Disruptive Recruiting: Rethinking What Recruiting Is All About

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. –-Andy Warhol

It is time to change the recruiting game. Someone has to reinvent a process that is aged, inefficient, and marginally successful in procuring high-performing employees.

Over the past 20 years recruiters have been given magical tools starting with applicant tracking systems, then the Internet, job boards, recruiting websites, and now an array of social media tools. Yet, it is a sad fact that a single recruiter can deal with no more open positions than he could two decades ago, still feels overworked, and is deluged with unqualified candidates.

It is time to challenge our assumptions and reinvent the entire recruiting process. Let’s start by asking dumb questions: why does recruiting exist as a function? Is it to hire people? Surely given our technology, hiring managers could be trained to screen and select the people they need. Is it to screen candidates, schedule interviews? All can be automated. Is it to sell the organization to the candidate? That often happens prior to any recruiter contact through the products and services you offer, through fellow employees, through brand and reputation, and through your location. What the recruiter adds to this is useful, but probably minimal.

So, then, how can recruiters add value?Automation and Process Simplification

The recruiting process is made up of somewhere around 10 sub-processes which include employment branding, communicating with a hiring manager and developing a position description, sourcing, screening, assessment, candidate communication, and marketing (CRM), offer negotiation and presentation, closing, and in some cases onboarding.

Each of these sub-processes need to be examined and assessed for their efficiency and value. You should ask yourself whether that process needs to be done at all, and if so should it be done by a recruiter, and if not, by who? You should also ask whether that step could be automated, even partially, and even if it would be less than ideal. You need to apply the 80/20 rule to recruiting automation: if a tool, system, program, or application can do at least 80% of what a recruiter does, than you should switch to the automated process.

I believe that much of what the average recruiter does can either be simplified, eliminated altogether, or be done by automated systems. For example, is it really necessary to interview all candidates? Why can’t you develop and use a screening test of some sort and rely on that alone? Why does every potential candidate need to complete the usual intensive application process when all you need to know are one or two things in order to move the candidate forward? Why can’t you develop and use good CRM techniques and processes to ease the communication problem. There is a lot of room for improvement in the basic processes we follow rather blindly. By adopting a simplified and more automated approach, you free up recruiters so that they can really add value and improve the reputation and significance of the recruiting function.

Redefine the Need

Recruiting should not be a reactive function, only responding to the mandates of hiring managers. Recruiting needs to be the talent partner within the organization. It needs to have the labor market and available skills knowledge to help managers make the best decisions of the type of people to hire.

The model recruiting functions should work very closely with hiring managers, human resources, and other internal professionals to redefine the positions most commonly open. One method is to interview good employees, as defined by hiring managers and performance reviews, and then construct profiles of these employees that can, in turn, be used to construct screening questions. Building a profile of success saves hundreds of hours of recruiting trial and error. This process also affirms which roles are really important and which ones may be less so. Less-critical positions can be outsourced or put on a lower priority. Many times this process identifies changes that need to be made in the skills, competencies, or experience required for a particular role. Looking at the positions that you are being asked to fill in a constructive but positive way, adds to your credibility and aligns the needs more closely to the market.

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Workforce Planning

The next step has little to do with traditional recruiting and is usually called workforce planning. It the skill of building forecasting capability and ensuring that the organization has, or can quickly get, the talent it needs to achieve its business objectives.

It requires some knowledge of demographic, economic, and business trends. It also requires a deep knowledge of the talent marketplace and familiarity with the level of education and experience available in the appropriate geography. It means collaborating with the internal training function, senior management, compensation, and human resources in general to agree on which talent is best sought externally, which is best sourced and promoted internally, and which needs to be developed by the company, because recruiting them is difficult and expensive. These tradeoffs and discussions have almost never happened in the past, yet they are becoming what differentiate a great recruiting function from an ordinary one.

Predicting who you will need, what skills will be important, or what experience will be best aligned with needs is not possible. What you can do by combing workforce planning with a talent community is build the potential — a capability to meet future needs — that did not exist before.

