Why Clients and Candidates Need Independent Recruiters

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Apr 30, 2013

There is nothing like a good controversy to stir up one’s feelings and subsequently a fierce debate. One of my favorite things about reading articles on ERE is how some of its contributors have a wonderful ability to write articles that generate comments a mile long because of controversial subjects covered. We were barely into 2013 when Adrian Kinnersley wrote an article entitled, “Why LinkedIn will never kill the professional recruitment industry,” which was very on point.

People are so polarized around this issue, but the comments section was what really made it an interesting read for me. If I didn’t know better I would have expected a fistfight to break out. One commenter even suggested that commission-only salespeople are unable to provide independent advice to candidates, and candidates know this. This inspired me to pick up my pen (figuratively, that is) and write, which I haven’t done lately.

The Demise of the Agency Recruiter

First off, great agency recruiters won’t go away until they want to, even though there has been so much talk about their longevity. It started back in the olden days (the mid 1990s) when the Internet was still in its infancy. Companies like Monster, CareerBuilder, and Yahoo HotJobs came on the market and tried to convince everyone they were a panacea to recruiting. In my opinion they were —  and are — nothing more than prettied up classified ads. Many people said companies would no longer need to use agency recruiters.

Didn’t happen

Next, companies began ramping up their internal recruiting staffs. It was predicted that companies would no longer need to use agency recruiters.

Didn’t happen

Then LinkedIn became more and more popular and powerful, and many people said it would put agency recruiters out of business (people are still saying it) because now potential candidates are all over LinkedIn and recruiters would need to have a better value proposition.

Hasn’t happened … and I predict it never will.

Get the picture?

Independent advice: An oxymoron?

The comment about commission-only salespeople and its relationship to independent advice seems to target contingent recruiters since, by and large, they work on commission, but I’m asserting that it is valid for retained and corporate recruiters as well. No recruiter, whether agency or corporate, is able to provide totally independent advice.

Why not?

Contingent recruiters get paid only if they close a deal. Retained recruiters are on commission too even though they are paid part of their commission up front.  This means they have clients to answer to. Corporate recruiters have job openings they are responsible for filling.

Let’s look at the definition of the words “independent” and “advice”:

  • Independent: Not requiring or relying on something.
  • Advice: Recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct.

When these words are combined, they don’t make much sense. How can a recruiter make a recommendation to a candidate that doesn’t require or rely on something? We all have opinions and ideas that shape us, and consequently the advice we provide, about how things should go, hence, we can’t be completely impartial.

All recruiters have certain pressures to close deals, and these pressures impact how they interact with candidates, clients, and employers; the bottom line is that the best and most successful recruiters work very hard to be impartial.

Qualities of a Successful Recruiter

The most successful recruiters are part salesman, career counselor, consultant, adviser, fact-finder, archaeologist, and shrink. They are balanced in their advice. They present both sides of the story, ask candidates a multitude of questions geared directly toward their professional needs and wants, and work to build relationships based on trust with candidates. This is something that takes time and commitment.

When I was still in my recruiting practice full time, I got calls all the time from candidates requesting advice. Sometimes I was representing them in one or more of the opportunities they were exploring, and sometimes none of them. They called to discuss all the opportunities with me because they trusted the counsel I provided.

In speaking with some corporate recruiters and recruiting leaders, they also confirmed my assertions on what makes a successful recruiter. The best corporate recruiters also follow these principles.

The Tasks of a Successful Recruiter

There are a number of regular practices that make recruiters successful. It’s not a mystery. It’s just a matter of following some basic principles and work habits.

Sometimes I’d find myself struggling in my early years in search. I’d sit down with my boss to get his advice and I’ll never forget his wise words, “Go back to your basics.” It always proved successful.

The basics:

  1. Sourcing: Sourcing is not just trolling LinkedIn and other online sites to find names. It’s picking up the phone and “pirating.” It’s looking online in creative ways. It’s looking through your database. It’s networking.
  2. Turning names into conversations: Once you have names, you must get them to engage in conversation, and you  better know how to speak to them. If you are calling people who get flooded with recruiter calls and emails, you need an effective strategy to get them to return your calls/emails.
  3. Turn conversations into candidates: Now that you have gotten someone on the phone you need to determine if he is a potential fit for the organization and job. Do you want him to interview? Remember the first rule of Sales 101; Ask questions about their needs and wants and show them how you can help. You may be interested in him, but he may not be interested in you.
  4. Interview preparation: Be sure the candidate knows who he is interviewing with, what the job expectations are, how long/how many interviews will be taking place, and what the entire process may look like.  Set proper expectations of the interview process.
  5. Stay in communication: Be sure you provide interview feedback in a timely manner and communicate next steps. Keeping a candidate in the dark will not elicit good will.
  6. Hold their hand: Spending time answering questions and dealing with concerns. Don’t avoid difficult conversations. This “high-touch” interaction will enable a candidate to trust you. Trust is crucial to outcome.
  7. Qualify: Qualify the candidate throughout the process. Is there a possibility of a counteroffer from the current employer? Will any red flags show up in reference or background checks? Ensure the candidate will accept the offer or keep negotiating until you have agreement. If you don’t feel the candidate is going to accept, find out why. Can you or the hiring manager handle the objection? Don’t be caught with your pants down.
  8. Follow up: After the offer is signed, place a call or send a note to the candidate congratulating him on joining the company. Tell him how excited you are to have him joining the team. This little act will go a long way.
  9. Onboarding: Ensure the candidate is onboarded effectively. Walk him through the process and make sure he knows what to expect for the first 30-90 days of employment. Let him know that you are available to answer questions, or refer him to the person who can help if you can’t.

Moral of the Story

Quality recruiters will always have work, whether they work for an agency or inside a company. Why? Because job boards,and online “databases” like LinkedIn are unable to replace them. There are just too many skills required of a quality recruiter, and it’s these skills that take years to develop. Great recruiters don’t take short cuts because short cuts don’t work. They consistently practice the basics that made them successful in the first place.

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