Recruiting the Recruiter

May 9, 2006

Remember the glory days of the late 1990s? Friends became dot-com paper millionaires (and Friends, the TV show, was a hit). Enron and the stock market were really hot, and banner ads were all the rage. It was also a time when everyone and their mother became a recruiter. We even developed fancy names for the role at that time: talent scout, talent leader, resourcer, and so on. Some people might refer to this as the first “Golden Age” of recruiters. Unfortunately, those days disappeared quickly in the dot-com and technology correction in 2000, and in the subsequent economic downturn. Many people newly entering or being recruited into our newly sexy profession were laid off by companies and search firms. Having found jobs elsewhere, many may never enter the profession again. In the interim, organizations made do. They used HR generalists and others for recruiting issues and were very hesitant to restore the recruiting teams and infrastructure of the glory days. Or, they just left hiring managers to do whatever they needed to do to be successful. However, over the last year or so, I’ve seen a real shift.

Companies now face roles that are difficult to fill, low unemployment, a very competitive recruiting environment, and a growing U.S. economy. They are revisiting the whole idea of hiring recruiters inside the organization. Search firms and recruitment outsourcing firms are also attempting to ramp-up. As a result, I have seen the demand for great recruiting professionals increase significantly. Not only are there numerous postings, ads, and searches underway for recruiting professionals, but during this past conference season at ERE, EMA, HCI, and other functions, recruiters were in solid demand. Companies were actually buying sponsorships, booths, ads, and so on to attract recruiters. I get at least three or four calls a week from search firms asking for referrals.

The problem is that there are just so many good recruiting pros to go around; I cannot keep referring the same people. Some say we’re entering a second “Golden Age” of recruiters. The difference is that organizations are focused on doing it right this time, rather than slapping it together and hiring anyone. They’ll tap into the usual, known sources: other corporate recruiting departments, third-party recruiting vendors, recruiting outsourcers, etc. But we’ll need alternative areas from which we can get great people with the skills necessary to become great recruiters. For starters, we need to know what those skills are. I’m a big believer that if you focus on a core set of skills necessary to do a job, any number of people with varying backgrounds can fill the role (of course, you’ll have to determine if they can fit into your culture). In this instance, whereas the recruiters in the 90s (and even still today) needed great relationship, communication, sourcing, searching, and technology skills, recruiters today need to add skills in project management, enhanced teamwork, and political savviness, among others. Below is my quick-and-dirty list of the some of the core skills necessary in hiring recruiters:

  • Communications skills (written and verbal)
  • Relationship skills
  • Project management abilities
  • Ability to be a strategic partner
  • Self-starter/takes initiative
  • Political savvy
  • Computer/technology skills
  • Searching, sourcing, other technical skills
  • Creativity/innovative thinking

Thus, with this skill-set in hand, we can broaden the horizons of our profession and bring in new blood. But before we look elsewhere, let’s take a moment to look at our own backyard and the issues one might face in recruiting from other staffing environments. Some of these environments include:

  • Third-party recruiting vendors (contingency, retained search firms)
  • Human resources departments/internal recruiting and staffing teams
  • Recruitment outsourcing firms

With respect to these professionals, the most critical issue you can address is what you can do so that a good recruiter would want to leave his or her company to come work for yours. Here are two suggestions:

  1. Ensure that the job you’re offering is one that a recruiter gets to recruit. Full life-cycle recruiters really don’t want to deal with “administrivia” ó coordinating candidate travel and interviews, running reports, dealing with applicant tracking issues, etc. All of those things are very important to the process. But they want to recruit. Thus, the more that someone has logistical and administrative support (especially compared to their current role), the more attractive the opportunity to perhaps make a move.
  2. Enable the recruiter to deal directly with the end client and be a strategic partner. Whether it’s an in-house or third-party recruiter, invariably she or he had to go through at least one other party (such as an HR generalist) before getting to the client. Enabling the recruiter to work closely with the ultimate client will be catnip to the high-quality staffing professional.

