5 Things Keeping Recruiting Leaders Awake

Last week I had the pleasure of serving as the chairperson of the Fall ERE Expo in Hollywood, Florida. During my opening remarks, I discussed five things that are “keeping senior recruiting leaders up at night.” The list seemed to resonate with the crowd at the Expo, as many took time to talk to me about it. It was created at a “Recruiting Summit” hosted by CareerXroads on August 17th in Oak Park, Illinois, and Mark Mehler and Gerry Crispin get the credit for pulling many different responses together into these five coherent themes.

The survey, while not scientific in manner, included input from over 20 powerhouse organizations, including Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, Kimberly Clark, Lilly, Campbell’s, Limited Brands, Cargill, State Farm, Microsoft, JP Morgan, Target, and others. The five items, along with my commentary, are presented below:

Relentless Pressure to do More with Less

On this one it’s easy to respond, “Duh, welcome to Corporate America,” or “Duh, welcome to the global business landscape.” This isn’t going to change. But one basic and fundamental impact “confessed” by many at the Summit is the increasing fear of recruiter burnout. Activity is increasing, and team sizes have been reduced. Many recruiters have worked their tails off over the last few years in a difficult economic climate; this definitely includes our team at DaVita. Can we maintain (or restore) a more healthy work-life balance for our teammates?

For me, this was an “in my face” reminder that I, as the leader of the team, have to more proactively address this issue. I’ve not given it enough personal energy or attention, and I simply have to do a better job and step up to address the challenge. Please check back with me in a few months to see how I’m doing — perhaps at the Spring Expo, March 23-25 in San Diego.

Recruiter Competency Development

Some of the key thoughts from the Summit included: How do we as leaders ensure that we’re giving our recruiters the right tools and training to be more effective in a rapidly changing world? More specifically, how do we teach them to be more effective business partners — especially with HR generalists who don’t seem to want to play nicely in the same sandbox?

My add-on: it’s hard to develop meaningful competencies against an unknown target. If you don’t have a recruiter competency model, get one or build one. If you need help, talk to Linda Brenner or Kim Rutledge, or your internal OD team. If you’ve had one for awhile, perhaps it’s time to refresh your model. We are.

Increasing Diversity

Building more diverse leadership teams, creating a compelling value proposition for diverse candidate pools, and managing the burden imposed by the OFCCP and other regulatory bodies in reporting on diversity were hot topics. Lucky for all of us, Reggie Stewart presented a solid diversity construct during his keynote speech on Wednesday, and I’m ready to adapt it and start taking more definitive action. Thank you, Reggie!

Workforce Planning and Pipeline Development

“Scarce talent pools,” “retiring workforce,” and “increasing competition” were common themes from Summit attendees. “Where will we find the engineers we need?” “How many nurses do we need, and where will they come from?” As much as it gets mentioned, few seem to be doing the combination of planning and pipelining well. Major kudos to those who are. Larry Clifton at CACI is ahead of most of us. A big part of his success is that he keeps it fairly simple (think Econ 101): “it’s just demand & supply” analysis. Check out his Fall Expo presentation (and all the others).

Proving the Value of Recruiting

This one is closely tied to #1. When facing relentless pressure to do more with less, recruiting leaders have to step up their game and effectively make the case for more and/or different resources. This requires a combination of good metrics and good business acumen to sell the case for change. Many seemed to feel hamstrung by not having the right processes and tools to generate the right metrics. I’ve been fortunate: we’ve been able to invest in great tools and process at DaVita. For many, there is no easy answer, but if this is an issue for you and you’re looking for someone to brainstorm with, give me a shout. No promises, but I’ve had some success in building business cases and am happy to share.

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In addition to “the numbers,” there is also the basic human principle that bad news travels faster than good news. If recruiting “messed up,” word gets around our organizations much more than when we hit a home run. Are we intentional enough in our internal communication to overcome bad press? I need to be a better story-teller; how about you?

My Closing Soapbox

Whether you’re a senior recruiting leader or a fairly new recruiter, what are you sensing in your organization? Are you experiencing these same things, or do other things “keep you up at night?” And more importantly, what are you doing about it? If you’re constantly saying that all-too-common phrase “it is what it is,” then let me politely suggest that you’ve already lost the battle. That is not the attitude of a great leader. You’ve accepted the status quo. You accepted defeat. Don’t give up! How about altering that cliché to say: “It is what it is, until I accept the challenge to go change it.”

Great leadership will overcome these challenges and we won’t have to lose sleep at night. My focus is sharper than ever and I’m ready to move forward much more decisively. Won’t you join me?

I want to hear from you. Let’s get a good discussion thread going in the ERE community by commenting on this post.

