Are Recruiters Apathetic?

article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett For more than a decade there has been a stated interest among many HR professionals to emerge from their basement offices and start getting recognized as professionals capable of devising and executing a strategies that positively impact the bottom line of their organizations. As a result of their efforts, most HR professionals are no longer confined to the personnel office; many organizations now reserve a seat at the boardroom table for the senior-most practitioner. But in reality, has the modern-day practitioner truly evolved? Study after study points to the conclusion that, while HR professionals can now talk a decent game, they make no attempt to actually play it. Spurred by a report from the consulting firm Watson Wyatt that looked at the correlation between HR spending and what line managers identified as strategic, we set out to investigate what recruiters and recruiting managers were doing in the area of strategy. The survey, deployed electronically to more than 7,000 participants in March of 2005, produced results that shocked even the most vocal of HR critics. Over the course of just ten days, more than 840 companies, ranging in size from just 25 employees to well over a million, reported in on the existence and use of a strategy in their recruiting efforts. If you have ever wondered why HR professionals continue to be viewed in a negative light in most organizations, the following results might help you figure out the answer:

  • Who’s hiring? Some 96% of the firms responding to the survey had plans to hire either new or replacement staff during the 2005 calendar year. Of that 96%, 26% planned to hire additional staff.
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  • Existence of strategy. A strategy is a systematic plan of action aimed at accomplishing a goal. With 96% of the firms responding indicating that they planned to hire new staff, we thought it logical that a majority or firms would have a strategy in place that outlined the actions that would be taken to accomplish the task of recruiting. To our surprise, only 42% of the participating firms had developed such a strategy. This response by itself tells us that a majority of practitioners, while they claim a desire to work strategically, often do not. Unfortunately, the sadness did not end there.
  • Use of a strategy. Since anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment is familiar with at least one document that gets produced regularly, printed, placed in a binder, and never referred to, we thought it would be interesting to see how strategies that have been created actually get implemented. Of the 353 organizations that stated they had a strategy, only 154 communicate the key points of the strategy to all internal parties involved in the recruiting process (that’s only 18% of the total survey population.)
  • Evaluating the strategy. Having established that the recruiting strategy is rarely shared with those who will play a role in executing it, our attention turned to the role the strategy plays in the organization. Understanding that a strategy is a time-sensitive plan of action, we were very surprised to find that only 88 organizations out of the 353 that have a strategy evaluate it at least once a business quarter to determine the impact of changes in the business environment.
  • The story gets worse… While it is very disturbing that a majority of organizations do not devise a recruiting strategy, it is devastating that a majority of those who do develop one often fail to refer to it when making major decisions. Only 42% (148 organizations) of those firms with a recruiting strategy agreed that their strategy is used as a decision filter when executing the actions that constitute recruiting in their organization. Some 50% of the respondents stated that it was “occasionally” consulted, and a full 7% said that it was never consulted post development.

Conclusion The core questions were basic, the answers easy to identify with, the results very clear. As much as most professionals talk a good game, when it comes to playing they are not even on the field. Some 93% of the survey respondents, 782 organizations, stated that a recruiting strategy played an “important” role in the organizations success or failure, yet only 18% develop and consistently use such a strategy in their own organization! While not discussed here, the survey also identified that the content of most recruiting strategies, according to the survey respondents, has little relevance to strategy at all and focuses much more on operational processes. An in-depth analysis and overview of the recruiting strategy components found in most organizations will be provided later this month to survey participants.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



8 Comments on “Are Recruiters Apathetic?

  1. well, i’ve got to say that the dictionary definition (‘ A strategy is a systematic plan of action aimed at accomplishing a goal.’) is spot on….but when you describe near term hiring goals, what most firms need is not a ‘strategy’- that implies a long term holistic view of where hires are going to come from – and much of what you describe is short range, and so begs a more pressing question: ‘what’s the plan?’ companies need a plan to complete hiring goals, and plans are far more actionable than strategies (e.g. ‘we’re gonna get real big, and people are wicked important to us, people are numero uno’ – big ceo…versus ‘we need to hire 100 sap consultants in 60 days or we lose this contract, they must all have x, y and z, you may spend up to X to acquire this talent’)…

    strategy is all about ‘meetings and paper, communicating vision, another meeting, followed by more paper’ – people don’t seem to really get it beyond the executive and management layers – when it gets into the trenches, recruiters charged with filling seats need PLANS to act upon, with STEPS to follow and clear instructions and guidelines…

    so my point? ‘apathetic: ‘marked by a lack of interest” – recruiters are not apathetic, they’re simply passive recipients of obfuscated plans dressed up as strategies lacking in detail…yo baby, don’t hate the players, hate the game 😉

  2. Dave,

    Strategy is – ‘What to do’
    Tactics are the – ‘How to do it’ the tactical implementation of the strategy is what you appear to be commenting on.

    Strategies in a corporation that has not transitioned into strategic management frequently do have only top level involvement. The better companies involve more layers of the organization and frequently go to the grass roots level. As a result when the strategy and the accompanying tactics are implemented they are much more successful in carrying it off, because the people who are implementing the program were the ones who designed it. They inherently know the strategy and tactics add value.

    Hope you are well and would like to learn from you more this year.

    Best regards,

  3. Carpe Peccare… 😉 my skills in Latin are about as good as my ability to grow a full head of hair…

    ‘strategy is all about ‘meetings and paper, communicating vision, another meeting, followed by more paper’ – people don’t seem to really get it beyond the executive and management layers – when it gets into the trenches, recruiters charged with filling seats need PLANS to act upon, with STEPS to follow and clear instructions and guidelines…’

    Don’t blame the game, blame the player… For a recruiter (or recruiting leader) to not be aware of the short and longer term political, economic, social, and technological issues that can impact recruiting, or the strengths and weaknesses of their organization as well as the opportunities and threats in the external world – that can impact recruiting – is like going on a trip with no map.

    Plans are great things but remember practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.

    Carpe Diem!

  4. This article took me back to my Fortune 500 days in corporate recruiting. In one company, our recruiting tier was distinct and separate from Human Resources and did not report up through that silo. In the other, recruiting (Talent Resources) was a division of HR. Guess which scenario produced more and better hires and recognition of such throughout the organization? Yep. When recruiters are free to recruit, and are compensated to do so, and can work with a team of hiring authorities that are focused in on results as well, recruiters are energized and not apathetic. When recruiters are a part of HR, they tend to get lost in the mix, because they are forced into less visable roles, insofar as upper management awareness of them. Recruiters have to diplomatically help hiring authorities understand the barriers to hiring for each position. When under HR, they seem to have a harder time doing that. HR does not seem to know how to promote their recruiters within the organization in terms results or dollars saved. When recruiters stir the pot, at best they are not supported by HR, and at worst, they get their hands slapped. The culture this creates may be perceived as apathetic by the executive tier, but the lesson here is: Everyone reaps what they sow.

  5. Surely this is an indication of a lack of ‘business management acumen’ within the ‘profession’. Should the function be headed by a recruiter or a business manager who just happens to be a recruiter?


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