The Ten Ps of Recruiter Survival

Since the beginning of the year I’ve spoken with over 500 corporate recruiters, asking them to describe their biggest hiring challenges. As part of this, we also conducted a Recruiting and Hiring Challenges 2005 Survey to get a better understanding of what’s really happening and to see if any major trends were developing. [Note: The survey is still ongoing and you can still take it yourself. We’ll be having a free online conference to discuss the results on Thursday, August 4, 2005, at 11:00 a.m. PT. Email me ( or call (888) 878-1388 to sign up.] Here are some of the findings so far:

  1. Just about everybody contends that they’re not seeing enough strong candidates, and things are getting worse.
  2. Between 60% and 70% of respondents believe that managers procrastinate and always want to see more candidates than necessary.
  3. Between 60% and 70% believe managers aren’t good at interviewing or attracting top candidates.
  4. Just about everyone agrees that there are too many people involved in the interviewing process, and that each one has a different idea of what makes a good candidate.
  5. Passive candidates are hard to recruit: they’re not interested, they don’t want to relocate, they already have a good job, they don’t know any good people to refer, etc.
  6. Most corporate recruiters don’t like cold calling.
  7. More than 80% of corporate recruiters have too many reqs to handle to do a professional job of recruiting on each one.

Some of this is valid, some of it is excuses. Regardless, let’s take stock of where we are and begin some type of change management program. Over the years, I’ve collected thoughts of wisdom from some of the best retained, contingency, and corporate recruiters in the country. They’re summarized below. You might well find something on the list worth trying out. In fact, you might want to rank yourself on where you stand on these ten important recruiter skills ó with 10 being the best and a 5 just adequate. If you don’t get a score of 50, you’re probably not as productive as you could be. If you’re a recruiting manager, why not rank each person on your team the same way? Then compare notes in a staff meeting. At best, you might quickly uncover some important training topics. At worst, you’ll have something different to talk about. The Ten Ps of Recruiter Survival

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  1. Plan. If you’re running around from call to call, meeting to meeting, and resume to resume, trying to juggle too many balls in too little time, stop. Get away. Don’t answer the phone or any emails. Spend an hour away from everybody and everything. Use this time to put together a weekly plan of action. On this plan, list all of your open projects along with their status. Use the Stephen Covey time management quadrant and assign each project into one of these four categories:
    • Important and urgent: This is the stuff that you must get done right away. This includes critical search assignments for managers who are willing to invest their efforts into the process as well.
    • Important, but not urgent: This is critical stuff that you can wait to complete. Include assignments that don’t need to be filled immediately or that managers aren’t as involved in as they need to be.
    • Not important, but urgent: This is the stuff you must stop doing, like taking every call, reading every email and talking to unqualified candidates. Most people spend 20% to 30% of their time doing this busy-work ó stuff that makes them feel active, but gets them nowhere.
    • Not important, not urgent: These are all of the time wasters that have no value and only steal time. This includes things like manually setting up every interview, calling people who haven’t been prequalified, and not knowing how to use your search engine to separate the good resumes from the bad.
  2. Prioritize. Convert your weekly plan into a prioritized list of things that you must get done everyday. Use the Covey method to put the hot stuff at the top of the list and handle the important and urgent things right away. This list must become your bible. Pin this list to your forehead, input it into your PC, and sync it with your PDA. Check it every hour or so to make sure you’re handling only tasks labeled important and urgent. Some search assignments will be pushed to the bottom of the list this way. These need to be reassigned. Getting them reassigned is an important and urgent task.
  3. Prepare performance profiles. Define the job, not the person. Create a compelling employee value proposition. Focus on what the person will learn, do, and become. Every job has five or six tasks or key actions that people need to do to be successful. If your jobs emphasize requirements instead of critical tasks, you’re now wasting time looking for the wrong people. Once you have a list of rough deliverables, get everyone on the hiring team to agree to these tasks in priority order. This is how you prevent moving job-spec syndrome, minimize the number of candidates seen, increase interviewing accuracy, and reach consensus before you even start looking. These ten Ps are a good example of a performance profile for a recruiter.
  4. Push. Don’t be passive. You must be proactive to get things done. Don’t take no for an answer, but learn to say it when unrealistic requests are assigned to you. Getting managers to see your candidates who have great potential, but have less or some different type of experience is an area you should always be pushing. If you’ve prepared a performance profile, you’ve already convinced the hiring manager to focus more on performance and potential rather than skills and experience, so this will help a lot.
  5. Persuade. Recruiting top people requires an ability to persuade people to do something they might not initially want to do. So if you’re calling a lot of people who don’t want to move to the next step (e.g., be open to discuss a job, go out for an interview, accept an offer), you’re wasting a lot of valuable time. As part of your call, you need to find out the person’s biggest objection to moving to the next step. It’s usually lack of the correct information. So in the future, ask the person whether, if you could get the information desired, they would be willing to proceed. At least two-thirds will say yes. Then get them the information. The lack of the correct information is the reason most people pull out of the process too soon, not lack of job interest. This will save you at least 20% of your time by not having to look for other candidates.
  6. Pre-qualify. Don’t ever talk with anyone who isn’t any good. Calling people off a cold list is one of the most time-consuming things a recruiter can do. The key to getting pre-qualified leads is to ask everyone you call for the names of the best people they’ve worked with in the past. Now when you call and recruit these people; you already know they’re worth it. To get started with a cold list, you’ll need to quickly go through the list until you find two or three good people, then stop working the list and only call strong people referred by these good people. You also shouldn’t be reading the resumes of unqualified people. Your search engine should be able to separate the best people from the rest. If you’re still using keywords to do this, you’re behind the times. So either learn how to use performance terms when searching resumes or get a search engine that can.
  7. Phone. The phone is your best friend. You must be able to call people you know and those you don’t, and get great referrals for any assignment within 24 hours. Then you must be able to call these pre-qualified leads and convert them into great candidates. Getting a few good referrals for every important and urgent assignment is the fastest way to move ahead when too many reqs are pushing you behind.
  8. Prospect. Recruiting is more hunting than farming. Get everyone on the hiring team to give you the names of the best people they’ve worked with at past companies. Then call these people and get three great names from each of them. Do this every day for your urgent and important assignments, and time to fill will quickly drop.
  9. Progress. Innovate and try as many different things as you can every week. If you’re doing the same old things and expect different results, you’re in trouble. Once things stop working, don’t do them anymore. Get creative. Try new sourcing ideas and revamp existing advertising programs. Start by rewriting your online job descriptions if they seem old fashioned. Use more creative titles in your ads. We used “Sr. HR Manager in the OC (south)” on HotJobs last year, and had some great people apply just because the ad was clever.
  10. Pray. If the above Ps don’t work, you have one option left. Use it.

These ten ideas do work. The underlying theme of the them all: Be proactive, challenge conventional wisdom, get out of your rut, and do something different. From what I’ve seen, 50% of recruiting activity is wasted time. This includes admin work, too much time on the PC and not enough on the phone, looking at resumes of unqualified people, doing searches over again, making excuses, not really knowing the job spec, looking for the needle in the haystack, and too easily taking no for an answer. So if you’re tired, frustrated and rundown, consider Jim Rohn’s great advice: “Things will get better for you, when you get better.” Now is as good as any other time to begin getting better.

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).


3 Comments on “The Ten Ps of Recruiter Survival

  1. Reading Lou’s article was like the ubiquitous deja vu all over again. For many months – could even be a year – Maureen Sharib has been writing openly about…


    While Lou’s P’s are on target, Maureen should receive a great amount of credit – even to the point of being referenced in the article – for talking about them over a longer period of time.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    Cool breezes to all.

  2. Lou, I enjoyed your TEN Ps, especially the last one: Pray! I never thought of that one but I do it every time I pick up the telephone to source!

    I have a similar telephone names sourcing training lesson – it’s called ‘The Five Ps.’
    But you did me five better! My ‘Five Ps’ are comprised of:


    Here’s an excerpt from the Five Ps lesson:

    …As I was doing the Art of War lessons (here on ERE), it occurred to me that there were some points Sun Tzu kept repeating. All in all, Sun Tzu recommends strategic methods of winning that rarely required actual warfare. Organization, deception and the use of spies were his main tools – but if it came to war, he used his detailed insight on its methods and strategies to control success. He numbers five methods that I?ve renamed for use in our industry…

    Measurement I call Plan
    Estimation of Quantity I call Prepare
    Calculation I call Penetrate
    Balancing of Chances I call Persevere
    Victory I call Prosper

    If anyone would like this lesson, email me at and I will send it to you!

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