Blow The Sucker Up?

Do you know that recruiting is one of the least efficient processes in an organization? Transaction costs (cost per hire) are large and there is almost no effort being made to connect that cost with delivering value (quality of hire).

At conference after conference, I hear the same old measures being touted proudly: cost per hire, time to fill, number of interviews to offer, and so forth. It seems like no one is measuring the effects of our recruiting activities. Senior executives are asking what value we are delivering to them, and sadly, few of us have any answers.

Recruiting is one of the few functions that has not examined in-depth what it does and how it could begin to do things differently. As long as we find people in a timeframe our hiring managers accept, we think we are doing a good job. There are no standards, few expectations, and no real improvement targets for the majority of corporate recruiters.

Maybe we should just blow the whole thing up and start over. There is no time left for evolutionary tweaks.

Many recruiters feel that there are too many things they cannot control, so they just do what is historically accepted. Yes, they do have to deal with a lot, including fickle hiring managers, rigid compensation schemes, corporate culture, and geography. But so do managers in other functions.

Manufacturing managers have had to learn the discipline of keeping costs at rock bottom while improving quality and increasing output. They do this against a backdrop of highly variable customer demand, supplier uncertainties, and the impact of national and international disasters.

Finance has transformed itself over the past decade, reducing the cost and time it takes to close the books each quarter, enforcing better cost-accounting measures, and moving everything to the computer.

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For decades, recruiters have been using the same techniques for finding, enticing, assessing, and hiring people. All of these steps are based on a number of assumptions.

I have identified more than a dozen commonly held assumptions, but I think these five are the most dangerous:

  1. Only passive candidates are the best.
  2. It’s not possible to keep people as candidates for more than a short time.
  3. Most candidates want to apply with a resume and don’t like online screening or profilers.
  4. Each candidate will have to be interviewed in person.
  5. There is no way to show a direct correlation between the sourcing and interview process, and the eventual performance of the candidate.

I contend that all of these assumptions are either plain wrong or need to be challenged for their relevance in an information- and Internet-based world. Let’s look at each one.

  • Assumption #1: Passive candidates are the best. Everyone is at least a semi-active potential candidate. Sure, they may not be hitting the job boards, but if offered a new and more challenging or better-paying opportunity, most would be interested in learning more. I have never understood why we believe that a person not actively looking for a new job is “better” than one who is looking. Those who are looking may well be the ones with initiative and curiosity. They also may be the ones who have the foresight to explore new careers or move to a more stable organization. A truly passive candidate probably lacks the initiative to look for another job or is so completely happy that they are never going to leave. Whether a person is an active or a passive candidate should make no difference at all. What should always matter is whether they have the skills and qualifications to perform effectively for your organization, and whether they fit our culture and share our passion. People who are lured away by money or titles may not be the ones you really want.
  • Assumption #2: It is not possible to keep people as candidates for more than a short time. While we can get into long (and often legally oriented) discussions about what a candidate is, I use a simple one: anyone who expresses an interest in working for our organization and who has the basic qualifications and skills for some function within our organization. Your goal is to build a talent pool of interested, qualified people to tap instantly when a position is open. People who have expressed an interest in you and meet minimum requirements are like jewels. As our economy picks up and talent becomes scarcer again, you will be very glad to have these people in your network. Most people like to be kept in the loop and informed about potential openings, even when nothing is available at the moment. Simple communication tools and a collaborative attitude can keep most people interested in your organization for a long time. Nothing is worse than the bounce-back email and the black hole where most people end up. Talent pools are distinctively different than resume databases, and offer more value to both the candidate and the organization.
  • Assumption #3: Most candidates want to apply with a resume and don’t like online screening. Did you enjoy writing your resume? This assumption that people like to write resumes is just plain wrong and most of us don’t have a current resume at all. Even if they do, they often have not included the things you really want to know anyway. There are better ways to get information about a candidate, including online forms and questionnaires. The data collection can be done in creative and iterative ways that make it much less painful to the candidate and yet gives you the information you need. I will discuss many new approaches to this next week.
  • Assumption #4: Each candidate has to be interviewed in person. Interviews are very poor predictors of success or performance. A good behavioral interview may improve the prediction by a bit but still not raise it much above chance. While it is in human nature to want to meet and like a person we are going to work with, this meeting should not be equated with skill or ability assessment. There are hundreds of excellent, legal, affordable tests available for more accurately screening candidates. These tools, combined with a website also designed as a screening tool, can greatly improve your ability to select candidates who have the capability, the motivation, and the skills to perform. It is possible to entirely skip the interview and get better-quality candidates than you do today.
  • Assumption #5: There is no way to show a direct correlation between the sourcing and interview process and the eventual performance of the candidate. If this is really true, we should all start circulating our resumes for new positions. We will have to begin showing how what we do adds to the output of our organizations, or our functions will be outsourced to those who can. Recruiters have put too much focus on measuring activity, and not any on measuring outcomes. In the end, how a candidate performs and how much they contribute are the only criteria that matter. Quality can be measured in a dozen ways: how quickly a new employee can perform the job, how much capacity she has to take on new functions, how many sales dollars she brought in, or how much money she saved us. These can be tracked against source, qualifications, and recruiter.