Building Talent Communities

Following all of this, only then is it productive to start sourcing and attracting potential candidates to a talent community. My article last week pointed out how a community differs from a talent pool or a database, and the distinction is significant. Talent pools are inefficient and in the end leave you where you started — with a large pool of unknown people who need to be further screened and qualified. A true community screens by the way people interact, by how they communicate, and by who they are connected to.

When an organization has a talent community, it has a dynamic and ever-changing pool of talent, skill, and experience to meet almost any need that might arise.

Recruiting is in dire need of change. Disruptive recruiting will showcase technology and apply it in a practical way toward improving and simplifying the processes that make up recruiting. Disruptive recruiting will also mean that recruiters need different skills, including those of networking and community-building.

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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


22 Comments on “Disruptive Recruiting: Rethinking What Recruiting Is All About

  1. Kevin:
    It seems like we need more than a process engineer to tackle this. I believe the concept of a Chief Destruction Officer (CDO) that Steve Moore presented in one of his vlogs last year, might be more appropriate to the challenge you put before us. I for one would love to be a CDO. Take some time and view this vlog. Though it is targeted at mission organizations, the principle is universally applicable and it could really ramp up this discussion.


    John Creech

  2. Kevin
    Excellent challenge to our thinking and approaches.

    Workforce differentiation comes from disproportionate investment where disproportionate return can be obtained.

    Some recruiting demands require a solution that reduces performance variation in new hires. Other work flow streams may need methods that reduce administrative burden or reduce staffing process waste and re-work. And a common, but often over looked area is the candidate experience, which can be improved for almost every scenario.

    Many current recruiting systems deliver a one-size fits all approach to job families that need very different performance criteria. Before you begin a recruiting assignment ask: Does this position contribute to wealth creation in our company? Go down that path and then explore the caliber of the solution in relationship to the economic impact of each hiring decision. Those answers may cause you to GO DISRUPTIVE.

    To play with come economic impact models play with the ROI calculators here:

    Those recruiters who are most adept at tailoring a process to deliver the most value will be the winners.

    Joseph P. Murphy
    Shaker Consulting Group

  3. Kevin,

    This is very well stated. As economic cycles tend to impact how any business operates, I see this holding VERY true within the recruiting industry. For the last couple of years, I have seen the needs and demands of the businesses we support change, but unfortunately, the broader industry has not really adapted to it. There are reasons for this with budgetary pressures playing a role, but there needs to be in shift in mindset.

    Your point on recruitng organizations being reactive vs strategic is right on. I won’t go as far as to say that every recruitng organization thinks this way, but that is how most of them are structured. I have believed for several years that a recruitment point of view is critical in workforce planning. My experience over the years also is that many managers are making labor decisions without being educated as to the talent pool/s they are pursuing.

    We’re playing on a different field now, so will our approach be strategic or reactive??

  4. Kevin—great thought provoking article. Being a boomer, I have lived through the “magical” era you described. I completely agree that recruiters today cannot handle more positions that they could years ago. My immediate thought is do we want recruiters to handle more open positions? While I am all for innovation and process improvement, I feel the improvements in technology related to recruiting has created a very impersonal environment for the prospects and candidates. I would be in favor of using science (technology) to allow for a little more art (human interaction). Perhaps the disruption we need in recruiting is to go back to the pre-historic and pre-internet “higher touch” days? Perhaps the gains in time from technology and automation should be used to spend more time with the talent communities that we should be cultivating?

  5. Disruptive recruiting – are you kidding me!!!!!

    I have seen the world that Kevin proposes and I can say it’s not the promised land. What seems to be lost in this posting is that recruiting is in the business of knowing people – human beings. With 6 billion people in the world, and hundreds of variables between each person, creating systematic processes to find/screen/interview/assess/close and giving it a fancy new name will never be sophisticated enough to deal with billions of variables of people and market influences – it’s basically a form of chaos theory. It has been attempted many times and has resulted in a bad candidate/hiring manager and recruiter experience, as we’ve seen at Google. If we get to the core of what recruiting’s function is, I believe it’s the business of knowing people and building brain power for a company. Modern technology hasn’t cracked the human condition, so how can we expect automated business processes to!

