5 Critical Things Recruiters Need to Do to Become Partners With Their Clients

Our recently completed 2006 Recruiting and Hiring Challenges survey revealed some significant conflicts between recruiters and their hiring managers that aren’t abating. Between 50 and 60% of the survey respondents indicated these were significant problems at their companies:

  • Most hiring managers were not able to accurately assess candidate competency.
  • Most hiring managers were not able to recruit top performers.
  • Too many hiring managers overvalued skills and experience and/or were unwilling to be flexible regarding the selection criteria.
  • Few hiring managers were willing to spend time reviewing real job needs.
  • Little feedback was provided from hiring managers after candidates were interviewed.
  • Very few managers were trained to interview candidates, and none were trained on how to recruit candidates (over 75% of the respondents indicated this was a problem).

And the list goes on.

Not surprisingly, separate surveys of hiring managers indicated these problems with their corporate and third-party recruiters:

  • Recruiters were not responsive in delivering quality candidates on time.
  • Few recruiters understood real job needs.
  • Few recruiters were capable of accurately assessing candidate competency.

While it’s sad to say that both groups are 100% correct, collectively these problems impact a recruiter’s productivity, on-the-job effectiveness and job satisfaction. Worse, they impact a company’s ability to consistently hire top people.

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The underlying cause of these problems is that recruiters are considered vendors in the hiring process by their clients, not as partners. As vendors, managers expect recruiters just to deliver good candidates quickly based on box-checking the requirements on the job description. Managers don’t want to provide the time or feedback because they don’t believe it will do any good. Making matters worse, these managers believe they are extremely competent in assessing competency and hiring top people, so all the recruiter needs to do is deliver the candidates.

Given that most corporate recruiters have too many requisitions to handle, this sorry state of affairs continues ó with the perspective judgment of both recruiters and managers validated each day. To break out of this endless second-guessing and disappointment, recruiters must become partners.

The biggest change you’ll observe in moving from a vendor to a partnership relationship is a huge reduction in the number of candidates needed to be seen for any position. This by itself will increase recruiter productivity 20 to 50%. The reason: Top people who don’t have perfect credentials or who don’t have perfect interviewing skills won’t be excluded for dumb reasons. Here’s how to pull this off.

