3 Ways for Recruiters to Take Charge

Just in Time: “’An inventory strategy companies employ to increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed…’ –Investopedia

As a recruiter, I tend to be pulled into various recruiting projects based upon client needs. This is fine. What is not fine is when I am called in at the last minute. When I am called in because they need to hire a host of hard-to-find people fast. When their uninspired and clueless leaders failed to start recruiting before it becomes an emergency. This really bothers me and it bothers me even more when I am told to do it fast, because good work is seldom done fast. I am a recruiter, not a magician.

See the quote above? Just In Time deals with the procurement of parts, not people. It deals with inanimate objects that come to the company in boxes, not with employees who come to the company in cars. Waiting to the last minute to hire is a bad idea.

Seeing as we are talking here, do you ever wonder why companies wait too long to begin recruiting? Tough question to answer but I believe it is often out of a sense of entitlement — a type of arrogance among the uninitiated and the slow learners who honestly think that when they need Java developers, they will just interview a bunch and pick the winners. Honestly, this thinking is pitiful and it exists because leadership seldom knows how hard it is to make good hires.

Even worse, if you dig a bit deeper they usually want employees that meet three search criteria:

  1. Hard to find
  2. Need them fast
  3. Not too expensive

Translation: fast, good, and cheap. (In reality, you can usually have two, but you can seldom have all three.) Is there anything that demonstrates failed leadership, anything that screams “I know nothing of hiring” more than this type of thinking?

New employees are your raw material and if you are smart, and your future too. You get great talent by earning great talent — by thinking ahead for a future that is coming at you hard and fast. Why so many leaders believe they are somehow entitled to have great talent simply because they need it escapes me.

Perhaps my patience runs thin but I have lost most of my faith in the belief that I will see intelligent leadership as it relates to talent acquisition. As such, I have three suggestions for recruiters to consider so they can lead the charge as opposed to waiting for direction from the slow and inept:

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  • Build candidate pools/communities: Take this point with a grain of salt as the concept of candidate pools/communities are still evolving. On the other hand I urge you to take a stab and at least begin to create movement here. How you do it will probably often be trial and error as your methods evolve but at least you will have begun. My good friend KC Donovan of Upwardly Me says, “The significance of emerging community-based recruiting is breathtaking, and once we figure out how to integrate them into current hiring practices, everyone will be using them to manage talent needs.”
  • Speak with hiring managers ahead of time: Talk with your hiring managers informally at least once a month to determine what is coming down the pike. Even without a clearly approved requisition, this conversation will allow you to begin to engage your community and begin forward movement. Donovan told me “that the best way to break out of tactical ‘just-in-time’ recruiting is to get a jump-start on cultivating future talent projections in a way that allows you to anticipate requirements.” (Special Hint: if you get a key resignation, seek out that person’s hiring manager to initiate conversations about determining what is to be done to fill their shoes. Do this and you will learn a bit about succession planning and OD all at the same time. Fun, huh?)
  • Have a quarterly CIO meeting. Few recruiters ever meet with their companies’ CIO. This is a mistake. This conversation will allow you to get a heads up on the types of technology you will be searching for 12 to 18 months out. It will also increase your value because you will be providing essential information to your CIO on who is out there, and the associated cost of acquisition, because knowing the employment characteristics of employees who will need to be hired is part of an awareness that every good CIO must possess.

I urge you to consider the above-mentioned ideas. This thinking will allow you to demonstrate leadership as opposed to the quiet misery of sitting around and waiting for it from others. Seem reasonable?


This article is for my good friend Samir Amirov


Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net


29 Comments on “3 Ways for Recruiters to Take Charge

  1. Great article Howard. It still amazes me how niave clients can be about hiring talent, especially hard to find candidates. I love it when a client buys a new product written in some off the wall language and then calls me to find the talent to support it. I believe recruiters could provide a great service to their customers if they asked us how available certain talent is in the marketplace. If they would only ask us we could provide some strategic insight into the future of their hires.

  2. I believe this is the first comment I’ve left on this site but I can’t pass up this opportunity. I retired in 2005 after 25 years of being an independent headhunter. I didn’t retire because I got tired or bored. I retired because corporate recruiting departments and clueless hiring managers pushed me over the edge. Of course that’s my personal perspective on it but your article seems to confirm that not much has changed if any. I always enjoyed working with the candidates and I’m now a job search coach and I have never missed working with the corporate people one little bit. Alright, enough… that was a great article Howard and I hope it has an effect on the right people. Nah, it won’t. Sorry couldn’t help myself.