    Successful recruiting today as it was 100 years ago requires many touch points of human to human communication, judgment and style – which unfortunately are very hard to automate with the desired results. I have only seen this successfully done with the creation and implementation of SLAs – which in a sense is a code of promises that recruiters keep with the hiring manager, the candidate, the business and each other. The SLAs are designed for the purpose of producing a result and when followed and measured, produces fantastic results. Measure and track the SLAs and share that information with the business constantly. By constantly asking for feedback from the business and candidates, and by constantly giving feedback to the business and candidates the organization becomes organic and not static, which creates sustainability. Unfortunately, automation tends to be static which is why it breaks down and nobody seems to get that.

    Great recruiting departments are made up of great people – they and they alone make the difference! Great recruiters care! They care about keeping to the SLAs, they care about their delivery promises to their hiring managers and candidates, whether it’s sourcing/following up when you say you will, caring about how this may feel to a candidate, caring enough to stay creative and explore every way to find a great person – and that care is what makes great recruiting departments. Great managers cultivate that care, they know how to hire and keep great recruiters, and be quick to let go of people who are not performing.

    I measured my recruiter’s results and SLAs daily, weekly monthly and created a dashboard the whole company could see to enable transparency. It was that transparency into a recruiters work that keeps SLAs being met, and those SLAs being met produced the desired result. The efficiencies I created were to make sure every step the recruiter had to make in an ATS took no more than 2 clicks and I hired co-odinators to take the administrative functions and reporting off their plates.

    The purpose of recruiting is the same today as it was 100 years ago, which is to find great people and make the company look good while you do it. If you turn your SLAs into a philosophy and mindset they work; processes rarely evolve and they often break! Philosophies and mindsets when allowed to evolve and are measured never break and adapt to ever changing landscapes.

    Just my thoughts……………..

  6. I would like to echo the statements of Mr. Smith. I feel the technology today mentioned in the article are tools for organizing the recruiting funtion,increasing response and talent pools but shouldn’t take the place of the personal touch.

  7. In response to Marve, Chetta and Bob let me ask a question?
    Do candidates today or yesterday receive any real “personal” attention? We recruiters are always harping on providing a personal experience and we value (or say we do) the face-to-face, yet over 90% of candidates never hear from anyone at all or see anyone and are treated as objects. Their resumes are not looked at, there skills are not assessed, and they receive no meaningful communication. Just ask any of them what THEY think about recruiters and our processes? and the cause of this is largely because we do not use technology.

    We are really screwed up when it comes to the recruiting process and to understanding how technology can actually HELP us be more personal, not less. To turn away from leveraging the tools we have for the myth of being personal is not wise or sustainable.

  8. Actually Kevin – Yes! I was able to create a personal experience that scaled and it was related to my SLAs – here’s how we did it:

    We focused on our hiring brand – what did we want it to look like and how we measured it. We actually articulated what a great hiring brand was and we set SLAs around it. Here are our SLAs:

    *Every resume that is sent to the website got a response withing 5 working days – we met it!
    *Every screening step – recruiter screen/phone interview/onsite interview/ – feedback was giving to the candidate within 24 hours
    *All rejects from interviewed candidates were done over the phone and not an email
    *All hiring managers got an update on daily/weekly/monthly status – so they could give feedback/ask questions and work with the recruiters to calibrate.

    We constantly exceeded hiring goals, were recognized for a high bar, and adored by the business. And this was in an intense fast growing internet start-up.

    The problem you stated has in my experiences been solved with less complicated and more measurable and scalable ways.

  9. Kevin, I agree with you in one respect. Our ATS allows us to screen applicants and reject them for not meeting the minimum qualifications. I’ll give you that, and those folks do not hear from us. As you know the posting of jobs results in hundreds of responses and a large number of them are not qualified. We are divided into physician, corporate and field management recruiting. Every qualified candidate that applies gets a call and a phone screen. Those who are screened but are not selected get a letter or a call.

