The Answer to Charlene’s Problem

Last week, I presented a short case study about a recruiter named Charlene. After just a few weeks of employment, she was being criticized by her boss for not getting many open sales associate positions filled and for spending too much time trying to create a profile of the successful associate. She wanted to know more; her boss wanted action. I asked several questions, and asked you to respond with your own thoughts. Here are the questions I posed with some of your responses and my own comments.

The Questions Posed

How can Charlene satisfy her boss and hire high-quality people? Is it even possible to do this? Can she profile candidates without alienating them or her boss? If you were Charlene, what would you do in this situation? How can Charlene succeed? Most of you who responded had strong opinions about what Charlene should do. I categorized your responses into three areas: (1) those who felt Charlene should just get to work and post/fill the open positions; (2) those who felt she should spend time to understand the corporate culture and build rapport and improve the communication she has with her boss; and (3) those who thought she should get data and facts and do a competence/talent analysis about the strong performers to make a business case for her position.

Know the Culture and Expectations

A large majority of you (58%) felt that Charlene’s main problem was not taking the time to fully understand the expectations of either her boss or the hiring manager. Success in recruiting is often dependent on the amount of trust the hiring manager has in your ability to find the right people quickly. One reason why hiring managers are more inclined to look more favorably upon a candidate submitted by an agency than by an internal recruiter is because of the trust the manager has in the quality of the recruiters and in the screening and assessment process of the agency. Agencies spend time and money to create a brand and build that trust. It doesn’t happen overnight. Charlene is new to this organization and has not built any relationships or established a personal “brand.”

In fact, with her reluctance to fulfill the hiring manager’s expectations, she is already beginning to create a negative brand for herself. One of you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “She has no reputation or ‘capital’ to fall back on with the company. To build this, she must deliver timely service within the constraints of the current business model.” Another wrote, “There are too many indicators in this short passage representing tell-tale signs of great need for improved communication between Charlene, the HM, and her manager.” Charlene also made the mistake of thinking that management cared about the level of turnover. In an organization of this size and type, 200 open positions and 100% turnover are most likely looked upon as normal. One of you said it well: “I would say that Charlene’s first mistake was assuming that the company was concerned about its level of turnover for sales staff, especially within the first few weeks of her working there.”

Get the Job Done

Another sizeable group of respondents (30%) felt that her first obligation was to do the job she was hired to do. Recruiters are hired to find and hire good employees. That’s the first charter we all have. Charlene clearly forgot this and began right away to spend time and energy on issues that, while important and ultimately needed for success, are not germane to the short-term needs of the hiring manager. One of you wrote, “Charlene should have ‘hit the ground running,’ i.e., had an intake session the first week for her positions and then posted them to third-party job boards, signed up for external job fairs, planned internal job fairs, asked current employees for referrals, and contacted all of her community-based organizations so that her funnel got full at the top. By seeing who comes out of that funnel as a hire, she can learn as she goes; but at this point, she’s just wasting time.” Another wrote, “My suggestion is this: She should spend the necessary amount of time to fulfill the delivery of 90-some sales people. After she gets up to speed and has a good process in place, then she should try and figure out how to reduce turnover.”

Gather Data and Build a Business Case

Many also felt that if Charlene wanted to reduce turnover and profile good candidates, she needed to build a business case in which this would be effective. One respondent’s perception was that Charlene already probably knew more than she realized about the organization: “While Charlene needs to understand competencies needed and assess candidates against those competencies, she is missing some very obvious signposts. To name a few: the culture of the company, the no-experience-required dynamic, and why people stay or leave. She is digging for answers on these even while some of the answers are quite apparent.”

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Another reader thought, “A cost-benefit analysis would be useful to demonstrate the cost savings (time and money) of increasing retention. The analysis should demonstrate how her boss could benefit from her efforts: less stress, more time to spend with family or recreation, things that are important to him. Charlene should spend some time finding out what is important to her boss, so her analysis would capture his attention.”

And another said, “If Charlene could tactfully reiterate the expense incurred due to poor hires, exhibiting the company’s high turnover rate, perhaps the powers that be would see that she has the company’s best interest at heart and that her research is warranted.”

In Summary

If Charlene is to be seen as a top performer, and if she wants to build a strong reputation within the organization, she will need to take a balanced and prioritized approach to her problem. She needs to have a good reputation with her hiring manager. One respondent said, “Charlene seems to have forgotten a cardinal rule of being a good corporate recruiter: Your hiring manager is your client, and you must keep your client happy.” I completely agree. But, she needs to hire people – now. She has to take the actions the organization expects, whether they are what she thinks are best or not, and then systematically and carefully move toward a better understanding of the competencies and skills of the best performers and to a methodology of assessment.

To do that in her first few weeks, without any hiring success, is the formula for defeat. One of the respondents gave a very balanced view of how Carlene should proceed: “As suggested by her boss, Charlene should start by posting her requirements on job boards. Having done that, she would have in place a steady source of talent/requisite profiles from which to short-list candidates. In the interim, she can also talk to existing employees and understand the reasons for such high turnover. She can also speak to those who have been in the organization for more than a year and understand from them as to what motivates them to stay in the organization and perform consistently.”

And a final reader response that sums it all up: “Charlene’s error lies in not understanding and aligning with the organizational dynamics at work here. To transition from a pure ‘efficiency’ model to one that allows her to focus on quality (of which decreased turnover is a component), Charlene needs to start over, first building a superior candidate pool within the constraints of the current model. Once she has surpassed the organization’s expectations, she’ll hopefully have the capital to begin a serious change management effort focused on building quality into the process. Without that capital, she cannot garner the executive (or line management) support required to accomplish real change. With it, she can develop a plan that includes both a vision and sense of urgency – both required elements for leading change.” Charlene may not be the best fit for this company, but she could be successful if she’s willing to make a few alterations to her priorities and accept the realties of working for this organization. Thanks for all your many great responses.

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


1 Comment on “The Answer to Charlene’s Problem

  1. I apologise for missing the initial article to put over my views, but reading the comments listed I think we have all missed the point. If I was managing Charlene I would be seriously concerned because I would be thinking of the client. They have all these vacancies that need to be filled and if not the client will go elsewhere.

    My gut feeling is that the client is aware of the poor retention rate and I am sure it will be something that they will need to deal with, it isn?t Charlene?s problem.

    Also Charlene?s boss, needs to deal with the issue my gut feeling is Charlene is the wrong character for the client, who needs a dynamic and fast moving consultant someone who is numbers driven to keep the client happy and get to grips with issue.

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