Strategic Talent Advisor: Is This What Recruiters Are Becoming?

The skills that once defined a corporate recruiter are no longer sufficient ó and are in some cases not even relevant to the needs organizations have today. Indeed, some of those skills are actually detrimental to success. Most corporate recruiters fall into one or two of the following categories:

  1. Recruiters who have the ability to deal with corporate bureaucracy, hiring managers, and legal issues. Many recruiters have focused on these areas and are formidable navigators of the corporate landscape. They know every hill and valley, every bomb and sinkhole ó and they can make hiring happen because of these skills. They make hiring managers dependent on them and act as an extra pair of hands for the hiring managers. They do whatever it takes to relieve the manager of exercising independence. These skills are unique to a particular company and do not transfer well. Recruiters with these competencies are most likely to be the “lifers” who have worked for the same firm for many years. Every bureaucracy has created people with these types of skills and would not function without them. The internal knowledge they have, and their ability to get things done within systems resistant to getting things done, make them valuable only in that system. They are not adding anything to profit nor are they helping find or hire scarce talent. They also have no sourcing skills and often only rudimentary skills at selling candidates on the organization or hiring manager.
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  3. Recruiters who act as resume screeners. Some recruiters can consume piles of resumes in no time at all, scanning and sorting them into piles according to hiring manager, position, or past experience. They then forward them on to the hiring manager for a secondary screen and, perhaps, for eventual interviews. They act as human applicant tracking systems, but don’t always make good judgments. Their existence is based on an assumption that plenty of qualified applicants will send in resumes. When this doesn’t happen, these recruiters have no choice but to turn to outside agencies for help or post everything on job boards and hope for the best. They have little to no skills in sourcing.
  4. Good recruiters who do have skills in sourcing and interviewing and try their best to work as partners with hiring managers. They refine job descriptions, use multiple sources to find candidates, interview reasonably well, and work hard to keep candidates and hiring managers happy. Unfortunately, they are so busy doing all of these things that they fall into the reactionary trap. All they have time for is reacting to current needs. They are always tired, overstressed, and behind in what they are doing.

