The Next Great Weapon in the War for Talent

I spoke the other day to a midsize group of recruiting professionals on guerilla recruiting tactics and high-touch talent relationship management. After asking several questions of the group regarding their most critical recruiting challenges, I asked what they hoped to learn from our session. The answers I received all focused on process improvements, technology enhancements, and ways to use the Internet better to find candidates. I knew it was going to be an interesting morning. It became very apparent that I was in a room full of recruiters who were far to involved in process and not concerned enough about results. It dawned on me later that their challenges ó or, more importantly, their perceived solutions to the challenges ó were not unlike what I hear from most HR-type recruiters. Being so process driven, they have become short sighted in solving real world recruiting challenges. The HR recruiters at my presentation all wanted some elusive magic formula to solve their recruiting woes. They all asked for more technology, more data mining tools, more social networking tools. “Give me the keys to the recruiting kingdom,” they sang in unison. Well, they didn’t actually sing, but if you added a little music to their questions and cries for help the rhythm of the discussion was already in place. More and more recruiters have forgotten, or never really knew in the first place, the true art and craft of recruiting. They read all the great ideas and theories from ERE authors and other recruiting industry leaders, try a few of them (often failing at the execution of the ideas), and then give up in frustration, returning to the less effective yet more comfortable stability of resumes, job boards, and Internet searches. I see more and more recruiters banging away at their keyboards, conducting one more search to find a few more names. Recruiters are becoming too reliant on data, rather than strong relationships, as the best source of high performing talent. Today’s recruiter frequently squanders resources already available by failing to leverage relationships into referrals. I don’t blame them totally. They are promised great things from the Internet wonks and technology gurus. These empty promises have resulted in the true art of recruiting becoming an endangered species. The craft has gotten lost in the minutia. The best talent, as Dr. John Sullivan recently wrote, has to be searched out and found, and all the technology in the world won’t solve the problem that name generation is only a name. So what is the next great “weapon” in the war for talent? It is the innovative, creative, and hard-working recruiters who see their work as an art, not just a job. These recruiters are no longer content with letting the recruiting profession remain an entry-level position into HR; they instead see it as a role that everyone could or should aspire to. The great ones get this. The traditional HR recruiters, and many in the HR space, don’t. CRM or TRM? One need only look as far as the comment section of any ERE article or discussion group with a topic of candidate relationship management (CRM) to know that most recruiters simply don’t understand how engaging in strong relationship management generates talent. Some really want to do it but just don’t know how. Over and over again we read the lamentations of process-driven recruiters who claim they do not have time to manage all these relationships. The truth is, if you are serious about finding talent efficiently and effectively, you don’t have time not to. The air of ERE is thick with those that claim the likes of Kevin Wheeler and Dr. John Sullivan have great ideas on CRM, but that these are nothing but the latest ramblings of consultants and educators seeking a utopian recruiting world. Those who continue to think that high-touch CRM is simply theory will only fall further behind the recruiters and companies that don’t. Those who do get it will continue to forge ahead and leverage their competitive CRM advantage into better talent, while those who don’t will fall further and further into recruiting obscurity. The real quandary for many recruiters is that it takes extra effort to build a relationship. The extra effort requires them to stop processing things and start building relationships. Another hard truth emerges: good recruiting requires the relationship in order get the best talent to interview and take a new opportunity. There is an old adage in the sales industry: “Friends buy from friends.” One could just as easily say, “Talented candidates take jobs from friends.” Think about the people you consider your friends. Do you have a relationship with them? Of course you do. You don’t have to have relationships with all candidates. In fact, you shouldn’t have relationships with all candidates ó just the talented ones. The focus must shift from candidate relationship management to talent relationship management. Cold Calling: The Snooty Recruiter’s Classified Advertisement Don’t get me wrong. A certain degree of cold calling is necessary as a recruiter. But when it becomes your staple for identifying candidates, you might as well be dragging a net through the Hudson River for fish. Relying on straight cold calling to find talent will drive you nuts. Instead, establish quickly the top two or three talent individuals in a specific space and build a relationship with them. They will lead you to others like them. Winners hang out with winners and losers hang out with losers. It’s that simple. Get Straight to the Source If you had to bake the world’s best apple pie, you wouldn’t go to the orchard and pick up apples off the floor of the apple orchard would you? No, you would pick the apples off the tree. The more serious you are about baking the world’s best apple pie, the more likely you are to climb up in the tree and get the apples from the place in the tree where they get the most rain and the most sun. The best apples make the best pie. Getting to the best talent is not unlike baking that pie. To find qualified talent, it is far more effective to relationally link through a series of recommendations than it is to cold-call a widely scattered collection of prospects generated from Internet or social network research. Football teams that win year after year don’t win because they throw 30 yards down field on every play. Rather, they engage in a well-balanced approach. They know they are more likely to score a touchdown from a sustained drive. The message here: Stop trying to score the best talent on every call. For example, the best talent can be found simply by taking the time to ask the client (what most call hiring managers) for referrals. At FirstMerit, we always ask our clients, “Who in your market space is beating us to deals?” We then set out to network with them to find out who else is good. If we really do our job, we are able to lure them away from our competition and hire to hurt. Hiring to hurt ó one of my favorite things to do! Ever hear the old adage, “All’s fair in love and war”? If there really is a war for talent, than you need to hire your competition’s best talent in order to better your team and hurt theirs. All is fair in love, war, and recruiting! By deposing the client/hiring manager before you even start the search, you can eliminate many hours of unnecessary research and data collection ó i.e. process. Here are some simple questions to ask your client as you profiling your next search:

