Time Management and Planning for Recruiters

“If one cannot increase the supply of a resource, one must increase its yield.”

– Peter Drucker

What makes a recruiter successful in our business? Solid training leading to an outstanding skill level? Certainly! Yet what allows those skills to get results? Effectiveness. Time management. Planning. To think otherwise is to deny reality and the personal observations of any experienced person in our industry.

What is time management? Well, let’s talk about what it is not. Time management is not reducing the time of your individual business calls. To the contrary, most people’s calls are entirely too shallow and the length of the calls needs to be increased. Rather, a decent working definition of “time management” would be “spending the appropriate amount of time in the appropriate place.”

To some degree, everything done properly in our business is time management. Nevertheless, there are a number of areas where time management more directly applies. Let’s discuss them one at a time.

A) Select Search Assignments Correctly

In a good market, you’ll get lots of search assignments. But the more you get, the more you have to choose from. And the more likely it is that you’ll select the wrong one. It’s too easy to get distracted and do a shallow selection job, especially with an existing client!

Working on the wrong search assignment costs you more than the time and money wasted. It costs you the new searches you could have had if you had been concentrating on finding more, instead of trying to fill a bad one. Moreover, filling a mediocre search assignment is tough in any market.

There are three different classifications of searches, and the classification tells you how much time to invest. They are:

Class A – Worth conducting a full-scale recruiting effort
Class B – Worth doing a file search only
Class Q – Source company – not worth working at all

To a great degree, being able to separate the three types is what will determine much of your success. What specifically are the criteria for a Class A search assignment? There’s no point in repeating information here you can get elsewhere. You’ll find this in Volumes I and II of “The Art of Recruiting” video/DVD series by this author. The tendency will be to relax your standards in this area. Don’t give in to this expensive mistake.

B) Improve Selection of Face-to-Face Interviews of Candidates in Your Office

If you work a local market or if you run ads for candidates, either in the newspapers or on job boards, you’ll be besieged by people calling you wanting to meet with you personally. If you agree to meet with more than a small percentage of these people, you will be throwing away massive amounts of time and money. If you interview people in your office as a routine practice, ask yourself this question: What percentage of the people your firm brings into the office ever get sent out on an interview?

Many firms, of course, never interview a candidate face-to-face, or even work a local market. If you do, have your secretary pull 50 candidates at random that you’ve interviewed in your office and answer the above question for you. Unless at least one-third of the potential candidates you meet in your office get sent out, you’re wasting lots of time interviewing unplaceable people.

Screen much more tightly; there’s no reason to interview people personally unless you have something for them right now. Have them send you a résumé. Should something come along, you can always call them and bring them in when you need to. But don’t let everyone who calls waste your time with a face-to-face interview. There’s just no point to it. And consider learning to recruit effectively. You can do much better than running ads in newspapers or on job boards.

C) Spend More Time Planning

There really is no question about it. Time spent in planning is time well invested. An hour of “planning” and seven hours of “doing” will yield much better results than eight hours of seat-of-the-pants frenetic activity. Yet do you plan correctly? Or enough?

The problem is that in a strong market, there is an equally strong tendency to drift away from the habits that will maximize your income, such as correct planning. You’d better get back to those habits – or learn them to start with – if you want to survive in a weak market or maximize your production in a good one.

Planning as it relates to a desk – not necessarily running the firm – is of two types. Long term and short term. Long-term planning, as it’s used here, is anything other than daily planning. This means annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly. Short-term in our business means daily planning.

A concise recruiter’s version of desk-oriented long-term planning is contained in the new book for experienced recruiters entitled Breakthrough!, Chapter 18, “Managing the Process.”

As it relates to daily planning, let’s restate the obvious first. Daily planning should be done at the end of the day, not the next morning. That’s standard industry knowledge. That certainly doesn’t make a concept automatically correct. In this instance, however, it is.

