Recruiter Chronicles: Five Years, Five Mistakes -– Part 4

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of my career in recruiting which recently passed, I have been sharing the five biggest learning lessons I’ve experienced thus far during my time at the Aureus Group. Last week, I shared the story of botched salary negotiation that cost me a fee. This week, I bring you…

#2 – Story of Forgetting About the Relationships That Really Matter

So, imagine this scenario, if you will. You spend years building relationships with HR partners and business line managers in an organization. Your team makes hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of placements, assisting in building entire teams along the way. This is made possible, due in part, because of the 100% trust amongst everyone involved in the process — especially between you and HR.

Then one day, the rules of engagement are changed forever. HR separates from recruiting, and in comes Talent Acquisition (TA). You have no relationships with anyone on this TA team, and have to start from the ground up with one of your firm’s best clients. On top of all of that, they tell you that you can no long talk to hiring managers in an effort to earn search assignments. All communication is to be routed through TA. In an instant, the partnership that took years to build is now an opposing force.

Scenarios like this play out all the time in our industry, and we must come to grips with the fact that not every relationship we have will be great. If the juice is worth the squeeze, however, we must find a way to build bridges and not blow them up — even though all of your instincts may be telling you to just light the match and move on.

This scenario happened to me, and it led to my second biggest mistake in five years as a recruiter. Take a few moments to live it with me, and hopefully we can learn how not to let it happen to you.

We have all been deeply affected by the credit and financial crisis of 2007-2008. Personally, professionally, or otherwise. Those years have left their stamp on every person you know. Our client in this case was a very large financial organization in the midwest and certainly felt this landslide.  In late 2008 we began to hear rumblings and grumblings that, among other fairly significant changes, HR was being overhauled. Specifically, as it related to how we worked with them, Talent Acquisition was changing. There was to be fewer vendors, an RFP was on the horizon, and HR was leaving recruitment. A new Talent Acquisition team was being hired and would direct all recruiting.

This was a perfectly cogent strategy, to be sure. I am not one of those recruiters who thinks HR and Talent Acquisition are the axis of evil in our client companies. I truly believe that we must work together with HR and TA to provide the best possible resources for the real “buyers” of our services, the hiring managers. This can only be accomplished with unilateral respect for one another, and an understanding of what produces the best possible results.  So, I moved in this new direction still feeling good about the partnership. What came next changed that feeling for good.

The new Talent Acquisition team was announced, and we took that opportunity to meet with them. Shortly into that meeting it became clear the changes were much more than we had anticipated. The most significant was the “lockout” between our recruitment team and hiring managers at this organization. In fact, they voiced significant displeasure at known conversations we had with hiring managers leading up to this meeting. It was clear that this group, for better or worse, was hell-bent on making big changes. They wanted total control over the engagement process, and this was not a negotiable point. Furthermore, they made it very obvious that the ‘gravy train’ was coming to an end, and placements through us and other staffing firms were going to be dramatically reduced.

So, at the end of this meeting, three very clear directives were put in front of us:

  1. Do NOT contact hiring managers.
  2. Do NOT expect much future business.
  3. WE will contact you when we have a need.

In return, we were given assurance that we would be on the short list for vendors moving forward, and than an RFP to formalize this process was forthcoming.

So, I played ball. From that point forward, I only called TA. The MPC calls I used to make to my hiring manager contacts, I now made to TA. This quickly grew tiresome. In fact, I mostly felt they were not even paying attention at all. Several frustrating months went by and the job orders had dried up entirely. At this point I had mostly written off this former “A” client. But one day, a colleague of mine served notice of the fact that I was not trying hard enough.

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“I know you always say that this company is not using recruiters, but you’re wrong.”

“Say what?” Being the stubborn butt-head I can be, I took offense to this assertion.

“Look Nate, we have several candidates that are interviewing at this company through another recruiter. You need to get back in there. We are missing out on placements!”

The words hit me like a ton of bricks. This was the realization that I needed to act the way I should have all along. I picked up the phone and called some of my old contacts. They acted as if nothing had ever changed, and indeed, they were still working with their external recruiting partners. In one particular department, the hiring manager had always used us in addition to one other firm due to close relationships with both. When I had stopped calling, he just kept using the other firm and easily forgot about me. That was a punch in the gut I will never forget. I was disgusted that I had been so silly in letting relationships slip away so easily.

The hiring manager and I talked, and he agreed to give us the search I was hoping to get. We did not make the placement, but the door was open again. In the next several weeks, we got a better understanding of the dynamics of what was going on out there. We gained a clearer idea on how we needed to partner. The hiring managers did not care one iota how they got the talent they needed, just that they got it in a timely fashion. Their beliefs –that 3rd party recruiters were the most effective way to find hard-to-find talent — had been forged over years of experience. They would not be denied this service they always had before. So, they had just kept on working the same channels they always had before.

Over the next few weeks, we re-built key bridges and started anew with this client. We did not forget about the Talent Acquisition team, though. Forgetting about them at this point would serve me about as well as forgetting about hiring managers before. We re-connected with them too, in a different way. We explained to them why it is important for us to maintain relationships with those who own the decisions and the process. We promised to keep TA as partners and in the loop with every thing that we did. More importantly, we allowed TA to keep the hammer they needed to have. We committed to allow TA to formalize any search agreement between us. This was a perfectly amicable agreement, and we all seemed to benefit from the results.

At present day, this client is continuing to be redeveloped, and the relationships are getting stronger with all key parties. In reflecting back on everything that transpired, here are the lessons I learned from this experience:

  • Strive for open communication with the true decision makers. These are the individuals who can actually buy what you are selling. Anything less than this is not a true partnership.
  • In the face of HR or Talent Acquisition opposition, work to create an understanding of why it is important for you to have open access to hiring managers. In return, commit to these professionals that they will always be kept in the loop, and ultimately will have the control over processes that they are being directed to have.
  • Creating true partnerships with clients requires 360 degree understanding of each other and respect for the processes that matter most for getting results.
  • Never turn your back on relationships that have helped you in the past.

Next week I will share my #1 mistake from the last five years of recruiting. Stay tuned!

Nate Elgert is a Senior Account Manager at Aureus Group, a Division of C&A Industries, located in Omaha, Nebraska. C&A Industries is a former Inc. 500 company and is one of the largest privately owned Staffing and Recruitment firms in the United States. C&A Industries currently places candidates in every state. Nate focuses his recruitment in Accounting, Finance, and Banking, primarily across Nebraska and Iowa. Nate joined the Aureus Group in 2006 and during that time has run both a dual desk, and has focused on Account Management. Nate is former Golf Professional and still enjoys the occasional round with his friends and family as time allows. Nate is married to his wife Angie, and has two girls, Sofia and Cecilia.

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