Simple Recruiting

There is a question I have been posing to recruiters all over the world that is evoking some interesting answers: What is the simplest recruiting model you could imagine for your organization? What I mean by this is, how minimal could you go and still deliver good people in a reasonable time? Could you get by with no applicant tracking system and no website? What would you keep and what would you toss out if you were given the task of reducing the recruiting function so that it used almost no resources? Why do I care about this? I believe that when you can reduce a function or a machine to its simplest components, you can see more clearly what is essential versus what is a nice enhancement. For example, a car is at its simplest when it consists of a chassis, four wheels, a basic engine with no electrical system, no gauges or dials, a steering system directly connected to the wheels, and a single seat. Everything else is sure nice to have but does not make the car any more functional. Recruiting today has become encumbered by all sorts of bells and whistles that may give us the illusion of better recruiting, but that may also be eroding our ability to do the very basics of recruiting: find the best people, convince them to work for our employer, and make the process simple and fast. It is always healthy to go through a process of simplification, downsizing and streamlining. What emerges is usually a much more effective and efficient operation. Let’s take a look at some things that might be eliminated from our current recruiting practices and what could replace them. Let me make it clear before I jump in here that I am an advocate of using technology and of the tools that make it easier to do our jobs. I am writing this to help sharpen our answers to the questions we are often asked, such as why we spend all that money on an applicant tracking system or what real value we get from the website. By thinking about what they contribute and what would be missing without them, we can be better advocates for them. 1. Forget all Internet interfaces. The Internet is wonderful and I couldn’t imagine a world without it, but is it essential to recruiting? I worked as a recruiter, as did many of you and many of the other ERE writers, well before the Internet was even a twinkle. We were successful. We used our personal contacts, focused on local recruiting, added a lot of weight by taking potential candidates to lunches and dinners, and talked a lot on the telephone. It was time consuming, but satisfying, and it worked. Recruiting could still be done this way. The Internet has also spawned a host of related needs: training in online search, training in how to use a job board and how to post to one, and training in data mining and information gathering to better pinpoint searches. All of these require time and money and need to be perceived as worth the effort. Many recruiters still resist and have been successful. 2. Forget the recruiting website. I know that I am perhaps one of the strongest advocates of having a good recruiting website, but what would happen if you didn’t have one? Very successful recruiting functions, such as that at FirstMerit Bank, which Dr. John Sullivan wrote about earlier this week, have almost no web presence. I imagine that most small companies either have an extremely basic website or none at all. Still, they manage to attract and recruit good people. Websites are merely reflections of branding strategies and plans that have been thought out and executed in a host of ways. Candidates of a certain type may feel that organizations without websites are strange, but I doubt if anyone has stopped pursuing a job because the organization did not have a website. 3. Why bother with an applicant tracking system? For most recruiters the ATS is a sinkhole for both money and time. System can cost more than six figures to install and customize and hundred of thousands more to maintain annually. Many organizations employ IT professionals to support these systems and have additional staff to keep correspondence up-to-date and to enter data that cannot be entered automatically. The fact is applicant tracking systems cost a lot and probably are only really justified when recruiting volume is very high or when an organization has a strong global brand and is a magnet for candidates of all types. Many organizations use these systems primarily to generate reports for the government to show compliance with EEO and other requirements. The number of organizations that have purchased one of these systems is small (maybe 5% of all organizations in the U.S. have such a system in place being used regularly). Many organizations use an Excel spreadsheet or some other simple database. Some just use paper file folders and the telephone. They are far from essential for most of us. 4. Job boards are a waste. Who doesn’t post to a job board? Almost every organization uses some sort of job board, but very few actually know how many candidates they got from them. What we have done is closed some doors to candidates while opening others. In many cases, the same candidate also would have sent you a resume directly or would have called you had that avenue been available. Most recruiters in past decades opened postal mail, picked up the phone, or kept communication open with potential candidates through meetings, social events, and their network. Job boards are relatively expensive; they generate candidates who may not be qualified and reach out to a very broad geography. For most organizations, recruiting is a local activity and candidates come from nearby. They learn about you and your positions from friends and word of mouth. Perhaps job boards, too, are expendable. At this point we’ve reduced your recruiting function to a few people with a telephone doing essential things ó cold calling, networking, selling, building talent pools ó not learning technology and worrying over Internet security or the latest glitch in the ATS. Technology is incredibly helpful, but only when it integrates seamlessly into helping us do these essential things. Take a look at your technology investments and see if they are helping make your recruiting simpler or just adding nonproductive complexity.

