The Hidden Secret to Better Recruiting

[Note: Now that the hiring boom has finally arrived, I’ll use the next few articles to address important one-on-one recruiter skills. We’ll even conduct a free online instant conference call to discuss these important issues in the next week or so. Also, last week many of you asked to sign up for the free semi-sourcing conference call in August. That was actually August of 2003, so unfortunately you missed it (many of you didn’t notice that the date of my Secrets of Semi-Sourcing article was last year). We might have another semi-sourcing conference call, since the first was so popular, so make sure you read all of these ERE articles for clues to the next instant conference. ó Lou Adler] “Do you have any more candidates?” This is possibly the worst thing a client can say to you if you’re a recruiter attempting to find out how well your candidates did. Regardless of the cause, it means you have to do the search over again. Many, many years ago, after hearing these infamous words once too often, I decided to stop doing searches over again. That’s how all of the stuff I write about in these articles came about. Doing searches over again is the biggest time-waster of all time, and something you must avoid at all costs. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. First, let’s uncover the cause of the “more candidates” problem. It’s usually one of four things:

  1. Either the recruiter or the hiring manager doesn’t know what the real job is.
  2. Either the recruiter or the hiring manager doesn’t know how to interview.
  3. The recruiter knows the candidates aren’t very good but doesn’t have any better ones to send in to be interviewed.
  4. The recruiter doesn’t have the courage to challenge the hiring manager, particularly if the candidates are strong.

When a manager says, “Do you have any more candidates?” the worst thing you can do is to find more candidates. This is like running a machine known to produce bad parts in the hope that it will eventually produce a few good ones. Instead, stop and recalibrate. Something is wrong with your hiring process if hiring managers need to see more than three or four candidates to interview for any position. That’s why sendouts per hire is such an important metric to track. When it goes too high, it means you have a serious process control problem. Hiring people should not be a random process. Finding the cause of the problem and correcting it is what Six Sigma analysis is all about. Reducing process variability is how you reduce costs, save time and improve performance. I addressed the first three problems last week in my article Using the One-question Interview to Recruit Top People, Assess Potential, and More. In this week’s article, I want to focus on #4: the courage part. In my mind, this is the difference-maker. If you don’t have the guts to fight for your candidates, you will always have to work too hard and you will never have enough time to do it right. Courage is the hidden secret to better recruiting, improved productivity, and better time management. Far too often, recruiters feel they are in a subordinate position to their hiring manager clients. This is typically due to a variety of causes: intimidation on the hiring manager’s part, lack of personal confidence, having a lower position on the organization chart, feelings of inadequacy, or lack of skills. Whatever the cause, it makes a recruiter less effective. Hiring is not a perfect science. It requires as much judgment as it does skill to get it right. Unfortunately, the lack of a regulated hiring process ó combined with too much emotion, reliance on intuition and gut feelings, and the need to fill positions quickly ó often means common sense is ignored. To be effective, recruiters need to bring order to this chaos, rather than fall prey to it. This is where courage comes into play. Courage is a combination of competence and assertiveness. Knowing the right way to do something and then having the persistence to pull it off is courage in action. Courage without competence will get you nowhere ó you’ll just be branded as outspoken, overbearing, pushy, and maybe even stupid. When I talk with hiring managers and ask them to describe the traits of the best recruiters they’ve worked with, they always mention these four things:

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  1. The recruiter knows the job.
  2. The recruiter consistently finds top candidates.
  3. The recruiter accurately assesses candidate competency.
  4. The recruiter knows how to recruit top people and close the deal on reasonable terms.

Surprisingly, these hiring managers never treat their best recruiters as subordinates. They are always true partners in the hiring process. In a number of cases, hiring managers even view their recruiters as their coaches, proactively seeking their advice (often before they open a requisition) on how to interview or who to hire. Equally surprisingly, many of the recruiters classified in the top rankings are not overtly outspoken or assertive, personality-wise. Some are quiet, reserved, and introspective. But they are all persistent, hard-working, and willing to defend their candidates when they see their hiring manager clients do dumb things ó which surprisingly happens quite frequently. So, how do you become courageous? I don’t think there’s a silver bullet, but I do know you need knowledge and good skills to even have a shot at it. First of all, you must really know the job. Start by asking hiring managers what the person taking the job needs to do to be successful. Then talk with the best people already in the job and find out what they do that makes them successful. Read the job descriptions of your competitors for the same position. Spend as much time as you can learning as much as can about the job. Just this alone will help your confidence. You’ll then be able to leverage your knowledge about the job as you source, network, interview and recruit top people. Without real insight into the job, you’re only fooling yourself. To my mind, expert job knowledge is the essential first step in becoming an expert recruiter. You’ll need to use this job information as you interview candidates. Ask them what they’ve accomplished and get lots of details. Compare these accomplishments to the requirements of the real job. If there’s enough stretch, you’ll be able to use this information to recruit top people and close more offers. Top people want a challenge. Knowing what the real job has to offer allows you to present them one. This will be far more important than compensation when you’re negotiating the final offer package. When you present candidates to your clients, compare what they’ve accomplished to the real job needs. Make this presentation formal (see my article How You Present Candidates Matters for more on this). Managers find compelling arguments about candidate competency hard to resist. You’ll need to fight back and resist the temptation to walk away if you believe the candidates you’ve submitted are strong. You owe it to yourself and to your candidates to persist. If you do this a few more times you’ll discover that some interesting things will happen. For one, you won’t be hearing the infamous “do you have anymore candidates?” comment as often. For another, your confidence will increase at each step of the way. Even better, your hiring manager clients will naturally begin treating you as a partner. You know you’ve achieved this state when they ask you your opinion and then make decisions as a result. And if you really get good, they’ll begin considering you their coach. Becoming a partner and a coach should be every recruiter’s goal. It’s a great position to have. For one thing, you won’t have to do searches over again. Many years ago I heard Jim Rohn, a well-known motivational speaker, say something that still sticks with me today: “Things will become better for you when you become better.” This is great advice, and probably the secret to increasing your courage. Isn’t it time to stop doing searches over again? Isn’t it time to stop listening to your hiring manager clients dismiss perfectly qualified candidates for the wrong reasons? You owe it to yourself, your candidates, and your company to resist this path to frustration. Fight back. Resist. Become better, and things will become better for you.

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).


1 Comment on “The Hidden Secret to Better Recruiting

  1. Lou continues to astound me. He clearly sees through to common issues in recruiting and manages to distill them into a few basic usable principles that work for both inside and outside recruiters. Many years ago when I first got to hear the ‘I need to see more resumes’ routine, from Hiring Managers, I knew something somewhere was wrong. Lou tells us why. When his lesson penetrates, we take better job orders and condition our hiring managers so the process will work the first time for fewer candidates. Go Lou!

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