  • Is there anyone you know in your industry space who might be a high performing prospect or referral source for this position?
  • Have you met anyone at an industry conference, seminar, networking event, etc. who might be able to help me find the right talent for this search? Do you have the attendee list from any recent conference or seminar you attended? Can I look through your contact list or rolodex? (By the way if they are still using a rolodex, you should buy them contact management software for the next company gift exchange.)
  • Can you tell me where the people on your staff worked prior to coming to work for you? (Take their answer and generate a report from your ATS of the best talent that has been hired from your competition or from like industries. Creating a competitive intelligence report from your ATS puts you in the drivers seat.)

Just as important, ask the client/hiring manager for the prospects that they know who are not high performers. This becomes your “hands off” list. At FirstMerit, we enter them into our ATS and code them as “No Interest.” This saves us time and eliminates the risk of an embarrassing situation by presenting undesirable candidates. It also keeps other talent acquisition consultants from mistakenly engaging an unwanted candidate. Most local newspapers and business publications routinely list corporate promotions. Not always, but usually, someone gets promoted because they are doing great work. This is a ready-made call list of high performing talent. Even if the promoted talent isn’t in your industry space there is the possibility they know someone who is. Simply calling to congratulate them on their promotion and build a relationship with high performing talent will point you in the right direction and you can take it from there. Presentation Is Everything I was asked at my recent speaking engagement about how we actually get referrals from prospects who aren’t actually candidates yet or how we get candidates who are seriously considering FirstMerit to give us referrals because they might feel threatened by creating their own competition. Here are some things we try to do at FirstMerit:

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  • Build credibility. Nothing is more important than this. You have to be viewed as a consultant, not a recruiter. Do your homework and demonstrate that you understand the job market and the talent prospect’s everyday work. If you’re new to recruiting or new to a specific industry space, you can establish credibility by asking questions about the industry. Most people love to talk about themselves and what they do. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.
  • Consult, don’t recruit. Be as helpful as you can to everyone you talk to. As an expert in your industry space and market, you have a lot of knowledge to share in terms of career management, salary guidelines, and industry trends. Understand that the talent you are speaking with will likely talk about you. What do you want them to say? Let them know you will look for opportunity for them at other companies if they don’t fit into your culture.
  • Energy and passion is a weapon. I have a Recruiter Voicemail Hall of Shame. These are saved messages from recruiters who left messages for me in a very poor attempt to get me to change careers. Most recruiters are so scripted and robotic in their approach that they even turn off low-performing active candidates. You must get the talent prospect’s interest quickly. Most call scripts I hear or that are left on my voicemail sound something like this: “Hi. We are a Fortune 500 company looking for a degreed sales manager with three years’ experience in banking, knowledge in credit, loan review, blah blah blah, yada yada yada…” Leaving this on a voicemail is guaranteed to put you in my Recruiter Voicemail Hall of Shame.
  • Sizzle. In contrast, have some passion and energy when you make your call or leave a voicemail. Kaye Sterling, one of my highest performing talent acquisition consultants, calls it “sizzle.” She couldn’t be more right. Sizzle won’t close the deal, but it will get the passive talent prospect talking. Gaining the candidate’s interest is critical to setting the stage for meaningful dialogue and opening up the talent to providing more information and competitive intelligence.