None of these three categories are meeting the overall and longer term needs of their organizations. These recruiters either lack the skill or the time to actively look for good candidates or even know where to look for them. Sourcing to them equals posting jobs on a job board, which is why job boards are so popular yet return so little in quality. They do not aggressively ferret out what competencies and skills the best performers have ó indeed they don’t even know who the best performers are. They rarely connect interview data with later accomplishments. They do not offer alternative screening or assessment tools for a hiring manager, nor are they very helpful in closing. They put together standard offers based on what they have offered other people with similar backgrounds and experience. Everyday I hear organizations ó hiring managers, CEOs, COOs and general managers ó lamenting about the sorry state of recruiting. While much of this can be attributed to the changing demographics, generational differences, and the lack of skilled people, recruiters also need to change. What does a modern recruiter need to have for skills? Today’s recruiter is a different breed. She needs to be good at five things: Building Relationships Most important and on top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to find great people and build relationships with them. This is what all great recruiters do. Every executive search guru is really a guru at building and maintaining relationships. Recruiters within organizations need to get out of the organization and get to know people at all levels and professions who might be useful to their firm. They need to utilize technology to help create the initial relationship, and then they need to leverage that by talking on the phone, sending frequent emails, having breakfast or lunch with possible candidates, and always asking one candidate to recommend a few more. Those who possess this skill set are good at knowing who the best performers are, because they also have good relationships with the hiring managers and other workers who can tell them. They assess why those people are the best and then try to find more with the same skills. Knowledge of the Market The competent recruiter is able to tell the hiring manager what the employment market looks like, what the supply of talent for a particular job is likely to be in her area and how difficult it will be to find and close on candidates. This knowledge has to be data-driven and can only be collected by vast reading, lots of discussion, the intelligent use of surveys and other data tools and by being aware. As a part of this, the recruiter also has to know how the market for the product or service the company they work for is moving. Are competitors laying people off, which might open a fresh source of trained candidates for their firm? Is the market they are in growing, shrinking, flat? This kind of information, combined with the ability to build relationships, can make an ineffective recruiting function very powerful. The market knowledge allows them to focus their relationship building on the candidates who are scare and valuable and to spend les time on the commonly available candidates. An Understanding of Technology Technology already dominates recruiting. Applicant tracking systems, HRIS systems, email, job boards, the Internet, and recruiting websites are all part of the technology equation. If the recruiter is not technically agile and informed, she cannot be successful in the long run. Every day decisions have to be made about technology or because of technology. Only those who can understand it can make it work for them or for their firm. By wisely choosing and using technology, these recruiters gain an edge over everyone who doesn’t. Recruiters need to experiment, try using tools outside their comfort zone, and challenge their own ideas and beliefs about technology and recruiting. Most recruiters will have (and already have) a technology base that will continue to grow. Demonstrating Value Competent recruiters use metrics to put together business arguments for solutions they suggest, for programs they want to initiate or for the systems they want to buy. They have a core set of metrics that show how they have added value, raised quality, improved profits, or saved money. Ideally, they show where programs should be expanded and where they should be shrunk or ended. The Ability to Sell They also need to be good at selling candidates and hiring managers. They need to know when they hear an objection and they need to understand how to overcome it or turn it into a positive. They need to offer solutions, work out compromises, negotiate, and in the end, make the hire happen. This will become an increasingly important skill as we move back into candidate shortage. When there are two jobs for every person with skill, the recruiter who can sell the best and close the fastest will be king or queen. By putting these five skills together the recruiter is able to act as a strategic advisor to management about talent. They know what the talent market looks like and can offer facts and data about that market. They can help the organization make decisions about whether to develop or recruit talent. They help put together internal promotional schemes and assist in placing people internally and externally. They tap into a basket of tools that fit the situation at hand and keep a flexible set of contingency plans up-to-date all the time. While these are new skills, they are not much different from the skills evolution other professions have gone through. It takes time and focus as well as motivation to make the journey. Where do you find the time to begin to learn and practice these skills? Read next week’s article.

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


2 Comments on “Strategic Talent Advisor: Is This What Recruiters Are Becoming?

  1. ‘They have little to no skills in sourcing.’

    Glad to see the pendulum is continueing to swing towards reason.

    Gerry Crispin blogged about 10 months ago on the trend towards the demand for sourcing that was causing astute corporations to no longer view the Sourcer role as merely a junior developmental position.

    In time as a reflection of that awakening you will see wages for the top tier Sourcers eclipse their recruiting counterparts. You cannot recruit what you can’t find.

    Several direct hits that are unassailable.
    Thank you for continueing to dig,dig,dig for what works and makes sense.

  2. So many parts of this article hit home for me…so strong in fact that I have made it required reading for my team and we will be discussing these topics at our next meeting.

    Some important points:

    1) Recruitment/Sourcing is SALES! You cannot consider yourself or others as world-class without a strong understanding of the complete sales cycle, business acumen and/or negotiation skills. How much training goes into a product/service sales person before they are put in front of a customer? It is extremely rare to provide as much (if any!) training to Recruiters/Sourcers before they are put in front of customers (candidates).

    2) As this article demonstrates, today’s corporate Recruiting world is being split into two very distinct categories: Identification and Account Management.

    3) All 5 key success factors listed (Relationships, Market Knowledge, Technology, Value and Sales) are required for IDENTIFICATION. All aren’t necessarily required for ACCOUNT MGMT.

    There are so many prospective candidates available to us today (Internet, Job Boards, Social Networks, Employee Referral Programs, etc.) that to assume a Recruiter can solely leverage and manage the power of all these resources as well as track req’s, schedule interviews and negotiate offers (not to mention training, assessment and negotiating), would be naive.

    If you want to learn more about how a world-class company is implementing these ideas today, please contact me directly.

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