Do Candidates Really Want a Relationship With You?

ere15s-logo-ere15confOne of the more frequently discussed practices running through the recent ERE Recruiting Conference was the need for recruiters to build relationships with the top talent they hope to hire.

Speakers promoted it; some hammered on it. Vendors positioned their products as enabling it. And in casual lunch conversations, leaders of some of the biggest companies discussed how their TA teams were trying to build rapport through social media and other methods, including with college students so new their freshman 15 wasn’t even their freshman 5.

It wasn’t a matter of whether, but how best to accomplish that relationship building. When something becomes a vendor selling point, you know the practice has become HR doctrine.

But should it be? Why should relationship building be the defacto objective of a TA group?

Since another commonly accepted practice — also widely discussed at the conference — is providing potential hirees a great candidate experience, shouldn’t we first ask if a candidate wants a relationship with the recruiting team?

I suspect it would be the rare individual who would say no. But given a choice, who do you think an interested candidate would rather get to know: the recruiter or the hiring manager?

From the potential employee’s perspective it’s the hiring manager who is the important player. The recruiter might open the door, but only the hiring manager will invite them in. More to the point, the talent you really want to join the company, the talent that doesn’t need your job, wants to know about the people on his or her future team.

Doesn’t it make more sense, then, for the relationship to be between the hiring manager and the candidate? Between the person who might someday be their boss, set the goals, do their reviews, and manage the day-to-day activities of the team? That’s the person upon whom so much of their career with the company will hinge.

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If you think about — and the kind of talent that cares about their career and is the kind of people you want to recruit does think about things like this — the role of recruiter is that of a shadchan, a marriage broker. You can prime the pump with emails, tweets, and FB postings positioning the company as a great, exciting place to work. But the candidates won’t be working for you. Once hired, they might not see you again until the company picnic.

Dan Bruder at EREI accept that getting hiring managers to engage with potential candidates isn’t easy. Dan Bruder, the former recruiting director for the Peace Corps and a speaker at the ERE conference, explained how he used service level agreements to get both the manager and the recruiter working together. Using a SLA to get the hiring manager’s buy-in is one method to get hiring managers to participate in pipelining.

Another might be a once-a-month online Q&A between candidates and hiring managers. Getting them to tweet about the team and post useful, relevant content is another method. Have them adopt some of the same things you now do to build their own candidate relationship.

These relationships are not one-to-one conversations; at least not most of the time. Nor do hiring managers have to bare their souls or post like social media celebrity. Once or twice a week might be sufficient. Hubspot has some data on social media posting frequency. Getting them to respond promptly to specific questions, though, is important.

Just as not every recruiter is a relationship builder, not every hiring manger is going to play. Those who do, though, will reap the benefits, building a better, and more successful team that, in turn, prompts even more of the best candidates to want to join. The results, then, will speak for themselves.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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15 Comments on “Do Candidates Really Want a Relationship With You?

  1. Extremely valid point and well said John. Recruiters and TA folks often (and more so if in companies that think very highly of themselves) think that based on their own perception that their company will have the undivided attention by candidates. Often as it is known that is not the case, and I think there often is a gap between these perceptions leading to different world views. This is really important as otherwise having a blinkered perspective on what need to be done to make that necessary differentiation and ability to in fact engage and build interest.

  2. The mistake is thinking a ‘relationship’ can substitute for good pay and benefits. I’ve never met a candidate or hiring manager who wouldn’t prefer information over a ‘relationship’ prior to being hired or hiring, respectively. Maybe if fewer Sales! types were running recruiting we’d get more information, better decisions, and less BS in this process.

  3. I think we should be engaging the candidates on their turf in their preferred mode working to develop some rapport is where we need to be focused. Could that be the start of a relationship? Perhaps.

  4. Great read; it certainly reminds us to connect with prospects with conversation or content that is relevant and valuable. One of the reason that I advocate for online communities is that conversations between prospects and hiring managers can occur.

