaboration with a common goal in mind. 

Yes, recruiting professionals are here to listen to the requests of hiring managers. We’re here to provide advice and perspective, and wisdom to avoid pitfalls. And when we fail to achieve goals, we course correct. And when we meet our goals, we celebrate. That’s partnership. This is the foundational relationship we should seek to create and nurture throughout our organizations. 

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