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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


7 Comments on “Simple Recruiting

  1. I found this article interesting and refreshing compared to the constant puffing up of technical solutions. I have been in recruiting close to 18 years working in both the contract agency field and corporate in Europe and the US. Although I use technology and advocate certain core tools for the teams I manage I have always maintained nothing beats verbal communication and knowing how to position an opportunity correctly.

    When I start managing a new function or team the first thing I seek to understand is why on earth anyone would want to work for the function. By listening to the successful people in the organization and taking the time to research the business I can construct a profile of a good target and a message that will resonate with that person. Armed with this information I use resume databases (the modern version of indexed filing cabinets in most cases), networking, social networking sites (one valuable tech option)and referrals to tap the candidate pool.

    It is then all down to the recruiter to entice, qualify, pre-close, present, close, manage the hiring process, close, oh and close that candidate.

    This basic set of principles worked for me when I was recruiting programmers in Europe and Asia to move to the US back in 1989 and still holds true when looking for a locally born executive to manage a rural outsourcing installation in Mississippi in 2005.

    Too often we use the complexity of the requirement as an excuse for our own lack of confidence and willingness to put up with candidate rejection inherent in ‘old school’ recruiting techniques. We then hide behind the excuse of ‘If only I had the latest (fill in the blank) tech solution I would have filled this need’.

    In the end technology should only be an enabler to enhance good fundamentals. To paraphrase a recent TV commercial ‘A good jump shot can get you millions of dollars, a flash car, an entourage, a swiss bank account etc, but none of these things can get you a good jump shot.’

  2. I was speaking with an Online Services Manager / Workforce Management Solutions Analyst yesterday about this very subject – we got to talking about the ‘swingin’ for the fences’ mentality in recruiting nowadays and he reminded that he’d take a low line shot single any day of the week -if he hit 4 out of 10 pitches this way he’d be batting .400 and be in the AllStars! He’s right!

    ‘If only…, When I get…, If I had…’ are what they apear to be: excuses. The fastest way to get most places nowadays, in recruiting, is on the phone. Reach out and touch someone. Lose the mike fright. Pick up the plastic. Lose the excuses and get on with it – you’ll be pleasantly and guaranteeably surprised by the home runs you hit!

  3. Kevin — Yes, sometimes we get too far away from what recruiting really is — a contact engagement.
    Too many times I find the personal contact is absent. What you described in your article are all tools to support the function/process. These tools are not the essence of recruiting, they are what they are — tools. Very helpful and do speed the process. The way you recruit and tools you use are dependent on the types of people you seek and the volume. Select the right tools for the situation. Unfortunately, too many think all the world is a nail and they are the hammer.
    In the last few years the idea of the ‘candidate experience’ has been lost with the ‘arrogance of supply’. Will we ever recover it? Only if we keep recruiting simple and talk with people!
    Trust, confidence, communciation — the essence of succesful searches!

  4. I loved your question: how minimal could you go and still deliver good people in a reasonable time? Simplicity is the hardest but as Einstein wrote ‘make everything as simple as possible but not simpler’.

    Simplify your website, identify the essential tools of your ATS and focus your recruiting through the right quality channels, but do not oversimplify and miss on the efficiency that online recruiting can bring to your company.

  5. I am going to respectfully disagree with you Kevin, I have recruited old style as you are pitching in your article – going back to the basics…
    – no internet
    – no candidate management system
    – no email
    – no job boards
    – no online website
    While it was okay back then and I was just hiring collectors and call center reps at that time… now that I look back I think oh my gawd it sucked. I had to have 75 people start in a training class every week. I could have used every one of the above and been much more effective. I could have gone home alot earlier than living at the office from 6 am to 8pm every day.

    But, that was then and now recruiting is even more demanding.

