Recruitment Fads and Magic Bullets Do Not Replace Recruiting Basics

Over the past 20 years, scores of management fads – from situational leadership to business process reengineering to Six Sigma quality – have come and gone. Many of them were useful and brought improvements to the organizations that implemented them. But, as Jim Collins in Good to Great and many others researchers have found, none of them replaced the need for thoughtful, process-oriented, outcome-based leadership. These management fads actually underlined the fact that there are no magic bullets or one-way approaches to success.

Recruiting is full of fads as well. Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of behavioral interviewing, Internet search, applicant tracking systems, online screening and assessment, and most recently, employee referral. Each of these has been billed as the answer to some problem: Behavioral interviewing would improve candidate quality, Internet search would alleviate the need for cold-calling, applicant tracking systems would make paper go away and reduce administrative chores, online screening and assessment would ensure that only the very best candidates made it to the recruiter’s attention, and employee referral would guarantee high-quality candidates in abundance. Of course, all of them have in one way or another failed to live up to their promises. All of them have merit. All of them are useful tools, but none is a panacea or a magic bullet. Just as in management fads, there is no replacement for solid strategy, process, and measurement. Working with many clients, we have learned that the most important thing you can do is to invest more time and energy on understanding, defining, and refining your recruiting process than on implementing a new fad or piece of technology.

Basically, recruiting can be broken down into three large steps: the first is to attract and find candidates, the second is to assess them and convince them to work for your organization, and the third one is to track how well they do, and use that information to modify how you recruit. It is a dynamic and ever-changing process, but these three steps have been basic to success since the first person was recruited.

Attracting and Finding Good Candidates

While this sounds very simple – for many recruiters it means posting jobs on a job board, building a recruiting website, and perhaps implementing a referral program – it is actually the most complex and critical step of all. To develop an employment brand and an effective website requires a deep knowledge of the organization and its values and culture. To attract “good” people, one has to define what skills and competencies make up a “good” person for the organization and for the particular job that person will do. This means testing a variety of sources and developing multiple candidate channels. It also means putting in place ways to effectively communicate with candidates and experimenting with messages that will attract them. The hundreds of ineffective recruiting websites I see and the number of discussions about sourcing that flood recruiting chat rooms and blogs indicate to me that not much thought goes into developing candidate channels or into specifically and precisely defining the skills and competencies a candidate needs to have. Successful organizations are rarely short of critical talent and rarely make a fuss publicly about not being able to find good talent. I don’t know of a single company with a successful recruiting process that relies on any one channel or marketing tool. Successful firms have done their homework and use a wide array of tools and channels to source candidates. I know of one large and well-known organization that has developed a 25-year talent pipeline. The company starts by working with elementary school students to interest them in the areas of work the company has a need for. In high school, this translates into part-time jobs, information on the company’s website, school visits, and sponsorships of targeted events. In college, the talent pipeline moves to internships and to building relationships with professors. In the world of experienced recruiting, the company uses cold calling, search firms, job posting, referrals, and its website. No one tool is relied upon alone. But for any organization, it takes a carefully thought-out and carefully implemented talent strategy to ensure success.

Assessing Them and Convincing Them to Work For You

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Assessment is not about interviews and tests. It is not about any single method. Behavioral interviewing will not ensure better candidates if you are not clear on what skills and competencies you are seeking. Testing only works when you have precise elements to test for. What is important is to know what specific competencies and skills will most likely make a person successful. And successful means that the person produces the services or products your organization needs in the time frame and with the quality that has been defined. Once this has been established, then an appropriate array of assessment tools can be used. If a person is expected to have a certain level of skill, tests may be the best way to measure that. On the other hand, if the person needs to have complex interaction skills, then interviews or assessment centers many help determine the candidate’s competency level. Good assessment is all about using the right tools for the right purposes. I frequently see inappropriate tools being used, and then I hear from recruiters that assessment does not work. We would not use a hammer to cut wood, yet I have seen the equivalent happen in testing because recruiters have not taken the time to really understand what they are doing and what they need to assess.

