Toward a Sustainable Recruiting Model

energy3I have spent days with clients who are struggling to find a balance between the demand being placed on them and the resources they have. While this is a very old story, it is being written in a new way. Prior to this recession, most organizations were willing to add people — whether contractors or regular — without much issue. The focus was on time to fill and perceived quality, not on cost or sustainability.

Today is a different time and the focus for many CEOs is building a sustainable organization that can avoid the layoffs and bad branding that accompanies them. They are at least hoping for a workforce that is balanced between regular employees and those who work part-time or as contractors or consultants. Every recruiting vice-president, director, and manager should have a similar objective.

Having a lean workforce means having the right team and working seamlessly with RPOs, third-party recruiting agencies, and contract recruiters. It means redefining what an internal recruiter does and what skills they need to have. And all of this depends on the soundness of your recruiting processes and technology backbone.

In the scramble to get competitive over the past few years, many recruiting functions accumulated technology and threw together recruiting ideas and processes with little coordination or deep thought. When you are in the midst of a war for talent it becomes very difficult to approach things in an orderly or careful way. You think, someday I’ll take the time to integrate, evaluate, and eliminate. Well, the time has come.

One of the good things arising out of this recession is the time to look over everything you are doing and make changes that streamline and integrate for sustainability. Whether the next six months brings us out of this economic slowdown or not, we do know one thing: eventually the slowdown will end and we will be asked to suddenly start recruiting again with few or no addition resources.

Here are some things to consider over the next few weeks:

How is Your Recruiting Process?

The first step in getting the function organized is to outline or map out your current recruiting processes. Start with the hiring managers’ need to recruit someone and work your way through each step in the process. What does the manager have to do, when, to whom, and so on? How does a recruiter get the requisition? When? What is the first thing she does? The second and the third? How do you source candidates? Are there alternative ways that might be faster or cheaper or better? Take each step and follow the chain right through the candidates coming on board as an employee.

If not a pro at this (and few are), it would be very wise to attend a seminar on business process improvement or business process mapping, which are frequently offered at local colleges and from many independent seminar firms. As I have written before, two good books on this topic are Business Process Mapping: Improving Customer Satisfaction by J. Mike Jacka and Paulette J. Keller, and a simple one by Dianne Galloway called Mapping Work Processes. Also, if you work in a technology or an engineering-type firm, I am sure someone already now show to knows how to do this.

A small team can be assembled to map the current processes and recommend how to improve the process by eliminating redundancies, integrating steps, or simplifying the administrivia. After this first step, you can look at whether you have the right structure or the right tools, and you can base your decisions on how things really work.

Of course, to save time and gain expertise, you can also hire a consultant to help you (hint, hint!).

Look at Your Team

While you may have a very small team at this point, you still need to ask yourself if you have the right quality and mix of people. My suggestion is that you have a core of experienced recruiters who are jacks-of-all-trades. You want people who can move where they are needed, when needed. Maybe this week it’s focusing on sourcing and next week on persuading a hiring manager or a candidate to be flexible. Versatility and agility are the most prized skills of all, in my mind. You can hire specialists as contractors or consultants as needed, but you need people who can flex all the time.

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Decide which functions can be given to a trusted partner outside your organization. Many activities including such things as maintaining your recruiting website, developing a branding strategy, sourcing candidates, and even initial candidate assessment can be done by contractors or an agency.

If you are doing volume recruiting for similar positions, an RPO that specializes in that might be more sensible a choice than ramping up your internal function. Most likely building and maintaining an internal team will take away resources and time from productive work.

Your ultimate goal should be to deliver a quality service at the lowest price and faster speed possible. Whatever mix makes that happen is the best one.

Look at Your Technology

Are you using the right mix of tools? An applicant tracking system is basic to success, and almost everyone is using one these days. Perhaps more important is how you are using social media and building relationships with candidates. True relationships only happen when there is an exchange of meaningful information and when a level of trust is established. While email is a part of that, providing candidates with feedback on their skills, helping steer them to the right position within the company for those skills, and being honest about opportunities (or the lack of them), is also essential. You should have access to a candidate relationship management tool like those available from and

Social media is a critical part of an overall recruiting process these days and you need to have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. But, you will also need to still use traditional Internet search as well as job boards for some positions, so having people with broad-based expertise is a plus when deciding on your team.