Assumptions are dangerous because they limit thinking and creativity. They shackle us into channels that may once have worked well but are not as good today.

We need to blow up our current processes and rethink what we do just as if recruiting had just been invented. With a fresh view, we may open possibilities we have never dreamed of.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


18 Comments on “Blow The Sucker Up?

  1. I like assumption #1. All are ar least semi-active.
    I have read time after time about the passive candidate who won’t move. I think the matter is getting the candidate to think about what matters to them most about their career. It comes down to rapport building. I will hypothesize that in the current business climate that every one should have an eye open to thier next career advancement step or proejct move because the change is rapid. The need for leanness has not only hit manufacturing but the service sector as well. The head hunter should also introduce lean or Six Sigma methodology into business and daily operations.

  2. Kevin,

    I could not agree more! The traditional model of recruitment is broken and has been broken for many decades. With all the technology that has been developed we have to ask ourselves why there has not been any marked productivity gains in recruiting for the last 50 years. I base this on the fact that 50 years ago a good recruiter could handle between 4 and 18 unique positions at anyone time while consistently following best practices.

    Anyone using the traditional model and handling more than that number is letting a number of best practices slip which will hurt them or their company eventually.

    I believe the problem is in the fact that so many people have been using the same model for so long that they are afraid to stray off the path let alone think about starting over.

    Thank you again for your educated analysis of recruiting!


  3. My experience as an advisor is consistent, organization after organization throw out the same transactional analystics. They have their place, they enable process modeling, monitoring, and benchmarking, but they have almost no value outside the function. The real problem is that HR people tend to talk about WHAT they do versus the VALUE they create.

    This is a gigantic problem for our profession. Even the companies lauded as best practice leaders have embarassing metrics. Companies stacked to the hilt with six sigma consultants don’t apply any of it in HR. In a meeting not to long ago I remember an executive asking if HR people had the right mental wiring and just didn’t know what to do, or if they were mentally incapable of thinking like a business professional. I’ve met my fare share of both, but throwing stones isn’t going to help the problem. More and more organizations need to give up the FTE allocation for yet another coordinator role in HR and hire some interns in mathematics and finance. The idea of the HR business partner being able to master statistics and process modeling just isn’t working out!

  4. Kudos Kevin
    It seems that many in recruiting roles shy away from the rigor of measurement, even at the most rudimentary level. The focus seems to be on activity versus contribution.

    I recently spoke to a group of 150+ recruiters and asked how many were using a scorable application. Less than five people raised their hands. Yet every hand went up when I asked who put resumes in Yes and No piles. They are scoring resumes with ocular analysis ? I know one when I see one.

    One of the worst sources of process waste in staffing is the lack of data capture in a manner that supports analysis. Continued reliance on the resume as the initial source of candidate evaluation will prevent the staffing process from making meaningful strides to document the impact of hiring decisions. Resumes force a hopeful hunt for useful information. A scorable questionnaire or other form of objective candidate evaluation is a laser direct request for useful data.

    Blow up the resume first, blow up ATS/CRM systems that do not offer a method for objective candidate evaluation next.