Tony D. Blake, M.S., SPHR, is a dynamic senior leader who is known for aligning “people strategy” with business strategy to drive outstanding organizational outcomes. One CEO described him as an “Intrapreneur.” He has over 30 years of professional experience, including 20 years in human resources leadership.  His industry experience includes healthcare, financial services, telecommunications, and aerospace. In March 2016, he founded Strategic Impact Group.


5 Comments on “5 Things Keeping Recruiting Leaders Awake

  1. As an aspiring recruiter, I have been fortunate to have not encountered mentors that share an “it is what it is” attitude. (If so I wouldn’t be mentoring with them anyway!)But I believe it is vital that leaders, current and future in the recruiting industry share a can-do attitude and provide an atmosphere that promotes efficiency and optimism to their clients and followers. The recruiting arena is already a cut-throat one, but to sit back and say “it is what it is” one cannot expect to last long in this industry.

  2. Tony this was a sleeper; I really like the methodology and the way you presented some big ideas without polemics that imply a single correct answer or mindset.

    Likewise your invitation to discuss; I’m not a recruiter, but understanding where recruiting is going is something that occupies a large amount of my (dial-up) mental bandwidth.

    I do see a definite evolution- slowly but surely- that the real distinction between passive and active is not on the candidate side, but on the recruiter side. People with real recruiting needs have come to the (obvious)conclusion that CRM systems and sales management practices are more effective for active recruiting than “applicant-tracking” and process-oriented strategies.

    Recognizing active recruitment as a sales and marketing discipline will help precipitate a needed separation within or without HR of people who process applicants (which is a late stage recruiting product) and people who actually recruit.

    As that happens, vendors with deep expertise in both third-party recruitment and direct hiring will prosper, and organizations that embrace recruitment as sales and marketing efforts and equip recruiters with the technical, development, and analytics resources that sales and marketing are normally equipped with, will almost certainly perform their less active competition.

    Thats my 1.25 cents due to deflation, and it’s going to take a whole lot of QE to get me back to 2 cents. Due to my confirmation bias, I read your piece as pretty supportive of these ideas.

  3. Daniel – all I can say is “amen, brother.” You get it! Martin – “pretty supportive” of these ideas doesn’t begin to express my total agreement with your statement “active recruitment is a sales and marketing discipline…” Recently we did an exercise where we mapped out our current process and then did asked the question, “what would we change if this were sales-driven?” It was an invigorating exercise and we are on a journey to legitimately claim that we are “sales-oriented.” It’s going to take some time to get there but it’s an exciting path! And I look forward to sharing our learnings with the ERE community. You are undervaluing your post – it was easily worth a nickel’s worth. Thanks for adding value!

  4. Thought I’d solve these problems…

    Relentless Pressure to do More with Less-
    No-source (eliminate), through-source (automate), or out-source (send away) low-touch or lo- value add recruiting activities like scheduling/coordinating or candidate care for a cost of much less than minimum wage, or telephone/internet sourcing, job posting/board scraping for ~$11/hr. Essentially, your recruiting staff should be performing tasks like strategic/logistic consultation/care with hiring managers, project management of remote resources, and closing candidates/managers that are worth at least $50/hr. Consider the military analogy of being the Leader of a Special Forces Platoon as opposed to the Leader of an Infantry Company.

    Recruiter Competency Development (How do we as leaders ensure that we’re giving our recruiters the right tools and training to be more effective in a rapidly changing world?)-
    Ask the recruiters what we need. After all, WE’RE the ones doing the job….

    Increasing Diversity-
    Push toward a TRUE workforce diversity, as opposed to “We hire all types of upper-middle class, mainly white people, just like us!” Develop a pro-veteran hiring policy, as opposed to-“Oh, these folks were off risking their lives for us. Too bad they didn’t happen to attend ‘Elite’ and ‘First Tier’ academic institutions.” Push back on implicit/explicit age discrimination.

    Workforce Planning and Pipeline Development-
    Hire someone(s) specifically to create and fill pipelines. Don’t have them work on current/urgent openings.

    Proving the Value of Recruiting-
    Wrong question. If you have to prove your worth, you’re already one step down. In a power situation, people don’t take you seriously because you talk like them and act like them, it’s because you give them no choice but to take you seriously. As I believe LBJ said: “When you grab them by the b***s, their hearts and minds will follow”…
    Many people are surprised when they work hard, play by the rules, and accomplish the objectives, and then aren’t rewarded for it. These things may be necessary, but they aren’t always sufficient to achieve your goals.


    Keith “I’ll Solve Your Recruiting Problems” Halperin

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