Less Combat, More Cooperation With HR

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Feb 27, 2012

Editor’s note: Gary Stauble’s “2 Minute Coaching” gives you quick, easy-to-implement ideas on various subjects.

Question: I find that more and more companies want me to deal with human resources exclusively and that these relationships are often combative or strained. How can I create a more cooperative relationship with HR?

My Answer

  • Find out where the budget for this hire exists: Does money for the search come from human resources or the actual department for which you recruit? If it comes from HR, you’re most likely going to have to work with them in some capacity.
  • Consider the Taoist concept that the river is mightier than the mountain. The idea is that all of the water runs into the river because it gets lower than the mountain. Don’t be afraid to get “underneath” HR in order to achieve your purpose. Feed their ego; make them look good in front of their superiors; ask how you can solve their problems; make them feel respected so they can become an ally and an advocate for you.
  • Say something like this — “We want to act as an extension of your department” — to diffuse any hostility or defensiveness.
  • Target small- to medium-size companies: Smaller companies don’t usually have a brand name or huge internal recruiting machine and will value your expertise and advice more than a household name corporation. These smaller companies haven’t grown to a size where they have enough internal human resources support, and are used to having recruiters work directly with hiring authorities. If you work with them when they are small and they do grow and create new bureaucracy, you will be in a better position to be “grandfathered” in as the recruiter who is allowed to work directly with hiring authorities based on your reputation and history with the company.
  • Work on higher-level assignments: Much of the value that recruiters can provide is in assessing soft skills that do not appear on a resume and cannot be screened by an automated database. These skills include leadership, boardroom presence, ability to sell ideas, initiative, and project completion skills. The likelihood of working directly with the hiring authority increases if you are working on positions requiring these skills.
  • Point out that candidate quality drops when you have no direct hiring authority contact: One thing to point out to HR is the fact that candidates will not take the position seriously if they ask you to describe the manager’s personality and style and your response is, “I don’t know, I have no direct contact with him.” This hurts your ability to attract happily employed, high-caliber talent for the company.
  • Be willing to negotiate and build trust: Tell HR that you want to work with them as a partner and will not go behind their back, but that you do need access to the hiring manager in order to be effective.
  • If necessary, copy your HR contact on all emails to the hiring authority to keep them in the loop or make other similar concessions.
  • Meet them in person or take them to lunch to build rapport.
  • If they’re not cooperative or are overly territorial, move and find another company who will value you as a true search partner. Don’t settle for arms-length relationships.
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