7 Ideas for Becoming a More Effective Recruiter

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 12.54.00 PMWe just updated our Recruiter Circle of Excellence Competency Model to take into account the expected surge in hiring in Q2 and Q3. There was also an interesting story by the co-founder of Meebo who concluded that most recruiters are pretty bad. Her big points: recruiters are afraid to pick up the phone and call, they don’t know the job so they sell smoke and mirrors, and most just post boring jobs or search through LinkedIn. It was a pretty scathing summary. This approach might work when you’re trying to hire the 15% of fully-employed who are looking, but totally useless when trying to hire the 85% of candidates who are passive, even the bad ones!

So as part of updating the competency model to take this 85% into account, I decided to revisit my old virtual mentor, Stephen Covey, for some inspiration. You might find the results interesting.

Hiring the best person available for a position, rather than the best person who applies to a job posting, requires a different type of recruiter and a different type of recruiting process. In 1990 when Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was published it seemed like a good framework for bridging this gap. Here’s my take on how to be a great recruiter using the Seven Habits as a frame of reference:

Begin With the End in Mind. There is too much focus on skills and experience when opening up a new job. By describing the job in terms of outcomes and the long-term career opportunity, the skills become a subset of performance. The idea is that if a person can do the work, the person has the right skills and experience. This allows a company to upgrade the talent pool to include more high-potential, diverse, and passive candidates without compromising quality of hire. When talking with strong candidates, recruiters need to be able to describe real job needs as a series of clear performance objectives (design new rapid response mobile interface) rather than emphasizing skills (must have 3 years+ HTML5 and a BSCs).

Think Win-Win. This is recruiting from beginning to end. Passive candidates need to see the career opportunity in another job before they’ll consider it seriously. This typically is a slow process taking days to fully absorb, not minutes to explain. So recruiters can’t rush it. They need to sell the next step, not the job. This requires a series of career discussions and in-depth interviews, including exploratory meetings with the hiring manager. If the job is a true career move and the candidate is exceptional, the compensation will be resolved without much duress.

Be Proactive. If you want to hire the best person available, rather than the best one who applies, pick up the phone and start getting referrals. Strong networking skills are a critical part of this. The direct way: use LinkedIn to find prospects connected to your first-degree connections and ask them about specific people. These people will call you back, so your productivity will soar along with quality of hire. The indirect way: find the best prospects in the entire LinkedIn database who are your second-degree connections, then find your first-degree connection and ask if they’re qualified. When getting referrals, don’t ask your connections if they know people who are looking; instead, ask them to tell you who is the best person they know in a specific field. Then call this person, mention the person who referred them, and recruit the person thinking win-win and begin with the end in mind.

Put First Things First. Prioritize and work on work that matters. This is the difference from filling the position with the best person who applies to seeking out and recruiting the best person available. Focus on urgent and important, not just urgent, and especially don’t focus on not urgent and unimportant. Too many recruiters spend their valuable time weeding out the weak, rather than attracting the best.

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Seek First to Understand and Then Be Understood. Too many hiring managers overemphasize skills and experience when opening a new requisition. They then either overemphasize technical brilliance or the impact of first impressions when deciding to hire the person or not. If a good candidate is rejected for a bad reason, recruiters need to intervene by first understanding the real job, why the person wasn’t considered, and as a rebuttal, presenting detailed evidence the candidate has performed similar work at peak levels. Recruiters can’t use hyperbole to convince a hiring manager about the worthiness of a candidate, but they can use facts and evidence.

Synergize. This is team skills on steroids: working with, influencing, coaching, and developing people. For a recruiter it’s working with and influencing the hiring manager and the interviewing team to make the correct decision using the correct information. Too many recruiters aren’t willing to challenge those with more authority even though they know their decisions are flawed. Becoming a trusted partner in the entire hiring process is essential if a company wants to see and hire the best people available.

Sharpen the Saw. Constant self-improvement is not only a core characteristic of all top performers, but essential for recruiters who want to stay competitive. It starts by mastering the three primary sourcing channels: improving the yield and quality of all job posting efforts, using and nurturing talent databases, and becoming an expert at networking and passive candidate recruiting. Once these are mastered individually, shift the entire emphasis to passive candidate recruiting, since this represents 85% of the total talent market.

As the hiring market shifts into second and third gear, recruiters will become the front line for helping companies hire the best talent available. Don’t settle on the best person who applies. It’s time for recruiters to improve their game. Embracing the Seven Habits is a great place to start.

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).


12 Comments on “7 Ideas for Becoming a More Effective Recruiter

  1. Thanks Lou. Chag sameach.

    @ Meebo Co-founder: You don’t tell us how to recruit, and we won’t tell you how to found a company.

    @ Hiring Managers: You want to figure out who you can get and not just who you want? Use the *Corporate Desirability Score.

    @Everybody: I’ve said before that I think we should replace the concept of active vs, passive candidates with that of “fast” vs. “slow” candidates, and it’s not an either/or choice but a spectrum of possibilities. I’m willing to speculate that not only do “slow” candidates take longer than “fast” candidates to take a new job (by definition), but that they are probably less likely to take ANY new job…As somebody (not me)on ERE wisely said:
    “Speed, cost, or quality- pick any two.”
    With “slow” candidates, looks like you pick cost and quality, ’cause you ain’t gettin’ speed.
    Remember that, “Fans of Social Network Recruiting” and “Talent Communitarians”.


    *I recently came up with a simple tool: the Corporate Desirability Score. You take a number of things that people want and companies provide (like, pay, benefits, etc.) and rate them on a 1-100 score relative to other companies. It’s like a Radford Survey with additional factors:

    Basics (what every company has to some degree or another)
    Growth/promotion/raise potential
    Interesting work/type of technology
    Overall importance of what the company does
    People (staff & management)
    Recognition (personal and/or group)
    Reporting Structure (reporting to CXO- versus manager-level)
    Work environment and corporate culture
    Work/life balance

    Bonuses (typical of some startups and a few others)
    Free food & refreshments
    Pre-IPO stock

    To use the CDS, get the most accurate and objective information you can (maybe from HR, maybe from other sources). Be suspicious of very high or very low numbers, and if you get these very high or low numbers, you should probe for the basis of them. If no one knows: guess. You add up all the numbers, and divide by 12 (you could have higher score than a 100). That ‘s your CDS.

  2. @Lou – Thanks for another excellent post.
    As recruiters I believe in going one step even further than the late great Stephen Covey.
    Covey said:
    “Begin with the End In Mind”
    Recruiters need to:
    “Recruit with the End Defined”
    By helping Hiring Managers and Final Decision Makers (not recruiters) do the defining the deliverables are quality and speed.
    As one of my clients observed “A Stitch (“team-based briefing system”) in time saves nine.

  3. Lou, great post. I was just talking to my Director of Ops this morning about how LinkedIn is a great tool, but it has also created a generation of lazy recruiters – sorry recruiters! Obviously, this does not apply to everyone, but as the owner of a boutique, specialized firm, I can tell you that it requires extra prodding and suggestions to remind recruiters to not rely on the “low hanging fruit” that comes up in a basic LI search. Not only do they need to employ the suggestions you made, but they MUST pick up the phone and personally reach out to sources and prospects. If you want unreliable, short term, unpredictable relationships with your candidates, by all means rely on email. But the only way to develop a trusting, career-minded, long term collaboration with your candidates – and clients for that matter – is to talk to them! It’s time for our industry to get back to Recruiting 101 – secure great positions with fantastic companies, tell a story, make a connection and put yourself in the candidate’s shoes – if you were them, why would you consider the position?
    Ken Schmitt, President/Founder
    TurningPoint Executive Search

  4. Great article. Great recruiters will always be in demand. No websites, processes or procedures will ever take the place of an effective recruiter. A God recruiter garners the trust of candidates with truth & honesty. Candidates and hiring officials alike refer others to good recruiters. Good recruiters are willing to offer sound advice to people (advice they may profit from) because they realize that the race is a marathon, not a sprint. That is, advice that leads to a fee, but does not place their candidates or clients interests first is a bad move in the long term.To know more about recruitment visit : http://goo.gl/CyYXV4

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