  5. Wow! It took ‘an authority’ to say what I have been saying all along.

    Recruiting is an art, a niche, if you are fickled about it, my advice to you is, DON’T do it.

    Regulating the recruitment process has been tried with metrics, guidelines, processes and procedures but because of the requirements that non-recruiters have on the deliverables and the ‘mishaps’ that come along the way…….those numbers that they demand are not realistic, subsequently making it not acceptable to them.

    So, the Recruiter takes the brunt of the blame. The accountability should rest on all who are part of the process.

    Passive candidates are NOT the best candidates in my opinion because they can be the most flaky and they are in a ‘shopping’ mode, typically. I would consider a candidate who is currently working (passive) but ambitious (aggressive), my ideal candidate. I like to work for my money.

    If a relationship was established in the beginning of your contact with the candidate and maintained (kept warm), I regard that as a long-term relationship well after you make the placement.

    Resumes are ‘eye catchers’, introductions, a ‘snap shot’. I like developing the relationship by using the majority of the senses that I have (again, developing the relationship).

    Ultimately, the candidate should be interviewed, face-to-face, I need the ‘see/touch/feel’ aspect (so-to-speak).

    By developing the relationship, people tend to drop their guard and open up more, some faster than others.

    Bottom line for me is that I develop a relationship with my candidates and show the passion of my craft in my voice and actions.

    My recruiting skills did not happen overnight either, nor did I have to take structured courses in learning a craft that I love so dearly. There is an art in communicating and listening. Then you organize that into a process.

    Thanks for listening,


  6. Although there is nothing new that the the author has said but overall it is a simple and an excellent article which if followed in spirit would lead to quality hires as well as reduce failure rates of new hires which are alarming.

    Assumption #1:Are not the the majority of millions who have put up profiles(read resumes)at LinkedIN semi active.They are sending out and accepting invitations.Getting recommended and vice versa.It is the largest almost free job board for recruiters to tap into.Do the max passive candidates not change job every few years at least.

    As example many hyper active candidates(resumes splashed all over)have moved to higher positions,got into the 20 best rated company of the state and from family run business onto acorporation.I say this based on my experiences dealing with career enhancement related activities.Let’s not reject them on the basis of a cursory glance but study the resumes looking for potential related to the job.Yes,limit the resumes by posting ads at niche sites,associations local print and other media.

    Assumption# 2:Yes,the author is right here again.I would like to add that instead of maintaining huge databases one should have manageble number of contacts who should be updated every now and then in a personalized manner and tapped as well for referrals over the long run.

    Assumption# 3:Yes,other than obtaining info from resumes in various ways like questionnaires will certainly help.Infact I feel within the ad it should be asked as to how the person would be able to impact the company and the response be given in the cover letter.It will help eliminate
    unnecessary applications as well.

    Assumption# 4:Yes,screening is very important to weed out the chaff.Pre interview methods like questionnaires be adopted.At most there be a max of two interviews for even high level jobs.

    Assumption# 5:The author has rightly stated that there be direct correlation between interview process and performance.That should be the main yardstick to go by and to some extent the cost per hire at about 3 levels of jobs.Too much stress on cost per hire metrics is inherently flawed as many variables come in like change of hiring manger,departmental heads etc.These changes also lead to change in the environment of a department or the whole company itself.

    I am inclined to agree with most all views expressed(5 so far )But bringing six sigma to hiring is something that is beyond my comprehension.As a layman I understand it to mean the removal of defects in the processes and are more and more expensive the higher you go for quality.We are dealing with human beings and not manufacturing.

    Kevin,thanks once again for a simple but great article.