Secondly, you should think about what makes a good daily planner. To be effective on an ongoing basis, a daily planner must dominate your day. The best way of making sure it does that is for it to dominate your desk – all the time. This means it should be big. Blotter size (on a pad) is ideal. A jazzy little spiral-bound notebook looks nice, but it’s awkward to use. In fact, it’s rarely used, because it’s so comfortable to keep it closed and so uncomfortable to keep it open. This is not what you want. A blotter-sized pad may not look as stylish, but you’ll use it.

A correct daily planner should prioritize your activities, shape your day, not just fill it up with “things to do.” Regardless of what kind of daily planner you use, it’s the order of things that will make it effective. There should be numbers on your planner also (1, 2, 3, 4) to remind you of this.

It cannot be mentioned too strongly that you must fill out your daily planner. This means writing out the names of candidates or firms you will call the next day to achieve your goals. Simply having a stack of cards or a computer printout/screen is inadequate. Writing things out in your own handwriting the night before engenders commitment to do what you wrote out! It also means that you cannot hide from yourself throughout the next day! The end of the next day should see you with a fully filled-out planner with lines drawn through the calls you have planned and made! If this is the case, you will go home with a solid feeling of satisfaction, even if those calls have not yielded the hoped-for results. At least you will know you are doing the things you should be doing to achieve success.

There is a great psychological benefit to writing things out. Stacks of cards or computer printouts or screens afford no such benefits. That’s why trying to use a computer screen as a planner doesn’t work well, any more than stacking cards on your desk would.

Planning, both long term and short term, isn’t really something that takes time. It’s a process that allows you to utilize the time you do have available with the best possible results. Correct planning will enable you to do so.

The specifics of how to fill out a daily planner, and the correct order, and what should be there can be obtained in the aforementioned new hardbound book Breakthrough! or, from a different perspective, the excellent foundational book Search and Placement!, by Larry Nobles (www.larrynobles.com).

D) Color-Code All Forms

Take a look at your desk at the end of a day. Pretty messy, huh? Now look at the colors of the papers on your desk. If you’ve got a preponderance of white papers there, you’ll find that color-coding will help you to organize your desk with no extra time, cost, or effort.

What colors are your standardized forms? All white? No good. Change the colors. You’ll not only render each form immediately identifiable, but you’ll organize your desk a lot more easily as well.

Do you have a formal search assignment form? So do I. It’s yellow in color. Do you have a standardized recruit form? Mine is blue. How about a reference check form? I use a peach color. Or how about – but you get the idea.

Forms should be standardized. They should also be on pads, and each should be its own distinct color. The actual color you use doesn’t matter, of course, as long as it isn’t so dark as to obscure the handwriting on it. Pick your favorites. Colored paper doesn’t cost any more than white paper, and its use will enable you to organize your desk a lot more quickly and easily. If this seems minor, look at your desk at the end of a hard day, and you may re-evaluate the significance of a neat workplace. Anything that takes away from optimum effectiveness needs to be corrected. Desk organization is a complex and important topic. Color-coding your forms will help a lot.

E) Study Time Management

Surprisingly, one of the negatives of a strong market is that you will not be forced to improve your habit patterns and methods of working a desk. As Samuel Johnson once said, “Depend upon it, sir. When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully!” Recruiters who start in slow markets are forced to develop good habits to survive; those who start in a strong one will frequently lack good habits of planning. Which one are you? Better skills in this area will help you enormously in any market.

Industry-specific books will contain much on this subject. But you should also read books on time management and planning. How long since you’ve read a book on those subjects?

Following are three books you should buy and read, underline and implement:

Working Smart, by Michael LeBoeuf
How to Get Control of Your Time and Life, by Alan Lakein
The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker

It is important to recognize that there is a great benefit in addition to the valuable knowledge you’ll gain from these books. Simply reading (and thereby focusing) on the subject will bring you to a greater awareness of its critical importance. The greater your awareness, the more attention you will pay to the management of your time throughout the day.

F) Eliminate Personal Calls, Conversations, or Activities During Business Hours

You can see it in every office, including one-person operations. Some people put in their time. Others are there to accomplish, to achieve, to improve, to produce, to win. The difference, to be blunt, is a matter of discipline.