  3. Frank, I am glad that I am your first comment – and yes, little has changed. Technology has enabled but as far as the rest of it, often the same sad stuff.

    Enjoy retirement my friend!

  4. You forgot #4: We have to like them too.

    You might even get all 3, but if they don’t like his/her communication style (translated that they are not like them) then you’re screwed.

    Just sayin ….. 😉


  5. Building candidate pool is a great idea Howard. However recruiters must ensure that this pool should work as an Asset and not a liability. It is imperative for recruiters to stay connected with the candidates in pool and remove them once they are no more available in the market.


  6. From my experience most larger companies with the resources to craft a forward looking Workforce Plan, on the whole have fewer problems with “just in time” hiring. For the less frequent difficult hires, they typically exhaust less costly internal methods before deciding to pay a hiring fee…and when they do turn to Agencies – they need the hire “yesterday” which is certainly no fun and can cause “rushed” mistakes. Mid-sized and smaller companies have similar issues – mostly due to the difficulty they have in isolating workers for roles that are critical and in high demand.

    In both instances, Howard shows how to avoid this with talent pools. Spending time posting, hoping and knowing the odds are that you’ll most likely pay a fee for this type of hire is a tough pill to swallow… Instead, you could take a proactive step and hire a company that will cultivate a Community of people that do the work as soon as the req is opened – this approach can be a big game changer. You can try doing it yourself, but to hire industry talent, its critical for the Talent Community members to maintain anonymity – which is tough for a hiring company to do…

    Most importantly, your hiring won’t be rushed, you’ll make excellent hires and you’ll have a pool of talent to draw from in the future…doesn’t that sound better?

  7. Hi Rahul.

    Not sure how KC would handle your comment but my thoughts are that once they are in the pool/community, we need to engage in a manner that is ongoing.

    The candidate that is “no longer on the market” today, might be on the market tomorrow based upon a host of different reasons. (Bad review, change in manager, or different project just to name a few.)

  8. Thanks, Howard. Good article- stimulating responses.

    ISTM that saying that if employers planned more carefully, there would be less need for panicked hiring and desperate calls to 3PRs, is like saying that if people left for work earlier, they’d be fewer tardy employees. Both of these are true. However, the nature of recruiting is that much of it is based on the reality that many employers aren’t careful, logical, or thoughtful in their hiring plans, IF they have any hiring plans at all. Lately I say this practically every day here on ERE: I have very rarely worked in a place that devotes significant (if any) resources to building pipelines. Also, ISTM that no 3PR should expect reasonable, carefully-planned, unhurried searches involving realistic expectations. Those searches can and should be handled by internal or contracted resources. 3PRs should handle unreasonable, ill-planned, crash searches, based on unrealistic or extremely difficult expectations and be paid 30-35% to “pull pedigreed rabbits out of the hat” for clients at the last minute. (Think Harvey Keitel’s “cleaner” character Mr. Wolfe in Pulp Fiction.)

    K.C. is right: employers COULD hire a firm to build a candidate pipeline for $6.25/hr. as they could hire virtual assistants for $3.00/hr to handle interview scheduling/ coordinating and candidate care. I don’t see a rush to do this, either.





  9. Keith – for the most part what you say makes sense – from the reality of the moment perspective – what I mean is that as things stand 25-30K for one critical hire is typical – but I was taught not to accept the norm and to constantly challenge myself to do it better, faster and cheaper – also noted in Howard’s client search criteria…

    It doesn’t make sense anymore to pay that kind of fee for mid and late stage recruitment activity (we all know who the prospects are) such as selling the opportunity, interview prep and closing offers. Over the years we have trained many early career stage staff members to to this work effectively…

    To me its the method that needs tweaking…and many of our Talent Community clients tell us that its the ability to cultivate and assess the talent pool that is most coveted. You see, like any relationship it becomes more interwoven and sticky the more you engage with each other. The human relationships that are created makes the actual “hiring” activity much simpler.

    Now if you can find people for us that can effectively cultivate, assess and craft meaningful engagements for top 20% talent for $6.25/hour (or at least do minimum wage) – send them over and I’ll cut lower our fees even more!!