  7. You are right Kevin, Recruitment is a nonsense in terms of an efficient business process. I based my research Masters on the usage of Metrics in the recruitment and selection process and my findings were to me at least astonishing!!!
    For example if you went to your boss and told him you had an idea for the business where the chances of failure were 90% and the benefit of the outcome were an unknown factor what do you think your boss would say to you?
    However this is exactly the position that HR present to an organisation every time they make a recruitmet decision. The valididty coefficient of interviewing (which is still the most popular method of selection) is at best some where between 10 and 14% i.e you stand about a 10-14% chance of selection the right employee based on interviewing alone!! That leaves an error margin of between 86-90%
    Most HR professionals don’t even realise this!
    In my study, organisations believed that ‘Quality of HIre’ was the most important metric in R&S, yet 89% of companies did not measure this! In fact 57% of companies didn’t use metrics at all.
    Armstrong (1989)*** has put forward 2 arguements why HR are reluctant to use metrics in evaluating their worth.
    Firstly, he argues that by adopting this Human Resource Accounting philosophy HR runs the risk of creating the expectation that all of their activities must be justified in cost-effectiveness terms, something they do not wish to do. This may well be the case, but in the current economic climate where costs are constantly being reviewed and reduced, where possible, HR departments might be wise to adopt such a stance. If HR can objectively measure and cost the value and efficiency of their processes and initiatives. Management could not argue with the figures. This stance would give merit to the view that HR should embrace metrics as an ally and not view them as a threat.

    Secondly, Armstrong would argue that the use of these accounting measures might hand over the decision on whether to proceed with HR initiatives to managers outside the HR function, namely the management accountant. He believes that this loss of control could lead to competition from the management accountancy profession for the actual decision-making element within the traditional HR preserves. His point here is that HR?s reluctance to do the ?spadework? with the metrics means that management accountants, in doing this work, may also look for more influence in the decision making process of the HR department. Again, this would suggest that HR might be wise to learn, develop and utilise the metrics themselves in order to, if not retain, then at least have some say in the decisions process within their department.
    There is a wealth of research out there and if anyone is interested I can post my bibliography here to point them in the right direction in terms of the papers / books they can read on this.
    ***Armstrong, P. (1989). Limits and possibilities for HRM in an age of management accounting. in New perspectives on Human Resource Management. J. Storey (ed). London: Routledge.

  8. A thoughtful, well-written article.

    Of course the Recruiting Model is broken; it always has been. IMHO, recruiting is analogous to the schools: we are asked to do everything- not only provide good people in a timely, cost-effective manner but make sure they perform well and stay around for awhile.

    Fundamentally, many recruiters (and I include myself here) make our living through the organizational dysfunction of our clients. I completed a contract with a prestigious employer, widely lauded for its hiring practices. I calculated that on a per-hire basis, the staffing organization of this well-known firm was between 3 and 7 times less efficient in hiring people than I am. (I’m good, but not THAT good.) As far as I could tell, there was no interest in ‘blowing up the sucker’- rather, there was continuous tinkering with minor aspects of the hiring process, because it was designed to reflect the beliefs and prejudices of the founders.

    I believe that as long as there is substantial money and promotions to be made and budgets to be increased through decrying the current systems while offering overly-complex solutions to fundamentally simple problems, not much will change.

  9. From Brenda Conley:

    ‘Passive candidates are NOT the best candidates in my opinion because they can be the most flaky and they are in a ‘shopping’ mode, typically.’

    Oh, absolutely! Very often it seems like the ONLY factor that allows a placement to come together is EXTREME motivation on the part of the applicant. In fact, someone much wiser than me once said that the primary responsibility of a recruiter is to do his or her level best to talk an applicant OUT of taking the job because the only thing worse than not making a placement for a particular job is having the applicant jump ship after three months.

    However, judging from the number of ads for entry-level recruiters where they seem to be looking for people with sales background, combined with some of the message traffic on this site, it would appear that the current climate generates a desire for people with the capability to talk candidates who are otherwise quite content with their current positions into being at least discontent enough to consider other opportunities.

    ‘Resumes are ‘eye catchers’, introductions, a ‘snap shot’.’

    Actually I once had a client who was so disinterested in ‘active’ candidates he actually said, ‘I want to see resumes from people who are delirously happy with their current positions. No – I take that back. I don’t want to see resumes. Anyone who has taken the time to put together a resume is someone who MIGHT be looking and that’s not the kind of candidate I’m looking for.’

    Sometimes I’ve actually entertained that there may be some truth to what that manager said for certain positions. It’s at least possible that a recruiter talented enough to ‘shake loose’ an otherwise happily employed candidate should be equally talented enough to market the capabilities of that candidate to a client without resorting to the ‘crutch’ of a resume, which, more often than not, contains information more likely to turn a client off than on.