Personal telephone calls, incoming or outgoing, are simply an example of this lack of focus. In no way is it suggested that such calls have to do with illicit activities. To the contrary, most such calls have to do with perfectly normal and even praiseworthy involvements – hobbies, friends, family, organizations. The problem with such calls during business hours is twofold. One is the amount of time they take. Left unchecked, such calls will grow to excess. The greater cost, however, is not the actual minutes (or hours) such calls steal from production. Rather, the greater cost is the degree to which these calls reduce the overall intensity of your business day.

This concept is best explained in an outstanding book by Peter Drucker entitled The Effective Executive. Drucker, in case you’re not aware of it, was a management consultant so impactful that the best book about him, by John Tarrant, is entitled Drucker: The Man Who Invented the Corporate Society.

The point made in The Effective Executive is that accomplishment is best achieved through blocks of uninterrupted time. Every activity has three phases: the start-up, the doing, and the wind-down. The start-up and wind-down periods are essentially constant, regardless of the time spent doing them. Thus, a one-hour time block and a 15-minute period have close to the same time allotted to starting and ending. The “doing” time, however, is very different. One hour of uninterrupted time, according to Drucker, is worth not 4 but 10 times that of four 15-minute segments – because the “doing” time has increased by that much. It is not solely the time you spend on an activity that allows you to achieve; rather, it is the amount of concentrated intense “doing” time that yields accomplishment.

Allowing a constant or even occasional stream of non-business calls during business hours does more than take time; it forces an equally constant stream of new start-up and wind-down periods, and thus greatly reduces what you actually achieve.

The same principle is true regarding conversations within the office. Some people work with intensity for an entire day. Others wander around the office bothering others with silly business questions or discussions of evening activities, sports, or politics throughout the day. Which one do you think accomplishes the most? Which one are you?

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If you’re forced to admit that you identify more with the latter person than the former, then you’d better make some changes. It takes skills to do well in our business. But it takes focus and intensity, too. Lack of either will cause you to fail.

How to Reduce These Time-Wasters

Here’s how you eliminate the incoming personal calls that cost so very much. Tape a small card to your phone with the following heading in red: “Personal calls steal time and intensity.” Underneath, put this question and this phrase:

1) Is this an emergency?

2) “You’ve caught me right in the middle of an important business meeting. I do want to speak with you. May I get back to you this evening?”

Clearly, there are a very, very few calls that really do require some sort of immediate action on your part. First, determine if the call is a genuine crisis. If it isn’t, just say the words listed above in #2. Rarely will anyone continue talking after you say these words. Used whenever a non-business call comes in, this little two-step process will very quickly cause such calls to stop reducing your time and intensity during business hours.

Forget “multi-tasking.” It takes concentration to accomplish things. There is no reason you cannot set up a special ring on your cell phone for critical calls if you must. But the best choice may be to turn it off! Your secretary will tell you if an isolated call is critical if you tell her up-front.

The same small card, altered slightly, will also help you to end the continuous stream of chatterboxes and time-wasters who afflict so many offices. This is a particular problem where the manager has made the mistake of having an office layout consisting of private offices. Still, any multi-person firm can suffer from this problem. That doesn’t mean you have to, however. If you’ve been allowing these convivial time-wasters to reduce your intensity and production, you’ll have to take steps to re-train them. Here’s how:

Just alter the words on the small card on your phone a bit. Have it read: “Personal Calls/Conversations Steal Time and Intensity.” Then add under the 2 (see above):

a. “I’d be happy to talk with you about that after work, but right now I’ve got an important assignment that I’ve just got to get filled!”

b. Pick up the phone and make a call!

G) Get Nonessential Reading Material Out of Your Office

How much reading do you do in your office? If your answer is “not any; I do all my reading at home,” you’re doing it right. But if you reply, “Well, there’s the Wall Street Journal, and industry publications in my niche, and my regular newspaper, and . . . ,” you may be spending a lot of time reading when you should be on the phone! Many people use reading in the office as an excuse for not staying on the phone. Make sure it isn’t you. Reading is important. But do it at home.

H) The High-Tech Time Waster

Thomas Edison had a sign behind his desk for many years to which we should all pay attention. It said, “Some people will go to any lengths to avoid having to think.”

