HR and Staffing: Separated at Birth

Several years ago, an old friend of mine who is a leader in the New England recruiting marketplace asked me to attend an evening seminar he was organizing at a local college that offered an MBA/HR degree program. The intent was to bring in leaders from all areas of HR/staffing to speak formally in a general session and informally at a networking session with to encourage them to join the program. The goal? Recruit intelligent and energetic young minds to choose HR/Staffing as a career option. At this moment, based on the last two years, I feel like a “Judas Goat.” The emcee was a vice president of human resources for a Boston-based company, with about 15 years of HR experience. She had introduced other speakers with compensation, benefits, OD, legal, and generalist experience. She then introduced the next speaker, a VP of employment, with something like this: “Now we will hear from the recruiting side of human resources. Recruiting is one of the easier ways to get a start in human resources, as the professional skill requirements are not that difficult to master. I know several very good HR professionals who were once recruiters.” The guest speaker just stared across the stage at the master of ceremonies. How do you possibly take the podium after an introduction like this one? The audience was now primed to hear a “knuckle dragging mono-syllabic Neanderthal” speak on a topic of limited value in the world of human resources, recruiting. The real shame of it all was that the only people who appeared aware of the slight or seemed offended by this introduction were the professional recruiters in the audience. All the “HR types” were sitting there nodding their heads like the little puppets on the back windows of cars. The emcee was standing there, in her own self-created time void, with that same foolish smile you see on a small child who has blurted out an obscenity in a room full of grown-ups, with no idea of the offensiveness of the comment. The speaker did take the podium and he started by saying, “Somehow, having chosen recruiting as my career, I have made an impact at every company I have worked for and have somehow managed to achieve an executive-level position. Me do gooder than many!” The audience responded with appreciative laughter, the spell was broken, and the evening continued. I made a point to avoid the emcee during the networking session, as I would not want to inflict her higher intellect with my poor presence. The irony is, of course, the opinion expressed by the emcee was more the “rule” and less the “exception” of opinions I have heard stated throughout my career. Recruiting has always been perceived as the cousins’ table at the HR wedding. We never get to sit at the head table, but we still have to buy the bride and groom a blender. When we consider the need for staffing to become a true strategic partner in the business environments in which we exist, has the time come for us to start by becoming orphans? Is there is need for human resources and staffing to be combined in the first place? Other than for the astoundingly most-quoted reason, “Because that’s the way it has always been.” I have never really heard a compelling reason that they should. So the next logical step in the creation of your strategic business partnership with you business peers is to take recruiting to the next logical step: independence from human resources. Here are a few reasons why staffing should not be part of HR:

  • Recruiting the recruiter. HR management usually controls the hiring decision for recruiter candidates. What criteria do they use? Do they hire “recruiters,” or people more like them? Can you effectively hire what you do not truly do? Do they consider a candidate who reminds them of a “typical recruiter” a good thing? Or was their knowledge of HR law a “nice plus” to offset their total lack of recruiting experience?
  • Resource allocation. If you mistakenly assume that “anybody can do recruiting” and that other areas of human resources are more complex and difficult, during times of reduction or expansion, will you not have a tendency to keep recruiting leaner than the other areas of human resources that you understand better?
  • You never do what you do not like to do. Most HR professionals and generalists I know do not really enjoy recruiting. They will do it, grudgingly, if they have no other choice. But don’t expect to see a spring in their step on the way to a job fair or an open house. Are you ever really true to something you dislike?
  • Non-advocate advocates. If the average HR manager has limited or marginal respect for the recruiting function, how can they represent the issues and accomplishments recruiting faces or achieves to the strategic business partner (a.k.a., vendor) fairly and accurately?
  • Who builds better relationships? The average recruiter tends to have a closer relationship with the strategic business partner than the average HR person.

But the most important reason:

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  • Those who do a function 24/7 will always do it better than those who dabble at it.