  10. Great article, I think it was right on the money. I’m glad to see a growing, albeit slowly, trend in quantifying results in candidate performance. I’ve tracked it and montored new hire performance for sometime, first years ago rather casually, and quickly with much more vigor and review of data. I recently began a new role with a new company, but at my last employer (I was there until June) I sliced it in 6 month increments over a two year period and looked at it both from a performance stand point, but also from a retention stand point. The end result was a stronger organization, and an amazing realization from my customers (internal) of the value my team brought to the table, and how we impacted the bottom line every day.


  11. I am very fortunate to work with some clients that understand the ‘big picture’ – that the goal is to get the best candidates for the job, in a timely manner – ie. when they are needed, while keeping the hiring costs as low as possible. Quite a balancing act. This means sometimes they have to pay a fee and sometimes they find them on their own. In both cases, the organization/company ‘wins’. No way can a company’s whose internal recruiting organization thinks their primary job is to eliminate fees end up with the best hires. It cost a company WAY more money to hire someone less than the best than it does to pay a fee (which is a very small part of the actual cost to employ someone – not to mention the revenue generated by that person)?

  12. I seem to be late to the party, but you are absolutely right Kevin. So many recruiters keep focusing on measuring their activities instead of their results. As I said in my article back in May, we need Results Focused interviews that tie directly to improving the organization’s bottom line. If we want to be taken seriously as business partners, then we have to take on some of the responsibility for the organization’s success.

    Blowing the sucker up is the first step. Working carefully to determine how we put the pieces together is the next.

    thanks for some great insights,

  13. Kevin,
    I agree with many of your points, in particular regarding resumes. And in regards to that point, while Candidate Tracking Systems and Internet recruiting services have made our lives easier in some ways, in others they dumb down the process by forcing the entry resumes. A candidate cannot move forward unless a resume has been entered into their systems. So while you think of blowing up resumes, you’ll need to take aim at technology/services that require resumes in order to get a candidate in front of a hiring manager.

  14. I think that it is possible to design an online resume-submittal system, which asks interested potential candidates a *few pre-qualifying questions (specific to each position) which must be correctly answered before the resume can be submitted. This would reduce the flow and increase the quality.

    Do you know of any formal studies which indicate an optimal number of questions which can be asked and answered online or on the phone? For example, most people would answer one question, but that wouldn’t get you much information, and you could ask 100 questions, but very few people would probably complete the questionnaire.

    Your thoughts?

  15. Krista Bradford said:

    ‘… you’ll need to take aim at technology/services that require resumes in order to get a candidate in front of a hiring manager.’

    This is precisely a thought I have had. It seems, more often than not, that the only thing a resume does is harbor information that is more likely to make a candidate look flawed than attractive.

    But, I’m curious – what effective alternatives are there? Can a sufficiently persuasive recruiter actually convince a manager to set up an interview without seeing a resume at all?

    Have any of you had luck with some sort of alternative like a profile sheet or perhaps something based more on a conventional ‘application’?

  16. I have a listing of 28 questions that are ‘voluntary’ answers by by candidates when they apply, with only one ‘mandatory’ answer – what level of security clearance they currently have.

    When/If the applicants apply to a specific position, there is a second set of assessment questions which are unique and specific to the main-line skill sets (mostly technical) to the positions, or asking for a very, very, very short summary of their experience within an arena, ‘…if not already on their resume.’ (Again, voluntary info)

    This gives applicants shorter assessments and questionnaires, breaks up the answer period, and won’t ask them superfilous info that no one needs until they need it.

    I would limit pre-qualification questions to ten (10) total – ask the most vital questions per skill sets, and remember, most applicants will already have the most important info already on their resume.

  17. Thank you, everyone.

    I’m getting a loose consensus that 10 pre-qualification questions is a good limit and I’ve also heard a suggestion that a 60 sec. application period is ideal for online applications.

    I’ve also heard that requiring too much pre-qualification/application from ‘best’/’passive’/’high-level’ candidates might dissuade them from applying. I’d like to ask the group:
    What are reasonable requirements that every potential candidate (however ‘best’/’passive’/’high-level’) must
    follow to be submitted? (I’m not speaking of general requirements like promptness, civility, following through with commitments, etc.)


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