The Human Element of Recruiting

RECEPTIONIST: XYZ Corporation, can I help direct your call? CALLER: Yes, I’d like to speak to someone in staffing/recruitment please. RECEPTIONIST: Certainly. I’ll connect you to our IT department. CALLER: No, no, I didn’t say I wanted to work in IT. I said I wanted to speak to someone in recruiting! RECEPTIONIST: There is no one specifically in recruiting anymore. IT is now responsible for most of the recruiting functions. CALLER: IT does your recruiting? What, aren’t you guys hiring?” RECEPTIONIST: Of course we are; we have several critical needs. But between the online resume banks, automated search engines, search agents, automated prescreening, online testing, automated routing, online requisitions and position descriptions, interactive scheduling software, and email management tools, it seemed the people in staffing and recruiting were so busy managing the tools they never got around to being hands-on recruiters involved in the actual recruiting process itself. CALLER: Recruiters not recruiting? How could that happen? RECEPTIONIST: Well, they thought they were recruiting. It’s just that somehow they assumed that the people-end of recruiting was secondary. As a matter of fact, many of our recruiters were our worst people-persons. They were hired almost exclusively for their perceived skills as e-recruiters, not recruiters. The managers took on more and more of the person-to-person aspect of staffing, and soon the system appeared to be pumping resumes into the bin without any direct involvement of the staffing group. Then one day, after a staff meeting, the CEO said that based on the levels and topics of discussions, he could no longer tell the difference between his VP of staffing and his chief information officer. He figured he didn’t need to pay for two IT departments, so we combined them. As a matter of fact, one of the people who used to be a senior technical recruiter just upgraded my PC and fixed my printer. He seemed happy in IT. Got himself a little tool belt and everything. CALLER: Really? Well, didn’t staffing and recruiting say anything at the time about their professional contribution to the process beyond the technology? RECEPTIONIST: I think they were so busy looking into an online tool that would eliminate the need for human-to-human interaction in the interview process that they didn’t notice what was going on ’til the lights went out. CALLER: So now all your recruiting is handled by IT? RECEPTIONIST: Most of it, except for recruiting communications, which is done by our webmaster. He already was doing marketing/communications anyway, but he always seems to be selling product, not opportunity. Negotiations are done by our finance group ó if you call mailing an offer without discussions negotiations. They developed a price list like the one they did for purchasing. The concept sounded good. CALLER: What about HR? RECEPTIONIST: Gone. We outsourced so much of their work before all this happened that the only job they had left was managing staffing, and when that went to IT…” CALLER: I see what you are saying. So how is it working out? RECEPTIONIST: Well, just between you and me, it isn’t. We have so many third parties involved in staffing now that our cost per hire is through the roof. The quality isn’t there either, and time to fill is measured in decades. CALLER: Well, isn’t that cause for alarm! RECEPTIONIST: Nah! Everybody has reports, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets that prove they are actually processing six times the number of resumes that used to be process by the old pre-Internet recruiting team. Somewhere along the line I guess processing resumes and recruiting got confused with each other. You know the old saying, “If it doesn’t make sense, just do a PowerPoint presentation and use lots of colors, graphs and pie charts salted with and new age words, and everybody will forget the purpose in favor of the outcome.” CALLER: So despite all the automation, you still are not hiring as many people by your own efforts as you used to? RECEPTIONIST: Well, in my opinion we have all sorts of people doing staffing, but nobody who is staffing, do you know what I mean? Ironically, in the end, neither was staffing. They were trying so hard to be e-recruiters that they became too much “e” and not enough “recruiter.” The profession attracted people who wanted to manage an online processes and load upgrades. A generation of staffing that resisted the part of the process that required working with the people, internal and external. The people who needed to project themselves the most became as introverted as firmware engineers. If it wasn’t software driven, they had no time for it. I guess that’s why so many of them are doing so well in IT! Turns out a lot of them were closet Star Trek fans anyway. CALLER: You certainly are knowledgeable about staffing and corporate history for a receptionist. RECEPTIONIST: Oh, I was the director of staffing here, but there weren’t enough openings in IT for everyone. But, how can I help you? CALLER: Well, I’m looking for a sales job. You still have a sales department, right? RECEPTIONIST: Are you crazy! Of course we do, we would never get rid of sales. Next to hiring top quality people, sales is the most important function in any company… Oh, I see what you are getting at. No, we did not totally lose our minds. But sales never forgot who they were or what was important. We were never allowed the chance to confuse their personal contribution with the tools they used. So, can I connect you to someone about employment? CALLER: Ah, no. Thank you anyway. I think you people are too sophisticated for me. You see, I still like working with people and using tools, not working with tools and using people! Am I talking down automation and electronic recruiting? Heck of a thing for someone who writes for ERE to do! Of course not! But today I feel the need to stress that which I usually only elude to. Recruiting is a profession that consists of as much art ó if not more ó as it does science. A good recruiter embraces the science. But a great recruiter embraces it without becoming ensnared in one tool or another. The tool remains as such and all tools are regarded as merely one of many. That is to say, the Internet does not recruit. In essence, the Web is an electronic filing cabinet with storage, search, and communications capability (it also has neat graphics and can play music). It supports, but it does not recruit ó just as newspapers did not recruit, nor job fairs, nor open houses, nor radio spots, nor any other venues. They communicated an idea to leads and informed prospects, but they did not recruit. Fifteen years ago, when the fax first became a fixture in staffing departments and recruiting offices, we did not call ourselves “fax recruiters.” We did not elevate the tool to an art. We thought more of ourselves than that; we placed a higher value to our personal contribution than that. You do not recruit online. You can:

  • Source
  • Advertise
  • Generate leads
  • Screen prospects
  • Inform, advise, be informed and be advised of all things objective
  • Test and analyze to a point of plausibility, but not certainty
  • Select for further processing or select to discontinue

But you do not recruit. This may appear to be an issue of semantics, but if you misuse a word often enough, other people assume it must be true. If you talk about recruiting as if it is occurring within your corporate server with no human input, don’t be surprised if your role is determined to be more of a technician than an artist. Recruiting begins when you take all the information and knowledge gained from your tools and you actually contact a candidate:

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  • With a defined goal other than continued non-committal information exchange
  • With the intent to clarify that which can only be clarified by human contact
  • With the intent to verify and expand on information only assumed to be correct to this point
  • With the intent to focus on one possibility or explore the potential for more
  • With the intent to pursue and not merely process
  • With the goal to terminate if that is the best course of action
  • With the intent to control

A sales professional does not confuse the advertising and pre-sales research he or she does, or the tools they use to conduct that advertising and research, with the actual art of “selling.” Sales professionals recognize that in each deal a part of their process is using specialized automation tools to assist them in the more productive use of their time, decreasing the number of cycles they have to spend in the “non-sales” part of selling process. They are equally aware that the average 16 year old could also be trained to use these same tools if the only goal of the process was amassing data. The art of selling is using that data to bring about a result that neither the tool nor the 16 year old can accomplish without help. This is the element of the process that separates the skilled practitioner from the technologist: their involvement using the interpersonal and project management skills they have honed over the years in their career. Once upon a time the only people you could be directly connected with in any company were sales and staffing. Both departments realized that all policies, procedures, tools, budget items, training, and daily work effort were nothing more than an attempt to get prospects to make human-to-human contact. That is when the “artist” goes to work; the technicians’ work is finished. But today, most staffing groups shield themselves from incoming calls by either not giving their phone number or “hiding” behind their voicemail. Might as well be calling HR (ouch!). The human skills you develop are a constant in your career. Little has changed in the basics of human interaction in the last over fifty years, nor will it in the next fifty to come. But the mechanical and technical tools we use change at least twice a decade. Right now someone is probably working on a nano-liquified-helium-based communication device that will revolutionize technology and replace the Internet. Anybody want to be called a “Helium Recruiter”? As automation absorbs the recruiting process, most companies see the opportunity to reduce staff ó the age-old purpose of automation. But the company that truly understands recruiting knows that quality recruiting is not only labor intensive, but more importantly, human-labor intensive. Automation is not the tool to cut cost, but the tool to free a fixed base of recruiters to invest more cycles in the real art of recruiting: dealing with the people in the process. You can supplement your recruitment tool portfolio with a checkbook, but the human skills come much harder, contribute more to the process and are not easily replaced. Do not let those you support assume your contribution to the process can be found on a CD. More importantly, do not assume that yourself. Until you are satisfied with the quality of hiring ó the eternal pursuit of the top 10% ó you have too few recruiters working on too many requisitions, despite your level of automation. The automation serves the data-processing portion, the recruiters recruit. Hence the name. If your company thinks that recruiting is merely another bothersome task to be automated into oblivion, who do you think taught them to think that way? Who speaks for the recruiters in your staffing process? More importantly, who will be answering your phones this time next year? Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


1 Comment on “The Human Element of Recruiting

  1. Ken-

    Your article is excellent. More and more companies, recruiters, and HR execs. are getting bogged down with excellent technology, or, the management of that technology, rather than the increased production intended by its implementation. It is easy to get caught up in new tools and to forget that that is just what they are…tools. HRMSs and ATSs (as well as other “eRecruiting” tools) are here to help us achieve our end targets of better human captial management and more effective and efficient, streamlined talent acquisition.

    Without considerations such as that which you have asserted here, we as HR/TA professionals are simply going to take a good thing and work it to our disadvantage as professionals…AGAIN. Let’s not forget, we are supposed to bring a VALUE ADD to our companies – not just take up space.

    Thanks for the contribution.


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