Shift Strategies, Not Tactics, to Make More Placements

Most hiring managers are disappointed with the candidates presented by their recruiters, whether they’re internal or external corporate recruiters.

Right or wrong, here are the typically cited reasons:

Comments from Hiring Managers About Their Internal Corporate Recruiters

  • They don’t have enough time; they’re working on too many requisitions.
  • They don’t spend time to know the job.
  • They don’t bring passive candidates; they just run ads.
  • They don’t screen the resumes that well; they just dump them on my desk.
  • They’re not good at dealing with executive-level talent.
  • They’re not too good at negotiating and closing anything but standard offers.

Comments from Hiring Managers About External Non-Retained Recruiters

  • I don’t even know who they are.
  • They play a numbers game: it’s hit or miss.
  • Every now and then they get lucky and find a good candidate.
  • They don’t know the job; they just screen on skills.

While there’s much truth in these comments, they’re certainly not universal, and hiring managers deserve much of the blame here. However, the point of this article is not to point fingers, but to offer some solutions.

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Over the past few years, I’ve written well over 200 articles for ERE. Most of these provide tactical advice on how to improve recruiter productivity, and while useful, they do not address the root-cause problems. To solve these, strategic changes are required. From what I’ve seen, tactical changes can improve your productivity by 15% to 20%, and while this is not insignificant, strategic changes can increase your productivity by 50% to 100%. Making strategic changes is how you make more placements. Tactical changes allow you to take a longer lunch, or leave early every now and then.

