Harvard Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Let’s face it — there is no bar in recruiting. We don’t have to pass a state exam, there is no recruiting major in college, and we don’t necessarily require a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum. Recruiters come from all walks of life, whether they were a Nordstrom sales associate, a personal trainer, a mainframe programmer, or a teacher. This is why we call it the “accidental career.”

In the late 1990s, companies just needed bodies to help recruit, regardless of background or competency. A few years beforehand, companies would not even fathom hiring a corporate recruiter who only had contingency experience. What makes a recruiter valuable so that he or she can survive throughout the volatility of a market? What makes an enduring recruiting career so that it simply isn’t something that anyone can dabble in? What separates the good from the bad, the strong from the weak? Some recruiters argue that recruiting is just about sales. While this is an important aspect of recruiting, staffing goes beyond sales, whether it’s contingency or corporate recruiting. Recruiting is about understanding that overall fit between a candidate and a corporate culture. We must exercise our analytical and critical-thinking skills on several levels. The most basic skill that we use is to fully comprehend a particular function and how that impacts the company and its business. We can’t just view a position as a job order or qualifications that are quantified into “five years of experience or skills.” We have to read between the lines. This applies to how we evaluate candidates. I have seen recruiters assume that an individual is smart because he is a Mensa member or has a Harvard MBA or high GPA. Or, recruiters assume the candidate is a job-hopper without discussing the circumstances with the candidate. Recruiters miss out on strong candidates as a result of these shallow assumptions.

Arguably, with the 10 seconds that we exert on reviewing each resume due to time constraints and fire drills, it is easy to find yourself in a position where you do categorize people into a caste system. But how would recruiters feel if we were evaluated in the same way that we evaluate candidates? How many recruiters do we know who have a Harvard MBA or have a high college GPA, let alone a Bachelor’s degree from a “ranked” college? Who are we to evaluate supposedly high-caliber candidates if we haven’t achieved similar goals? Where is our credibility as recruiters if we aren’t high-caliber ourselves?

If recruiters were required to reach a certain education level, there wouldn’t be so many recruiters. If an educational foundation was a requirement, we would have more compassion about what goes into the competitive application process, which can oftentimes be subjective. Recruiters overlook, for instance, that schools are businesses. Getting in can be contingent upon intangible factors beyond test scores and GPAs, such as a family legacy, economics, or state-representation statistics. These circumstances are beyond a candidate’s control. GPAs are relative because they depend on the specific school and major. MIT and Caltech do not issue grades during the students’ first year because of how rigorous their academic programs are. Depending on the student and the school, a GPA in Physics could be significantly lower than a GPA in Communications. If recruiters are in a position of power to pick and choose from which academic programs we select to recruit, we better be prepared to justify why we are selecting these schools and how we will interact with these individuals. Are we going by word of mouth or by what the U.S. News & World Report dictates as the top schools? Do we question this methodology and source in ranking schools, or do we simply assume that people who attend these schools are better than everyone else?

We represent our clients, and candidates are banking on us to give them an opportunity with our clients. If candidates can’t respect us because we can’t match their intellects to some degree due to the fact that we lack the backgrounds to do so, then we need to set our standards higher for recruiters. We must have the foundation to be able to evaluate a candidate beyond the resume in order to assess him or her for a corporate culture. I am not advocating that recruiters must have an engineering degree to hire engineers or possess an MBA to fill business roles. But what steps can recruiters take to understand the candidate’s perspective? How does a recruiter become a better frontline partner and challenge the myopic assumptions of many clients? If our standards are higher for recruiters, then we must place more value in the recruiting role as a business partner. This will augment our credibility.

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Recruiters are no longer phone jockeys who field resumes to see which ones will stick. While we do have to sell an opportunity to a candidate and a candidate to a client, we also have to be intuitive enough to appeal to what motivates a candidate while convincing a client what is truly important in a candidate’s background. In this day and age in which Internet recruiting tools are commonplace, the role of the recruiter has obviously evolved, sometimes to the point of misperception. The Web has enhanced research efforts, and we scour resumes online. However, the experienced recruiters know the value of cold-calling companies to capture those passive candidates, build an org chart from these calls, and gather intelligence.

We must scrutinize and challenge job requirements and candidate qualifications in order to have an abstract and intricate understanding of the opportunity. We must engage in complex, high-level negotiations. We must constantly exercise diplomacy skills, whether we are rejecting a candidate’s qualifications within legal parameters or explaining circumstances that have affected the company’s ability to move forward with an offer, without making the company look bad. Our roles are deeper than sales or that of the messenger. We must expect the caliber of recruiter to equal the caliber of professionals that we seek. Then, perhaps one day, the accidental career won’t seem so accidental.

Melinda White is accustomed to delivering strategic and tactical success in entrepreneurial and challenging environments. She is a talent acquisition and university relations specialist who has paid her dues at Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Sun Microsystems, and Idealab. Since having a baby girl in 2011, she has transitioned into a talent advisor/partner role, collaborating with early and late stage ventures as well as Fortune 500 companies. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Scripps College and her claim to fame is being classmates with Gabby Giffords before the Internet was commercially available.

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