    I am a people pimp and I start a new gig on Monday. I am starting with nothing but my contacts, a telephone, and a computer. I live in Phoenix and they are both in Virginia. My job will be hiring for 2 [seperate but interestingly connected but indirectly < that's brain riddle for ya, huh?] software companies one doing application services software stuff the other doing disaster recovery storage [disc imaging]softwsare products. The thought of trying to do this job stripped down and without the tools you just posed as not essential ... I would be straight up crazy. Let's take a different look at this - I have a 80 gig portable external hard drive that I can plug into a usb port and POOF!! I don't have to lug the damn rain forest of resumes I have been collecting for 5 years in high tech to Virginia. I have boxes and boxes of paper resumes that next time I move I promised myself I will destroy and not move again. I look like a desperate dog digging thru those boxes whenever I go looking in them for a guy/girl that I barely remember but my gut is telling me he's my guy if I could only find that 1 piece of paper that had all his info on it. When I took this job I told client I would not even sign on to this project without having a candidate management service or tool/application in place. OKAY - no I don't need the big ol ATS system but building my candidate database and being able to search it on the computer...I am nothing nice with the computer. I can break the thing faster than you can say tech support so you know I am not in love with technoloy but still?!! Having a candidate management tool is going to be my saving grace here. Agree with you 500% on JOB BOARDS < they are silly and funny marketing venues and really do they reach where I want them to reach ? I just launched a non profit tech organization that serves 475 plus tech companies in AZ and LORDY!! What the world doesn't know about job boards again - yikes!! DO YOU GUYS KNOW WHAT IT TAKES TO GET A JOB BOARD OFF THE GROUND - I have a new healthy respect for Monster - heck yeah I do. [i don't use monster but hey guys I really do appreciate who and what you are today - because it is not a build it and they will come sort of thing] Posting to the yahoo groups and user groups like our group here, I still want to post the heck out of my positions EVERYWHERE AND ANYWHERE that I CAN GET ONLINE EYEBALLS. I will use I major job board - probably DICE and then I will go where most recruiters don't I will go where the employed play online. I will scour [on the internet] for anyplace that people might gather online that has nothing to do with getting a job - why? Well I want to get a response from the qualified universe not just the unhappy, laid off and otherwise actively looking. There are not enough nights in a week to cover the ground and gain the exposure I get online spreading my job openings online. I agree job boards don't bring in quality most of the time it's quanity - which isn't good either but I don't want to have to network face to face the amount of eyeballs I am exposing my openings too when I start pitching in the places the candidates are going to on a daily basis that have nothing to do with jobs. I spend a huge amount of energy here as I have found it to pay off well. More so that eating meatballs and cheese bit's and attending all the networking functions I would have to go too every week to get those 'resources' you are claiming to be right there in our local space. We just need to get old fashioned about finding them. I love my job but hey I want to hang out with my beautiful daughter too not 'people pimp 24/7' My days were much longer without computer internet. Lastly - I hate emails- I hate getting them having to respond to them , emails are the cruelest things to manage effectively but again with out it - crayons and paper and 33 cent postage stamps don't seem all that better either. All in all every tool you said wasn't really needed I think used effectively has saved me from burning out on the people pimping business. I know - I KNOW - again I know the phone is our friend but am I the only recruiter out here that has made 200 phone calls a day and got nothing back in return for a WEEK? The phone only works if you have an established contact or network of people. In the beginning and to a certain degree each time a do a search or start a new recruiting project I have to customize my game plan and strategy to match the deliverable expectations. Looking for newbie sales reps and looking for a CFO < my contact base is good but heck if it was my only resource to work from - we'd be in trouble. I kiss my computer and tell it I love her every time I am able export contact lists of people and companies off the computer from going online and searching organizations that mesh with the type of role I need to find and fill. To do this without the computer. UGH - THE PHONE BOOK !!! I would quit -I never really found using phone books to be efferctive for sourcing and research but that is what people used just a while back - oh yeah hoovers and corptech too... I think I know where you are going with this article and as much as it has some ideal truth to it - take all the 'STUFF' away that you mentioned and I couldn't be a 'people pimp' or help 2 companies at the same time recruit. I vote we never live or have to recruit without internet forums and job boards email and webistes THEY ALL HAVE A PLACE IN THE PROCESS - WE JUST NEED TO BE ABLE TO APPLY OUR TACTICAL SKILLS to A BIG PICTURE MORE EFFECTIVELY.

  6. Go Brenda GO!
    Humor, common sense, great writeup!

    Lit up my morning with a smile. Good luck on your new gigs!

  7. so after reading this do you or don’t you use a system?
    I agree the old fashion way of a phone only and a list is the best way. as a matter of fact my e-mails and I get up to 300 minimum a day due to the fact I am toastmasters too, go in folders when they come in. I see them but do not respond until after 9 at night or before 8 in the morning. by that time, it just isn’t important and I will respond much quicker but I got my prospecting done.

    I got goldmine and if you can get over it crashing and it eats emails and attaches emails to other peoples emails … once you get the hang of it -it is great. you just to find the free website that I found and get help. they don’t even give you a manual.

    anyway, basics is the only way recruiting works. 100 calls a day and talk to 25 people..or more. you have to be organized when answering emails if your not you will be lost forevr!!

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