Stop Worshipping at the Temple of Busy

We’re at an “interesting time” or “crossroads” in recruiting. What else is new?

People have been putting that on slide decks since 2006 — which makes sense because business evolves quickly in a digital age (heck, it sometimes revolves). Also, because recruiting is a bedrock of getting the people you need both now and in the future, it has to evolve with your business. The thing is, the belief that recruiting is evolving seems to always come largely from HR and recruiters. Other departments don’t necessarily believe we’re advancing with the business, let alone advancing the business itself. Why is that? 

The Business of Busyness

Not a ton of science on this, but if you’ve ever had a standard office-type corporate job, you know that a lot of decision-making is rooted in preserving individual relevance. Managers will design a certain process to “own” it, everyone on the team knows said process makes no sense and will create backlogs, but the process will persist for months, if not years, because it’s important for that manager to “own” that thing to assert relevance. We’ve all worked in at least one one or two places, maybe more, where this is common. 

Well, one of the best ways to be relevant is to be seen as busy. If you’re busy, you must be important, right? Because who would be giving you more work to do, thus making you busy, if you’re not important? “Busy” has another benefit, too. It actually gives people the same neurological reaction as drugs. As this article from Inc.com explains:

Could it be true? Is the act of staying crazy busy a numbing defense mechanism so that “the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us”? If we tell ourselves that we’re just workaholics, we can forgive ourselves for not being vulnerable, but as Brown points out, “numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion.

OK, so being busy makes you relevant, and being busy makes you feel high. Hmm. What does this have to do with recruiting?

Recruiters have a lot of top-of-funnel work that’s task-based or checking-boxes-based, from sourcing to screening to scheduling interviews to rescheduling interviews. There are different studies out there on recruiter time usage, but usually you’ll see that about 60% of a recruiter’s time is spent on these activities. That means only 4 in 10 minutes are going to bigger, more impactful stuff like building relationships with hiring managers, connecting with passive candidates, and setting long-term forecasting strategy.

We spend too much time checking boxes because it keeps us busy and relevant, keeps the trains moving, and makes us feel good.

What About Automation?

What about it? The discussion about automation and recruiting has been raging for about three years. The conventional argument inside the recruiting world is, “We are people-facing! We could never be automated!” That has kernels of truth, and complete recruitment automation will take decades, if not more than that, but there’s a bigger picture.

What if your company is run by people obsessed with cutting costs? What will happen when AI and machine-learning platforms get to a place where they can screen, source, schedule, and whittle down for a hiring manager effectively? Your company will terminate human recruiters. Sorry to admit that, but it’s true. Cost effectiveness matters a lot to executive-level thinking.

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On the other hand, if you work at a place that understands the value of relationships, then the scaling of recruitment tech won’t likely eliminate your job.

Except, a lot of us work for cost-cutters. 

So Now What?

In the short term, you need to find the right line between tech and your own skill set. What can tech help you with? What can it take off your plate? If you’ve moved task work from 60% of your week down to, say, 45% of your week, what can you do that’s more valuable in that extra time? How can you be more strategic and valuable to your organization?

The hard part is that we still want to be, or least be viewed as, busy. So we focus on nonstrategic busywork. But you need to step out of the Temple of Busy because worrying so much about immediate tasks — often ones that computers will eventually be able to do even better than they do now — is not going to set you up for a long-term recruiting career.

Instead, focus on areas of value. Find an amazing coder in your town and take them to happy hour. Then, six months later, when they get disgruntled at their current job (because everyone does eventually!), you might be top of mind for them. They might reach out and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a job that…” and you just landed your business an A-player by being proactive with a passive candidate. That’s how to add value, which is much more important than rescheduling a bunch of interviews. 

So think about your role as more about value and less about busy, because that will protect both you and your company in the long-run.

Ted Bauer is a freelance copywriter and email social-media strategist based in Texas, by way of New York City, Washington, D.C., and some other places he doesn't want to name as much. He's known for a bunch of open discussions on social media and generally thinking that management could be better. He has worked at ESPN, PBS, McKesson, Teach for America, and more. You can read more of his musings at The Context of Things.

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