Recruiting and Leadership

Lou Adler recently wrote an excellent article, and I sensed a bit of frustration in his tone. He even mentioned going off to Starbucks to write that novel he’s been thinking about. Believe me, I can relate. The tone of Lou’s article also left an impression in this writer’s mind that he is not always pleased with leaders for the less-than-inspired job they do in supporting recruiting. Actually, he was too kind. (Please see Take Me to Your Leader for some insight.)

Speaking frankly, the leadership of major organizations within the United States, for the most part, stinks. It is riddled with abuse of power, bureaucracy, endless process, politics, and outright theft by those wearing Baroni suits and talking through porcelain veneers &151; the same material with which toilets are made; think about it. For further reference, I call your attention to MSN/Money’s The Worst CEOs for some fascinating reading. Forget about why these people were CEOs; the question is how they ever got there in the first place. Think of the endless number of CEOs who breathed a sigh of relief because their kissers did not make it into print. How does this relate to recruiting, you ask? In just about every way possible. Recruiters build the businesses that leaders are supposed to run. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t understand the importance nor the challenges of what recruiters need to do to build those businesses, let alone what the daily battle to hire top talent is really all about.

So what are we, as recruiters, supposed to do in the face of uninspired leadership in order to be successful? The choice of answers is simple; go with the flow (wrong choice) or build your own little recruiting function right inside corporate America, and set the tone for real excellence and genuine leadership. Should you decide to accept this level of commitment and responsibility, you must understand that recruiting has evolved rapidly and will continue to do so. According to the AIRS Recruiting Competency Model, “Recruiting is moving from a practice to a profession…Recruiters are now seen as having an additive impact on the organization, advancing far beyond their own desktops.” I believe this is the case, and as a result, more is expected of recruiters than ever before.

Today’s recruiters must be successful on many different levels and in many different venues. We must be a coach, a mentor, a leader, and a driver to a host of different factions that are often at odds with each other. This requires a level of finesse, intelligence, sensitivity, relationship building skills, and sales ability that is unprecedented in the history of our profession. For those who are recruiting leaders or who wish to become such, I suggest considering the following ideas as you build your teams as well as your futures:

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  1. Number of recruiters. Do whatever is necessary to have the right number of recruiters to support recruiting activities and service your internal customers. The exact number depends upon such variables as type of positions to be filled, experience level of current recruiters, organizational culture, and a host of other factors. I cannot tell you an exact number, but I suggest that you do not try to support a 2,500-person company with two recruiters; it probably will not work. (There’s an article about how recruiter workload affects productivity in the May Journal.)
  2. Type of recruiters. There are many articles in the ERE archives on how to hire recruiters. Please review them. Opinions of the writers such as Homula, Sullivan, and yours truly do not always agree, but the bottom line is simple: If you hire recruiters who only wait for candidates to apply, you will never have a great recruiting team. Hire recruiters who can find those candidates who do not wish to be found, and do what it takes to get them in the door for interviews.
  3. Sourcing methodologies. Once again, different ideas abound, but I am comfortable telling you that the more diverse and aggressive the methodologies, the more successful you will be. When I first started in the recruiting business, I made a placement off of a wrong number I dialed. Was this bad sourcing methodology? It’s hard to say, but the candidate and the client seemed pleased. Good sourcing methodologies are usually found where creativity meets aggressive intent.
  4. Employee referral programs. I am not one to run from a problem, but if your company has no such program, I suggest you take the next train out of Dodge. John Sullivan’s research tells us that aggressive and visible referral programs will be one of the prime generators of great candidates and organizational growth. You must have an employee referral program if you are to build a great company.
  5. Candidate interviewing experience. The candidate interviewing experience must be a great one. Hammer this point home to your recruiters first, as well as to your hiring managers. If your culture does not value this experience, it does not value people. Sensitize those who are candidate-facing to the importance of creating a great candidate-interviewing experience; there is no time to go back and be nice the second time around.
  6. Branding. I define branding as everything a person can expect that is based upon everything you do to create that expectation. (Pretty good, huh?) From better employment websites to blogs to community outreach to employee success stories, there are endless things you can do to brand the organization as a good place in which to work. Looking for a place to start? Consider doing three or four things well. Then, identify and implement three or four more, because becoming a good brand is the right thing to do. (Ask Nike.)
  7. Technology. Technology is like salad dressing. You want enough to hold the salad together but not so much that it becomes the main ingredient. Technology is a wonderful thing, but be advised that it is there to support great recruiting, not be a substitute for it. As an example, do you have an applicant tracking system? If not, this is a good place to start. They are not cheap, but if you focus on the value as opposed to the cost, you will see how a great technology married to a great recruiting function can really make great things happen.
  8. Training. Not much to say here. If you do not send your recruiters to training sessions and seminars so that they can keep up with the changing landscape of their business, the best they will ever be is the day you hired them. This is not good. Consider the ER Expo in the fall as a good place to start. And, I can tell you from personal experience that every recruiter should be AIRS-certified.
  9. Metrics. It is hard to improve upon something if you do not measure it. It is also hard to justify expenditures if you can’t measure the benefit derived. On the other hand, you can measure everything you do, which will make you and everyone else slowly go insane. I suggest you measure things that fall into the following three areas and call it a day: cost, contracted time to fill, and quality. I will discuss more on this in another article.
  10. Compensation. Randall Birkwood of Birkwood Associates says it best in his article “Recruiter Incentives: It’s Time for a Change,” but I will make a quick comment. Compensation drives behavior, so if you want your recruiters to recruit, develop some type of incentive compensation program, because if you don’t, why should they go the extra mile to hire great employees? Besides, recruiters, just like other sales folk, should be paid on the results they achieve.

The previous 10 concepts are not the end-all to what recruiting leaders should be thinking about, but they are a good start. If you wish to groom, lead, and make a recruiting team flourish as we evolve from practice to profession, this is as good a time as any to lead the charge and do great things. Remember that history is not just being read; it is being written as well, so why not go out and make some history? Just try not to let the leaders get in your way.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


2 Comments on “Recruiting and Leadership

  1. Good thoughts overall. A few additional ideas:

    1) Branding:
    When it comes to consumer branding, I like to tell clients: ‘A brand is a set of expectations that a customer/potential customer has about a product or service before he or she calls on the phone or walks into the building.’

    In the case of employment branding, it’s what job seekers think about the company or expect from it.

    An employment brand is shaped by every company touch-point, as well as employment ads, blogs and most importantly, existing and past employees.

    Thus, to build a brand, companies must understand what value they offer employees. Then, they must articulate that messaging in every medium possible. It?s critical, though, that employees can substantiate the brand promise.

    2) Metrics:
    Bring them on!!! We are particularly interested in recommendations for calculating Cost of Low Productivity, Cost of Vacancy, Attrition Costs, etc.

    Thanks Howard.

  2. Loved the article, Howard. Some really good stuff in it. I particularly gravitated to points 5 and 6, candidate interviewing experience and branding, respectively, since these are two areas our business intelligence tool illuminates for a company. I couldn’t agree more with your point that ‘the candidate interviewing experience must be a great one’ and not valuing the interview experience means the company culture does not value people. As coincidence would have it, I visited with a company here in Dallas to talk about our services today and walked into the Reception area to ask for my party. There, in front of the receptionist, was a placard that read ‘Manager of First Impressions.’ I was greeted in a friendly and professional manner by the person behind that placard–all this the start of some good branding. I immediately thought, this is going to be a good call–these people are probably going to really understand our offering. Sure enough. And in reality, all of us are managers of first impressions and rarely–if ever–get the chance to replace that first impression with a better one. Points well taken. Thanks again.

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