The 17 Dumbest Things In Recruiting

I am a provocateur! If you have ever heard me speak or read my articles or books, you know that I attempt to provoke change by bringing to light actions in the human resource profession that to me seem to be just plain dumb. Some have gone so far as to nickname me the “Simon” (of American Idol fame) of recruiting. Such a moniker doesn’t bother me much though, because to me, criticism is the engine of change, and the absence of criticism from within the recruiting profession essentially guarantees that you won’t improve and prosper. I concluded long ago that many recruiters are fixed in a “time warp” and are unwilling or unable to change. These professionals, like many of their colleagues in other HR roles, prefer the Pollyanna, “speak no evil” approach to corporate improvement. Without honest, and sometimes brutal, introspection, things do not improve. The 17 criticisms I offer here are not directed to any individual or company, but rather the approaches of many. They are based on my observations from more than thirty years in this profession as a practitioner, consultant, educator, and trusted advisor to senior management. If you utilize any of the approaches mentioned here, feel free to be defensive if you must, but at the very least tolerate my rants for a few minutes (if you have some of your own pet peeves, feel free to send them to

  1. Lame corporate employment websites. Probably 99% of the corporate employment sites I visit are an embarrassment. From a marketing, branding, and sales perspective they accomplish nothing. It’s obvious that for most firms, corporate employment sites exist for no other reason than to funnel people into the applicant tracking system. They fail, however, to excite visitors about prospects for employment at the company, and even worse, they fail to answer the basic questions visitors come to your site to find answers for. One study discloses that roughly 55% of candidates use information obtained from corporate websites to determine where they would like to work. If candidates are coming to your site and you fail to sell them anything, shame on you! Corporate employment sites shouldn’t be about making a recruiter’s job easier; that isn’t customer-centric behavior. Corporate sites should be designed to excite and sell candidates. To find out how your website stacks up, consider having your sales and branding team take a look at it and evaluate it as if it were a sales tool. Don’t be surprised if they laugh.
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  3. Hiring administrators as recruiters. Administrators and process people are frequently out there masquerading as real recruiters. Why do firms keep hiring or promoting passive administrative types into recruiting roles? Do people actually think that the majority of the passive HR generalists can actually recruit? I don’t. Recruiting is a sales profession, and while good recruiters should be good at documenting and processing, they must be excellent at presenting, selling, communicating, and all of the other sales and marketing traits that make up an exceptional salesperson. Recruiters must be selected and retained based on their ability to sell opportunities and inspire applicants and hiring managers. Immediately fire the pacifists and paper pushers who believe that spending hours getting a requisition approved is actually recruiting!
  4. Relying on resumes. Resumes have become the dominant currency of recruiting, when they should have become the equivalent of the U.S. penny. Most resumes are nothing more than a document of light fiction that contains a few keywords and some contact information. Many of them are full of fluff or outright lies. Top performers are the best candidates, but the chances of a top performer having a well-developed, up-to-date, nicely formatted resume customized for your firm are pretty slim. It’s time for recruiters to recognize the many shortcomings of resumes and embrace the emerging technologies that can help identify top performers and assess their capabilities without the need for a resume.
  5. Over-reliance on interviews. There are dozens of studies that prove interviews are a horrible way to identify whether a candidate can actually do the job. Yes, they are traditional and everybody uses them, but the best employees don’t necessarily interview well. As a selection tool, flipping a coin might actually be superior. Providing candidates with real problems and evaluating their approaches and solutions is a more accurate and less biased approach.
  6. Lack of formal retention efforts. Recruiters almost universally ignore retention as part of their job. It’s almost as though recruiters don’t realize that retaining a new hire has the net effect of reducing their long-run workload as well as increasing the firm’s performance. This is especially true in the area of diversity recruiting. Many organizations have diversity hiring programs that invest tremendous resources to secure diverse candidates, but almost none act to retain these candidates once they are hired. Recruiting managers constantly strive to fill positions that would never be empty in the first place if sufficient effort had been put into retention and the improvement of the on-the-job treatment of professionals. Recruiting and retention must be joined at the hip if you ever want to win the recruiting battle. The healthcare industry in particular fails in this area.
  7. Reliance on job boards. I know they are easy and cheap and that everybody uses them, but that’s also true of dental floss. Large job boards contain, almost without exception, resumes from active job seekers. The chances that the best person for the job is cruising at the same time you need a top performer is pretty slim. What’s even more troubling is the fact that most boards give you nothing more than an aging resume limited in its scope by the design of the online application process. Job boards tell you nothing about the candidate’s interest in your firm or what it would take to get them to say “yes” to a job offer. If you’re goal is to recruit a workforce made up of the very best, you won’t find them on job boards. If you don’t believe me, run a test using your own top performers. Have a colleague at another firm search the major boards for your firm’s top people. You will immediately find out that the resumes of your very best performers resumes are nowhere to be found; the resumes of your malcontents and weak performers may in fact be the only ones you find. Recruiters must learn to use the tools that produce the best results. In the case of recruiting top talent, that would be referrals from existing top performers, not job boards.
  8. Antiquated approaches to diversity recruiting. Less than 10% of the firms that actually set diversity goals ever reach them. The diversity tools and approaches that are routinely used were developed in another century and are ineffective at best. Most fail to apply any of the principles sales professionals have learned about selling into micro populations over the past 15 years. Consider hiring experts in marketing products to diverse populations to assess your diversity recruiting approach. After they stop laughing, ask them to teach you how to sell to diverse populations. It makes no sense to continually fail in this critical area. It shouldn’t be tolerated.
  9. Reactive recruiting. Despite the fact that most business managers routinely map out and anticipate upcoming business needs, most recruiting departments are so shortsighted that they fail to take any action until a requisition is approved. Everything is reactive. There is almost no anticipation, planning ahead, or forecasting of future needs in recruiting. A superior approach can be found by studying supply chain management, where trends are identified and resources are put into play to address needs long before they become critical. In direct contrast, most recruiting departments have no workforce plan or forecast.
  10. Absence of a recruiting strategy. Everyone in recruiting management says that they are or at least want to be strategic. Unfortunately, that’s primarily all talk. Try calling up several recruiters and managers at a company and ask them to name their recruiting strategy. You’ll get a wide range of answers like, “I don’t know,” and meaningless catchphrases like, “We hire good people.” The sad fact is that over 75% of recruiting organizations have no written strategy. Nearly every recruiting organization defines its success in the narrow scope of requisitions handled, people hired, and cost per hire. Unfortunately, few focus on the more strategic approach, which emphasizes focusing on and measuring the impact of recruiting on business unit results. Other strategic failures in recruiting include a complete absence of forecasting and a failure to link recruiting strategy with budgeting and time allocations. In recruiting, the term strategy is almost always all talk.
  11. The over-hyped importance of applicant tracking systems. Applicant tracking systems have long been hyped as a panacea. I’m not against ATSs, because they do have some administrative value in that they help you store and retrieve large volumes of resumes from applicants that you most likely will never hire! Unfortunately, in the one area that really matters, there is no proof that the classic ATS improves the quality of hire. In fact, most end users routinely ignore the ATS features that could actually improve the quality of hire ó that is, the metrics system and the source-of-hire identification tool. Implementing an ATS will never make you a hero, and if the implementation goes awry, be aware that you will be criticized relentlessly.
  12. Failing to convert metrics to dollars. I am a big fan of metrics; in fact, I have a book on the subject. Unfortunately, 90% of the metrics calculated by recruiters have no impact on senior executives. Recruiting metrics like the number of requisitions filled and even time to fill are unlikely to impress a senior leader. In fact, even the most important metric, demonstrating the on-the-job performance of new hires (quality of hire), is of limited value, because the metric is reported either in raw numbers or in percentages. Listing a number (e.g., 45 days average time to fill) or a percentage (e.g., 72% of new hires were rated top performers) might make sense within recruiting, but it has little impact outside of recruiting. The missing component here is that recruiting managers fail to convert every recruiting metric to dollars. For example, if you can demonstrate to hiring managers in dollar terms that the people that you hire produce more output or increase customer satisfaction or sales, you stand a much better chance of becoming both trusted and well funded. By converting your metrics into dollars, financial impact can easily be understood and compared to the results of other HR and non-HR functions. In short, metrics are valuable, but converting each metric to dollar impacts (both revenue and cost impacts) is the key to increasing the impact of recruiting metrics. The language of business is dollars ó not percentages, satisfaction rates, or number of days to fill.
  13. Failure to understand a candidate’s job acceptance criteria. Most of the information we get about candidates is contained in their resume, and most of that information relates to the candidate’s skill and experience. While that information can help assess the candidate, it provides no value when it comes to selling the candidate. If you look at recruiting as a sales function, the additional information that you really need is information on how to “sell” the candidate. From a sales perspective, knowing what a candidate’s job acceptance criteria are and when they are ready to switch jobs are the two most under-collected pieces of information in recruiting. You can’t convince and sell candidates unless you know their job switch criteria, yet for some strange reason, recruiting functions fail to make collecting that information an early and critical part of the recruiting process.
  14. Lack of competitive analysis. In both business and recruiting, the probability of success is directly impacted by the actions of your competitors. The market for top talent is fiercely competitive, but for some unexplained reason, most recruiting functions act like they exist in a competitive vacuum. I estimate that less than 5% of recruiting functions formally monitor, analyze, and report the recruiting activities, strategies, and tools of firms competing for the same talent. An ongoing, side-by-side competitive analysis is essential though, because the success of what you do is directly impacted by what your competitors do. For example, the effectiveness of a particular recruiting tool is directly impacted by the actions of your competitors. Recruiting tools have a limited shelf life ó “first use” is everything. Recruiting strategies and tools work great when you are the first or the only one to use them; however, they rapidly become obsolete and eventually are only marginally effective when everyone uses the same tools. The key is to study what your competitors are doing and to anticipate and counter their reaction to what you do.
  15. Participation in job fairs. I’ll never understand why anyone attends them. The only candidates you are likely to encounter at a physical job fair are active job seekers. The sheer volume of attendees means that you won’t have time for meaningful interviews and you’ll likely catch a cold as a result of shaking so many germ-covered hands. In fact, the best output you can get is a pile of resumes (that then must be scanned in to a database) from unemployed people or active candidates who lied to their boss and skipped work to look for a job. The time for traditional job fairs has come and gone, because the quality of candidates has become more important than the volume.
  16. College information sessions. Using snacks and pizza to attract candidates is a sad commentary on recruiting. There are many ways to identify top performers at a university, but going to the career center is a marginal approach that provides no competitive advantage for your firm. There are many ways to identify and sell top performers on campus, but unfortunately, innovation in college recruiting has become an oxymoron. What you should be doing is learning how to use interns, graduate assistants, and student association officers as recruiters. If you’re really smart, you’ll learn how to do it remotely so that you don’t have to physically visit the campus numerous times in order to recruit top students.
  17. Strangers vs. known candidates. Let me say upfront that most executive and third-party recruiters are miles ahead of their corporate counterparts. That said, I know many third-party and even corporate recruiters who do little more in sourcing than utilizizing Boolean or other search technologies to find “strangers” on the web. These recruiters are incredibly good at what they do, but the net result is still a call list of strangers whose performance and ability is unknown. Having individuals with little technical knowledge in a particular field identifying candidates is an inherently weak approach, because these candidates are unknown to the recruiter. A far superior approach is to rely on referrals to generate names, where individuals with knowledge of the profession identify others whom they know within the profession. By having experts in a technical field identify other experts, you significantly lower the odds of being fooled by a stranger. Live employee referrals get you pre-screened, pre-assessed candidates whose performance is actually known to someone in the organization. For example, you could certainly use a Boolean search to identify NBA basketball players (if you knew nothing about basketball), but you would still be identifying strangers. Because you’re identifying strangers, there would be a high likelihood that you would identify a lot of mediocre players, along with a few who would have a high risk of having “performance issues” that would not appear in their resume or in their web profile.
  18. A cursory global approach. Almost everyone in recruiting talks about globalizing recruiting, but the reality is, most recruiting is focused on finding people within a local jurisdiction. Although some recruiting programs do have a minor international component, as a general rule most recruiters make no more than a cursory attempt to find candidates from every country around the world. Just as recruiters should be required to include diversity candidates in their final list to managers, they should also be required to include a percentage of international candidates for every key job.

Conclusion Thanks for taking the time to read my year-end rant (now I won’t have to kick the dog). It’s important to note that, as the New Year begins, there will be less time for recruiting managers to reflect and improve, as the expanding economy and higher turnover rates will soon increase everyone’s workload. So the time to act is now. If you are not already, be critical of everything you and your colleagues do in recruiting. Just because everyone else uses it, that’s no reason to use a particular recruiting tool. Demand data that proves not only that a particular tool or approach works, but also that it is clearly superior in producing increased business impacts and quality hires than other available approaches.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



7 Comments on “The 17 Dumbest Things In Recruiting

  1. Dear John,

    While I chuckled at the content of your article -it also frustrated me. For years as leaders we have blamed it on the recruiter and your article continues that cycle.

    As recruiting leaders we need to take a step back and look at the Staffing Function as an integrated component within Talent Management.
    At the enterprise level, we need to re-explore the value of People, Process and Technology.

    What is missing today is:
    1. Integrated HR technology framework
    2. True business analytics, that allows us to pull data simutaneously from multiple systems to really get true understanding of attrition, quality talent, management capabilities, diversity(real time). Instead we have lots of excel spread sheets, with bad, disparate data that is a min. of 1 month old.
    3. An integrated solution that manages the talent process from prospect through employee. An ATS only manages a piece of the process. Today recruiters are still using multiple systems to manage the rest. It is called multi-tasking at its best.
    4. Better process. Get recruiters out of the volume or administrative business and integrate technology solutions that automate the volume aspects of recruiting. Let recruiters focus on positions that have impact in the boardroom.
    5. People: Change Management: Technology and leveraging technology requires a change in skill sets. Once the technology infrastructure is put in place to support, hiring, retention, better workforce analytics, then you can pick on the recruiting profession.

    We as a profession have quite a bit of work in front of us. The recruitment process outsourcing association that is being formed to address these issues. HR Outsourcing firms are addressing this from an entire HR Platform and according to the Human Resources Institute Trend Watcher, Outsourcing is seen as the super highway to achieving these challenges listed above.
    Instead of talking about how bad recruiters are, we need to talk about re-tooling our people, process and technologies.

    Tracey Friend

  2. Tracey,
    With all due respect it is recruiters and technology is a tool not the answer. It remains an art not a science. Like all skills some people have it and some don’t. But you can hone your talent.
    Its about niches and relationships, not transactions. But no one can sell you that so they sell bells and whistles. Training is good if done by those who’ve manned a desk.
    The biggest gaps are training of hiring managers and looking toward retention by growing your own people.

    In an ideal world the vast majority of hires should be entry level through referrals.
    With the occassional fresh blood from another set of best practices. ATS while helpful is relied on to mask the lack of true people skills.

    Rich Goldberg

  3. Rich, while I won’t quibble with the validity of your argument, Tracey is 100% correct. We are continually clobbered by our hiring managers and senior management because we don’t speak their language — metrics and detailed analytics. The lack of an integrated talent management system prevents many of us from having a true seat at the table. We are fighting an uphill battle armed with gossamer armor composed of qualitative assessments and judgements rather than the steel armor we need, composed of facts and figures that will truly sway the minds, opinions, and behaviors of senior management. It is incredibly frustrating to spend hours pouring over Excel spreadsheets created by different business units and groups and try to make sense of what is really going on, because no one captures information or reports it in the same way or manner despite on-going efforts to standarize data collection. All of this is done in hindsight rather than analyzing what is currently happening in an organization. This continuous reactive posture potrays staffing and recruitng as administrative support rather the business champions we can be.

    Technology is not the only step in the transformation process, but it is an imperative fundamental upon which all other true progress will be built.

  4. Rich,

    I honor what you say about the value of relationships and that recruiting is an art. In fact we have integrated SPOKE into our recruiting organization to maximize our networking capabilities. Yet at a macro level what I am trying to communicate is, if the technology and process is broken then the people can’t do what they were hired to to, that is recruit… What happens is the ‘art of recruiting’ or those critical skills a recruiter was hired for, begin to atrophy.

    Rich, this is a systemic problem – that cannot be fixed ONLY with better recruiting skills. WE must address things more holistically and look at the combination of people, process and technology.

    I can speak to this first hand. I pride myself on being a strong recruiting professional. I recently was a staffing manager within an org. where the technology and process was broken. No matter how strong my skills were, they got masked with the pivot tables and excel reports needed to defend ‘why’ certain things were not happening. Whereas, here within the EDS Outsourcing practice, I own technology. We have a business intelligence application that integrates with all of our HR systems. We can begin to look at an organization and truely understand what needs to be pipelined, what needs to be fixed and how best to source / recruit for a hard to fill position. The recruiters that we support can leverage this data real time through a recruiter dashboard, and give hiring managers a report that cannot be argued with. It fosters better relationships, trust and a better quality of hire.

    While Recruiters must have excellent skills, these skills die if the organization does not have the infrastructure to support them in their jobs. We need an integrated technology infrastructure to get recruiters out of the job as high paid administrators and back into a true recruiting role. Then we can begin to hone in on networking, cold calling, internet mining, etc.


  5. I don’t think we’re disagreeing. Possibly a chicken and egg thing and priorities but all things must be done. I am fine with ROI for recruiting it shows we are a strategic partner not a cost center.
    As to hiring managers we need to give them the metrics they need. But we need to give them training in our expertise of interviewing and hiring.

    Happy Holidays

  6. I think Dr. Sullivan has nailed it. As a TPR with many years of experience, I’ve seen and been involved in many efforts to overlay a technical structure on the recruiting process, most usually to the detriment of the recruiters and their companies.

    In fact, not too long ago I was a reluctant participant in the over-structuring of recruiting processes in what had been a highly-successful TPR firm. The result was that the real recruiters (sales people) became slaves to the process and many lost sight of the art. But those recruiters who resisted were still successful, presenting a conundrum that management understood but didn’t know how to resolve. The successes of the ‘artists’ provided negative reinforcement for others who were inclined to resist, resulting in an overall failure of the firm to embrace what might have worked. Provided it been instituted in a judicious, properly paced time frame.

    In a nut shell, we never heard admiration from candidates for our processes – they accepted positions because they were convinced of the quality of the opportunities and emotionally charged. Our standing joke in the office was about how IT candidates evaluated opportunities by subjecting them to the same rigor they used in their work – intense analysis, qualification, quantification, etc. And when they finally concluded this exercise, they made an emotional decision. Now that might seem off-the-wall, but that’s more truth to that than you might think.

    Dr. Sullivan is right on the mark about management and metrics, too. Many times we’ve tried to dazzle our clients with metrics on our efforts in their behalf which was most usually met with a yawn. But they never, ever forget the star that you helped them capture, and will often use that person as the standard for future hires. We’ve had account managers who built years-long relationships with clients based on a single great hire. Great recruiters make this a repeatable process, and that’s an art.

  7. For the most part, I belive John Sullivan is on the target. He brings a large corporate perspective and refreshing ‘take’ on the hiring ‘process’.

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