Five Critical Things Recruiters Need to Do to Become Partners with Their Clients

  1. Know the job. Recruiters who don’t know real job needs get little respect from their clients or their candidates. To change this right away, start your next assignment by telling your hiring manager client that you’re throwing the traditional job description into the trash. A statement like this will clearly express the point you’re making: “This is the most useless thing I’ve every seen. I thought you wanted to hire a top performer, not some dodo.” Wait a few seconds for the shock to wear off, and then add, “If you want to hire a top person, you need to tell me why a top person would want this job.” Now you have control. Over the next 15 minutes, have the hiring manager tell you some of the big challenges involved in the job and some of the reasons why the job is important to the company. Ask the manager what a top person would need to accomplish in order to get an outstanding performance review after one year. If the manager says the person must have five years experience in a certain area, ask “What will the person actually do with this five years of experience?” Once this is clarified, ask, “If I can show you someone who can do this work, would you meet the person if he or she had less experience than the five years?” You will get a yes to this question. Job descriptions that describe what candidates need to do, rather than list what the person needs to have, are called performance profiles. Preparing performance profiles is the first step you need to take to become a true partner with your clients.
  2. Quickly find top talent. There have been about 20 or so articles written on sourcing top performers this year alone on ERE. The theme of them all ó don’t post traditional job descriptions! Make sure that you follow this advice. Instead, post a marketing version of the performance profile you prepared when you took the assignment. Start with a compelling title like “This CRM Job Rocks!” Then make sure the copy is exciting, focusing on what’s in it for the candidate, not the company. Tactics like this could fill a book, but the real point is that if you want to retain your partnership status you must deliver top people quickly. From what I can tell, most companies have set up their sourcing processes to find average people slowly, so you might want to conduct a major process reengineering overhaul in this area. In the short term, ask your clients where the best people might go to look for the compelling job you jointly created when you took the assignment.
  3. Accurately assess candidate competency. When you took the assignment, you found out what a top person needed to do to get an outstanding performance review. When interviewing, just reverse this process by asking candidates to tell you about some major projects where they received outstanding performance reviews. Then spend fifteen minutes digging deeply into these projects. Do this again for a few other major accomplishments spread out over the past 5 to 10 years. This technique will give you all of the information you need to determine if the candidate meets your job needs. (Here’s more information on this performance-based interviewing process.) The real point here is that if you want to become a partner, you’ll need to demonstrate that your candidate has achieved great success doing work comparable to the work that needs to get done.
  4. Defend your candidates from dumb decisions. If you’re tired of getting good candidates excluded for an apparent lack of skills or the wrong experience or the wrong education, you need to take the assignment exactly as described in step one. This converts the decision to see a candidate from one based on skills and experiences to one based on performance criteria. By itself, this will dramatically increase the size of the pool of top performers. Then use the information obtained during the performance-based interview described above to defend your candidates from superficial, narrow or emotional decisions. Even better: lead a formal debriefing session where managers need to justify their rankings, good or bad, using specific examples of performance. (Here’s a form you can use to lead this type of group session.) By implementing this type of open and evidence-based assessment process, you’ll be able to more accurately assess your candidates against real job needs ó not some ill-advised standard or preconceived ideas of competency.
  5. Close the deal. If you can’t get top performers to accept your offer, all of your previous efforts have been wasted. Good recruiting skills can offset the need to pay premium salaries ó if you can demonstrate that the job offers both short-term stretch and long-term growth. Using the in-depth interviewing process described above, the interviewer will quickly see the gaps between the candidate’s accomplishments and the real job needs. The interviewer and hiring manager need to team up here (in partnership fashion) to present these gaps as opportunities for growth and learning.

If you’re a recruiter with too many reqs to handle, you won’t be able to invest the time necessary to become a partner with every client. Regardless, you should try the techniques described above on just one or two assignments. You’ll quickly see improvements in productivity, effectiveness and job satisfaction. This is what happens when recruiters become partners with their clients. Hiring top talent will never become a systematic business process until this occurs.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


3 Comments on “5 Critical Things Recruiters Need to Do to Become Partners With Their Clients

  1. Lou,
    Like usual, you hit it on the head. No time to communicate and refine the search. No Results. More overhead, less satisfaction on both sides. Maybe if they gave a test for the positions that enabled both sides to see if the other side had the expertise to really enter the recruiting process, then they could match up recruiter skills with manager skills and get a good understanding of what is desired. But alas, this doesn’t occur, often because of the transient nature of recruiters (straight commission) on the outside and the change of managers on the inside and the learning curve that entails in working with internal HR. No one is happy and it is a miracle anything gets done at all! The amount of variables overcome to pass the hurdle of a hire makes me wonder that it gets done at all.

  2. Wow, another great article from Lou Adler. It’s interesting to note that the survey conducted by The Adler Group found over 50% of hiring managers struggle with core candidate assessment and interviewing processes.

    Not surprising is the finding that few hiring managers are trained to interview candidates and none are trained to recruit candidates. While it may seem logical that hiring managers look to recruiters to tackle these responsibilities, it is also indicative of a disconnect in accomplishing their mutual goals; that is to hire the best possible person for the job.

    While it is a worthy goal to elevate the recruiting and interviewing skills of hiring managers, it is unlikely we’ll ever see those skills at a level we’d like to see. After all, their primary role is management of their department, etc. Day-to-day management challenges often distance them from problems that can ultimately be traced to sub-optimal hires.

    As recruiters and placement professionals, we must use all tools at our disposal to help narrow this gap. Our task is to support and manage the recruiter/hiring manager partnership. We must do this throughout the sourcing and placement continuum. As the survey suggests, need to be more than vendors in the hiring process; we must be partners.