  5. At some point in time ERE needs to actually have “candidates” come in and be part of the discussion as to how they feel and think about the candidate to recruiter interfacing role. I had a panel discussion many years ago at a NACCB meeting in Atlanta with a bunch of IT Staffing CEO’s and some IT talent- and it was very enlightening as to what these candidates stated regarding many of the poor ways many recruiters do not follow-up or understand the true candidates view.
    Today,I get goofy.. “hey I have a great PeopleSoft PM role that you are a perfect fit for” emails even though I have not been a PM PeopleSoft consultant in over 7 years. I have a white paper coming out in about two weeks.. “Why Professional Baseball players AND Professional Services people both need an RBI tool”.. Subtext- RBI in recruiting is Recruiting Business Intelligence”

    1. And the reason you got that email is because they work. For every person who has moved on from a previous role is another who gets annoyed that recruiters won’t contact them about roles which might be a step back. For every person who wants the salary range up front, another gets annoyed when you bring it up early and demands it be put off until after several interviews. For every person who demands reasonable follow up, there’s another who gets pissed if you don’t call them three times a day with non existent ‘updates.’ What each candidate wants is completely different, and to make sure they’re getting the right opportunities both they and employers, and also recruiters as the go between, need to be HONEST and TRANSPARENT about everything so they can each know just what the hell the other wants. And those are the two things all three parties refuse to do.

      1. I have no idea why you tried to highjack the discussion about the “candidate” experience! and NO this recruiter did not do his job- unless you would like to say he did a “crappy” job. Any 7 year-old can send out a mass e-mail about a perfect fit- but as I learned a long time ago when I started in the IT staffing industry (and am sure Mike Patrick will agree because he and I worked together several times) We actually had to “work” and get candidates. And guess what- if you actually had a relationship with these candidates and have some “Recruiting Business Intelligence” (i.e salary requirements etc..) they don’t get annoyed. They get annoyed (like I have when they don’t even know the current salary’s out there or your background-functional compared to technical). If you ask any real seasoned IT recruiter or even seasoned IT candidate they will tell you the “newer recruiters today just do not have the hard or soft skills. I wrote about being “honest and transparent” in my first book in 1995 and has served me and others well.

        1. The comments are here for all, not just those who you want. to respond. I’m sure Mike Patrick feels capable of defending himself should he deem it necessary, though I don’t know what his comment has to do with anything I wrote, I responded to your comment. As for actually working to get candidates, I guess you walked up hill both ways to school too, correct? In the snow? With no shoes? Damn these kids and their newfangled technology.

          Get annoyed all you want, I hate to break it to you and all the other sales! types in the industry, but sales and marketing people have been using email blasts ever since someone figured out how to do a mail merge, and they’ve been doing them because they’re effective. They don’t know your background? Of course not. doing an in depth background check of every single person you contact is a waste of time, many of them say no.

          When you date do you investigate the woman to the gills and back and get her mother and father’s permission to marry her before you even ask her out? Or, do you perhaps base your ‘search’ on somewhat superficial aspects of her, like how she looks, or who you manage to meet her through, or the fact that she happens to be near you at a particular moment? Do you perhaps make mistakes and contact people who have no interest whatsoever in you, or who are completely wrong for you? If we handled dating like you apparently handle recruiting no one would get married because we’d all be too busy doing background checks on future spouses before we ever even got the guts to say hi to them, much less ask them out to dinner and a movie.

          “If you ask any real seasoned IT recruiter or even seasoned IT candidate they will tell you the “newer recruiters today just do not have the hard or soft skills. I wrote about being “honest and transparent” in my first book in 1995 and has served me and others well.”

          Yeah, and we should get off the lawn too, I guess. I’m glad you wrote that in your book, but if you read most people’s reactions to recruiters, it’s negative nearly across the boards. Maybe you’re the exception, but the rule seems to be otherwise. But then again, every recruiter says they are the exception. I wonder if we surveyed people concentrating on specific recruiters they’ve worked with, how well would these paragons of the industry really fare? I’m more than willing to bet their reputations wouldn’t be so lofty as they seem to imply. Bottom line, every recruiter claims they’re the one who will never miss a follow up call, that they will develop a loving and caring relationship with you, that they’re the ones who have the inside scoop from hiring managers, and that they get to know you and what your needs are, and they all claim to be the ones to get you the salary you deserve, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. It’s the marketing copy of every agency in existence, and they can’t all be telling the truth.

