Hiring Managers vs. Recruiters: Even the Hatfields and McCoys Made Peace

Article main image
Jan 5, 2016
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

Tension, animosity, conflict… on a good day. These words describe the relationship between hiring managers and recruiters in many organizations. Sometimes, it’s more like the Hatfields and McCoys. Not only is it toxic to the work environment, it tends to directly impact all the hiring metrics that matter: time to fill, cost to fill, quality of hire, etc.

Most of the frustration and resulting angst that occurs is the result of misalignment. There’s a lot of ways that can happen:

1. There is no job description.

While it’s not impossible that you can communicate all the requirements without one (and a good recruiter will inevitably have many questions beyond the job description), proceeding without one is a bad start. It’s like hiring a general contractor to build you a skyscraper, without a blueprint.

2. The job description is missing requirements the hiring manager wants, or includes requirements that the hiring manager doesn’t agree with.

Sadly, this is the rule, not the exception. And when the blueprint the recruiter works from isn’t correct and complete (i.e., exactly aligned with what the hiring manager wants), it’s worse than not having a job description insofar as it lulls both parties into thinking they are (literally) on the same page, when they aren’t. So, at the start of a recruitment, there’s no substitute for a painfully detailed, item by item review of the job description. Hiring managers hate these meetings and often ignore the meeting invitations, don’t show up or can’t wait to bring the meeting to an end. Meanwhile, recruiters are itching to get started. But skipping this step is a recipe for a great deal more (mutual) frustration in the long run.

Digression: I’ve long since believed that great recruiters tend to be difficult people. Easy going people tend to gather the basic information they need to tackle a challenge, assuming they can muddle through and figure things out on their own. Really great recruiters always have another question. They challenge ambiguity and contradiction. That can be annoying, but it’s precisely one of the reasons they make great recruiters.

3. Scope drift.

Even if recruiter and hiring manager start in sync, it is amazing how quickly that can change. Often it’s the result of the candidates the hiring manager is meeting with. That can easily influence and shift expectations. Here’s a common example: The hiring manager identifies 3-5 years of experience and a requirement. The first few qualified candidates the recruiter finds have significantly more experience. The hiring manager meets with them and likes them, but for whatever reason, asks to meet more candidates. The next one the recruiter sends along has 3 years of experience, and that suddenly doesn’t seem sufficient to the hiring manager.

I’m headed for the solution to these challenges, by the way. Bear with me a bit longer.

Scope drift, by the way, creates unanticipated problems. I worked with a client once where the opposite drift happened. We weren’t finding the 7-10 years of experience they were looking for at the price they wanted to pay, so they relaxed the requirement to 3-5 years. This created two serious problems with respect to the job posting, which listed 7-10 years:

  1. Candidates with 3-5 years of experience who saw the job posting (at least, the ones who cared whether they met the requirements) didn’t apply.
  2. Even if we updated the job posting to match the revised requirements, why would those candidates who had previously viewed the posting and moved on have any reason to revisit it and apply?

(This is obviously one of many reasons you want to complement job postings with active sourcing.)

Communication Is the Solution

The solution I keep hinting at typically starts as a communications problem. Here’s what it looked like at a company I was called in to help:

The recruiter was exasperated. The primary hiring manager she supported wouldn’t even talk to her any more, or answer her emails. His final tirade to her ended with, You just do your job. Find me good candidates, send them my way and beyond that, leave me alone.”

She explained to me that she never had been able to get any feedback from him, just, “I don’t like the candidates you’re sending me.” She had finally sent him the job description for a req that was going especially bad and asked him to explain how the candidates she was sending didn’t meet the requirements. Apparently that was the last straw.

I went to see the hiring manager. He wasn’t a happy camper: “She’s incompetent. She wants me to do her job for her. She even sent me the job description, like I have time to read that. If I need to do her job for her, so be it. I told her to send all the candidates to me. And she still isn’t sending me good ones!”

See what’s missing? The most useless (and common) feedback that recruiters get from hiring managers about candidates is “not a good fit.” There is nothing to be learned from that. That’s especially exasperating to the recruiter if it’s evident that the candidates do in fact match the job description.

Feedback on Every Candidate

The simple solution is a five-minute conversation between hiring manager and recruiter every time a candidate is rejected (ideally right away, before details are forgotten).

The benefits are numerous:

  • No matter how through the initial scoping discussion was, these quick conversations always uncover valuable new insights.
  • Given the benefit of these conversations, a good recruiter will learn quickly and as result, get better at targeting the right candidates.
  • These conversations can shine a bright light on any disconnects with the job description, or scope creep over time.
  • This ongoing dialog is the key to building trust and effective communication between hiring managers and recruiters, which are the keys to a rewarding partnership that produces great candidates as quickly as possible.

In the best of all possible worlds, recruiters and hiring managers would be able to resolve these disconnects on their own. But it doesn’t always work that way. You might think a talent acquisition director (or other recruiting leader) should be responsible for making these relationships work. But they typically have no direct authority over hiring managers.

Ultimately, the highest level of HR or operations needs to own this critical relationship, or at least make sure it’s working!



This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!