The One Single Thing You Must Do to Become a Better Recruiter in 20XX

Make the effort to hire top talent

This article describes the most important factor involved in individual-recruiter success. From my personal dealings with over 2,500 corporate and third-party recruiters in the last five years, it seems that only 10-15% of recruiters develop this to improve their overall performance. In the past year, I've written a number of articles about the importance of applicant control understanding real job needs, and, while these are vitally important, they are far less effective without this third factor in place.

But first, a little background.

We're almost finished with our annual Recruiting and Hiring Challenges Survey for 2008. While there were many problems highlighted, including handling too many requisitions, the lack of effective technology, and the declining effectiveness of job boards, five problems were ranked by nearly everyone as significant or of huge concern. Since more than 600 recruiters participated from corporations and independent recruiting firms, these results can be considered statistically relevant.

The one problem that stood out from everyone else was predictable: 96% of the respondents indicated that they were not seeing enough strong candidates for important positions, and 78% said that this was a growing problem of major concern or a huge current problem. Better sourcing will not solve the root cause problem; it will just mask it. The underlying challenge, and the most important factor involved in making more placements, is highlighted by the responses to four other questions. As you'll see, they all involved problems with hiring managers.

Survey participants were asked to rank each of the problems described below on a five-level degree-of-concern basis, from "Not a Problem" to "A Huge Problem."

  • Hiring managers are not willing to devote the time necessary to recruit top people. Eighty-two percent of the respondents indicated this was a significant problem, with 60% considering it a major growing problem or a huge current problem. Although recruiters can't convince hiring managers to spend more time here or to take time to recruit the best, this message is important to get across somehow.
  • Hiring managers are not strong at assessing candidate competency. It's hard enough finding good candidates, but when 85% of the respondents indicate that this is a major problem, and 60% indicate that it's growing or it's a huge problem now, recruiters are just spinning their wheels. This is the primary reason why new sourcing programs aren't the universal solutions to a company's hiring challenges.
  • Managers overvalue skills, experience, and academics before seeing candidates. Unfortunately, most managers refuse to consider great candidates who have comparable, but not identical, skills, or have achieved success in a different industry or field. Eighty-four percent of survey participants said that their managers were unwilling to bend their specifications despite major sourcing challenges, and that this problem was getting worse or it was already huge.
  • Managers are not strong at recruiting top people. For a variety of reasons, top people don't want to work for managers who aren't strong leaders and potential mentors, so this is a problem that isn't going to go away without some type of high-level intervention. An unbelievable 87% of those taking the survey considered this to be a problem they were currently facing, and while a few from this group indicated it was manageable, 63% indicated it was worsening or it was already affecting their ability to meet their recruiting targets.
Effectively coaching, developing, and guiding hiring managers in a declining-supply-and-growing-demand recruiting environment is essential if companies ever expect to meet their hiring needs for new talent. This is the single most important factor preventing companies from hiring more top talent. However, from what I can tell, HR and recruiting executives are afraid to tackle this problem head-on.

While training recruiters can help a bit, and developing a series of creative new sourcing programs can help a bit more, nothing will overcome the bottleneck imposed by hiring managers' attitudes and their inability to attract the best. With this in mind, here are some ideas you might want to ponder:

  • Build a team of great recruiters. Great recruiters can offset some of the deficiencies in hiring managers. If you're a recruiting manager, here's a unique 10-factor, self-evaluation scorecard you should have all your recruiters take. This will allow you to compare your team across 10 competencies we've found to be the most predictive of top recruiter performance. If you are a recruiter, you're invited to evaluate yourself, but reduce your final score by 20% for a true reading. (There's always grade inflation in any self-evaluation.)
  • Recruiters need to be partners, not vendors. Recruiters who become partners with their hiring-manager clients have the ability to minimize some of the hiring-manager recruiting weaknesses. One aspect of becoming a partner involves having real job knowledge beyond the job description. This is one of the reasons recruiters who have performed the job they're now recruiting for have more credibility with hiring managers and candidates alike. Preparing a performance profile with the hiring manager when the assignment is taken can help the recruiter better understand real job needs. You might need to talk with a strong person currently in the job to better understand what it takes to be a top performer before you discuss the job with your hiring-manager client. Hiring managers trust recruiters when they understand the real work required for on-the-job success.
  • Clarify performance expectations up-front. As far as I'm concerned, HR is remiss in not requiring hiring managers to prepare something like a performance profile to get a requisition approved. When managers know real job needs, they come across to candidates as more insightful and knowledgeable during the interview. All managers, even the weak ones, seem better when they can describe real job needs to candidates. Managers also are more likely to see a candidate who has achieved comparable results even if he or she is a little light on the qualifications.
  • Clarifying expectations up-front has been shown to be the primary determinant of job satisfaction and improved on-the-job performance. The use of performance profiles also enables a company to integrate its hiring, on-boarding, and performance-management process into one common system.
  • Conduct more panel interviews. A well-conducted panel interview can help hiring managers who are weak interviewers more accurately assess competency. As long as the panelists don't stomp all over each other or overtly challenge the interviewee, most candidates find panel interviews appealing and appropriate. Panel interviews can also be used to mask some hiring manager deficiencies as long as there is another strong leader on the panel. This is a real aid in recruiting. Managers need to learn how to use solution selling and needs analysis to position their open opportunities as far superior to any others the candidate is considering.
  • Use an evidence-based assessment process. In too many companies, the interview assessment is akin to a popularity contest based on an archaic yes-or-no voting system. The hiring decision should be based on a deliberative evidence-sharing process. This is particularly important when unskilled managers are given full voting rights or base their decisions on a narrow range of competencies. This change alone will prevent many good people from being excluded due to a weak assessment process.
Any new sourcing program that is implemented to meet the hiring demands of the future will be far less effective than possible unless the problems associated with hiring managers are addressed first. While recruiters can be of some assistance here, leadership at the HR-executive level is required to change the outdated and clumsy recruiting, interviewing, and assessment processes used by most companies.

Companies with great brands and compelling stories will always be able to attract the best. For everyone else, the solutions require creativity, leadership, and hard work. The effort is all worth it if hiring top talent is considered a major strategic objective


By Lou Adler, reprinted with the permission of Electronic Recruiting Exchange
 BlackDog Recruiting Software Inc.
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