          As a profession the general public views us almost completely negatively, just above terrorists I believe. Salaries real and nominal are down across the boards for almost everyone. It’s a near universal complaint that hiring managers take their sweet time in hiring, and often never give feedback, and an article published right here on Ere.net a while ago claimed that damn near half, if not more, of all jobs agencies work with just simply up and evaporate, and never get filled, and that many agencies get well over 70% of their business from one client, which would kind of put the lie to the claim of being able to provide such personalized service and job selection. Or, in other words, the stats just don’t support the claims of many not new recruiters.

          Maybe you’re the exception, I don’t know you or your work, nor do I care to, really. What I do know is that if you are an old school recruiter then you’re more responsible for this world and the state of our profession than any new recruiters. It’s the same old story; the parents wreck the world and then blame their kids for the results. We’re not the ones who started this nonsense about salaries not being discussed. Maybe it wasn’t you, but it’s sure as hell your generation. We didn’t develop the current, and broken, hiring process which, at it’s best, produces just over 60% reliability. You guys did. We didn’t turn the recruiting industry into a boiler room-esque con game that Jordan Belfort himself would be proud to work in, you guys did. It was your generation of recruiters, without a shred of evidence to support it, who gave us the myth of the ‘passive candidate’ and all it implied, which has in a very real way contributed to massive long term unemployment for many, even though they lost their jobs because entire companies closed and not out of their own incompetence. And new recruiters didn’t crash the economy, three times no less, over the last few decades. Again, that was you guys, or your generation at least, which gave us the worst recession, highest unemployment, and most stagnant wages since the Great Depression, and probably another one is on the way. So please, spare me the ‘kids today’ rhetoric.

          My position is simple: I give people all information up front and expect the same in return. I don’t have a ‘relationship’ with them. I have relationships with my family, friends, and girlfriends, and whoever eventually becomes my wife should I be that lucky. With candidates and clients I share information, and for clients I try to solve the puzzle of who will best work in a given position, and quite frankly it’s those who want a relationship who get in the way. I remember when I was in corporate nothing was more useless than an agency recruiter who wanted to ‘build a relationship’ with me. Free lunch, yay! And then the first three resumes they send over are for the same three dipsticks who applied to the posting I put up a week earlier. Can you guess what those recruiters had in their firm’s ad copy?

          Recruiters need to concentrate less on relationships and more on facts, and cold hard reality. They need to tell their clients when their salaries are ridiculously low, which these days is almost all the time. Maybe you do, most don’t. They need to tell candidates when they’re being block headed, or when their expectations aren’t matching the market reality. Maybe you do, most don’t. They need to drop the BS about relationships while in the same breath denouncing emails. All relationships, if you must call them that, start somewhere with some initial contact, and they don’t all have to start over the phone or via smoke signals or Pony Express or the damn telegraph to be valid or worth pursuing. And indeed, some initial attempts at contacts will miss and go far afield and be completely irrelevant, because that’s how ‘relationships’ are built, they begin somewhere, you don’t go into them already knowing everything, and some don’t work out.

          That said, I’d love to read your book, but I’d have to do it via an audio copy during my commute. Is there an audio copy available? I have a Victrola for the shellacs.

        2. It’s hijack, and comments are open for everyone, not just those you agree with. New recruiters use email because it’s more effective than the telegraph, the Pony Express, and smoke signals. When you date someone you don’t do a thorough background investigation up to and including getting their parent’s permission to marry them before you ask them to dinner and movie. You base your search on more superficial aspects, such as doe s/he look good, are they available, etc., kind of like using keywords, and you make wrong hits all the time until you find The One and marry them. And I hate to break it to you, because your response reads like that of a sales type, but sales and marketing people have been using email blasts since they figured out the mail merge. They use them because they work.

          But this post is about relationships, as sales! recruiters call them. When I was in corporate, nothing was more useless to me than a recruiter looking to ‘build a relationship’ with me. No matter how many free lunches and phone calls they put in, the end result was always the first three people they sent were the same three dipsticks who applied to the posting I had up a week earlier. No matter how much they talked to the candidates, they never gave them an appropriate fill in about the company’s culture, because they didn’t live it every day like people who worked there. Their relationship meant absolutely nothing on both sides of the situation, what would have helped would have been facts.

