The Why, What, and How of Great Recruiting Performance

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Oct 11, 2016
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Baseball is trying to understand the value of fielding like it has done for years with batting statistics. Measuring slugging and on-base percentages is easy when putting value on a great player vs. an average one, but not so easy to measure the impact a great fielder has on a game vs. an average one.

Most people roll their eyes around the topic of recruiting metrics and in a lot of cases rightfully so when what we measure does not really get at the true essence of what’s most important.

To be clear, this is not going to be a Moneyball article about metrics.

In this era of recruiting content with things like “Top 5 things to measure a sourcing team” or “10 must-have metrics of high-performing teams,” I think we all feel that sometimes that what we are reading is more about marketing and promotion vs. really providing something that is useful and actionable.

I am going to try and do my best to cut through the noise of top 10 lists to get to what we really should be focusing on: Determining the difference between average vs. great recruiting performance and outcomes.

We all historically place value on recruiting metrics that ultimately focus on the volume of hires, how quickly we can hire, the quality of that hire, and ultimately the cost of that hire. These are all fine outcomes and things that we need to measure in some way, shape, and form to show performance and improvement, but we don’t spend a lot of time measuring and analyzing what causes optimal outcomes.

What are those truly important things that can really influence outcomes that great recruiters, sourcers, hiring managers, and talent acquisition functions do beyond the stuff we have all being measuring for years?

I do not want to make any assumptions at the level of your experience with the topic. So let’s start with the why first. Like the New York Times article, while they are trying to get to the essence of what makes a great fielder great, they also have to ask the first question of why is this important to overall team performance.

History and experience has shown me that if you really want to get to the what makes up great performance and how can you achieve great performance, you have to ask a shitload of why questions first.

The Why

Let’s start with the obvious:

Q: Why do we even have recruiting metrics and talent acquisition scorecards?

A: We want to show results. We want to show progress. We want to show improvement. We want to educate stakeholders about the process around what we/they think matters most.

Let’s go a layer deeper where the majority of recruiting performance lives. Speak to any high-performing agency, corporate recruiter, or sourcer about what they do that they feel makes them better than the average and you will hear things like:

  • I make sure I do a thorough call with the hiring manager on key success criteria beyond the must-have requirements on the job description
  • I make sure I do “x” amount of sendouts/submits a week.
  • I make sure I regularly follow up and guide/influence the candidate and hiring manager throughout the process.

Let’s continue to dig into “why” on some of these examples.

Humor me for a moment. The following might seem obvious and simplistic, but I want to make sure you understand the path here, because if you don’t ask lots of deeper why questions and be clear on why something is important, then maybe what you think is good activity is really just busywork.

Q: Why do you do a thorough call with the hiring manager on the key requirements beyond the job description?

A: Because it helps me focus on identifying what criteria I need to use to find good vs. great candidates?

Q: Why is understanding the difference between good vs. great that important?

A: Because it significantly improves my chances of finding the right candidate quicker?

Q: Why do you care so much about finding the right candidate quicker?

A: It means I don’t have to spend unnecessary time on finding more candidates than I need to.

Q: Why is this so important?

A: Well, for a few reasons: I build credibility with hiring managers quickly; I can handle more potential reqs; It helps with the business objective of lowering the lost opportunity cost of a role remaining open too long; It can free up my time to focus on more added value things.

Ok, let me flip the script on an example that many of you have felt in your career, but more in the tone of a potential conversation.

HR Leader: I noticed a lot of fields on the candidate records in our ATS are missing information.

New Recruiting Leader: Can you give me specifics of those missing fields?

HR Leader: Fax Number; Street Name; Home Number

New Recruiting Leader: Ok, so I know all of this information is asked as part of new-hire paperwork. I also know that a lot of the contact information you mention is already on the resume of the candidate so we can contact them. So why do we need to ensure that this information is updated manually in the again in the ATS?

HR Leader: Because sometimes we might run reports on that data.

New Recruiting Leader: Ok, maybe a dumb new-person question, why would you run reports on fax number and street name?

HR Leader: I don’t 100 percent know, but we have always done it this way.

New Recruiting Leader: So I am 100 percent clear, we don’t use this data for new-hire paperwork that and we don’t currently use any reports with this data, correct?

HR Leader: Correct.

New Recruiting Leader: So why do want all our recruiters to collect this information manually when they could be using their time on more important activities that produce hires?

The reason asking why is so important: what you first believed to be important might actually not be that important in helping you on a path of great performance vs good.

I believe you get the thought process here. Start by asking why.

Why are we measuring that?

Why are we doing it this way vs. a different way?

Why is that important; does that activity get us to great?

I know (myself included) sometimes we whizz by the why and go straight into the how. It’s OK to be that person that questions why we, or even yourself doing what we do at times. Sometimes we all just get stuck in mistaking activity for good outcomes.

The What and the How

So let’s move onto the real and most important question of what behaviors and actions get us to great vs. good and how we can identify what is great.

I always find it helpful to use practical examples based of my own and others experience vs. just making this an academic anecdotal opinion piece. When you start to dig into what great recruiting behavior and actions look like, you will start to uncover some measures that don’t generally get tracked (or can’t be) in your ATS, CRM, or other tools.

The following are some examples of when you really dig into what great looks like and how you measure great vs. good:

The Engaged Partnering Hiring Manager

I think we all know the influence an engaged hiring manager has on creating a more optimal recruiting process vs. a manager who sees hiring as a chore.

What about tracking and measuring hiring managers who are actively engaged in making hiring a top priority and see the importance of the right balance of speed but not at the expense of quality?

