Networking With Hiring Managers

Jul 12, 2010

Why should a recruiting firm start, develop, and maintain relationships with hiring managers as a key activity? We have found that over the years the largest contribution to our ability to survive in an ever more competitive environment has been our desire to establish and maintain strong rapport with hiring managers. It didn’t start as a planned activity – it just happened over time. The benefits have been many. It’s much easier to understand “the secret sauce” of openings when you have known the hiring managers over a long period of time. Having worked with them as candidates in the past adds to a level of credibility the competition cannot easily match. And being able to get their opinions about their ex-co-workers is priceless.

With the benefit of hindsight, the formula for successful networking with hiring managers is rather simple. You start by concentrating your attention on the best people in your industry. You get to know them professionally and, quite often, personally. You learn what they do and don’t do that makes them rising stars. You try to get opinions from people who know them about what makes them special and then discuss it with them.  In this way, you are developing relationships with both current and future hiring managers.

If you can create a connection when these people are happily employed and are not looking to change jobs, you build a relationship that could weather a storm for many years. Sooner or later, when they decide to look for new opportunities, you are there to help and advise. You build your rapport over a long period of time – someone with less than 10-15 years of experience in the industry is seldom senior enough to have influence in the hiring process.

So where do you begin?  Whom do you connect with? Be very careful in selecting members of your network. Concentrate on rising stars with whom you “click”. There has to be a connection at the personal level. Look for similarities such as attending the same high school or college, coming from similar small towns, an interest in sports and the like.   Then, over the years, you keep in touch by emailing them once a quarter or so, and make an attempt to meet them in person a couple of times per year (if possible). If you show genuine interest in what they do, the conversations tend to be rather easy and pleasant. The catch – it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation with a rising star in any complex field if you are not an expert. So make yourself an expert. If not in the nitty-gritty technical details, then in learning who are the stars in your fields, where they work, what they do and what makes them special.

Information is key. Read all the industry publications you can get your hands on and every time you see an interesting story or article, share it with the people you are cultivating.  By being an expert in the people and companies in your field, you will be able to add valuable information to the exchanges you have with your rising stars. Very few professionals have the time or interest in doing the work it takes to really master this subject. As a rule, if you have an in-depth conversation with ten or more people working for a given mid-sized firm and you get them to tell you anything about the people around them, you will become an expert on that firm. This further encourages their belief that you are the only one capable of helping them.

There are challenges in maintaining these activities productively. You must work very hard at distinguishing the difference between Data and Metadata.

Data is resumes with their collections of education, firm names, project descriptions, technical skills, other keywords, visible progression of responsibilities and the like. Data is when a candidate describes to you their projects – what they did and what the results were. Data is when you collect lots of resumes or LinkedIn profiles and determine which candidates are open to the opportunities you have. Data is facts.

Metadata is the collection of opinions about all of these. You need to be as well informed about these as possible, and that gives you an edge and allows you to enhance your relationships with your rising star hiring managers. Metadata is knowledge of what are the best schools in your field at the Bachelor level and at Master level?  They may not be the same. What firms are the hardest hires? Who do they tend to select? Who can share with you internal opinions about various potential candidates? To what degree can you rely on those opinions? What do you do when you have multiple opinions that disagree? What are the hottest technical skills? To what degree do different firms have proficiency in deploying the latest technology that calls for these skills? What kinds of questions do you ask to ascertain if the candidates have these skills, and to what degree?

As your mid-level hiring stars progress in the field, you will be called upon to help them build their careers, teams, and eventually, their companies. By this point you should have a good idea of who the key firms are in your field, who are winning in the market place and who are losing. As your contacts’ levels of seniority rise they will become more and more interested in discussing their industry and where the various firms are in the competitive market place. Here again your research will pay off.

As you get more involved with your hiring clients you should become more aware of the organizational issues they are dealing with. What are the conflicts the organization is dealing with today? What problems had the organization dealt with in the past and how did they deal with these? What worked and what did not? In other words, to the degree possible, become an expert on your hiring manager’s companies.

How will this benefit you in the long run? In today’s ultra competitive recruiting environment, unless you have a sustainable edge you will be out of business soon enough. Lowering your fees is NOT a competitive edge – your competition from low labor cost countries has you beat on that one. Having a strong relationship with hiring managers where your integrity, your expertise in a competitive labor marketplace, knowledge of technological competitiveness, in-depth knowledge of what makes your clients’ firms and your clients individually tick – all of these constitute a high barrier the competition will have a hard time overcoming.

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