“Have your people call my people. We’ll do sushi.” No, I don’t mean relationships like the Hollywood kissy-kissy sushi gathering above. I mean real relationships. It’s a cliche, of course, to say that recruiting is all about relationships. But it’s a cliche because it’s true. Why? I’ve talked so often about your value as a staffing professional recruiter to the company you work for. This time I want to talk about your value to yourself, to the world at large. Because when it comes to that, for recruiters, it’s all about relationships. “Okay, but what does that mean, Jeremy?” What that means is that your success is dependent upon your ability to go out and connect with people to get information you need, to give information to others so you preserve your pipeline, and to deal with difficult situations when conflict arises. Right now, in the world of staffing and recruiting, there’s lot of talk about technology, tools, the power of the Internet, blah, blah, blah. That’s all well and good ó I’ll touch upon those tools later ó but the point is they’re tools, tools to get you to the most important thing: Talking and connecting with other people. So it’s time to get back to basics in the world of recruiting, because in this world, there is one fact that is unalienable: Great recruiters, the ones who stand out and succeed, are great relationship-builders. Here’s the thing about building relationships: You can’t wait for them to come to you. Just because you’re a service provider either inside or outside an organization, that doesn’t mean you should wait for the service to come to you. The best internal recruiters I have ever seen are the inquisitive, proactive ones, the ones who don’t wait for the hiring managers to call but pick up the phone and talk to people running the various businesses to understand the issues, goals, and objectives of their divisions. “How can we do that? We’re too busy,” you respond? Well it turns out that if you make time to do this, you actually save yourself time later on, because when the requisition does come in, you already understand many elements of the need. As an example, I hired someone once whom I knew was a great recruiter but who had no experience in the business area she joined. She came in and made it her job to know that business on her own. She didn’t wait for the requisition order; she sought out key people in operations to help her understand the business. She did a lot of this in her off hours. When she first started, she would do this two or three times a week. Soon, not only was she well prepared to be a business partner to the managers, she became respected. She went on “their turf” and made the division managers comfortable ahead of time. These are just the kinds of activities recruiters think they don’t have time for. But if they don’t make time, eventually they’ll lose. Whenever I talk about real relationships, not the kissy-kissy Hollywood ones, recruiters always fidget uncomfortably, because to deal with and develop relationships with any substance means to deal with conflict and difficult situations. Staffing professionals and recruiters hate this because, as we all know, recruiters like to be liked! By nature, recruiters are not set up for conflict and confrontation. But we must get over this and disarm the big green scary monster over the hill. You know what I’m talking about: bad relationships. There are a couple of different types of bad relationships I’d like to address. The first are ones that we often times generate, in the form of candidates whom we need to sign off; the second are the ones that we must deal with: those who have a negative bias towards recruiting inside of an organization. Maintaining Relationships With Candidates You Turn Down Regarding the former, there was some myth created by someone in the ’70s (it had to be, because they were old school) that says never give bad news to a candidate and tell them they won’t be going any further in a search. This had to have been created by a recruiter, because only a recruiter, in their desire to be liked, would avoid the off chance of conflict in this way (conflict, by the way, that only comes up perhaps 5% of the time ó but just the chance of that is enough). The truth is, while many recruiters indeed don’t follow up and close the loop with unsuccessful candidates, this has the opposite effect of relationship building. It alienates former prospects. What recruiters have to remember is that every time we talk to candidates, it holds the potential for a possible relationship in the future. Candidates don’t go away, so it’s vital that if they won’t be going any further in a search, the recruiter must call them (not email or letter) to turn them down. All that needs to be said is that the hiring manager decided to pursue candidates he or she felt were more appropriate. If there is a specific skill set that’s missing, that can be mentioned to. Here’s one of my favorite experiences: Once, I was hiring a vice president of human resources for a division of a large company I was with, and I had built a relationship with a candidate who interviewed and ultimately didn’t get the job. Six months later, there was another opening, so I called