          All recruiters claim to be the one who will really get to know you, who has the inside track from the hiring managers, who will only match you up with a job/candidate that’s right for you, and who will get you the money you deserve. It’s the ad copy of every agency and free agent in the industry since the beginning of time. Yet, when you look at reality, the recruiting profession is almost universally despised, hiring managers that sit on their hands and who don’t provide feedback, much less move on candidates, are a universal complaint from candidates and recruiters, and salaries have cratered for most people. It doesn’t take much to figure out that something doesn’t add up, and that on the whole our profession is full of crap.

          Maybe you’re the exception to the rule, who knows. I certainly don’t know you. However your claims to have to ‘work’ to get candidates don’t impress me, did you also have to walk up hill both ways in the snow to get to school? What the older generation complaining about kids today in any discussion always seems to forget is they are the ones who created the world their kids are operating in. It’s your generation that created the current, and broken, hiring process which is just barely 60% reliable even when all best practices are in place and strictly followed. It’s your generation that spun all this BS about ‘passive’ candidates which has relegated some people to permanent unemployment. It’s your generation that crashed the economy three times in the last few decades, with another likely on the way, and created the worst recession with the highest unemployment and worst effect on wages since the Great Depression. And it’s your generation that took the US from solid companies providing people reasonable salaries, hours, benefits, and tenure, to what’s increasingly a hoard of more and more desperate cut throat private contractors who are lucky to scrape out a living and never have anything resembling job security. So spare me the ‘kids today’ rhetoric. You made this world, live in it.

          1. “When you date someone you don’t do a thorough background investigation up to and including getting their parent’s permission to marry them before you ask them to dinner and movie. ”

            Yes you do. Well, except the parents bit. There are too many crazies out there so a little homework is essential. You don’t have to run their number plates but a few online searches can reveal quite a lot about an individual – whether it be a potential date or candidate.

            Anyway……I don’t invest much time building a relationship with a candidate. It’s time consuming, expensive and in the final analysis, doesn’t mean squat. A candidate can love the arse off me but if a particular job doesn’t meet his/her needs in terms of pay, benefits, location, work, etc., my “relationship” is for naught. My time is better spent finding the person who is a fit, rather than being “engaged with the community of talent”.

            One of my team members gets too invested in her candidates to the point where it clouds her judgment and she loses all objectivity. Treat candidates like people and as how we like to be treated but, IMHO, that’s where you draw the line. All that matters is filling the job with the right person – whether you love them or they love you. It’s that simple.

          2. “Anyway……I don’t invest much time building a relationship with a candidate. It’s time consuming, expensive and in the final analysis, doesn’t mean squat. A candidate can love the arse off me but if a particular job doesn’t meet his/her needs in terms of pay, benefits, location, work, etc., my “relationship” is for naught.”

            Exactly, for the most part. That perfect role may come up, but it also may never come up. In any event if you start adding up all the follow ups you’d have to do with people who you’re never going to place in order to maintain a ‘relationship,’ you’d quickly see your sendouts and placements drop like a stone. ‘Relationship’ is just another BS sales/recruiting jargon term, and if there’s one thing our profession doesn’t need more of, it’s BS sales people.

        3. “And guess what- if you actually had a relationship with these candidates and have some “Recruiting Business Intelligence” (i.e salary requirements etc..) they don’t get annoyed. They get annoyed (like I have when they don’t even know the current salary’s out there or your background-functional compared to technical).”

          What you listed isn’t a “relationship” – that’s knowing their pain points, motivators, background, areas of weakness/strength and the like. That’s Recruiting 101 and a recruiter who does not ask questions which ferret out this information isn’t really a recruiter. Again, however, this isn’t relationship-building – it’s getting to know a specific individual’s wants/needs so you can match them to a job.

          Am I missing something here?

    2. Applause to you Marc Nolan for
      ‘ERE needs to actually have “candidates” come in and be part of the discussion as to how they feel and think about the candidate to recruiter interfacing role’

      Danger of forums like these are that they take the one sided perspective from the ‘inside view’ and that means a dimension missing, a dimension essential to actually have a true understanding.

      1. Hi Jacob. Thanks for the note. I was out of the country and just returned. Yep, as someone who was trained as a full desk sales/recruiter it seems that one side (that does not have any real working experience on the “other side”) tends to paint a broad brush with their “opinions” but without any real working knowledge. I also think its funny how some people will “hide” behind made up names and then talk about being “honest and transparent”. Now that is really funny.

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