  10. Thank you again, Kevin.
    As I have previously mentioned, I think it is advisable to determine all the tasks that a recruiting organization might do, such as the 10 sub-processes you alluded to, or those described in my “Recruiting Methodology” (below).

    Most of these can be no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated), or out-sourced (done elsewhere) for a cost of $11/hr or less. What’s left should be largely high-touch and high value-add. A rough rule of thumb: don’t have your recruiters do activities that you’d pay less than $50/hr to do, and pay your recruiters that amount (or more).
    (Implicitly: don’t hire recruiters that can’t do $50+/hr work.)

    As far as a “personal” touch- almost anything that can’t be handled by automation can be handled by a very pleasant person paid $2.00/hr or less to call and tell whatever needs to be told. IMHO, if an organization isn’t prepared to do this, it’s because it just doesn’t care what happens to most run-of-the-mill applicants.

    Happy Friday,


    Recruiting Methodology
    I. Input collection: Determination of status quo
    A. Needs
    1. Measuring and/or improving Cost Per Hire
    2. Measuring and/or improving hiring speed/efficiency
    3. Measuring and/or improving hiring quality
    4. Implementing and/or improving systems and technology
    5. Enhancing overall recruitment organization/structure/strategy
    6. Measuring and/or reducing turnover
    7. Other
    B. Resources
    C. Preferences

    II. Hiring steps
    A. Job descriptions
    1. Development/Modification
    2. Posting
    B. Sourcing (inhouse or outsourced)
    1. Primary sourcing: Employee referral program implementation
    a. Direct contacts, competitor known
    b. Indirect contacts, competitor known
    c. No contacts, competitor known
    d. Competitor unknown
    2. Secondary sourcing
    a. Internet
    i. SIG posting
    ii. WWW search engines
    iii. Social networking applications (SNAs)
    b. Networking
    i. Trade shows
    ii. Conferences
    iii. Organizational meetings
    3. Research
    4. Outside agencies
    C. Interview
    1. Recruiter: phone
    2. Technical/professional: phone (optional)
    3. First: face-to-face (<4 interviewers)
    4. Second: face-to-face (optional)
    D. Offer: who makes it
    1. Bonus
    2. Stock
    3. Relocation
    4. Misc.
    E. Reference checking
    1. General (superiors, peers, subordinates)
    2. Background investigation (outsourced)

    III. Reporting and data collection: Interim or permanent
    A. Frequency
    B. Method

  11. I have been promoting the design and implementation of an organizational “Private Talent Warehouse” for years and certainly agree that this as the key to an organizations ability to recruit the best. But as long as companies continue to lay off and dismantle the Internal Recruiting Organization every time there is economic downturn, then the building of long term relationships with a community will be difficult, if not impossible. Companies seem to only fund and provide resources for the corporate recruiting orgs during reactionary, high demand for hire times, when they should be building up the talent community for the future, even during times of low to no demand for hires.

  12. WOW – What a great article. My guess is that only the top 20% of recruiters “get it”. Many recruiting firms who do not figure out how to evolve quickly will fade to black in the coming years. My motivation for joining my company is that we address processes 3,4,& 5(sourcing ,screening and assessment) in a manner that allows recruiters to outsource those functions very efficiently and economically. Soon I will offer a free conf call or a webinar, until then check out TalentHog.com

  13. Kevin suggests automation and process simplification, among others. I had an opportunity to ask Kevin about improving the candidate experience at ERE, where he suggested we make it easy to apply. We may have made it too easy to apply. While valued from the candidate perspective, making it too easy to apply creates severe unintended consequences for the company and the recruiters. http://bit.ly/More_Here

  14. The real disruptive opportunity is how to eliminate the need for recruiting as we think about it and many of the processses outlined in Kevin’s article.

    That’s what we will introduce in November. Stay tuned!

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