him again. He came in, went through a fifteen interview process, and again, still didn’t get the role. But each time, he appreciated my honest and direct feedback in following up as to why he didn’t get the role. Still, he appreciated my candor. Eventually, he moved on and got another job, and I moved on and did a variety of my own things as well. But we always kept in touch. So when I started my consulting business many years ago, I called him and he engaged me for a two-and-a-half year project, all because our relationship is based on how things were handled during his two unsuccessful attempts at joining my prior company. Dealing With Bias Against Recruiting The other type of bad relationship is a little trickier: Dealing with those in your company who have a negative bias towards recruiting. This isn’t a bad relationship really, because chances are you don’t know them and they don’t know you. This is simply a bad impression. But there is a way to turn this bad impression into a relationship tool and have it work to your benefit. When I was at a technology company, there were some who hated recruiting and others who loved it. But there was one person in particular who was very talented as a technologist but a nasty screamer when it came to internal staffing. Since this was an important person in the company, my job was to disarm him. How did I do that? I involved him. I put together an internal “advisory board,” where I brought together those who hated us the most with those who loved us the most, and engaged them in a dialogue. I posed various questions to them, including: “What should we be doing to improve our standing? What would you need to see that would enhance our credibility?” Eventually, the screamer stopped screaming long enough to give us his thoughts. We were already doing much of what was suggested, but that’s not the point. Just by engaging him in dialogue, we now had him vested in the process. Eventually, he ended up helping us solve the problem. After that, he had some ownership in our staffing efforts and eventually became an evangelist. Undoubtedly, the best relationships are the ones you foster that benefit you both and that can help you achieve your end goal of becoming a business partner in the business and increasing your own personal value substantially. Here are some other tips and tools for fostering good relationships:
- It goes both ways! Remember, always remember, that the networking game goes both ways. If you’re looking for someone to help you build your network, you have to be able to give something up to do that. It could be proactively helping them, but more likely it could be as simple as following up with them on the people to whom they referred you or looking back with them to update them on the people they know. Follow up is the magical seed that sprouts in unexpected ways.
- Keep your relationship contacts fresh and active. Use a technology tool, such as Outlook or ACT (essential in this day and age), that has a category area where you can detail how you know someone. You can integrate that with your other tools, such as Plaxo, that helps maintain your contact list.
- Leverage new social networking tools. Social networks like LinkedIn, Spoke, Ryze, and even ERE (remember though that ERE is just a bunch of recruiting folks; make sure you’re networking both with recruiting as well as business leaders) can all help you understand who in your network is connected to others. If you’re just starting, you can begin with people in your own organization.
- Keep in touch regularly with your key relationships. If not by phone, then touch base by email. Have a tickler file to see how they’re doing regularly.
- Use birthday reminders. One of the most interesting ways to satisfy #4 above is the use of a tool I once dismissed. Plaxo has a birthday tool where you input the birthdays of everyone you know and they automatically get a birthday email on their special day. It’s a shockingly pleasant thing to get because it’s so personal. I’ve had many people who’ve been wowed by that.
- Spend time with other recruiters in your network. It doesn’t have to be a formal event, such as your local recruiting association, the Employment Management Association, or of course the ER Expo conferences offered through ERE. While those events are wonderful, you don’t have to wait for them; you can create your own. Form a roundtable!
- Engage with “them.” Lastly, engage with third-party, outside recruiters (see my recent article about how to leverage third-party recruiters). TPRs are well connected and can add value, but as with everything else, make sure you give for what you get, and you get for what you give.
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At the end of the day, all the wonderful technological tools aside, it is all about relationships. And the key to great relationship building, as in most things in life, is to do it before you need it. Having relationships before you need to harvest them will enable you to stay one step ahead, always. In this day and age, that’ll separate you from the rest, build your own personal value, and make you one of best. As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback.