The Strategic Recruiter

The bulk of recruiting is far more tactical than it is strategic, especially since most of the heavy lifting takes place between recruiter and candidate. Unfortunately, the endless details of dealing with candidates, resumes, interviews, and feedback ó while also trying to close the deal ó can have you running from pillar to post in a completely reactive style on a daily basis. This bizarre existence is played out in countless companies across the country, and it is probably the primary reason recruiters lose productivity, become jaded, and burn out. After they snap, corporate America’s brilliant response is to replace them, which allows them to burn out new recruiters. As an added bonus, the crowd that’s on its way out now has the dubious opportunity to ply their trade at another company and have what usually amounts to same experience. This is one of the reasons why there are very few 100 year-old recruiters around. Things do not have to be this way. But if recruiters want life to change then they will have to be the ones to drive that change. Change requires power, and power is never granted; power is only taken. The first step towards empowerment for recruiters is to acknowledge that they are professionals and need to run their job as opposed to having their job running them. Unless you call the shots, you will continue to be hammered by the forces and whims of those dilettantes who believe they know your job better than you do. Your time and energy will continue to be drained by those who are more than happy to burden you with the blame when an offer is turned down, while bestowing you very little credit when it is accepted. If you have days where you go home exhausted and feel as though you have almost no control over anything, migrating towards a strategic recruiting model might save both your sanity as well as your career. Strategic recruiting starts with a belief that running around like a kid on too much sugar is no way to live, be productive, or build a company. It is reactive as opposed to proactive, governed by things that are urgent as opposed to things that are important (for those of you familiar with Covey, I am obviously talking about quadrant one versus quadrant two existence). Interested in getting a bit of control into your function and meaning into your recruiting life? Consider the following three points:

  1. Stop all activity for a day or two (or three). Find a quiet conference room away from the madness of the phones and email, huddle with your team and do some thinking. An offsite would even be better. This is to be a quiet and reflective time to look at and examine your role, your priorities and how you run your business. If you say that you have no time to stop for a few days then I say you have to follow this advice more than you will ever know. (Charles de Gaulle said “the graveyards are filled with irreplaceable men.” Think about it.)
  2. Create a plan with a set of priorities that will govern how you spend your time. Notice I said how “you” spend your time. Not how “others” spend it. You should be the one to determine when you will do interviews, when you will do research, and when you will review resumes. There should be no other modus operandi if you are the one responsible for getting the job done. If you let the organization or politics of the day dictate what you should do, when and how to do it, they probably don’t need you in the first place. Personally, I would much rather fail because my plan did not work than fail because someone else’s plan did not work.
  3. Armed with priorities and a plan, get your job done more effectively while enjoying a better quality of life in the workplace. For a recruiter, filling a position is no different than building a house is for a developer. Both endeavors require a well thought out plan (think strategy) before the actual work (think tactical) begins. This plan and the ability to stick to it will save both parties’ endless time, and the result will be happy customers. Unfortunately, recruiters seldom have the time to really do the kind of planning necessary to prevent them from spinning their wheels on a regular basis. This “no time to think and only time to do” style of living, coupled with a workplace existence that is interrupt driven, makes true growth and a feeling of professional satisfaction hard to achieve.

If you believe this type of thinking makes sense, I want to outline just a few things you can do to get back your span of control, sense of well-being, and ability to be productive. The first and most crucial step is to learn the importance of planning. The second step is to learn the importance of working that plan as close as possible and resisting the endless distractions that are the enemies of real progress. I suggest that you look at planning in the following manner and remember that long-term planning is more strategic while short-term planning is more tactical:

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  • Plan quarterly for long-term conceptual workforce type issues. How many requisitions do you have on your plate, what are the priorities, and how will you manage this workload? Put your plan in writing. Don’t worry about it being perfect because that will never happen.
  • Plan monthly. How are you progressing based upon your workload? What midcourse corrections should be made to have things come together for you to meet your goals?
  • Plan weekly. Do it every Friday after lunch. Do not wait till 4:00. If you do, there’s a good chance you will not be able to get it done and will have to play catch up on Monday, and we all know how happy life can be on Monday.
  • Plan for tomorrow. This plan should be specific to the next day’s activities. Remember to put the most important things at the top of the list. Furthermore, don’t schedule every minute of the day; you need time set aside to deal with life’s unexpected problems.

Empowered with this new and different way of dealing with your work, be aware of the main enemy confronting a person with a plan, the time-waster. It could be anything from useless meetings to nonsensical paperwork to people stopping in your office for the usual five minutes that turn into an hour. There are many ways to deal with time-wasters. Here are just three:

  1. Feel free not to answer your phone every time it rings. A ringing phone says, “I want you now.” Well, perhaps they want you now but that does not mean they can have you now. Let voicemail handle your calls. Check voicemail at noon and about an hour before you end the day.
  2. Do not check email every four seconds. It causes you to lose focus, increases stress, and reduces productivity. If you do not want to operate in an interruption-driven manner, do not invite interruptions. I can assure you your emails will not disappear, and if someone dies, you will get the word soon enough.
  3. Schedule meetings with hiring managers. Discourage them from popping in on you (when they show up ask them, “What can I do for you?”) and do not drop in on them. This demonstrates a respect for their time as well as yours and gets them in the habit of communicating on a regular basis as opposed to hit or miss. By the way, have meetings in other people’s offices as opposed to your own. It is relatively easy to get out of their office when you are finished, but far more awkward to throw them out of yours.

Buckminster Fuller, the great inventor and architect said, “Our power is in our ability to decide.” If you decide to make this change, you are well on your way to seizing all of the power you will need to make this all-important transformation. There really is no other way. As an aside, I seldom recommend any books I’ve read, but I do hope that you will read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. It outlines some interesting practices and attitudes in companies you know well and is both informative as well as disturbing.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net

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10 Comments on “The Strategic Recruiter

  1. I completely agree with the strategies outlined in your article. I am a corporate IT recruiter, I work 3 days per week, we don’t use agencies, and I am in a team of one! I often have between 10-15 active roles (always permanent). When I get bogged down, I do the following:

    Clean up my desk. I get rid of all the stuff and paperwork that isn’t important.

    Write a list of all roles, their level of priority, current status and action points.

    These action points become the basis for my daily and weekly plans.

    Thanks for the article – I’m going to clean up my desk now!

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  2. Interesting article Howard. I have a few points that might interest you.

    I am what’s known in the States as a 3rd party recruiter or contingency recruiter. I’m after coming from a meeting with the company CFO that happens every quarter. He only sees billing figures. That’s it!! While I acknowledge that I am a professional (I have a research Masters in Recruitment and a Degree in HRM) he views me simply as a salesman, selling a service. (he told me as much). I also now realise that none of the senior management in my compay were ever recruiters, yet they proclaim to know what’s best for the company (walk a mile in my shoes). While it is all good and well to believe you are a professional at what you do the only thing that 3rd party recruitment companies care about is billing. ‘Bottom line’ is king and you either bill as expected or you are no good at your job.

    I may be generalising here but I believe this is the case for most recruiters. This career will never be regarded as a profession because the business model is similar to car sales or estate agents so you better sell and be damned(see the movie Glengary Glenross). This concept carries over to corporate recruiters as the ‘stigma’ is hard to shake. I have redesigned recruitment and selection processes for companies, introduced the concept of metrics and assessment,but if it is not adding to the bottom line for my company it’s not regarded a real work.

    While your ideas are good in terms of a work / life balance, they will not change the perception of this career, if indeed you can call it a career. Most good salespeople burn out on average at 3 years. As a 3rd party recruiter where do you go next? Your management is made up of opportunist business men who bleed you until you are no longer productive so how can you develop?
    I have no answers, just the question ‘how did I end up here?’ Where to next?

    It’s always ‘bill at all costs’ and until that changes recruiters will always be imagined as have a go chancers. With the economy and employment picking up, this will only get worse. With it the reputation of recruiters will only get worse.

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  3. As an internal recruiter, the tips from this article are very useful. We can all get overwhelmed and most times, need to put a lid on ‘people pleasing’ to focus on our priority hires/recruitment goals.

    Proper time management, well-thought out strategic planning and simple professional boundaries are what I need to do a good job. Thanks for reminding me, Howard.

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  4. WOW — what a pessimistic view of the life of a recruiter! I too used to work for a contingency agency – the owner and his wife had NO background in recruitment whatsoever…I was the highest biller for 2 years (at which point I left). I basically taught them how to recruit. My entire experience with that firm was much the same as you mentioned…it was all about the bottom line…and how much business can you book?

    But…I absolutely do not believe that this is everyone’s view of the Recruiter. Nor do I view myself in that light.

    Having said that though…you ARE recruiting on a contingent basis and realistically the only way you will make this company is by performing…not talking about or analyzing that performance.

    I’ve worked for people who made me feel much the way you described. You’ll never change them or their work ethics…so you need to make the change.

    I started my own company – working from home, so the only person I have to please on the ‘bottom line’ is me.

    As a recruiter, I offer a valuable service to others…both candidates and companies. There is nothing that quite compares to the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve helped someone achieve a new step in their career path…a move that touches everyone in their lives. Or the feeling of satisfaction knowing that you have helped a company add value by finding the right fit for their corporate family.

    There is nothing demeaning or degrading about this work in and of itself. I consider my role in recruitment a definite CAREER…not something that everyone can do – even IF they excel at sales.

    I would question your boss’s dedication to what is in the best interest of his/your clients if his only focus is on selling and what the bottom line is. If this is the case…you definitely need to find another place to hone your skills.

    What you do is a valued service – many recruiters burn out after a couple of years because they are working for someone like you described. This takes away what should be the real reason that we are in this field to begin with…to offer a valuable service to others – to reach out and make a contribution that will change not only individual lives but businesses as well.

    If you work for someone who makes you feel any less, I’d find somewhere else to work.

    Ronda Campbell
    The Campbell Group
    434-476-7449
    http://www.thecampbellgroup.net
    ronda@thecampbellgroup.net

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  5. Ronda,

    Very well said.
    You deserve kudos for your well-written advice and success.

    The direction you took is challenging, no one likes ‘starting over’ in a difficult field with commissions being ‘golden handcuffs’
    but
    when you have a ‘piece of the company’ and earn/achieve succe$$ extremely rewarding.

    Thank you

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  6. Good piece of work! Thanks for putting in such a thoughtfull article.

    I guess, there are many more factors involved. Just by letting phone calls to an Answering M/C not checking email won’t necessarially help. I guess its the ability of a person to focus and work and the natural style of working that matters. If you are a good multi tasking person, then the Phone Calls or Emails hardly matter.. If you are used to taking small breaks or trying to switch to relax, then Phone Calls or Emails are wonders.. You can answer emails when u want a break.. and you can take breaks every 5-10 minutes based on the nature of work!!!

    I think the underlying change has to be in the process and business ethics involved in recuriting. The very reactive nature of business make it exciting and challeing. You are in services industry…Recuriting is a service and services are usually very reactive business… Success in services is more driven by the ability to adapt and react rather plan and strategise… Planning is very much needed but dose not eliminate the dynamic trends of the business.

    I am working on a model of recuriting that can be more efficient and productive. Will post it when I am done with the model. In the model I am trying to evolve, would like to change the dynamics of recuriting business from a Data Centric / Quantity Centric/Contact Centric to a quality centric process.

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  7. Even if you are a self-employed contingency recruiter, you cannot ignore how you spend your time … or the potential that your efforts will produce income.

    Being self employed does not mean one can become a charity. Many non-profits, in fact, charge for their services.

    It’s very nice to talk about helping people, and I try to do that in my recruiting. But there is a limit!!!!!

    Regards,
    George M. Houchens

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  8. Hello Subramanyam:

    Thanks for the comments on the article.

    I can appreciate your viewpoint but a minimum of 50% of the chaos and reactive type of activates that recruiters live with can be eliminated if the people they partnered with planned more effectively and gave greater thought to running their business. It is not effective to work with people that change their minds every three days.

    Furthermore, the entire concept of service is greatly misunderstood by the industry. Recruiters are certainly there to serve because we all serve someone. However, they are there to serve against a well thought-out business objective. (Would your typical hiring manager behave the same way with the organization’s CEO? If not, why?) If this does not exist, both parties spin their wheels and productivity is greatly compromised.

    All the best

    Howard Adamsky

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  9. Howard, great article! I am long-term proof positive of the validity of your advice and assertions. It was almost scary, but 95% of your advice and observations I consciously follow every day. So much so that they are now second nature in how I work. It really does work!

    Ronda, I agree with Eric. That was good advice you gave to Ronan. I hope others who might have similar opinions or find themselves in a similar situation see that it is very good counsel.

    Ronan, you should seriously consider Ronda’s message along with the tremendously good advice in Howard’s article. I think both might help you feel better about recruiting. With all due respect to your opinion regarding recruiting as a career I must tell you that you are dismissing 50 to 60 years of documented history. Recruiting IS a profession — has been ever since Henry Ford built his plants in Detroit, and Robert Half started driving around neighborhoods recruiting housewives from the trunk of his car in the 50s! And, it CAN BE a hugely rewarding career if you focus on the right things.

    I know because I’ve been recruiting for 30 years and it has allowed me to raise and educate three children in an upper class life style I could only have dreamed of as a child. As I get closer to retirement I often wonder if I would be as financially settled as I am now had I left it early on in my career. Probably not! I don’t think I am alone in this view as recruiting has fed, clothe and advanced thousands of individuals and families, and will be doing so long after you and I have left this wonderful experience called life.

    Of course it would not be me if I did not close by adding my own two cents worth of advice…

    It might help you feel better about your employer if you looked more at the larger picture. First, I suggest you start at the financials. It is always extremely tough to balance income and expenses in a search firm. Perhaps they are having difficulty. When I first started years ago I worked for two brothers in a Chicago contingency firm who were just like the people you describe, only worse. My opinions about them were identical to how you currently feel until I accidently learned that the company was living from invoice-to-invoice and, surprisingly, they were paying our recruiter draws and commissions before any other bills. That changed my attitude. Afterwards, I started noticing many other positive things they were doing right alongside their incessant hammering on us to produce sales. There were many more positive things than negatives. Examine your management’s motivations. There might be a critical business reason for why they act like jerks.

    Secondly, I suggest you look at your personal work style. Some people just don’t adjust well to the constant pressure inherent in recruiting. Trust me when I tell you, it does not change. The great ones never lose sight of the fact they they must produce today — not tomorrow — right now. They balance that quest with unassailable integrity and sound moral values and build a successful career in the process. If you are on your own or with a firm you must still produce, produce, produce!

    Third, if nothing else you can always take the positive approach and look at this time as a learning experience. At minimum you are receiving a valuable lesson in how NOT to treat a professional recruiter.

    All the best,

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