Tough Times, Tough Actions: Five Steps to Becoming Business Focused

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about HR cuts. “Those HR workers delivering layoff news at your workplace may face their own job cuts,” reads the article. Why? “Because they don’t directly produce revenue,” according to the article. It then goes on to say, “companies are turning to software and outsourcing to replace HR functions such as payroll and benefits.” I might have added, had I written the article, recruiting and recruiters. Over the past six months, thousands of recruiters have been laid off or had their contracts cancelled or not renewed. This is partly in response to the declining number of open positions, but it is also a response to a deeper sense that there really wasn’t the need for that many recruiters anyway. Lots of recruiting directors and HR VPs beefed up their recruiting departments because of the inefficiencies that exist within recruiting and most departments’ inability to deal with surging demand except by adding people. A report issued two years ago by Thomas Wiesel Partners, an investment bank in San Francisco, pointed out the inefficient and expensive recruiting that most organizations practice. The report, entitled e-Cruiting: From Job Board to MetaMarkets, outlined what even then was apparent: recruiters need to understand the Internet and embrace the efficiencies that can be gained by using the tools of e-marketing, Internet search and sourcing, email, and the internal processing of candidates. Perry Boyle, the report’s author, noted that the amount spent on recruiting in the United States alone, using very conservative figures, exceeded $189 billion dollars. No wonder companies are slashing recruiters and recruiting budgets and telling managers to start looking themselves for good people. Firms like Corning, which I profiled last week, and Intel, another strong player in the proactive recruiting space, have begun to redefine recruiting and use the tools that are out there to make what we do more efficient and cost effective. It is not possible to continue spending like drunken sailors. Manufacturing costs have fallen, purchasing and shipping costs are down, and even the cost of running facilities and factories has plummeted because of the adoption of software and process improvements over the past decade. It’s our turn now. Okay, you say, what do I do to become more business focused as a recruiter?

  1. Look at what you are currently doing. Take your recruiting process and flowchart it. When we do this with our clients, they are often amazed at all the processing steps and side activities that exist. Each of these consumes resources and dollars, and in many cases could be eliminated or streamlined. Just the act of committing to paper everything you do to hire a person will dramatically illustrate where your energy, people and money are going. Now, attach costs to each of these steps. What does it cost to source a person, screen them, and so on? And you should include ALL expenses here, including the hidden and overhead costs that are often overlooked. The outcome of this is the starting point for improvements and becoming business focused.
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  3. Assign teams of people (if you are at a large company) or divide up the work among your smaller staff to each of these process steps. The charter is to examine the process step, recommend improvements, and determine ways to reduce costs while boosting speed. There is no need to have a set target or goal at this stage; just look for low hanging fruit ? things you can do right away to be more business focused. In every company I have done this with, there were immediate large savings of time and money. You can make several passes through this over time, making more improvements.
  4. Begin looking at how you can recruit in an entirely different way. Move the focus away from resumes and databases, both of which tend to distract you from what I consider the goal of all recruiters: placing the right person in the right job immediately. Achieving this goal happens when you have relationships and clear channels of communication with candidates, not when you search a database for out-of-date resumes. Making this stage work well will require an investment of time and energy ? and probably money ? in technology. Recruiters have historically been slow adopters of technology and have not really understood what it can do for them. Applicant tracking software, while a necessary “chassis” for the backend of recruiting, is only a tiny part of the solution. You will also need technology for branding and for communicating with candidates, tools for screening and assessment, and tools that maintain relationships with those that you do not have immediate openings for. You also need to use technology to help you understand the supply and demand side of what you do. Your internal HRIS should be able to help you figure out growth projections and turnover. You will need to look beyond this for other information such as that provided by and the U.S. government on job growth and regional and local demand and supply.
  5. Move more and more of the responsibility for hiring to the managers. While many have said this, few organizations act upon it. Managers have learned how to purchase raw materials, have responsibility for quality, and make buying decisions on their own because of software that guides them and provides them with the information they need to make the best choices. Given the proper tools, they can do the same with recruiting. By asking them to do what they should already be doing, you will reduce the need for many recruiters and lower your costs.
  6. Embrace a broader charter. Again, Corning, Intel and many other organizations have given the recruiting function the broader responsibility of helping with the firm’s overall talent strategy. They outplace those who are leaving, they find those who come in and they orchestrate the process in an increasingly seamless way. In the end, this ability to show that you directly contribute to the bottom line, that you are focused on process improvement and cost savings and are willing to embrace new technologies will save you.

Doing things the way you are now doing them will only lead to the unemployment line.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


1 Comment on “Tough Times, Tough Actions: Five Steps to Becoming Business Focused

  1. This is awesome. I usually agree with most of what Kevin says, but not this time. It will bring us back to the reasons companies started hiring recruiters in the first place.

    Managers are swamped. They need to be productive and make their goals. Time is a wasting asset and they have precious little of it. When are they supposed to have time for placing job ads on boards, performing internet searches, etc?

    When the pressure is on, the managers will fall back on the old standby – turn the responsibility for finding candidates over to recruiting agencies. Then recruiting costs begin to escalate wildly again.

    Not that I’m complaining. I make a good portion of my living making contingency placements.

    My point is that as a contract recruiter, I save companies a lot of money by doing the searches, initial screenings, etc. My work means the companies don’t have to pay 25-30% per hire to agencies. They save money because the manager doesn’t have to screen 300+ candidates per opening, they see maybe the top dozen.

    For companies trying to stop the financial bleeding, or who want to operate efficiently, I think getting rid of their good internal or contract recruiters is a big mistake.


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