5 Steps Toward Making an Indispensable Recruiting Team

During this economic downturn, recession, slump — pick your phrase — we have seen more contract recruiters and search companies take a hit. Not a surprise. Fewer hires, and thereby less to outsource to third parties. As I talk with third-party recruiting organizations, many are trying desperately to branch out into other industries, get new accounts, and market. Many are changing terms and offering discounts. This behavior was expected, and as with the time after the Internet boom, and there are a percentage of these staffing companies that just won’t make it. There are a number of contract recruiters who will also want to go inside.

However, our U.S. economic situation may not allow for expansion of RPO or the conversion of contractors to full-time hires.

  • HR transformation (defined as increasing the percentage of HR specialists in recruiting, compensation, OD, and other HR disciplines) has been a trend for several years.
  • Many organizations have already made the decision to re-invest in their internal recruiting organizations or transfer to RPO
  • Out-of-work contract recruiters and those working for RPO/search firms who were laid off are going to find that their brothers and sisters in corporate recruiting have also been let go. So how is there possibly room for an executive search or RPO veteran on the inside, let alone getting transactional business?
  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of corporate recruiters have their goals and objectives directly tied to open requisitions, and with requisitions being down, why outsource?

How did we get to our current situation? How did we so closely link the entire function to transactional work? Why didn’t we align recruiting to business objectives, like procurement, finance, and information technology have done? We had the opportunity to transition to talent organizations built with strategic leaders and rely on partnerships or flexible staffs to do variable work. As staffing experts, we should have known better.

We should have learned from our manufacturing colleagues, who eliminated part-time workers and outsourced shift labor in exchange for full-time efficiency, quality, and safety experts. From our IT colleagues, who stopped programming in house and swapped headcount for MBA business analysts that sit with the business and solve problems. But what is done is done. There are recruiters with no jobs to fill, and thus no need for recruiters.

Our leaders need to retool the function and staff to a headcount level that disregards the number of positions filled annually.

What? You want me to build a recruiting organization and not use the number of hires we have to indicate how many people should be on the team? Exactly.

Let’s admit something first. For years we have been measuring time to fill, cost per hire, and all these different metrics, and benchmarking ourselves against world-class companies. Google does this, and Microsoft does that. Honeywell does this and GE does that. Now we have no reqs open (or considerably fewer open) and we have a bunch of managers looking around saying “what are you doing recruiting?”

Well, most companies don’t have brands like Google or Microsoft, and many don’t have the HR/project management excellence of Honeywell or General Electric. So why do we continue to try to mimic their every move? While mimicking we used inflated numbers and transactional data to build our recruiting operations and now we have nothing to operate on, and thus we are expendable. We became the manufacturing plant that needs to be shut down because nobody is buying cars.

Take this time to look at your remaining group and rethink. Here are some steps to get you started on building an indispensable team, and one that will retain employees in the new economy:

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Evaluate the Team

Figure out if there are team members in your organization who were hired based on the simple fact that they can handle managers and fill reqs when open. This group may need some training. Get them trained up on project management, special initiatives, and communicating with managers regularly and regardless of hire. Of course they may feel like they are targets for dismissal now, and may be looking at industries that are hiring and ready to make a switch. So talk to them. Get an understanding of their point of view, and then craft personal development plans as needed.

Talk to Leaders About Their Plans

Get a handle of the attrition and retention rates of your company historically, and ask the CEO and executive suite what the real plans are. Are you letting people go? Acquiring? Divesting? Get a handle on the new volume — not so you can divide up the reqs, but so you can create a service organization that can enable the business. You need to plan on some hiring eventually, and your team needs to be customer-service oriented, and ready for anything in this new economy. Now is not the time to start adding hiring managers to each member of your team; instead, set a tone where each recruiter spends more time with each hiring manager.

Prepare for More Work

Assume that it will be harder than before to perform staffing. The talent marketplace may have increased, but that does not always mean it is easier. Look at the facts: we were already on track for talent shortage with the baby boomers retiring, and that generation lost 40% of its net worth. You think they are retiring now? No, they are staying put, and likely not moving around. With real estate in the tank, few can sell their houses. With more dual income families than ever before, having the spouse leave the other job is going to be difficult. We already have more applicants applying per requisition, meaning more to go through. We are having more conversations with managers about hiring the unemployed or the underemployed. There are more people on LinkedIn, Twitter, CareerBuilder, and Monster than ever before. By the way: remember that we stripped recruiting resources to the bone, so all this extra work has to get done by fewer people. So plan accordingly. Use technology, outsourcing, and flexible staffs to get the extra stuff done. Don’t simply hire more recruiters. Remember you are on a roller coaster.

Keep Driving Initiatives

Lay out all the projects that need to get done in the next 12 to 24 months and assign project leaders with retention in mind. This includes ATS upgrades, university relations programs, interview training, etc. Assume that you are staffing like you used to, so what areas needed improvement then? Start now. Figure out how long it will take and how much your team is capable of doing. If you can do it all, great. Likely you can’t. I may live in a house, but it does not mean I can build one. Use your internal teams, other departments, vendors, partners, consultants, and contractors to augment where your need. Push your team to projects that teach them something, and stretch them, but don’t wear them out. Don’t assign your recruiting team the admin work. Indispensable means you can’t throw them away, but it also means you can’t dump on them. Figure out who is working on what, and get the OK from management, and make those goals and objectives bonus-driven.