    I also think Mr. Adler is right on when he said, ‘Defend your candidates from dumb decisions.’ How many times have we seen otherwise qualified candidates fail because they lack job interview skills, or for other issues that have nothing to do with their ability to perform the requirements of the job?

    We need to coach our candidates, and we need to coach our hiring managers. We can’t just throw candidates at a wall and hope they stick. We have to be proactive and give truly qualified candidates every opportunity to succeed.

    Tools such as virtual candidate coaching can help on the candidate side of the equation. As for coaching hiring managers, it is a more challenging endeavor. It usually entails one-on-one discussions that are both educational and relationship building in nature. A discernable link between good hiring practices and managerial success must be demonstrated.

    The reality is that most people think about ‘WIIFM’ (‘What?s In It For Me’) when considering behavior modifications. If recruiters can get hiring managers to see the value of changing their recruiting and interviewing behavior, the chances for a true recruiter/hiring manager partnership will be greatly enhanced.

    As Mr. Adler suggests in the first of his five critical steps, you need to start by getting the attention of the hiring manager. From there, you can start building a viable and lasting partnership based upon a win/win proposition.

  3. I am so impressed with the ?thinking power? supporting our industry. It is my opinion that developing a partnership one is able to hear what is really happening within the walls of that company. It also helps in placing the right personality with in their organization. Sometimes it is not about skill. Sometimes it is about fitting in immediately. Our candidate has a better survival rate if they share the same philosophy as the companies.
    Everything has a personality. If you cannot find it on the person, you are talking with about a position, you can call inside the company and listen?just ask for help and listen to how they work with you. Having definitions of ?the who? the company is—- what is their mission—do they practice it daily?is it natural behavior. Knowing this about an organization helps us make a better connection. Our mission becomes easier in presenting candidates to a company, because we know them. We have heard them.
    I keep hearing it is about numbers, yes it is. I believe it is about people working with people. If they have a commonality of philosophies our coaching and handholding (for both candidate and company) becomes well—- just simple reminders—- just supporting comments used by the company and candidate when they meet.
    I believe that an interview should be a meeting of the minds.
    These thoughts are based on my own experience.
    I have been called a ?hand Holder? during the process of connecting a candidate and a hiring official. It is my opinion that everyone thinks of these questions, but do not take the time to address questions that arise during the interviewing process.
    Frustrating as it may be, while placing VP?s and Directors, one would think that they know how?how to do everything; after all, they are in charge of millions of dollars and many, many employees. Why should—- a one on one interview—– become an issue. Realize that the concept of, ?I can sell your sofa, not mine? is the real issue. We hear things like, ?Tree and Forest/Forest and Tree? mainly because one is too close to an issue to realize the whole picture.
    In my opinion, the candidate become self conscious ?when that happens?he hears himself from within and stops thinking about the goal?it become about him. The brain just gets stage fright and everything he planned on saying goes away. This is why the coaching is important between a candidate and the recruiter.
    The ?gap? exists, but only for a few seconds. It is up to us to close the gap by creating a secure understanding of what that person (hiring official) is going through. To be aware of what the hiring official is up against we could inquire using a sincere tone. I suppose it is called Probing, listening, and reflecting. However, the real key is sincerity. Sincerity, realistic and forthright seems to be the way to gain the hiring official?s support. [Nevertheless, it has to be real?otherwise you lose]
    It is true that we as recruiters get so involved ourselves in making our numbers we get too focused on making the sale. Each account is different. Partnering requires repeat business, patience, and true grit. I do not know any other way of working. This is crux of my success. I work quietly behind the scene making placements with successful people who call me back to place someone for them. They liked how they were treated. They know that they can depend on the same treatment on the other side of the desk because I am consistent. This allows introductions vs. cold calls.
    Mr. Adler, another good tribute to us the recruiter in our quest to perfection in the art of placing people with people. Keep in mind there are three wins?
    1.) The company
    2.) The candidate
    3.) The recruiter

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