Now, I realize that the above has probably ruffled the hair of many HR professionals and generalists. But how do you feel when a recruiter spouts off about their feelings that compensation and benefits administration is an overstated skill set and can be as easily learned through osmosis? That HR law is just reading books, and OD can be done in your spare time? Nobody likes to have their own profession preached to them by a “hobbyist” or have it represented by well-meaning amateurs. Another common consideration for the time to split the HR and staffing function relates back to how often HR feels slighted when they are denied access to the boardroom due to the decision to have HR report to finance, operations (ugh), or merely belong to the “executive staff” (that select group that gets to sit alongside, but not at, the board’s table, consisting mostly of administrative assistants and the representative from building services). That is how staffing feels when we are represented by proxy at the table by HR. Staffing and Human Resources also attract different skills and personalities:

  • Recruiters tend to be at least slightly extraverted.
  • HR tends to be less so.
  • Recruiters tend to resist maintenance issues.
  • HR tends to spend a lot of time on maintenance and report generation.
  • Recruiters dislike sitting in the office.
  • HR work tends to be almost exclusively in the office.
  • Recruiters tend to like first contact challenges.
  • HR tends to dislike the “cold calling” of recruiting.
  • Recruiters tend to seek people from other than their own profession as contacts and networking.
  • HR tends to network with HR for professional exchange.
  • Recruiters tend to seek to speak first.
  • HR tends to wait to be asked.
  • Recruiters tend to be more external in their views of the company than internal.
  • HR tends to view the company as the center, with all others in orbit around that center.
  • Recruiters tend to be thought of as sales professionals rather than HR professionals, and they tend prefer it that way.
  • HR tends to thinks of itself as HR.
  • Recruiters rarely consider “the norm” proof of anything.
  • HR law tends to be based on “the norm.”
  • Recruiters love recruiting. That is what they want to do.
  • HR tends to seek recruiting work somewhere after janitorial duties.

Recruiting and HR remind me of the old story of the fisherman, and his friend who hated fishing but loved to eat them. “I’ll catch ’em, you clean ’em,” was the basis of their very successful relationship. Business has successfully performed this operation in the past, where business units of long-standing association were recognized as suffering more from that relationship than gaining benefit. In all instances, the separated business units not only survived, but flourished, due to the fact that with their cleaner and better defined roles, each was able to build their individual business cases better than when they tried to combine them. In the next installment: What do sales/marketing and manufacturing/quality assurance know that we should learn? Have a great day recruiting, or human resourcing!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


4 Comments on “HR and Staffing: Separated at Birth

  1. Congrat’s, Ken, on addressing the issue of the open wound between Recruiting and HR. You’ve taken a bold position, especially for a guy who’s in so many professional “HR” organizations!

    I am proud of the fact that I made the choice to have Recruiting be my career. As most of my career in Recruiting has been in roles under the corporate HR umbrella, I will agree with your points and applaud you for being as polite in your comments about HR as possible. I’m not sure I could have written that article and have been that diplomatic.

    Despite the issues with HR, one area that those of us in Recruiting all need to do better at is communicating, within the corporate environment, the value of our services. One reason the other HR groups tend to get the political upper-hand is because they routinely communicate in terms of dollars (i.e. cost of benefits, compensation administration, etc…) while we in Recruiting tend to focus on the less tangible aspects of our performance.

    If Recruiting ever wants it’s due in corporate America, we have to start talking to our clients in commercial terms that they understand.

    Noting some of Ken’s stated differences in personalities and styles between Recruiting and HR, if one person from each of those functions had to give a Board-level presentation of the exact same material, who do you think should be able to give the more effective presentation?

    All of us in Recruiting need to stand up and start taking responsibility for moving our own profession to the next level!

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  2. I agree that this article wonderfully addresses the distinction between HR and Recruiting. The topic can also be bridged to other articles that discuss staffing as a supply chain function. I look at the staffing process to be more comparable to processes within the supply chain sector of a company than to Human Resources. Great article.

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  3. In my experience Staffing has always striven to be a Strategic Business Partner but there are some considerable organisational issues to address before it is liekly to do so.

    Where organisations have recognised that “recruitment expertise” is a speicalist skill not often found in the individuals attracted to a mainstream HR role they have largely failed to develop appropriate medium to long term career paths for those individuals they recruit with am pure recruitment interest.

    During good times, HR Departments and structures dictate that the true Recruitment Professional will reside in the organisation as part of the HR team – where they will be surrounded by colleagues whose primary instinct isnt a sales/account management target driven mentality but a controlling cautious adminisatrative one.

    During bad times the recruitment specialist will be seen as the most likely candidate for redundancy since employees identified as having a more geeneralist or typical HR background seem easier to transfer into non-recruitment related tasks when the job orders dry up.

    When demand for recruitment services is strong experienced Recruitment professionals are probabbly better off selling their services to corporates at a premium rather than working internally on lower salaries.

    Until HR departments are prepared to recognise that recruitment is not a backwater of HR to spend a few years before moving onto “real HR” and accept the scale of the gap between the skills of a true recruitment professional and someone just visiting the specialism before moving elsewhere, their are doomed to fail in becoming a strategic business partner.

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