  10. Dear Howard,
    Thanks for an amazing article.
    It is mine first comment on ere.com also.
    As usual, i was impressed from your article. Liked you strict point of view to the process. Without any boring, long, unclear expressions. Your 1st and second suggestions are very useful and they are done by us too. But, meeting with CIO… As you said in your article, “Few recruiters ever meet with their companies’ CIO” 🙂 Being a corporate recruiter i understand you well. I could familiarize most of the points to recruitment processes in my country (Azerbaijan). You are complaining from being invited at the last minute? Be sure you wont be called at the last minute here. Generally instead of hard to fill jobs we got an expression impossible to fill. I think you got it. I would like to share a joke that i heard a month ago. Japanese people say: If someone can do it, then i can do it, if nobody does it, i must do it. But here we say, if someone can do it, then let him do it. If nobody can do it, then how ca i do it? 🙂 I think there are a lot of thinks to learn from you dear Howard. Thanks for the great article. Pointing the name and writing that it is for me… I call that a motivation that many managers just miss.

    Grateful for the article.
    Best Regards
    Samir Amirov
    Recruitment Specialist

  11. Rahul – no question that you have to carefully maintain Community members and put their interests first…these are not Applicant Pools – for us they are mostly people with specific skills who have an “interest” to learn more about the specific company…we do have clients that have applicants join their community for assessment and enhanced candidate experience too, but most are passive job seekers we’ve populated the Community with…so yes – you have to manage the membership carefully!

  12. @KC: FINDING the “Fabulous 5%” is what the $6.25/hr folks are for. Effectively cultivating, assessing, and crafting meaningful engagements for those who can’t effectively be recruited, sold, etc. by other means is what 30-35% fees are for.



    Welcome, Samirov

  13. Sure I get it Keith…but the point I am making is that the work can now be achieved with a Community based approach for less than 1/2 what a company is being charged today at the 25% fee level…

    Remember when the 3 pt line was introduced in basketball? As a coach, ff you wanted to keep winning you had to adapt by bringing in consistent shooters from that distance – if not – see ya… What I am saying is that once companies realize that they can get a hire for half the cost with Communities…they will use them…and we’ll all have to adapt or stop winning…oh yeah the less than 1/2 fee is for one hire – when they hire two people from the same pool it becomes even less and so on…may want to consider getting out in front of this thing…just saying…

  14. @K.C. Makes sense. At the same time, if a firm can plan enough to build the community through an outside organization for 10-12.5%, then they can find the people they want to be in your community for $6.25/hr and have an internal or possibly a contract recruiter build up and maintain the relationships, etc. for $50+/hr, which is still a lot less than 10-12.5%. (If I understand it properly, a lot of the “maintaining” is candidate care, which I’ve pointed out can be done for $3.00/hr.) On the other hand, if you’re building up a community of folks who’ve been carefully built over the years through your personal relationships, this seems exactly the high-touch, high-value add work that can’t be duplicated and is worth 30-35%. Perhaps I’m missing the concept of what your firm offers….



  15. Keith – a typical contract recruiter gig for the most part is 90 days and if you’re in a large metro area and go through an agency to get the recruiter you’re going to pay $70-75/hour for a recruiter that is worth using (the recruiter will get about $50/hour of that amount…).

    If you do the math for this typical major market contract recruiter (sure in Albany, GA it might be $10-20/hour less), a 40 hour work week times 12 weeks equals $36,000. I would venture to say that this is quite a bit more than 10-12.5%…in fact to take your example a further step – no passive industry job seeker will join a Community for a single company without being able to maintain their anonymity – internal recruiters or contractors working for a company can’t do this…

    If you work exclusively with passive job seekers as we do, you will know that a staff member who agrees to be paid below minimum wage will fail…the skills needed for this type of work requires a high degree of business acumen and ability…

  16. @K.C.: Thanks for your comment. I do this type of analysis frequently. If a client seeks to hire only 1 or 2 people, a contingency model or perhaps your model would be the best way to go. On the other hand, if a client is hiring more than that, it makes sense to use a contract recruiter. I put it like this: (using your $75/hr rate) for the cost of a single 20% contingency hire of a $65,000 position ($13,000), you get as many hires as we can do in a month…

    I think I may still be missing something: I can’t understand why a client company would be willing to pay an external firm the equivalent of 10-12.5% fee/hire for an outside firm to cultivate a “community” of passive potential candidates when the client company could use the $6.25/hr sourcers to identify the passive candidates and then have their $50+/hr internal or contract recruiters develop relationships with these passive candidates, the routine aspects of which (“How are you? Just checking in. Anything new? Anything we could send you?”) could be managed by $3/hr VAs, *leaving the meaningful, high-touch aspects to be handled by the recruiters.

    It is both illegal and wrong to pay American workers less than minimum wage. The sourcers and VAs are not U.S.-based, so they’re not being paid less than minimum wage for where they are. Some companies do prefer to have onsite people doing the same things at the same level for 5-8 times as much money, which is their right.



    *An example: the VA sends out a Christmas card to the passive candidate, while the recruiter has the $60 lunch with the passive candidate.