Six Strategic Changes You Must Implement to Make More Placements

  1. Become a partner with your clients. Partners in any cross-functional team are viewed as subject matter experts. They influence the overall results by altering expectations, providing insight, and changing the rules. Unfortunately, too many recruiters are treated as vendors in the typical search assignment process. They spend little time with their clients, and their influence is limited to suggesting which candidates should be seen. Most find it difficult to overcome their manager’s focus on qualifications or superficial selection criteria. Rarely do they have a full vote in who ultimately gets the offer. Recruiters who are partners influence the selection criteria, get leads from their clients, teach their clients how to interview, and assess candidates. They lead the debriefing session, and they often sway the hiring team’s decision on whom to hire. Recruiters who are partners are usually called in before the req is open, to jointly determine real job needs. In a partnership role, recruiters can get more candidates to be interviewed who don’t meet the exact needs. Rather than eliminating a good candidate for bad reasons, recruiters who are partners can make a convincing case of why the person was presented and why he or she should be hired. Being a partner can reduce the number of sendouts per hire by 30% or more. This is how you make more placements.
  2. Become a subject-matter expert. In a world where the gap between candidate supply and demand is widening and where workforce mobility is increasing, recruiters have a built-in opportunity to make a bigger impact. But to get the influence needed to make more placements, they must get better at their craft. A key part of this is truly understanding the marketplace. This means knowing who’s hiring and who’s not. It means being networked into the right associations, knowing the key leaders, and being on top of the latest business and compensation trends. At the micro level, this means knowing the job and what it takes to succeed at your company. This way you can screen on performance, not qualifications. As a subject-matter expert, recruiters are able to better position their jobs as career opportunities, discussing short-term challenges and long-term impact. This is how you attract and close more top performers. Recruiters who are subject-matter experts have more influence with their clients and their candidates. Recruiting the best people is not a numbers game if you’re a subject-matter expect.
  3. Become a technology fanatic. Corporate recruiters must be technology pros. There is absolutely no way a corporate recruiter can handle 15 reqs or more at any one time without taking full advantage of technology. The technology is getting better, but from what I can tell, most corporate recruiting departments have not taken the necessary adoption measures to obtain its full benefits. Most current applicant tracking systems are comparable in functionality and performance and while not perfect, they do work well enough to meet the needs of most corporate recruiters. However, recruiters must dig in and learn every feature and function. If you can’t teach someone else how to use your company’s ATS, you’re not strong enough here. The core of every ATS is its search engine. You must be so good at this that you can comfortably search through any resume database and extract the best possible candidates without having to rely just on skills and keywords. Doing this well will save you two to three hours per day! There is now technology available that allows you to figure out what boards to use, how to get your listing to the top of the list, how to get 75% of your candidates to apply to your offerings, and some even allow you to automate the interviewing schedule process. Not only will you become more productive and make more placements, but by being a technology maven you’ll be able to help design the next generation of technology.
  4. Become a narrowcasting networking fanatic. External recruiters can dramatically improve their candidate quality by becoming well known in narrow job niches. This is a little harder for corporate recruiters, but the strategy makes sense for both. The goal here is be known by your candidates as someone who has access to the best jobs. This way, they’ll volunteer to give you referrals without you asking for them. This means you have arrived. You can get there by understanding real job needs, knowing the companies that are pushing the envelope in your targeted field, and then working hard getting to know every great person around. Then, when you get the hot assignment all you have to do is nurture your network.
  5. Become a better interviewer than your clients. Most managers aren’t very good at assessing candidate competency. There are a few universal mistakes made, including overvaluing first impressions, narrowly concentrating on technical skills, and trusting intuition based on just one or two traits. We’ve all had good candidates lose out as a result of these all-too-common errors. The counter-measure for this is to become a better interviewer than your clients. This means you can conduct a deep job-matching type of interview, assessing a candidate’s past performance against real job needs. (Here are a few interviewing articles on this topic.) This provides the ammunition you need to defend your candidates when someone on the hiring team makes an off-the-wall comment like, “The person wouldn’t fit,” “The person’s not aggressive enough,” or “The person’s not strong technically.” Better: lead a debriefing session using a formal assessment system. Even better: lead a panel interview. Then you’ll be able to make sure that your candidates receive a professional assessment.
  6. Switch the basis of the hiring decision. You’ll never be able to find enough top candidates if you allow perfection to be defined as the list of skills and qualifications on the job description. Instead, go through each item on the job description with the hiring manager, figuring out what the person needs to do to demonstrate superior competency with each skill listed. For example, rather than trying to find someone with “8+ years of experience in C++, C#, COM/ATL, STL, XML, Visual Studio, and Clearcase,” it’s much better to say, “Use your C++ and latest design skills to lead the development of the new interface module.” On a similar basis, “good team skills” aren’t based on an arbitrary gut feeling, but on how well the person “leads the development of the product specs with the hardware group and the marketing product manager.” Aside from being more meaningful, performance objectives are far easier to measure in an interview. There are some great candidates ready to work for your company, but you need to redefine “great” if you want to hire any of them.

None of these changes are insignificant, and collectively they will help you and your company hire more great people. But it requires a change in strategy, not tactics, to pull it off. When you do, though, you’ll be making more placements and having a much better time doing it.

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).


4 Comments on “Shift Strategies, Not Tactics, to Make More Placements

  1. Even with highly technical positions, it’s all about the soft skills, the chemistry, the fit with the company’s personality, of the executives with the company. Find that match and you will win, this is not done with a goole string!

    Mary Spilman

  2. Lou,

    As usual you are spot on with your comments and advise. Sitting here in India and looking at the Recruiting industry going crazy, the biggest challenge both internal and external recruiters face is getting Recruiters who have time to understand the industry they are hiring for before they shift to a new job.

    Also the pressure on recruiting is so high that most recruiters do not have the luxury to spend time with candidates – resulting in a quick and dirty process of recruiting and obviously low quality results.

    I have used your article to tell my recruiters that what we are doing is right 🙂

    Thanks again,


    Vipul Agarwal
    Zend Consulting Services

  3. Hi Vipul
    Same observation goes for IT recruiters in US. I am an independent recruiter for a big5 consulting company and am looking for recruiting partners in India. If interested please contact me on or 678 571 5419.

    Poonam Malik
    President, Avista Global

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