There are no “keys to the recruiting kingdom” and there is no “magic recruiting formula.” Get off the computer. Stop lurking in the ash heap of recruiting history known as the job board resume database. Quit processing things to death and start doing some real recruiting. Get on the phone, get in front of your client hiring managers, ask the right questions and build the right relationships. Relationally link to the best talent and create some sizzle. Fully utilize the best weapon you have in the modern day war for talent: you, the recruiter. Otherwise, be prepared to fall into recruiting obscurity.

Michael Homula has over 10 years of high performing recruiting and recruiting leadership experience in third party as well as corporate recruiting.


8 Comments on “The Next Great Weapon in the War for Talent

  1. Great article. I really enjoyed the clarity of the message and the analogies that supported the concepts. Most importantly, I think this article only re-enforces the high value that should be placed on referrals as a source, as well as the strong quality that comes from networking and, as Mark Granovetter espouses, ‘weak ties’.

  2. Michael captured the core of the distinction I make between real recruiters and recruiting process administrators, both bring talent into the organization, but the results of the former far out weigh the later.

    Good Work!

  3. As a contract recruiter working in corporate HR Depts. it occurs to me HR professionals who have staffing as a part of their function and those devoted to recruiting are very different animals!

    This is the underlying problem. I wish there were more articles about changing this systemic venue.

    Recruiters are sales people. This is a sales profession. I don’t know any HR professionals who want to or consider themselves sales people, at their core.

    Training a cat to act like a dog or a dog a cat can only be somewhat successful, not fully.

    Why not allow the HR people and recruiters do what they are best at and stop trying to make a dog meow?

    Why not have the consultants, as they consult with businesses, change this?

  4. The difference in a top tier organization from the rest is they view talent as the main difference. And therefore HR is a strategic partner not a cost center.

    So if given the choice I’ll take the phone over the computer every time.


  5. I think the article is very well written. It hits the nail on the head for all we recruiters. The next great weapon in the ‘War for talent’ is none other than a Great Recruiter! The bar for recruiters has been raised.

    Shailaja Pittie

  6. Of course the author is correct that successful use of the tools and processes available to the recruiter is not what produces results. It is the relationships developed by use of the tools that produces results. All recruiters know this, deep down somewhere, but in all fairness, most recruiters have been ‘trained’ to minimize this. In the past 10 years or so, corporate recruitment leaders trended toward development of ‘recruiter wanna-bes’ and so utilized growing technology capabilities and solutions in order to shape their productivity into measureable data. Any tendencies held in ‘old-style’ methods and hiring recruiters that held all the relationships close to the breast fell out of fashion. Recruiters got caught up in the use of the tools, because that’s how they were being measured. Ever notice that some companies have an army of recruiters, yet there are always hundreds of open positions on the books, rather than mere dozens? Recruiters, it’s time to stand up and proudly display your relationship capabilities. Don’t hide them under a bushel basket. Great article.

  7. Michael,

    I would like to thank you for the great article, for your vision and insight into the recruiting world.

    What a breath of fresh air to hear you speak about cold calling and asking for referrals, these are the basics for old school recruiters but what I see is that allot of the new people in the HR/Recruiting area have no clue how to cold call or or ask for referrals or they are afraid to do this, some are not willing to spend the time learning the process either.

    The Best,


  8. Great article, Mike! One of my favorite techniques is monitoring press releases and contacting the people being hired or promoted. It does work well as an identifier of an up and comer, and can also provide good leads. However, the recruiter doing this must be able to have a lucid conversation with someone senior level or very good in his or her field.

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