The 25 Irrefutable Laws of World-Class Corporate Recruiting

art by Ryan FrazierIt’s hard to build a world-class corporate recruiting function without a comprehensive list of the principles that define a top function. While tips on being a good recruiter are available in abundance, there is little written that focuses on the undocumented principles that separate merely average functions from those that truly deliver.

Based on my observations in the field over the past 40 years, I’ve compiled the following list of what I have seen that leads to greatness.

Some of the factors relate to strategy and goals, some basic perspective, and others operations and administration. Truly great recruiting leaders understand not just a few but rather all of these laws and govern accordingly.

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Irrefutable Laws Related to Functional Strategy and Goals

  • The primary goal must be business impact — strive to directly impact business results and the organization’s strategic business goals (including revenue, business expansion, productivity, and innovation). This impact will result from designing a branding, recruiting, and hiring process that hires employees who rank in the top percentile of performers based on on-the-job performance, retention, innovation, and diversity.
  • The recruiting strategy must lead to domination of the talent marketplace — recruiting leaders must select and implement the most effective recruiting strategy that contributes to an overall “performance culture” and that allows the organization to dominate the talent marketplace in its industry. The strategy must be agile so that it shifts to fit the current business environment and competitive marketplace. Recruiting processes and goals most closely mirror the business strategies of marketing (including branding, prospect identification, market research, and sales) and supply chain. Those business approaches should be the foundation for developing recruiting strategies, processes, and tools.
  • Executives are the primary customer — executives are defined as the primary customer because they best understand the “big picture” needs of the organization and they approve funding. Individual hiring managers are important, but they are not primary because when hiring, they routinely put their own selfish short-term interests ahead of the long-term corporate interests.
  • The primary target is top talent — in order to be effective, you must clearly delineate and define your primary recruiting target. The primary recruiting target in most cases should be top talent, which includes top performers, those with critical skills, game-changers, and innovators. Top talent can come from anywhere, but most are employed and well-treated at competing organizations, so the strategy and process must be designed to convince those not looking for a job (some call them passives) to consider working at your organization. While “active” candidates should be considered, recruiting leaders must realize that approaches that attract active candidates will not work for individuals who are not looking.
  • A competitive advantage is needed in a zero-sum game — because recruiting faces a limited pool of top talent, it is a “zero sum game.” As a result, the recruiting strategy and process must not only be effective, it must be clearly superior to those of your talent competitors. In order to build a competitive advantage, recruiting leaders must create a differential and continue to differentiate between your organization and its talent competitors. That should include conducting a competitive analysis, gathering competitive intelligence, countering each competitor’s moves, and being able to react whenever a competitor improves their recruiting approach.

Irrefutable Laws Related to the Basic Recruiting Paradigm

  • Recruiting has five key components — employer branding, talent prospecting, talent courting, candidate assessment, and offer closing. While all are important, the first three have the most impact because great assessment and selling can’t produce quality hires unless top talent is in the candidate pool.
  • Employer branding has the greatest long-term impact — managing the employer brand(s) is the most strategic component of world-class recruiting in the long-term. Functional leaders must measure and proactively influence a firm’s brand image in order to ensure that the very top prospects become interested in working at your organization.
  • Prioritization allows you to focus — because not all jobs have the same business impact, recruiting leaders must work with management to identify and give priority treatment to high-impact jobs.
  • A talent pipeline approach is superior — in order to maximize effectiveness, recruiting must start well in advance of an opening. That means that the strategy must include a “pre-need” component to build a talent pipeline for key jobs. In the same light, truly outstanding talent needs to be proactively recruited and hired even when there is no current open requisition.
  • Speed is required for quality — because top talent is in high demand, the hiring process must be fast if you expect to land top candidates with multiple offers, but also thorough.
  • Timing is required for quality — because an organization’s chances of recruiting top talent are diminished when the competition for talent is high, it is essential that recruiting efforts be timed appropriately. Many organizations recruit whenever a position opens up, but a superior approach is to consider labor market trends and recruit top talent at the most opportune time: i.e., low competition, great supply.
  • A global capability is needed — because top talent exists around the globe, organizations must develop processes that are effective at attracting and hiring talent anywhere. This should include offering remote work options and adapting recruiting processes to local needs.
  • Aggressiveness is the norm — unlike most areas of HR, recruiting is a highly competitive act. When labor market conditions are tight, it is literally called a “war for talent.” If you want to dominate the talent marketplace in your region or industry, you need to be proactive, bold, and aggressive. Aggressiveness is required because the recruiting process mirrors the sales function, where they are literally trying to “steal” away another organizations’ customers. You also you need to be able to successfully “counter” the offerings of your talent competitors.
  • Recruit diversity for improved business results — one of the primary goals of recruiting is to hire individuals with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking. In addition to meeting legal requirements, diverse perspectives increase innovation, help identify major errors, and ensure that the employee base understands the needs and expectations of the organization’s diverse customer base.

