Re-engineering the Recruiting Function

Recruiting has not come very far in the past 15 or so years. We’re still trying to find the right technology and, while applicant tracking systems have evolved tremendously, the way we use them hasn’t kept up.

Despite the technology, most recruiters handle about the same requisition load as they did then. We still call candidates in for face-to-face interviews, despite advances in online screening and assessment. We still don’t use our own databases of candidates very effectively.

The two most distinctive technologies that emerged in the 1990s were the corporate career site and job boards. Not many organizations even had a corporate website in the early 1990s, but by mid-decade they were growing rapidly. I am not sure when the first careers website emerged, but not until after the corporate sites. Job boards were not invented until the mid 1990s. Yet, neither of these innovations have done much to ease our work. The problems and issues recruiters face are the same as in 1990.

What can change this situation? Can recruiters work any smarter? Is it possible for the average recruiter to make any real improvement in how much they can accomplish or in how many positions they can fill? Why hasn’t technology made much impact?

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After all, if you could shave an hour or two off your current work schedule every day, you would get five to 10 hours a week to work on additional requisitions, spend more time communicating with candidates, learn something new, or just relax.

The manufacturing world lived through the drive for greater productivity for two decades. They grappled with how to be more efficient, raise productivity and also raise quality. Concepts such as Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, the theory of constraints, and process re-engineering have resulted in organizations producing more products at lower cost and with higher quality than could have been imagined in 1970.

Recruiting will have to use similar tools and improve its efficiency and productivity or organizations will find some other way to get the job done. The recent move to outsourcing is driven, in part, by the quest for faster, better recruiting.

There are a lot of ways to work more productively, and by forcing some different thinking, you can come up with a dozen ways to save time and money. Below I’ve presented my initial five steps for how to best maximize your time:

  1. Simplify everything you do. Don’t make your own work process complex. Cut out the steps that aren’t absolutely essential to your success. And I mean absolutely essential. Most of us either create or inherit steps that are, at best, only marginally needed. For example, I know recruiters who spend time conducting telephone screens of candidates even when the candidates’ qualifications and background meet all the requirements. They feel they are adding quality, but I am almost certain they are mostly wasting time. Why not just schedule an interview with the hiring manager and save time and money? Whenever I conduct a process assessment for a client, we find two or three hours each day where time is being wasted on something that is not essential and can be cut out entirely. Keep a log of everything you do each day for a week. At the end of the week, take an hour or so and carefully review it. Ask yourself what you could have not done, or perhaps done faster. If you do this for a few weeks, I guarantee you will find time you didn’t know you had.
  2. Focus and prioritize. Rather than spend time spreading yourself over several candidates and positions, focus on the one or two that are most important to your organization and set a personal goal on when to have them filled. Focus is powerful and helps you spend the time you need to source, screen, interview, and hire people much faster. When you are dealing with five or six candidates and hiring managers at the same time, productivity goes down. While parallel processing is sometimes more effective (in computers for sure), most humans work better with serial processing: doing one thing and then the next. Ideally, each recruiter would focus on not more than three types of positions and build the appropriate candidate talent communities to support those. This is what headhunting firms and staffing agencies have always done.
  3. Leverage technology. I know that you have heard me say this over and over, but technology is your friend. Without it, you can make some marginal improvements to productivity, but with it you can make big leaps. Rather than thinking about technology as automating the process, think about it as a set of tools to help you and candidates optimize your time. The recruiting website should be the hub for all your activities. Use it to deliver pre-screened, and even pre-assessed, candidates. Move administrative activities (scheduling, dealing with applications, background checks) to fully automated processes. Many ATS tools offer this kind of automation and, sadly, it is often not used. Anything that is transactional in nature is, by definition, of no value and should be eliminated, automated, or outsourced.
  4. Put the candidate in control. Use tools such as online profilers and online screening, Web-based videos, and electronic information about jobs and what they consist of to give the candidate control over the process. Let candidates schedule their own interviews if they meet certain criteria and let them complete online applications. Provide them information, tools, and tests, and then get out of their way. Contrary to what many recruiters believe, candidates enjoy being in control and will provide information you need without much complaint. Several organizations have reported getting “fan” mail from candidates who thoroughly enjoyed the sense of control and the freedom from being at a recruiter’s mercy.
  5. Stay in contact with a talent community. Spend time developing a community of people you have already screened to some degree and know something about. They are most likely qualified to work at your company but will need to go through some final interviews. They should be “in the electronic loop” as to what your recruiting plans look like and why you are still (or no longer) interested in them. This act of informing them via email or other Web-based means will build loyalty and make it easy to recruit them whenever you need to. The focus for the next decade will be on productivity, automation, and on letting the candidate control the hiring process to a greater level than they do today. Your job will be to facilitate that process, develop and populate talent communities, put in place appropriate gates and screens, and monitor candidate quality.

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


9 Comments on “Re-engineering the Recruiting Function

  1. Aligning Best Practices with your operation, management and training means being able to replicate your success exactly, as you add new desks. Resources like intranet FAQs and Wikis are such low-impact tools to implement, compared to the documenting processes of the past.