Firstly, have you defined what these great behaviors look like? Let me give you some real-life examples of what they do look like:

  1. Consistently respond to emails about all things recruiting in less than 48 hours
  2. Actively engage their team in referrals and an optimal process
  3. Have just the right number of people in the interview loop
  4. Open to candidates who are outside the box based on your assessment
  5. Always make the candidate experience a priority for all involved.

Here is a link to a previous article around what does exceptional hiring manager performance look like that might also get you thinking about what you might want to define and track.

Do you track any or all of these in a systematic way?

Do you know if hiring managers who do this produce five times better outcomes than ones that don’t?

The Recruiter Assist

In larger teams, most recruiters/sourcers unfortunately do not take the extra time when initially finding a person, or after the initial conversation, to pause and think about whether the person is a match or even better match for other opportunities in the organization beyond the requisitions they are directly responsible for.

Great recruiters and sourcers do this instinctively, and it has a significant impact on a recruiting function’s performance. If all recruiters and sourcers in a recruiting team did every day, the impact is huge.

Do you track this behavior and know the impact this has vs. those who don’t?

Do you actually encourage and reward this behavior on your team?

Do you know why this behavior is important and what problem it helps solve?

Candidates Under Your Nose

We sometimes become somewhat obsessed with thinking it needs to be all about the passive candidate or every search has to begin on LinkedIn. A lot of us have ATSs with a large number of candidates who sit in there never to be found. Maybe that is because the search functionally of your ATS sucks, but I have found that great recruiters and sourcers know the value of candidates right under their noses and find work-arounds in the system (creating folders, pipleines, etc).

Do you have a field in your ATS (not source) that tracks when a recruiter or sourcer identifies a candidate out of your ATS as the primary identification method?

Do you know how much time this approach cuts down Time to Accept vs. those that don’t actively mine their own ATS?

Closing on the First Call vs. the Last

Have you ever measured those recruiters who discuss compensation, key motivators, and other key factors pre-close, versus those who discuss comp and so on on the first call with candidates? Do you ask candidates specific questions to validate the impact of activities like:

  1. When did the recruiter first discuss compensation with you?
  2. Did the recruiter do a good job of tying in your key motivators to the role and company?
  3. Was is it an important factor in your decision making to make this part of one of the first calls vs. waiting until the offer stage? Why is this important to you, Mr./Mrs. candidate?

Do those recruiters who do have fewer candidates drop out or accept competitive offers show correlation to this behavior?

No Intake vs. Good vs. Great

Call it intake session, kickoff call, whatever (not just a form!) — I think by now we all know that part of the process. More and more companies understand the critical importance of getting this part of the process right. But how many people go back and analyze the difference between a recruiter/sourcer who is on autopilot going through the tick-the-box exercise because a TA leader says you must do it as part of operational processes, vs. those who really embrace and understand why it is important?

Do you ask hiring managers specific questions related to what takes place during this first meeting that help you really understand the potential difference between good vs great? Examples:

  1. Did your recruiter spend more than 30 minutes on a call discussing the strategy, plan, and approach? Is there a correlation between how much time is invested on this call when analyzing good vs. great performance?
  2. Did the recruiter help you clearly define key success criteria (not just must-have job requirements) to assess candidates against? … Like what would a great performer look like in this role vs. just a good one?
  3. Did your recruiter come to the discussion with valuable data like competitive or market data or historical insights from lessons learned filling similar roles in the past?

Remember that you can only define great vs. average based on the information you are trying to gather and analyze. Asking a hiring manager a question like whether the recruiter did the intake call or not is pointless, as you need to gather more information than that. What you really are trying to ascertain here is what specifically did they do or not do during that call. That will then give you insights into what great looks like.

If you already do this today, then is there a correlation back to the measure of an engaged partnering hiring manager, that also effects greatness?

An Important Fork in the Road

At this point I will stop giving examples for a very specific reason. We could all probably sit here and wax lyrically on dozens on other potential measures that impact the difference between good and great beyond the typical metrics and measures. That is a fun and interesting exercise but also a dangerous one as well. I ask you to pause and think about your own situation and organization, and ask yourself the most important question again:

“What does great look like?”

Just like in the New York Times article trying to determine what great fielding looks like, stop and think about defining great from a recruiting standpoint. Then think about whether:

  1. You actually measure it, as some things you might want to measure can’t be done in a ATS/CRM.
  2. The energy and effort to measure a specific thing is going to make a real difference to a future outcome. If not, then you’re just creating busywork.
  3. What you want to try and measure as “great” is really just an indirect influencing datapoint that by itself is not getting you to a great outcome without other key elements needing to be at play at the same time.

This last point is one of the harder things to get your head around in recruiting. There are lots of things great recruiters and sourcers do that influence better outcomes. Some of these things are very difficult to measure in silos or don’t lend themselves to ATS/CRM functionality. An example of this would be the soft skills (competencies and behaviors) great recruiters demonstrate consistently and in combination that influence many outcomes. Example:

  • Effectively building trust with hiring managers and candidates
  • The ability to impact and influence without direct authority
  • Persistence and adaptability
  • Exceptionally good at time management and prioritization of tasks.

I have met a lot of people in my career who will dig their heels in on this last factor, saying that metrics are pointless because so much of what a great recruiter does is not measurable. Everything is pretty much measurable; it’s just working out how. (We can talk about this further; schedule a meeting with me this month in New Orleans.)

If you think about what you have just spent the last 10 minutes reading, it’s really not an article about metrics at all.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.