Irrefutable Laws Related to Operations and Administration

  • You must be talent centric — the recruiting process, at least for top talent, must be “candidate centric” so that “the candidate experience” meets the needs and expectations of top talent. Recruiting must have a process to identify top talent job interests and acceptance criteria, and tailor communications/actions accordingly. The process itself must demonstrate innovation because candidates will assess the innovativeness of your firm based on their experience throughout the process. All candidates could be a current or future customer, so the overall process must be candidate-friendly.
  • A strong business case is essential — recruiting must continually compete for resources with other talent management and business functions. In order to get sufficient resources for the function and convince managers to spend enough time on hiring, recruiting leaders must work with the CFO’s office to build a compelling business case. A key business case component is to convert the output of the recruiting function into operational impact, including the dollar impact of hiring top talent, the cost of prolonged position vacancies, and the cost of weak hires.
  • Influence managers to act correctly — hiring managers are the final decision makers on hiring, but they dislike being ordered or threatened. As a result, recruiting must accept their role as “influencers” and internal consultants. That means that they must develop effective arguments that convince hiring managers to precisely follow the hiring guidelines and to devote sufficient time toward hiring. Measuring and rewarding managers for great hiring can also contribute to managing hiring manager behavior.
  • Technology drives capability, speed, and globalization — technology use must permeate all aspects of recruiting to enable greater capability and capacity. You cannot have an effective global recruiting effort without technology.
  • Great recruiters are required to land top talent — services and technology can help any organization source great talent, but subpar recruiters can rarely sell top talent. Recruiters who continuously learn, are aggressive, who understand the business, who have strong sales skills, and who make data-based decisions are the ones who are the most effective.
  • The most effective tools are required to land top talent — recruiting depends heavily on tools, so great recruiters and hiring managers cannot be effective unless they are provided with the most effective recruiting tools. The function must continually identify and assess which recruiting tools, processes, and approaches work best for each major need.
  • You must use your employees as talent scouts — since there are never enough recruiters due to budget constraints, another strategic goal must be to build a recruiting culture where all stakeholders support continuous recruiting. Employees are well-connected to top talent through their professional networks, so an essential component of the strategy must be to harness those employee connections and relationships. Recruiting must encourage, recognize, and reward employees for acting as talent scouts to identify, assess, and refer top talent.
  • Data-based decision-making is best — modern recruiting is more of a science than an art, so in order to produce industry-leading results, most decisions must be based on data. Data must be used to identify the best sources, the most accurate assessment processes, the most effective sales approaches, and other critical success factors in recruiting. Metrics must permeate the entire process in order to ensure that problems are identified and that best practices quickly spread.
  • Integration is critical — because recruiting does not work in isolation, the recruiting process must collaborate with other talent management functions. In order to gain their cooperation, recruiting must demonstrate to the leaders of other functions both the positive and negative impacts that compensation, benefits, relocation, onboarding, development, internal movement, retention, etc. can have on recruiting results. In addition, contingent hiring must be fully integrated with the process for hiring permanent employees.
  • Legal compliance — recruiting leaders and recruiters must work with the legal department to minimize legal risks. However, great recruiting is never “driven” by the fear of being sued. Effective recruiting departments calculate the risk levels and continually improve processes to ensure a better quality of hire.
  • Continuous learning is required — because there is intense global competition for top talent, recruiting is continually evolving. Due to the rapid speed of change, knowledge, information, and “solutions” that are suitable one year may be completely wrong the next. As a result, recruiters and recruiting leaders need to be on the “leading edge of knowledge” concerning best practices, tools, and upcoming challenges.

Final Thoughts

There are several hundred thousand recruiters in the U.S. alone, most of whom operate without the support of a professional organization or uniform code of conduct. Most corporate functions are “ad hoc” functions operating without a complete, organizationally accepted mandate and written strategy or plan. Too many recruiting professionals seem happy to operate without understanding and following the irrefutable laws of world-class recruiting. If you are not among them, use this list as a simple “audit checklist” to identify where your recruiting function stands against world-class standards.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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