Build for Scale

Make a case right now that some of your new core organization will never touch an open requisition. Of course others may have to, so build that in. Now go and get the flexible team (RPO, contractors, rotation personnel, etc) to surround your core team. Maybe those resources are full time. Maybe not. They could be internal or external. My advice is make it easy to turn them on and off, and make the ROI justified. You want an internal sourcing group using search strings and blogs to save on search fees? Fine. Make sure you can still justify it. If you are not hiring executives or have been able to attract executives without hard core sourcing in this economy, then your justification for a full-time internal sourcing team may have changed or is no longer valid. Remember there is great part-time talent out there. One hundred dollars per hour may be expensive, but part-time work for 60 hours a month @ $100/hour is cheaper than a full-time sourcer at $75,000 in salary, overhead, and management.

The watchword is value (it always has been that, by the way). We are under pressure now to drive value in recruiting and prove our existence. It will look different in the coming months, but with planning we can be much better off than where we were.

Andrew Gadomski is the founder of Aspen Advisors. Aspen is an efficiency consulting firm that services HR and talent functions at companies with globally and/or socially responsible values. In addition to leading transformative efforts at Aspen’s clients, he is also on the faculty at New York University on the use of online and social networking tools for career management and advancement.

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4 Comments on “5 Steps Toward Making an Indispensable Recruiting Team

  1. Andrew,
    You brought up some very good points in terms of the factors affecting corporate recruiting and suggestions on how to fix the problems.
    If you could score each of the factors independently, I am willing to bet that 20% of them would account for 80% of the problems that challenge corporate recruiting today. And the one that I would scored the highest in the 20% group would be as you pointed out that HR continues to benchmark metrics such as time to fill, cost per hire against branded companies like Google, Microsoft, Honeywell to justify their talent acquisition strategies.
    It is the old follow the leader strategy; if those guys are doing it, it must be the best thing to do. And if you are not getting the results that the big boys are getting, you will find yourself in a position where it is difficult to undo what has been put in place, but a lot easier to adopt the next newest trend or tools.
    The reality is that there is no “one size fits all” solution when the product is people. Until HR can embrace the cold hard facts that recruiting cannot be effective, cheap and easy, all at the same time or in one neat package, they will continue to blindly follow the leaders searching for solutions that cannot solve their problems.

  2. Thank you, Andrew. Very good points. As I’ve mentioned, internal recruiters should be paid at least $100k/year, because anything that isn’t worth that amount should/can usually be eliminated, automated, or outsourced for much
    less. Among these include:
    1) Interview scheduling/coordinating and candidate response (making sure all candidates have a professional application experience)- outsourced for $2.00/hr.
    2) Job posting/ resume-board scraping- outsourced for $6.00-10.00/hr.
    3)MOST internet and phone sourcing (but see below)- outsourced for $10.00-$11.00 hr.

    You mentioned $75k/yr sourcers. If sourcers are doing the “*purple squirrel” searches that can’t be done for $10-$11/hr, they should also be paid at least $100k/yr.

    Cheers,

    Keith

    *Could someone give me an example of one? -kh

  3. Recruiting isn’t going away. It’s a “roller-coaster” ride as you eluded to in your post. Most companies will need some form of recruiting help internally or externally at some point. If there are no open reqs to fill, I liked your suggestions for making the team indispensable.

    I would focus the team on building solid pipelines for anticipated talent and work off of what hiring managers and clients can forecast as well as past positions worked on. Training in the latest is a must as well. Getting my team up to speed on every inch of social media (social recruiting) as well as mobile technologies (mobile recruiting) would be up there in priority. I would also take a hard look at the recruiting process in the company and find ways to improve. There is always something that can be done better, faster, cheaper.

    A good number of articles I’ve read recently on recruiting and the state of our industry have such a negative outlook, talking outsourcing, layoffs, and the recruiting function eventually going away all together. I say it’s here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. It may change, but companies will always need recruiting help. They just might call recruiting something entirely different down the line.

  4. Thanks for the comments last week.

    Ken – I embrace your comment on one size does not fit all. The concept that a custom and unique combination of tools, processes, technology, and training is the foundation of our business. We suggest that talent organizations manage their operations similar to actual businesses and manage the portfolio of assets regularly and as change occurs, much like you would manage a financial portfolio.

    Keith – I absolutely agree with your assessment. Work that is done by full time headcount should be high value, and done as much as possible. Inevitably there are some low value tasks that can sneak in, but by design it should be high value for sure. As for payment of sourcers, I am fan of paying what the market will bear. Unfortunately we have not really defined the “role of the sourcer” so the standard seems to be off. In the world of full life cycle recruiting, I think that the annual compensation of the person doing the recruiting should exceed the targeted hire. In other words, if a recruiter is supposed to hire X# of people eanring 175k on their base, then that recruiter should earn MORE than 175k on their base. This of course gets tricky as you project the number of hires, and as you split work, but I have always been a fan of recruiting below your grade, not above it.

    Geoff – I like your ideas to – continuous improvement should be on the minds of every talent leader. As for me, I think that the current state of recruiting is going away, just as the previous state went away when the internet kicked in. But “recruiting” will always be there in some form.

    In my next article, I will be writing on the constant balancing act between talent, workforce planning, and HR management – which is really at the crux of all this transformation talk. Within that, you get a better understanding of how the recruiter of the next decade will have to have different skills.

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