  17. Sure, OUS is one way to go…

    How many people will an internal recruiter actually attract or even speak with who are truly not looking for a job…be honest with your self on this…most people not looking just don’t do it…sure it happens, but when you look under the hood you realize that they either are always looking and have a different job every year or have some professional frustration prodding them to listen. (also, doesn’t matter contractor or not as they’re still calling and emailing from the company)

    To get to the top 20% talented worker – you have to challenge them – hard to do this as an internal recruiter…(a line manager or executive, sure – recruiter not so much…)

  18. @KC: ISTM that an experienced $50+/hr internal or contract recruiter could effectively cultivate these folks; the fact that it’s hard is why they get paid $50+/hr to do it. If your model provides an alternative to what experienced $50+/hr internal or contract recruiter CAN’T do that would otherwise require the services of a 30-35% contigency or retained recruiter to do (at three times the price), then I say that’s great. I would welcome the input of our elite contingency/retained recruiters on this model…



  19. Hi Keith – you are missing my point. Its not the quality or elite ability of the recruiter that is at issue here – its that a truly passive job seeker (ie – not looking to hear about open jobs) is not open to be approached by a recruiter that works directly for a company in his or her industry…

    The concept is that internally based (phone number or email attached) recruiters rarely have a shot at a top 20% performer that is a passive job seeker – that’s it. Doesn’t matter how skilled they are – the audience will not listen!

    (I have numerous friends working contracts right now that have unbelievable skills…they rarely get a shot at a top 20%ers either)

  20. @ KC: I think I understand more, now. You’re not competing with internal/contract recruiters, you’re competing with the elite 30-35% contingency retained folks at about a third of the fee. Elite contingency/retained recruiters: what do you think of this? Is KC competing with you? Is creating a community of strong passive candidates without having to close them worth a third of the price for your services?


  21. uh….er…actually we do close them too…

    In fact we motivate and populate, build “AIM” profiles for each, evaluate, submit short lists, engage and build “direct” client relationships, SoMe Employment Branding, engagement event schedule, interview prep, counter offer prep, offer acceptance and reference check…and then hopefully do it again and again from the same functional talent community…each hire made drives cost per hire lower!

    …not quite for a third the price, but certainly 40-50% of a 25-30% fee – and we specialize in the hard to hire – critical roles that range from $80-130K…on average around $100K in annual comp…and we have been doing this for a very long time…

    (Didn’t you like my Herman Cain comment? 9-9-9 plan compared to the 3-3-3 plan you spoke of earlier…Cain Un-Cubed…no?)

  22. @ Howard: I like K.C. I think he’s innovative, aggressive, and knows what we wants and how to get there.

    @ K.C.: So if I get it, your firm goes to larger companies that would be interested in pipelines of hard to hire – critical roles that range from $80-130K and creates communities of qualified, interested passive candidates.
    You may/may not work on a retainer (that’s not clear to me), but the cost to the client comes to around 10-15%.
    That sounds like a very good niche- the folks internal/contract folks would be hard-pressed to get for the client, at about at 10-15% as opposed to 25-30% for a contingency/retained TPR.


  23. Too kind Kieth!

    I hate to say it like this (tends to sound trite or egotistical but…), we value our work too highly to consider working for free…when the market expects a surgeon to be paid only after saving your life, or an attorney after proving your innocence, or a plumber after fixing your leak, or a technologist after rescuing your hard drive …well, then I guess we’ll have to make a change…Not until then though!

  24. Oh yeah…forgot – because we have carved out a whole bunch of inefficiencies through new approaches, we are able to charge lower fees (we base our fees on actual cost of delivery – not some arbitrary percentage of salary…)

    Make sense?

  25. You are quick to bite the hand that feeds you. All these negative comments about your customers? And you call them arrogant? Does it make you wonder why they aren’t anxious to call you early in the process rather than waiting until all else fails?

    I would suggest you partner with your clients rather than sit back and criticize them… especially in a public forum. You may see a different kind of client.

  26. @ Steve – the way I read it, Howard’s partner has failed to behave as a viable partner.

    Calling the recruiter at the last minute is common, and underscores an imbalance in the relationship – where one party’s lack of foresight creates a problem – which is dumped on the recruiter. It doesn’t matter if you’re internal or a 3rd party, it happens to recruiters of every stripe. You still have to fill the requisition. In addition, you need to ratchet the relationship up in order to work as peers.

  27. @ K.C: Thanks. Retained, high-quality candidate pipeline creation, development, recruitment, and closing for 10-15%. I can dig it!



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