    Identifying and working emerging market segments, rather than working geographically or in broad focus, allows the recruiter to leverage contacts within in industry specialty as both candidates, hiring authorities and marketing resources. Effectively keywording and automating your ATS , including integrating a job board on your website, means almost no data entry, and phone calls that don’t get derailed by pecking on the keyboard.

    Using online social networking like blogging, RSS feeds, and SEO methodologies to speak directly to expert, professional peers are crucial in this hyperlocal marketing environment.

    We find that most of our clients don’t take advantage of technology to align, streamline and automate their practices because they are too busy doing what they do best: talking on the phone, filling jobs. Success means finding strategic partners to help them do just that.

  2. Pity the poor recruiter or ‘hunter whose only battle experience cooresponds with the advent of user-based technologies. Those old soldiers who remember the days when the only tools were a telephone and a notepad had to have guile and organizational savvy to identify, screen ansd select candidates. Nothing against Boolean logic, it is my friend as well but is that what will make you a great recruiter? Savvy, guile and professional insight leads to out-of-the-box hires who become difference makers. The development and improvement of systems tools has not resulted in better recruiting as measured by shortened cycle times, quality of hire, hiring executive satisfaction, faster ramp-up, etc. It HAS resulted in a deterioration of pure recruiting skills; moreover, ask yourself this ‘ In the eyes of top management am I a highly valued star or a transactional job board-peeling clerk?’ So I propose a ‘Step 6’ to Kevin Wheeler’s model: Make yourself a more skilled, effective and respected recruiter by improving your job scoping abilities, interviewing and assessment skills, your presentation of candidates to your hiring managers, your preparation of both candidates and interviewers, and your overall coordination of a very stressful experience for your candidates.

  3. The solution is that we need to re-engineer the thinking of the recruiters. In my experience many of them believe they have to always be in control. This has had its’ down side it alienates and infuriates candidates, it drags out the recruitment process which adds costs and it frustrates the company that is trying to fill a position. Why can’t we make positive changes to this industry?

  4. Just a couple quick thoughts here…

    First, when we use the term ‘recruiter’, it would help if everyone would identify whether they mean ‘corporate recruiter’ or ‘agency recruiter’. Using the term ‘recruiter’ interchangeably defeats any attempt to make a clear expression of thought. The two halves of recruiting are not interchangeable, at least not currently.

    Second…I know a real estate agent who started selling real estate, in Las Vegas, in 2002. She made a ton of money in her first three years. Now, she can barely pay her mortgage. We were talking the other day, and she said, ‘All the buyers have gone away…they just aren’t out there anymore’. She never learned to look for buyers, because the market was hot. For some recruiters, on both sides of the fence, the story is the same, ‘There just aren’t any candidates out there’. Sadly, those are the recruiters who learned to do the job via the internet. Candidates were a dime a dozen, and resumes were floated around the internet like flotsam on the seas. Today, and probably for the next two decades, recruiters, both corporate and agency, will have to be both business and process savvy. Agency recruiters who rely on the internet to find candidates, and corporate recruiters who draw the hiring process out over weeks in an effort to control that process, will both fail.

  5. I am assessing ATS. I have been using Winsearch and am looking for something less detailed and more inline with basic recruiting process, integrates with the search process beyond my own database and includes a social networking component..does anyone have suggestions?

  6. I am a small recruiting firm, and am using Taleo, the cost if low, the customizing is easy to do, they have a toolbar that allows you to drag and drop and add the search number so you can work on numerous jobs at once, then with 2 clicks send all of them an e-mail. I couldn’t be without it, it makes me so efficient and able to double my work load! Contact you won’t regret it!

    Marni Sampair
    The Constant Search

  7. Madame: You deliver a very interesting insight. If I may, as a candidate, further paint upon your picture of the recruiters that may fail:
    Personally I always welcome an interview with a recruiter that was previously employed in the industry or field for which he or she is now recruiting for. I never enjoy interviewing with a recruiter young enough to be my child and obviously not old enough or experienced enough to know the industry for which they now recruit.

    Bernard Weston

  8. Bernard,

    Perhaps the recruiter you will be speaking with does not like to interview people old enough to be their father, and in the industry so long that they have lost interest in recent advances.

    Prejudiced candidates fail as often as prejudiced recruiters. There is no place for either in the work force. Apparently, you do not understand the role of today’s best recruiters. The most successful recruiters, whether agency or corporate, often do not have work experience in the industry. What makes them successful is their combination of sales ability, and understanding of people. Becoming a recruiter is not something one does when they can no longer do their ‘real job’. It is a profession often pursued, and excelled at, by stock brokers, insurance and real estate salespeople and brokers, and VP and C-level executives from all industries.

    Your take on recruiters shows an obvious prejudice and lack of knowledge.

    By the way, I am 57, have owned my own office for 14 years, and left a successful retail career to own/manage a recruiting firm specializing in healthcare and logistics.

  9. Does anyone want to step up to the plate here? Do we have any recruiters who used to be drivers?

    I’m afraid you will seriously limit your job search if you care about a recruiters age. Finding someone who will represent you, follow up and act as your advocate is much more important than how long they have been alive. And finding people who are directly experienced as drivers will, I would imagine, also be a challenge!

    good luck to you!

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