To further the profession, we need to attract and develop the next generation of great recruiters, and bring in people with the skills we need. Here are some other areas that may be attractive:

  • Sales and Marketing. Sales and marketing professionals have many of the skills we’ve mentioned above. They’re self-starters with strong relationship and project management skills. They’re not as team-oriented, typically, but the trickier issue is that you’re in a bind with salespeople in the following way: If you recruit from within your own company, you don’t want to take out the best salespeople (also if they’re true salespeople and doing great, they probably won’t want to move). Yet, you don’t want a failed salesperson. However, if anyone on your staff comes from sales, it’s often best to have salespeople recruit other salespeople.
  • Operations. Operations people may have many of the skills we seek ó in particular, project management and team- and strategic-orientation skills. But the real advantage to having operations professionals as recruiters is that they typically recruit in their area of expertise. Engineers recruit engineers, and technology experts recruit technology experts. This expertise gives them a built-in credibility with hiring managers.
  • Project Management. These would be individuals that could come from purchasing, logistics, or operations planning areas, among other areas. I actually know a company that actively recruits project managers from construction and architecture firms to become recruiters. It was worked immensely well, and this company has nothing to do with construction or architecture. These professionals have great initiative, relationship and, likely, technical skills, and could also come from engineering or design firms, or advertising agencies.
  • Management Trainee Programs. Many “academy” companies, such as consumer packaged goods, hospitality, retail, and rental car, among others, have some sort of training program, where they bring in newly-minted college graduates with promises of someday running the world and getting paid handsomely for it. The problem ó or for us, an opportunity ó is that not everyone can be a manager and often, after one or two years (the ideal time to approach someone from this area), a certain number of trainees will have realized they don’t want to be in the industry that they’re in. Perhaps they could fit into our world?
  • Professional Service Pros (legal, accounting, management consulting, etc.). It is very natural for someone from one of the service areas mentioned above to make the leap into recruiting. In fact, this is the area from which large search firms draw upon the most. People from these areas understand a service/strategic orientation, have solid communications skills, and are the ultimate project managers.
  • Stock Brokers/Real Estate Professionals. These individuals share many, if not most, of the characteristics of salespeople. Thus, if they’re solid performers, compensation issues could be a factor. However, if they have struggled in a competitive market, and the market suddenly cools, they could still have what it takes to be great recruiters. And bringing people like them in-house, especially from the real estate business, would give them the stability they wouldn’t otherwise have.
  • Journalists. Journalists are great communicators, have strong sourcing/research skills, and are innovative, self-starters. They also typically have competent interpersonal skills and are great project managers. In addition, compensation would likely be a lure to them. These include freelance and/or staff writers. Several people I have personally hired in my past experience came from simply looking at the masthead of my local weekly business journal, and just introducing myself to the poor researcher who has to call up businesses day in and day out to qualify him for the ubiquitous “book of lists.” These people have been very excited about learning about an opportunity they never considered, and have been successful. (You may need to start them out in the sourcing process, and then later move them into full-cycle recruiting.)
  • Technical Education Teachers. Teachers from a community college or business/technical institute ó they even may be part-time or adjunct faculty ó have many of the skills required. What they may lack in business experience, they make up for in substance. Communication, project management, and creativity/innovation skills are all strengths.
  • Political Campaign Workers. They are the ultimate project managers, with savvy, great sourcing capabilities and great relationship skills. A natural leap from the volatile (and not the most highly-paid) world of politics.
  • College Admissions Professionals. They read a lot about different backgrounds, they meet a lot of people, and they have lots of projects. They’re not as savvy with corporate environments. Thus, technical schools would be ideal.

If you have any ideas, thoughts on alternative pipelines, or sources for people who could be brought into our profession, please feel to post an article review to this article and share your thoughts. Ultimately what’s important is the individual’s underlying skill set. If we don’t start to develop a new generation of recruiting professionals, we’ll really pay the price in the future. If you keep that at the forefront, there are any number of areas from which to draw upon to help expand our industry, foster the next generation of recruiting professionals, and create resources to support this second “Golden Age” for recruiters.