The Other War for Talent

As recruiters and generalists continue to get — or worry about getting — laid off, it's increasingly important to clarify responsibilities of each so both can add value to the org.

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Mar 30, 2023
This article is part of a series called Flashback.

I recently had a client — a recruiter — who was upset because an HR generalist in his office was “meddling” in the recruiting process and had created some confusion between him and the hiring manager.

At the same time, I hear from HR generalists how recruiters are not well-informed about positions and present inappropriate candidates to the hiring manager. Whenever there are multiple parties who have some interest in a transaction, there can be disagreement and confusion.

For many years HR generalists paid little attention to recruiting, unless it was at the executive level. The recruiters were expected to quickly fill the run-of-the-mill positions without involving the HR staff too much. HR was usually too busy doing the administrative and process stuff and enforcing the rules to pay any attention to acquiring people.

But as the economy has worsened and many recruiters and generalists have been laid off or fret about being laid off, many now realize that their value to the organization may lie only in how well and how quickly they can attract and retain good talent. This has led to territorial fights, internal bickering, and a lot of confusion over roles and responsibilities.

This whole issue says more about the future of HR than it does about recruiting.

Many prognosticators, including myself, believe that HR will eventually be focused on two primary areas only: 1) attracting and acquiring talent, and 2) developing and retaining talent within the organization. All of the administrative duties and process work will be automated and outsourced within the next five years.

A transitory role may well be that of internal consultant and advisor to management. This will be a necessary role, because managers, HR generalists, and recruiters are not yet ready for new responsibilities. It will take a generation to change the role of management to accept recruiting and consulting as a major part of their responsibilities.

Here are a few thoughts on what the roles ought to be and why.

Defining Roles

As long as there are both HR generalists and recruiters who are independent, there has to be a set of working principles that they agree to abide by. These could include a code of ethics about recruiting, a written agreement on responsibilities, or the establishment of a mechanism to solve any disagreements that might arise.

Both parties need to map out their stakeholders and put in place specific duties that they each will take on. This is becoming more essential as HR generalists find their jobs threatened by recruiters and recruiters risk being cut out of critical discussions and involvement in the hiring process. There is plenty of room for both groups in talent acquisition and development, but roles are changing and need to be openly discussed.

Larger firms should set aside a day for the two groups to meet, clearly define responsibilities, and clear up any gray areas that exist. I find in much of my consulting work that many of the problems clients have in executing efficiently and quickly is because of muddled roles and confused expectations.

The Role of the Manager

The manager should be given as much control over the hiring process as she wants. She should be given options that could include doing everything herself via the internet and job boards, or doing nothing except providing job descriptions and conducting interviews. The HR generalist can work out the parameters of involvement in the process and bring in the recruiter to explain the options.

Abdicating responsibility to a manager who is not ready for the task is silly and job-threatening. On the other hand, not letting a manager know what she could do is also opening the door to eventual problems and issues. While a recruiter could perhaps do all this, the HR generalist most often has an existing relationship with the hiring manager and has developed her trust. This can be used to effectively build a strong recruiting partnership.

HR Should Not Hire

HR generalists should begin to build basic recruiting skills and act as internal consultants on the recruiting process. Their focus should be internal, and their primary role should be to understand and communicate the job requirements to recruiters and the market supply and other issues to hiring managers.

HR generalists should be seen as facilitating the hiring process and acting as the intermediary between managers and recruiters. They do not have to interview candidates, nor do they have to source or approve of candidates. Their job should be focused on making the process work smoothly and quickly and on educating management.

Many HR generalists can feel like they are being left out of the process if they do not interview candidates and give their seal of approval. But in the interest of speed and efficiency, the recruiter and hiring manager should make the hiring decisions, not the HR generalist.

A Focus on Relationships

Recruiters should remain outwardly focused and accept input from the HR generalists on the job requirements. Recruiters should spend more than half their time outside the organization — building networks, developing new sources of candidates, working the job boards, and attending meetings and conferences where the kinds of people they are seeking go.

The recruiter’s job is less and less about internal interviews, paperwork, scheduling, and processing, and more and more about relationships and networks. If this becomes the focus of the recruiter’s day, then the territorial wars with HR generalists will disappear.

Editor’s note: This article is part of our Flashback series, which reaches into ERE’s archives to bring you stories that still have significance today. This piece is adapted from the original version, published 20 years ago. It’s striking how the insights and themes in this article still seem current — perhaps for better and for worse.

This article is part of a series called Flashback.
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