How to Become a Partner with Your Clients

This article was originally published on July 16, 2004. The single best way to become a more effective recruiter is to become a true partner with your hiring manager clients. And the single best way to become a true partner with your hiring manager clients is to know the job. If as a recruiter you don’t know the job, you’ll receive little respect from your clients. However, as most of you know (or will soon find out), I believe that traditional job descriptions are the most useless documents ever produced. So don’t use the traditional job description to learn about the job. Disavow it instead. Other than a few buzz words, you won’t learn much about the job using traditional job descriptions. In fact, by themselves traditional job descriptions prevent companies from ever seeing and hiring top performers. A list of skills, required experiences, academics, industry experience, and personality traits have absolutely nothing to do with the job. At best, typical job descriptions define people. They certainly don’t define the job. More importantly, top performers ó whether they’re active, passive, or somewhere in between ó aren’t induced to apply when reading these types of requirement-intensive job descriptions. So if you want to become a partner, stop using traditional job descriptions and start using performance profiles. A performance profile eliminates all of the problems associated with typical job descriptions by defining the actual work that needs to be performed (certainly an odd and radical concept). Not only do recruiters who assist in preparing performance profiles demonstrate their knowledge, but the process itself opens up the job to more diverse and other high-potential candidates. Most top performers don’t possess the artificial list of prerequisites found on traditional job descriptions, but they do have comparable accomplishments. Some background is in order. Every job has six to eight performance objectives that define job success. These are things that the employee must do to be considered successful ó not what the person must have in terms of years of experience, industry, academics or skills. A performance profile is nothing more than a prioritized list of the most important six to eight performance objectives. Here’s an example of a performance objective for a project manager:

During the first three months, prepare a detailed review of the project, including an appraisal of all critical action items and potential bottlenecks. Identify key technical challenges, including _________, and determine all resource needs.

It’s even better if you can make these performance objectives SMARTe (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-defined, Time-bound, and environment described). Describing objectives this way makes them very clear to all those involved. Now here’s the real kicker. When a recruiter ask hiring managers what the new employee needs to do rather than what the person must have, the recruiter gains instant credibility. This not only helps build the recruiter/hiring manager relationship, but aids the recruiter’s ability to find people who actually meet the job requirements. Some other tangible benefits include:

  • The recruiter learns the real job, increasing personal confidence and knowledge.
  • The recruiter is perceived by the hiring manager as both competent and insightful.
  • Interviewing accuracy is increased because the recruiter and hiring manager are on the same page with respect to selection criteria.
  • Fewer candidates need to be seen, since those that are interviewed better match job needs.

The best candidates want to know what they need to do to be successful, so they are also easier to close this way. Money is typically less important than the opportunity when accepting a job. As a rule of thumb, assume a top person needs a 25% better job in order to accept an offer. This is in the form of job stretch and compensation. If the job stretch piece represents 15% or more, than the comp package only needs to be 10% better. By clearly describing the job and the stretch involved, recruiters are viewed as career consultants by their candidates. This helps in negotiating offers and in subsequent networking. Preparing a performance profile involves asking the hiring manager the series of questions described below. The process starts by first determining the top six performance objectives in general terms. To do this, get the manager to start off with an action verb like “do,” “change” or “improve” rather than a passive verb like “be responsible for” or “have.” Then have the manager provide more specific details. For example, a preliminary performance objective would be something like, “Improve the performance of the team by 5% by June.” From this list of preliminary performance objectives, select the most important and put them in priority order. Then ask a few more questions to make them SMARTe. Preparing a performance profile helps a recruiter better understand the results required to be successful, the process needed to achieve these results, and an understanding of the environment (pace, resources, professionalism, decision-making, culture, etc.). Here’s my step-by-step guide for preparing a performance profile with a hiring manager:

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  1. Determine major objectives. Ask the hiring manager: “What does a person taking this job need to do over the next three to six months in order to be considered successful?” (Use this question to obtain the top two or three major objectives ó e.g., “implement a new process,” “see 25 customers per day,” “conduct an analysis,” or “reduce costs.”)
  2. Develop sub-objectives. Taking the most important objective, ask the hiring manager: “What are the two or three things a successful person would need to do make sure they achieved the major objective?” (Your goal here is to develop two or three key sub-objectives for each major objective. For example, for the process change a sub-objective might be, “Determine the key bottlenecks, or develop a plan during the first 30 days.”)
  3. Think of other questions to determine key objectives. Ask the hiring manager: “Is there anything else that needs to be changed, fixed, or improved over the next few months? What are the biggest challenges in the job? Are there any problems that need to addressed right away?”
  4. Convert having to doing. Say: “I noticed on the job description that you want the person to have five years of experience in ______, and an industry background in ______. What will they actually be doing on the job with this background? In other words, what does ‘good experience’ look like in terms of on-the-job results?” (This is a good way to get the hiring manager to focus more on results than on skills.)
  5. Convert technical skills into results. “What are some of the technical challenges involved in the job? I know that you’re looking for a person with technical skills in ______. How does the person actually use these skills? How do you know if they’re good at this?” (It’s easier to measure technical competency by understanding what people do with their skills. When the real needs are defined this way, the technical requirements are much less.)
  6. Understand team skills. “Who will this person work with and on what kind of projects? In fact, what does the team look like?” (Draw a work chart describing all of the people the person will work with. When you meet candidates, be sure that they have worked on comparable teams.)
  7. Understand management and organization objectives. “Please describe the key management and team objectives.” (Get the manager to describe team projects or organizational needs, like project management, planning, preparing and meeting milestones, or building and managing a team.)
  8. Understand long-term planning and strategy issues. “What are the long term, strategic, or technical aspects to this job? What kinds of projects would this involve?” (Ask if the strategic or technical objectives are more important than the tactical, management or team issues. This allows you to determine if they want more of a manager, planner, or technical person. Frequently, candidates are hired because they are good at strategy, but the job is really very tactical.)
  9. Benchmark against the best. “What do the best people in this job do differently than the average person? Thinking about your best person, what does he or she do differently?” (By benchmarking against the best, you’ll often discover some additional issues that might have been overlooked.)
  10. Find out the most important task. “What’s the deal breaker? Of all of these objectives, tasks and sub-objectives, what won’t you compromise on under any circumstances? Why is this so important?” (Probe this area at the end. This allows you to begin prioritizing the key objectives.)

Once completed, you’ll use this final performance profile to write ads, benchmark candidates against it, and make your presentations. Just going through the preparation process will start you on your way to becoming a real partner in the search process. When asked to prepare these performance profiles, managers sometimes push back with the typical “I don’t have enough time” rejoinder. Your counter should be, “I’m confused. When are you going to tell the person you’re hiring what they’re supposed to do?” (Being a wiseacre and cynic are common traits of top recruiters.) Clarifying expectations is a prerequisite for all good managers. If you want to be a great recruiter, start by helping your hiring managers become better managers. Instead of asking, “What are you looking for?” when taking your next assignment, just ask, “What does this person need to do to be successful?” You’ll be surprised at the answer. [Note: Don’t forget our upcoming free online semi-sourcing course on August 6, 2004. Asking to attend is not enough ó the course is too special for that. We only want top recruiters involved, so some pre-work is required to gain admittance. As of today, all invitees have been notified. However, there is still room. If you’d like to find more top performers, you can read the admittance instructions (see last week’s article) or submit a copy of your best attempt at a performance profile. The effort itself will be worthwhile. As you’ll discover at the semi-sourcing course, ads don’t have to be ads at all. In fact, they shouldn’t be if you want to attract more top people. They can be contests.]

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


2 Comments on “How to Become a Partner with Your Clients

  1. What a great article. Simple, to the point and right on the money! I think sometimes we tend to forget the basics and this just reinforces the fact that we (as recrutiers) need to always remember what our core values are regarding our clients.

    Thanks Lou for sharing.


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