Tracking How New Hires Perform

The only way you can tell if your attraction and assessment processes are working is to have a baseline of expected performance in as many areas as you can, and measure how your new hires perform. This requires that you have established the needed competencies and levels of performance before you initiate a recruiting activity and that you can track new hires after they are on board. When you can do this, you will be able to change your assessment or attraction strategies so that you are getting better and better candidates and new hires. By carefully monitoring and tweaking various aspects of the process, you will know which steps are the real levers of productivity and which are not. Good recruiting, like almost everything in life, is the result of hard work. By working hard to know exactly what kinds of people you need and by putting in place an array of tools to help you attract and assess these people, you will always have a solid pipeline of candidates and an effective recruiting function. Leave the fads and the magic bullets to your competition.

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


8 Comments on “Recruitment Fads and Magic Bullets Do Not Replace Recruiting Basics

  1. Well put Kevin..
    Somewhere in the past 5 years recruiting has become rocket science

    One must know a form of calculus or algebra to perform a Boolean search on the websites. It is hard to keep up with all the new acronyms and technology words that seem to be implemented.

    Looking back to posts 6 years ago on ERE, one can see the difference in the focus of recruiting. What was once a place that recruiters would exchange simple but effective recruiting and networking ideas, now there is a focus on products and newfangled ideas that promise to give the NEW miracle cure.

    Instead of remembering the simple art of recruiting and remembering the importance and sensitive nature of our job ? now there is more of a push on Metrics, Numbers, ATS?s, New technology and finding new innovative ways to make our job harder by taking away the focus of the simple art of recruiting and networking. Picking up the phone and dialing.

    Gee, it makes me wonder how in heck did Recruiters survive prior to the Internet.. And be successful.

    There are some great articles on ERE, but sometimes I wonder, what the heck are some people advertising? What are they selling?

    The biggest one that gets to me is the drive in promoting a new fear of a shortage of labor to drive home a ?need? to get your staffing in place for the Dreaded Doom that may loom over us ? Yeah, that Massive ?Shortage of Labor? myth. Yeah, even the Department of Labor is NOT agreeing with that Debate – which will lead you to the DOL article –

    What Shortage of Labor? Please ? people, unemployment is not at the lowest ever.. 3.0% was the lowest.. and by the ways those 4.7 numbers are skewered, as they don?t include America?s Long-term unemployed. The individuals who are no longer picking up an unemployment check.
    Demographics, it usually is the higher paid executive ? rule of thumb for every 10k a person wants to earn is a mth out of work.
    So what are the actual numbers? Cut and pasted – long-term unemployment remains high despite the low overall jobless rate. Over the past year, the jobless rate has been between 4.7% and 5.1%. Historically, when unemployment has been in that range, the share of persons stuck in long-term unemployment (i.e., at least 26 weeks) was 11.3%. In April, that share is 18.6%.

    So I ask again, what are some of these industry leaders selling? What are their motives to promote this mass hysteria?

    Really ? recruiting is simple, pick up the phone ? dial 7 numbers, dial 10, but dial, get someone on the phone and network, network, network. There is the simple art of recruiting in a nutshell. It works, has been for near a century now.

  2. I’ll keep it short and sweet. Wheeler proves again that it has, is, and always will be mastering the fundamentals, not fads, that will ensure the success of your recruiting efforts.

    Nice article.

  3. Karen,
    I must respond to your comment ‘The biggest one that gets to me is the drive in promoting a new fear of a shortage of labor to drive home a ‘need’ to get your staffing in place for the Dreaded Doom that may loom over us ? ‘

    The issue is that there are many industries that do have a labor shortage right now, and it continues to get worse. Health Care, Pharmaceutical, Technical, Scientific recruiters are finding it more difficult to find qualified individuals to fill postiions, and it will continue to get worse as the baby-boomers retire, and more of our college graduates go overseas into those technical and scientific jobs.

    The companies that ‘get this’ will be way ahead of the game when it comes to filling positions even five years from now. Wait and see 🙂

  4. Denise,
    I do agree that there will be some industries that may face a labor shortage. That is common place – A lot of this will also have to do with new regulations IE HIPPA will have an effect on Nursing, SOX on Accounting..

    BUT – I stress again, that is normal – the industries do rebound from this, they find ways to cut fat, and work around the situation. One does not find companies will shut down due to these problems

    This does not Mean that ALL industries will face an impending Labor Shortage, that there will be a WAR for Talent, and that we need to be prepped for the Crisis

    Actually the opposite.. Today alone in the News we saw that the Stock market is hurting, Recent Market Declines are on the Rise, Salaries are being raised which will raise interest rates (which will hurt the economy), Housing Market is falling, there are high rents which is driving a rise in the Core CPI, the Dollar fell to a new low and the yield curve steepened (led by long rates)

    Oh did I mention that offshoring went up 425% Last year alone.