If you’ll substitute “pick up the phone” for “think,” you’ll have identified a great deal of the real appeal of the Internet. Mediocre recruiters or new people love the Internet. Why? Because it is a lot easier than working for a living!

The truth is that it’s a lot of fun to be hopping around in cyberspace, clicking your mouse, pointing it here and there, watching the computer bring up neat images like magic. Almost like a video game. It isn’t so much fun to be out there selling sometimes, asking real people for names of good candidates, recruiting, making marketing calls, sometimes being turned down, people not returning your calls. People who lack either skills or discipline will indeed go to any lengths to avoid rejection and frustration.

Once upon a time, the Internet as a means of identifying potential candidates may have had some merit. That, of course, was before Net growth slowed dramatically, before unemployed candidates started flooding the for-free and for-fee job sites, and before Internet “trainers” realized that your corporate clients would pay better than you, and started focusing on helping your clients avoid paying your fees. As Mike Kappel, president of Top Echelon Network, has written, “The Internet honeymoon is over. The Internet is now known to yield second-rate candidates. Fire up that telephone.” So true. Or as Mutual Funds Magazine has said, “Live by the tech; die by the Tech!”

The problem is that this once-trendy but now-dated concept of Internet hustling for candidates has left us with a major handicap in achieving our financial goals – that distracting mechanical box on your desk. Even if you have avoided getting involved in playing actual computer games, there is a real probability that you have not escaped other addictions relative to the Internet.

A recent Robert Half International survey found that 60% of executives said that time spent accessing the Web for non-business purposes was undermining their employees’ effectiveness on the job. Consider the following:

– 70% of all stock trading occurs from 9 to 5.

– A Nielsen survey found that the majority of online shopping, auctions, and news reading takes place during working hours.

– 70% of all Internet porn traffic takes place during business hours – but I know this isn’t you.

– A recent Men’s Health magazine survey of 2,000 employed subscribers asked the following question: “What distracts you from your work?” The most frequent answer (74%): The Internet.

It is noteworthy that the recruiter message boards that infest our industry have seen a drastic reduction in messages and traffic; apparently those who once had the time to peruse and add to the chat boards are out of business or have decided to pay attention to business. Why do you think that is the case?

So what’s the answer to this modern high-tech time waster? Easy; get the heck off it!

First, change your computer so it does not automatically hook up to the Internet. Then, don’t access it until 5 p.m. This does not mean you should not utilize your database of candidates if you are computerized; it means stay off the Internet. Shut down your email. Turn off your instant messaging. Deal with it post-prime business time. What do you think would happen without the distraction of the Internet during working hours? Chances are, with all that extra time and reduced distraction on your hands, you’d pick up the phone and make phone calls. And more money. Maybe you should try it and see.

Is This Important?

Make no mistake; this is a sales business and it is a skills business! Being terrific in these areas, however, while having major weaknesses in time management and planning, just doesn’t make sense. A small amount of effort here will yield major dividends with no extra time spent in the office. That’s a pretty good trade-off for the minimal investment of time spent to develop the proper habits.

A 30-year veteran and best-selling author in our industry, Steve Finkel has been referred to by Recruitment International, Europe’s largest industry publication, as “the world’s premier trainer in search and recruitment.” The producer of many excellent training products, he has conducted in-house training programs for over 400 firms on five continents, with 85% repeat business. His new totally up-to-date 360-page book Breakthrough! is considered to be the definitive work for experienced recruiters. For complete information visit his website at www.stevefinkel.com or call (314) 991-3177.

Acclaimed international author, speaker, and trainer Steve Finkel is a veteran of over 30 years and six recessions in our industry. Personnel Consultant Magazine, published by the National Association of Personnel Consultants, has referred to him as possessing "the most in-depth knowledge of search and placement in industry history." Recruitment International Magazine, Europe's largest industry publication, has described him as "the world's premier author and trainer in search and recruitment." His revised and up-to-date 360-page book Breakthrough! is now distributed in 25 countries and is also available on Amazon. Contact him at 314-991-3177 or www.stevefinkel.com.

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