The first decade of the 21st century is ending in a few days, and what a ride it has been! It opened with the gloom of the dot-com bust and Y2K and ended with the gloom of a banking system bust and a major recession. It was not a good decade, as decades go.
How did recruiting fare over the decade? Did things get better for recruiters and candidates?
The decade began with the hope, maybe even the expectation among most recruiters, that the Internet would change things profoundly. Many of the writers and experts on recruiting predicted that candidates would be better served, that workloads would be more manageable, and that costs would go down.
As it turned out, neither the average cost per hire nor the average time to present a qualified candidate has changed much despite the introduction of all the tools that the Internet made possible. Applicant tracking systems were supposed to make it easier to keep track of candidates, present better candidates, as well as for a recruiter to qualify them. Yet, good candidates are rare and hiring managers complain regularly about seeing candidates who do not measure up to their expectations. Recruiters still can’t find good candidates, even when they have stored resumes or contact data in the multitude of systems that have been created to make this easy. Communication — now so easy with email and CRM — is as bad as always. Candidates are complaining more than ever of being neglected, and most remain in the dark about their status.
Toward the end of the decade social networking appeared and became the new buzz. Recruiters had tools that would give them unprecedented access to candidates and make it much easier to create talent pools and stay in touch with candidates. Recruiters eagerly adopted Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other tools as the new panacea, feeling perhaps that if the Internet couldn’t fix their problems, then social media would.
They too have been disappointed, because the Internet, applicant tracking systems, CRM, and social media are tools that enable knowledgeable, skilled recruiters to do a better job. They are not, in themselves, solutions to anything and will not magically make anyone a good recruiter.
So What Makes a Good Recruiter?
The best performing recruiters are those who have three characteristics: (1) they have a deep knowledge of the industry they are recruiting for; (2) they have built relationships with the right people; and (3) they have learned and practice the skills of good salesmanship.
Deep Industry Knowledge
There is a myth that anyone can recruit for any industry because the Internet and social networking tools make access to people and information ubiquitous and easy to get. There is some truth in this. Certainly having access to resources such as Hoover’s and Wikipedia helps. The ability to scan hundreds of newspapers and news sources can generate leads and provide insight into what is happening in an industry. It is possible, with lots of time and energy expended, to put together a list of people to contact and screen. But how to screen and what to ask then becomes a bigger challenge, one not easily bridged with technology.
Investing in learning about and digging deeply into an industry makes all the difference. Nothing replaces years of interaction with a spectrum of people in an industry. I spent almost 20 years in the high-tech, semiconductor industry, and through those years built technical, cultural, and personal knowledge and contacts that made it much easier for me to find people, get referrals, assess referral quality, interview candidates, ask the “right” questions, and provide hiring manages with much better potential hires than someone whose only knowledge of the industry is the Internet and few phone calls.
Never underestimate industry knowledge and experience as a major factor in recruiting success. The Internet and other tools make it much more convenient to stay in touch and maintain relationships, but they do not by themselves make anyone a good recruiter.
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Most successful headhunters and executive recruiters will tell you that their success comes from who they know. When an opening comes across their desk or computer screen, they can reach out to someone for a referral or as a potential candidate. Rarely do these people have to use exotic Internet search techniques. They have spent time getting to know well-positioned people who can provide information and give them leads. These leads, combined with industry knowledge, make decisions faster and easier.
I believe that it is here where recruiters can use the Internet to their advantage. Recruiters who build talent pools or communities put in place good rules for who gets invited into the community, and using the communication tools that now exist (IM, email, CRM, etc.), can build good, virtual relationships with many people. Unfortunately, few recruiters take the time to invest in learning about the people in these communities. They tap into them only once in awhile and spend more time adding people to the community than they need to.
Practice Good Salesmanship
Recruiting is sales. It’s that simple and anyone who expects to succeed in any decade has to understand this. Good salesmanship is made up of industry and position knowledge, a belief that what you are selling is valuable and exciting, an ability to understand the candidate and what his or her needs and interests are, and the skill of closing: overcoming objections and coming to agreement.
These are tough skills to develop. They take years of practice. Good recruiters are coaches, consultants, and psychologists. They need to not only sell candidates, but also hiring managers and only a small number of recruiters are good at this. Lack of salesmanship is the greatest weakness in our profession.
I cannot build a house no matter what tools you give me because I lack basic knowledge of carpentry. I cannot operate on your body, fly an airplane, or build an integrated circuit because I have no basic knowledge and no skills in these areas.
Technology is wonderful and I am an advocate of using every tool there is. I think the Internet, social networking, and all the other pieces of technology are game-changing for our profession. But, only if they are applied by people who have the basic skills of recruiting. My hope is that in this dawning decade experienced and skilled recruiters start to leverage these tools wisely and that we begin to improve the basic measures of time, cost, and quality that have eluded us this decade.