The Case for Not Splitting Recruiting and HR

The traditional role of recruiters is in jeopardy these days. It’s not always enough for recruiters to…recruit. Should they also be HR business partners?

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Apr 18, 2023
This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Spring 2023.

Talent acquisition pros recruit people. HR pros retain them. That’s how duties are split in most organizations. But with the traditional role of recruiters being upended these days, it’s not always enough for recruiters to…recruit.

At the upcoming ERE Recruiting Conference, May 22-24, in San Diego (and online), I’ll be presenting a session: “What Is a Recruiter?: Redefining the Role to Impact Broader Talent Outcomes.” In the meantime, here’s why my company has bucked the standard approach of splitting HR and recruiting — and why recruiters are responsible for bringing in people as much as they are keeping them.

Sweetwater is a fairytale startup story in many ways. What is now the nation’s largest online retailer of musical instruments and pro audio equipment started as a mobile recording studio in 1979 out of the back of a VW microbus. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the company broke into the retail space. Sweetwater’s founder, Chuck Surack, had been the company’s first recording engineer and salesperson from mid ‘80s to about 1990 before he started hiring music technology experts and turning them into sales pros in the early ‘90s.

As Sweetwater started to catch fire, it continued to operate like a family-owned business. And for the most part, it continues to operate that way to this day. That entailed from early on tying together HR and recruiting. Of course, that’s the case at many startups and small businesses. But we’ve been in hyper-grown mode over so many years now. Today, we have more than 2,600 full-time workers. At our size, most companies tend to split HR and recruiting.

As we’ve grown over the years, HR had been spending about 85% of its time on staffing initiatives, so when we brought in a new chief people officer in 2020, we were able to lift our heads up and ask: Does it make sense to continue to have recruiters serve as HR business partners, as well? Certainly, we saw a significant amount of work in both buckets.

Ultimately, we decided not to split the role. The decision came partly out of a desire to maintain the heart of what is a family-owned business. Doing so is also part of our entrepreneurial mindset and culture. Also, we believe that our processes are more streamlined by combining HR and recruiting, which has also helped nurture trusting relationships between HR/recruiting and department heads throughout the organization.

Relationships are key to our culture. For example, I’m not interested in hiring the world’s best recruiter coming from some bright and shiny company. Maybe you’ve blown away your numbers, but that’s not what’s most important to me or working at Sweetwater.

The most important criteria to work here as an HR/recruiting person, as it is for all employees, is to have the right character and integrity, which is built on the notion of doing the right thing for customers and colleagues. So when I’m hiring, I’m in pursuit of people who, again, are passionate about creating amazing experiences for people, someone who really values relationships and people. Indeed, the mission statement of HR at Sweetwater is: “Composing amazing employee experience, one employee at a time.”

Our whole strategy for recruiting and HR is built on relationships. This begins during the hiring phase — the interview, selection, onboarding — and extends all the way through the lifecycle of the employee. I wholeheartedly believe our model is integral to creating quality relationships because candidates and employees are engaging with the same individuals who brought them into the company to begin with. Our model enables HR people to get to know employees from early on, which has helped foster greater engagement and retention.

Now, on a practical level regarding the work itself, the responsibilities of our HR staff these days tends to split relatively evenly these days. For instance, the HR person overseeing our sales department, which is roughly 700 people, is probably spending about 40% of her time recruiting, while the other 60% is devoted to HR work.

Of course, we recognize that combining HR and recruiting has its critics. The framework is not for everyone. And sure enough, if we grow to, say 100,000 employees, we may need to separate recruiting from HR, but right now, our approach is valuable when it comes to building trust and rapport among candidates, employees, hiring managers, and business leaders.

At the same time, to those who strongly believe that the two functions should remain separate, I would ask: What value do you place on relationships?

This article is based on an interview, with answers as told to ERE editor Vadim Liberman.

Interested in learning more about what Jordan Applegate and Sweetwater are doing to elevate talent acquisition? Register for the ERE Recruiting Conference, May 22-24, in San Diego (and online).

This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Spring 2023.
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