Steering Clear of Recruiter’s Rut

Mar 7, 2002

Has this ever happened to you? Get in the office around 8:30 am, get a cup of coffee and proceed to your desk. Read your emails, return a few phone calls, and go through the resumes sent from your Internet postings. Put out a few fires with your hiring managers and…the morning is clear! Now you have some time to prospect for new candidates. No meetings or interviews in the way. So what do you do? Stare aimlessly at the screen flipping from Internet site to email to database to email without ever picking up the phone (unless it is your friend calling). Sound familiar? If you have been recruiting for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced recruiter’s rut. But how does recruiter’s rut creep into our life, and how can you minimize days the like one described above? The first part of this question is very easy to answer. Prospecting for new candidates is not an easy job. It is a repetitive, routine, and laboriously hard activity. But it is also the most crucial step of the recruiting process. If you can’t find candidates, you cannot hire quality people. Plain and simple. You can be the best behavioral interviewer, the best salary negotiator, and the best career counselor but if you don’t have candidates, you will not have hires! In addition, being good at prospecting requires you to be creative, resourceful, intense, focused, driven, and motivated. Prospecting is hard work! And if you are human, it is tough to be self-motivated and work hard each and every day. The answer is not much more complex than that. So what can you do to combat recruiter’s rut? In my quest to find this answer, I set out to benchmark similar processes and/or activities that had the same attributes as recruiting. The closest thing I could find? Athletics (or any competitive activity for that matter)! Think about it. To be the best at any competitive activity, you must spend hours of repetitive, routine, laboriously hard activity, and do it with intensity, focus, and drive. You need to motivate yourself day in and day out to be the best. In pursuit of being the best, you are always trying to create new and better ways to do things (which involves creativity and resourcefulness). Come to find out, I am not the only person to make this connection (not surprising!). I understand that Harvard University has done a recent study comparing business to athletics. They found competitive athletes best displayed the very characteristics that business executives were looking for in their staff. The best management skills were displayed by coaches. So how do we put passion, intensity, and focus into the hardest, most time-consuming activity we do? Think like athletes and coaches! Some helpful hints that have worked for me include:

  • Set public goals. Peer competition can be very healthy when the contest does not pit team members against one another. For peer support, start each week with a “kickoff” meeting. This meeting is to discuss the goals you want to accomplish during the week. Things like: “I will have two new candidates for the VP of Purchasing position,” or, “I will find a candidate for the UNIX administrator position.” Post these goals so they are visible to your teammates and check them off as you accomplish them during the week. To assist in staying on track, have a “halftime” lunch meeting on Wednesday to discuss status. On Friday, hold a debriefing session to see who accomplished what. Make this a positive session discussing accomplishments, challenges, success stories, etc. For fun and team building, hold it at your local tavern on Friday afternoon.
  • The “twos” system. Think of prospecting as your daily two-a-day practices. Try and carve out two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon to find candidates. I have many clients who swear by this.
  • Misery loves company. Sometimes the toughest thing is to just get started. When you feel yourself getting into a rut, grab a peer and challenge them to a prospecting contest. While it is tough to get a whole office on the same schedule with meetings, interviews, etc., you can normally find at least one other recruiter to prospect with you. You’re the only recruiter at your company? Call a peer in the industry to pump you up. I used to do this all the time.
  • Contests and games. Make a game out of anything and it becomes more fun. Who finds a qualified candidate first? The most live contacts in two hours? Most email responses within a day? The prizes don’t have to be big. Loser pays for lunch? Buy’s the other person coffee the next day? Has to clean up the lunchroom? The more creative the contest the better. Whenever you can make a game of the task at hand, your activity level usually picks up, you become more focused, and intensity rises. All great things to get out of recruiter’s rut!
  • Preparation. If you say you are going to prospect from 9:00 am to 11:00 am, you need to know what activity you are going to do. Call off names you have gathered from an association meeting? Call on candidates you found in your database? Call off references from current employees? Know what activity you are going to perform during your prospecting session and be prepared to do it. If you aren’t prepared, you will end up spending the session researching the information required to do the activity.
  • Develop a routine. After all, we are creatures of habit.

Recruiter’s rut is something all recruiters will face from time to time. To keep focused, to keep the excitement, passion, and intensity in your day, don’t forget to think like a competitive athlete or coach. It’s as simple as the five points below:

  1. Outline your goals each week and develop a game plan to achieve them.
  2. Schedule the necessary activities to achieve your goals (try the “twos” system), and prepare to achieve them.
  3. Have regular “checkpoints” (halftime meetings or debriefing sessions) to measure your success.
  4. Develop a regular routine for conditioning.
  5. Spice up your routine with contests and games to keep it fun.

With a little effort in the right places, recruiter’s rut is something that can easily be avoided!