Putting together an integrated, but as simple as possible, technology platform will give you the capability to do more with fewer resources.

This can be a wonderful time to reassess and transform your recruiting function into a much leaner and more effective machine than it probably has been. Hiring lots of recruiters is almost for sure not the way to go and if you have immediate needs, use third parties and RPOs to fill the gap. To thrive over the next decade will require putting together a collaborative, highly versatile team that loves to find new ways to use technology effectively. Focus your time on process efficiencies and sustainable models.

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


5 Comments on “Toward a Sustainable Recruiting Model

  1. Hi Kevin. Thanks to Recruiters United in The Netherlans I am happy to follow your postings. And I agree: excellent recruiting evolves from constant reflection. Changing labour market asks for flexibility. Best found in a mean and lean organization with one main focus: effectiveness.
    Best Regards, Marina Jansen Schoonhoven, MJS ICT recruitment (NL)

  2. Great article; this is exactly what we’re talking about every day. As hiring ticks up, TA/HR leaders are grappling with vague forecasts, increased churn, and inadequate resources. Every dollar is scrutinized and you’re asked to perform today while planning for the future! Streamlining your process, implementing key solutions, and engaging 3rd parties ahead of demand makes a lot of sense.

  3. Kevin,

    I really loved your article it is timely and right on! I would add one more dimension – and that is to explore how to best manage your contingent workforce programs. As business leaders look at “fixing the mix”, the ability to provide the right mix of talent in a well managed and compliant way will be critical.

    Regards, Tracey Friend

  4. Thanks, Kevin. Good article.
    I’d like to elaborate on some of your areas:

    How is Your Recruiting Process?
    If your companies have a recruiter or recruiters, ask them about the process and sincerely solicit suggestions on how to improve the process. After all, they actually do the work! When you and your team go over the processes, it would be good to see if it’s practical to do WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS, and not just what reflects the prejudices of the sr. executives (but see Conclusion).

    Are your recruiters spending more than about 5% of their time documenting what they do the remainder of the time? If they are, they’re spending too much- let recruiters recruit, not do data entry. If the information is vital, pay someone else a lot less to do it.

    Look at Your Team
    Are you paying your recruiters less than about $100k/yr equivalent for work they do? If you are, they’re probably performing the wrong kind of tasks for you, and you should eliminate, automate, and/or outsource the work that is less valuable than this. Examples: why pay an onsite or virtual phone sourcer $9,000/mo. when you can get very good phone sourcing for under $2,000/mo? Why pay onsite scheduler/coordinators $4,000/mo. when you can pay a virtual one under $350/mo. and have them contact every single candidate that applies, too?

    Are you paying less than about $30,000 for a 3PR placement? If you are, paradoxically you’re probably paying too much- if it’s less than about a $100k salary for a full 30%, you can probably do it for MUCH less. Great TPRs are worth every penny they charge, and shouldn’t be wasted on any folks that can be found off a board or a SNA, or using a $2,000/mo sourcer. IMHO, great TPRs should be paid LOTS of money for finding purple squirrels and/or closing….

    Look at Your Technology
    Whatever you use, it should be recruiter-friendly. If Tiffany the Temp can figure it out and use it effectively with about 30 minutes of training (the “Tiffany Test”), then it’s probably good for your staff, too. On the other hand, if it takes half a day or more of detailed training, it’s too darn hard!

    Once again, ask your recruiters. Your technology shouldn’t be purchased without detailed feedback from the people who actually will use it.

    Social Media and Branding: let Marketing worry about that. IMHO, it would be better to spend the money on a generous Employee Referral Bonus Program and going after candidates directly- that’s Active Recruiting, while working to have them come to you is Passive Recruiting.

    Politics has been defined as “the art of the possible.” If the existing system (however dysfunctional) has made your bosses look good, there’s probably not much you can do about it beyond tinkering around the edges. On the other hand, perhaps you work in an enlightened corporate environment and you will actually be able to make a difference. Either way: Good Luck!


  5. Great read!! I think Recruitment Outsourcing is going to be a key high growth part of the industry. We are authoring a white paper now to discuss how agencies can transition and the importance transiting properly to offer an outsourcing model now.

    Particularly, shared services model RPO is offering a great ondemand recruiting alternative to having full time staff.

    Michael Brandt
    BrightMove Recruiting Software

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