Mark Has Survived So Far, But Can He Thrive?

Apr 29, 2009

Mark is a hard-working, top-notch recruiter for a Fortune 1000 company. He is located in Silicon Valley, one of the hardest-hit areas in this recession, with unemployment approaching 11% — much of it among educated professionals.

Over the past year, despite the recession and corporate layoffs, he has survived and has even hired a few people. But, he recently approached me very concerned. In a conversation with one of top executives in the company — a person he has a very good relationship with — he learned that he was perceived as a “super-doer” and as a great person. The executive told him that most senior managers felt he was not strategic. They had kept him because they needed somebody there to handle the few openings they had and he had good relationships with everyone. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

It is rare to get this kind of candid feedback and, although it hurt, it did motivate Mark to try and make some changes. He really did want to add value and he knew he had the skills and insight to get better candidates in front of managers. He just wasn’t sure what they wanted — or if they even knew themselves.

Recessions bring the luxury of free time, and created an opportunity for him to do some research. Mark spent a few days talking to various managers and asking what they thought an ideal recruiting function might offer them. What would “strategic” look like to them? And, also, what was wrong with being a good executor? He also probed a bit into how they really evaluated candidates and employees.

He was a little surprised to learn how many managers saw recruiting jobs as cushy and overpaid. They felt almost anyone could post a job and whittle down a bunch of candidates to a few that were suitable. They relied almost totally on their own hiring experiences for reference, even though many had been hired decades before. None of them knew much about the employment market, nor had many of them ever thought about the potential value of a clear and comprehensive talent strategy. Their complaints about Mark really reflected their own ignorance and stereotypes.

And, that’s why Mark was talking with me and asking how he could change their perceptions. Was it even possible? Or should he just move on?

Neither I nor anyone I know has a silver bullet solution. But there are five specific actions that anyone can take to change perceptions and build a reputation for adding value. If Mark wants to stay at this organization, here are some things that he could start doing that would raise their image of him.

Action #1: Start talking the language of business. Good recruiters know what business problems exist at the strategic level and also what the hiring manager is afraid of or doesn’t have people with the right skills to do.

She focuses on underlining how a candidate can alleviate that fear, increase sales, invent new products, or help the organization achieve a specific objective or goal. The best candidates have the skills and experience to quickly make a difference. A superb recruiter can show how past candidates with certain skills were successful, or not successful, and use that as a lever to influence a hiring manager’s decisions.

It is critical to build a reputation of presenting candidates that are easily seen as being able to make a difference to the business.

Step #2: Begin understanding and explaining the employment market. This means they gather data on the supply of certain kinds of talent and on the projected internal and external demand for that same talent. They use the Internet, job boards, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and local employment agency data, and they create a picture of the supply chain. They compare that to the demand that is projected for specific jobs within the organization. And they educate management about the marketplace.

Most hiring managers have little experience in the job market and, if they are longer-term employees, have nothing to calibrate the supply and talent situation against except their own past experience. It is the recruiter’s job to spread the word, educate, and use facts and data to back up their position. The decision on whether to go out to search for a particular skill set or to train someone internally may depend on how deeply the recruiter understands the market. Over the next decade this skill set, augmented with technology, will be a core competence.

Step #3: Start focusing on offering sustainable solutions. There are two components of creating a sustainable talent solution.

First is to become known as a wise user of resources and as someone who practices frugality. Often this can be accomplished by reducing the number of recruiters while maintaining or increasing the level of service through taking advantage of technology, or by reducing the use of external recruiters.

And second, it is working with managers to help them do more with fewer, but maybe better, people. Your philosophy should be to help contain headcount, to push back on hiring managers who open new positions, and really seek to understand why they need to do this. By engaging in conversations with them over work responsibilities, the skills of other employees, and the need to be cautious in a tough economy, a recruiter can get a reputation as a thoughtful and strategic person who really cares about the organization’s success.

Step #4: Start gathering, interpreting, and using data and metrics to make decisions. I have written a number of columns about measuring the value and the ROI of recruiting. The recruiter of tomorrow will be facile and comfortable thinking strategically about numbers and goals. They will be able to take pieces of data and using knowledge that is partially tacit and gained by experience as well as analytical skills, and weave them into projections and models of human capital costs and opportunity and growth. Rather than just collect efficiency numbers, they will also collect effectiveness figures and use all those numbers to draw logical conclusions that support their decisions. They will also use this data to show the value of recruiting to the success of the organization.

Step #5: Learn to sell. What more needs to be said. A great recruiter will close almost every candidate and will work to overcome objections, build relationships, provide flexibility, gain trust, and work toward compromise. These are the things good executive recruiters have always done — but how many really great ones are there? This is a skill that can be learned, even though some are born with a gift and do this quite naturally. However, good sales skills will be of high value over the next decade.

If you ever want to change perceptions and move yourself up the ladder of respect in your organization, these are the actions you will need to start doing. They all involve skills you can learn and grow. These are skills like those in karate or golf — they take constant practice and determination to build. They pay big dividends.

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