    Then China just stopped their IPO ban – why does that affect us – well our last recession was due to our foreing competitors.. By the way China has been helpful in keeping our Dollar strong.
    And the Foreign Market is unloading our bonds in record numbers which helps to weaken our dollar.

    AARP’s recent study said 85% + baby boomers are planning to postpone retirement.

    Even respected institutional service Bridgewater Daily Observations’ has been arguing recently argument that a dollar/ U.S. debt crisis is looming

    We cannot dispute the weak dollar or the 9 trillion dollar debt, and the raising gas prices. We cannot dispute that interest rates are rising.

    Okay, why do I bring this up? Well it seems that what some are predicting is completely debatable.. Which then brings me to a Huge question, are companies prepared for the possible outcome of Not having a labor shortage but the opposite?

    Are we prepared for a more senior workforce?
    To see more offshoring
    Provide more education for our current employees and workforce?
    What about possibly having to trim fat should the economy fall?
    If your company has to trim fat How many other companies will that affect?

    We are in a comfortable position, but are we prepared for the Big possiblity that the Pending Labor Shortage is not Really Pending?

    What is your backup plan? or is it business as usual?

  5. Karen,
    I would love to reply to your response point by point, but I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to a debate right now.

    We will have to agree to disagree on this issue. Every business and industry has to be able to flex and adapt to the current business climate, no matter what that may be. Any company that runs ‘business as usual’ will not be around long. The hard fact is that we are a global economy, and we need to learn to compete in a global economy. That means that yes, jobs will continue to go overseas. Other jobs will not. There will always be people that are not willing to adapt to these changes and will not find employment. The people that are willing to re-train and re-educate themselves (regardless of how long they have been in the workforce AND their age – it is NEVER too late!!) will be the ones that will find work.

    That is the way of the world. The people and business that are able to adapt and change in this global environment will succeed. The people and companies that don’t – won’t.

    (Climbing down from the soapbox and going back to the phone now – see ya)

  6. Denise,
    you and I agree much more than you think.. Shortage of manpower – nah, I don’t think so, but shortage of education and skill, maybe I think we may see that

    Yes, also agree that the companies who are sitting by just relying on One set of information and not looking at the Economic Situations and having strong contingency back up plans will face hardship.

    Back to the questions I have asked earlier –

    I really wonder how many companies are preparing their business for a more senior friendly environment? It is important to consider this as Seniors are planning to delay retiring. Baby Boomers are a new workforce that many are not prepared for.

    Will you make your company friendly enough to make sure your baby boomer will want to stay and not go to your competitor?

    Have you developed a training and mentoring program with your baby boomers and generation X to ehance skills?

    Are you providing opportunities to develop skills to your baby boomers as well to accomodate your shortages?

    What about offering education of Your current workforce, are you willing to provide this? Why not, what a valuable resource, having your valuable resource – your current employees feeling loyal and grateful for a valuable resource like education.. – Did you know that over 75% of employees would like the opt to go back to college, especially individuals in their 30’s and 40’s but financial crunches make it difficult?

    Are you prepared and set up to recruit more foreigners?

    Are you prepared to compete with your foreign competitors?

  7. Denise, I understand your words about the future labor shortage as Baby Boomers retire and present day college grads opt for overseas situations in order to better survive our New Millennium Depression recovery.

    Perhaps part of the answer is for companies to get involved in their own ‘succession planning’ by becoming partners with the middle and high schools in their areas (for those located in civic centers, then the schools nearest them). Now would be an excellent time to develop intern programs for those youth so that they begin to comprehend the work ethic, the importance of attention to detail, how to conduct themselves, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These internships could also get youth involved in planning and budgeting so that they appreciate costs, parameters, and the importance of running within a budget.

    Internships are merely one idea in the solution and remedy equation. There are many others that I’m certain the creative minds in this and other forums can generate. There is a way to remedy tomorrow’s labor shortage by working on it today. But the critical key is to stop talking about the problem and actually planning and implementing strategies that work toward the solution.


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