How Do the Best Recruiters Add Value? An End-of-the-Year Thought Piece

Paul is a recruiter who is committed to his profession. He is hard working and handles a huge number of requisitions. Over the past year, despite the recession and corporate layoffs, he has survived and even hired a few people. But in a recent conversation with some of the management team in his company, I learned that he was not perceived as adding much real value. Comments like this were common: “He’s a good guy, and we need somebody there to handle the few openings we have.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Yet an experienced recruiter can perhaps earn as much as $125,000 a year in the Silicon Valley, New York City, or Washington, D.C., and a proportional, but smaller, salary elsewhere. Some would say that’s not bad for surfing the Internet, chatting with interesting people, working the phone, and handholding a bunch of frantic managers. Some of the folks I know see our jobs as cushy and don’t have a lot of sympathy for us as we get laid off or see our pay reduced by this slowdown. They can’t figure out how we add any real value. Probably most of us have trouble, too, figuring out what we actually do that earns us those salaries we have come to love. So where and how do we add real value? Why do they pay us this kind of money? Slow times are always the best times to rethink what we do and how we add value. Our profession is changing very rapidly, as I have said many times in many other articles. We are not the administrative pair of hands that many of us were just five years ago. Few of us have so many great resumes that all we have to do is sort through them. Most of those who used to do that have already gone or are hiding right now. We are not just Internet searchers ó after all, that represents a tiny fraction of all the sourcing that takes place ó even though I believe that being able to search on the Internet is a key skill to have. We are not psychics who try to figure out what a hiring manager wants. Most of us who tried that got booted a long time ago. So what are we? Here are five specific things that recruiters are doing (or could be doing) that add value and bring our profession to a new level: 1. A really good recruiter changes a transaction into a knowledge exchange. By that I mean she can take something as administrative as counting types of resumes or sources of inquiry about a position, and turn it into a piece of information that can be used to make decisions. For example, suppose we posted an ad to the local job board and received 15 resumes on the average every day for a week. The next week we didn’t run any ads at all for that position, but got 25 resumes from the website. A good recruiter could say that perhaps posting the job wasn’t necessary. By interpreting a bit of data, she could perhaps rethink the sourcing or the advertising strategy. This is one rather simple example of how a transaction can be looked at and interpreted as information that can be used to make a business decision. That is creating knowledge, and that is a valuable skill. Being able to communicate that knowledge to hiring managers and to the organization is also an important part of this skill. 2. A good recruiter can translate the market. This means a good recruiter gathers data on the supply of certain kinds of talent and on the projected internal and external demand for that same talent. She uses the Internet, job boards, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and local employment agency data and to create a picture of the supply chain. She compares that to the demand that is projected for specific jobs within the organization. And she educates management about the marketplace. Most hiring managers have little experience in the job market and, if they are longer-term employees, have nothing to calibrate the supply and talent situation against except their own past experience. It is the recruiter’s job to spread the word, educate, and use facts and data to back up their positions. The decision on whether to go out to search for a particular skill set or to train someone internally may depend on how deeply the recruiter understands the market. Over the next decade this skill set, augmented with technology, will be a core competence. 3. A good recruiter understands technology. Perhaps more important even than just understanding technology, a good recruiter has a vision of where technology can take them and where it cannot. Technology will not replace recruiters or solve all our recruiting nightmares. It will automate much of what we have traditionally considered to be our “job,” and it will force tremendous changes onto the unsuspecting 20th-century recruiter. Workforce management tools are already emerging that will make the administrative side ó the backend ó of recruiting seamless and reduce the need for our involvement to a tiny level. Technology will aid us in our search for data about the market, but we will have to interpret it and explain it. We now have extensive communication tools like email and instant messaging, the cell phone, and SMS. We have collaboration tools, Internet-based video interviewing, and online assessment. The next 20 years will see the maturing of recruiting tools, and it will take savvy recruiters to make the right decisions ó the ones that give them a competitive edge. 4. A good recruiter can use metrics to make decisions. I have written a number of columns about measuring the value and ROI of recruiting. The recruiters of tomorrow will be comfortable thinking strategically about numbers and goals. They will be able to take pieces of data and ó using knowledge that is partially tacit and gained by experience, as well as analytical skills ó weave them into projections and models of human capital costs and opportunity and growth. Rather than just collect efficiency numbers, good recruiters will also collect effectiveness figures and use all those numbers to draw logical conclusions that support their decisions. They will use this data to show the value of recruiting to the success of the organization. 5. A good recruiter can sell. What more needs to be said? A great recruiter will close almost every candidate and work to overcome objections, build relationships, provide flexibility, gain trust, and work toward compromise. These are the things good executive recruiters have always done ó but how many really great ones are there? This is a skill that can be learned, even though some are born with a gift and do this quite naturally. However, good sales skills will be of high value over the next decade. If you have asked yourself recently why you continue to do what you do, if you are less than excited as these slower times give you pause, perhaps working on a few of these emerging values will re-excite and challenge you. These are all skills you can learn and grow. These are skills like karate ó they take constant practice and determination to build. For me, the excitement is in watching you all unfold into something new and so much more valuable than what you had been previously.

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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


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