Recruiting Ideas that Stand the Test of Time

Feb 14, 2008

Over the past 30 years, I’ve worked with thousands of managers, executives, and recruiters. While many things have changed involving recruiting over these years, a few things have stayed the same. Here’s my short list of the best things I’ve learned about recruiting, sourcing, and hiring top talent that seem as true today as they did when I first started as a recruiter.

  1. To hire a great person, you need a great job, a great company, or a great manager. If you have two of these, you’re pretty much guaranteed to consistently hire the best talent without much effort.
  2. It’s never about the money. As long as your compensation is competitive, all you need to attract a great person is a great job that offers some stretch, short-term growth, and long-term opportunity. Of course, you need someone to personally make the case that it’s about the opportunity, not the money. Usually, this is a recruiter, but hiring managers or senior executives can do this, too.
  3. It most cases, it takes a great recruiter to recruit great talent. This is especially true if it’s not obvious you have a great job or a great company or a great manager, or if there’s some core problem with the job. These are things like relocation, excessive competition, marginal compensation, or a bad company reputation.
  4. Top people won’t work with unprofessional recruiters. By “work” I mean take their advice and counsel and refer other top performers. An unprofessional recruiter is someone who doesn’t know the job they’re representing, doesn’t personally know the hiring manager, and doesn’t have deep industry knowledge (e.g., compensation trends, competition, business conditions). You need to be a professional recruiter to overcome objections, have a constant source of high-quality, referred passive candidates, and to negotiate and close offers based on growth and opportunity instead of compensation.
  5. Make the candidate earn the job. Recruiting isn’t selling. It’s a process of using the interview and screening process to understand the candidate’s motivating needs and to find gaps and voids in the candidate’s background that your job fulfills. Done properly, the candidate will attempt to convince you why he or she is qualified. Here’s an article that describes how to create this opportunity gap. Good recruiting is getting the candidate to sell you, not you selling the candidate. This is not too difficult if you understand real job needs and can position your opportunity as offering more stretch, challenge, and growth.
  6. Consumer-based advertising works. Good people who are fully-employed in reasonable jobs sometimes get frustrated, demotivated, or itchy for something new. Under these times, they’ll begin to look for a new job casually, selectively, and cautiously. This starts by first networking with friends and associates, then with former associates. Sometimes they’ll look online, first at Google, then at some specialty or niche sites, and then at the career sites of a few well-known companies. Well-positioned and compelling advertising that can be found by people looking this way can snare a few top performers. Advertising that can’t be found that’s boring and filled with disqualifiers is a waste of money. You can’t use Wal-Mart advertising techniques to source Tiffany customers.
  7. Don’t make cold calls, especially to unqualified candidates. If you’re recruiting passive candidates, 75% of your calls must be to highly-qualified people who have been personally referred to you. Not only will they call you back, but you also know they’re qualified. This alone will increase your productivity by more than 100%. Then you need to always get 2-3 highly qualified referrals from each of these people to develop a deep and growing network of talent. Networking and getting referrals is the key to successfully finding top-quality passive candidates. Cold calling random names should be limited to 25% of your direct sourcing efforts. Here are some networking articles with more information on how to do this.
  8. Don’t take no for an answer. Good candidates, even those who apply to ads, start asking questions as soon as the recruiter calls. Based on what they hear, they make quick “no” decisions based on superficial information like compensation, location, title, and company. Recruiters need to overcome these easy dismissals with strong rebuttals and disarming techniques. The key here is to persist and not take no for an answer until the candidate has enough information to make an accurate no or yes decision. Even better: Only ask yes questions like “would you be open to discuss a new situation for a few minutes if the long-term opportunity was superior to anything you’re now considering?”
  9. Maintain applicant control. From this moment forward, you need to banish the excuse “the candidate wasn’t interested in pursuing the opportunity” from your permitted reasons for losing a person. Recruiters should be determining if they’re interested in the candidate, not the other way around. This is the essence of applicant control. To pull it off, you must be confident, understand real job needs, quickly demonstrate your market and recruiting expertise, ask only yes questions, don’t take no for an answer, and have rebuttals for every question the candidate asks.
  10. Quickly re-position the job as an opportunity move, not one based on compensation. As part of the applicant control process, you’ll need to suggest during the opening call that the decision to investigate your job opening should be based more on the short-term stretch and the long-growth opportunity, rather than the compensation. Quickly go on to say that as long as the compensation is competitive, faster growth will lead to dramatic future increases in compensation. This is how you excite top people with multiple opportunities to seriously evaluate what you have to offer. Of course, you’ll need to deliver on the promise if you ultimately expect to hire these people.
  11. Stop using traditional job descriptions for recruiting and sourcing. There is too much subjectivity in the selection process when managers and interviewers assess a candidate on something other than competency and motivation to perform the real job. The root cause of this problem is the lack of understanding of the real job. The real job is what the person needs to accomplish to be considered successful. When everyone involved in the hiring decision (managers, interviewing team members, recruiters, and candidates) understands real job needs, fewer candidates are seen, more offers are accepted, and fewer hiring mistakes are made. Recruiters must get hiring managers to stop relying on traditional skills-based job descriptions to screen, source, and assess candidates and get them to focus on what the person must do to be successful. (Here are some articles on how to do this.)
  12. Seek constant improvement by tracking your performance. For 20 years as a full-time recruiter, three sendouts per hire was my target for unique positions. Since I was always fee-based and provided a long guarantee, candidate quality had to be high. Over the years, I had to change my recruiting and sourcing techniques to maintain this target in the face of greater competition, in-house recruiters, more online tools, and tougher assignments. The lesson learned: To get better, select a performance target that puts you in the top 10-15% of all recruiters. Then, break this down into sub-targets like phone calls made per month, ad response rates, job board performance, number of referrals per call, and interviews scheduled per month. Start improving and tracking these until you achieve your hires-per-month goal. To maintain this target, track your activity per week and immediately jump on anything that’s headed south. For example, if you notice an increase in sendouts-per-hire or a decline in response to an ad that historically worked well, figure out the cause and make the necessary changes. Monitoring your performance this way forces you to stay current. If you’re not aggressively improving your recruiting skills in a world of increasing change, you’re paving a sure-fire road to mediocrity.

Some things change and some things don’t. Knowing the difference is the key to keeping your edge as a world-class recruiter. While nothing stated above is a new idea or is earth-shaking, collectively they do represent what it takes to be a great recruiter in today’s highly competitive world where the demand for talent greatly exceeds the supply. I don’t suspect that 10 or 20 years from now this list will be any different. However, I can guarantee how recruiters accomplish these tasks will change. That’s why implementing a program of continuous improvement is so important.

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