Unsolved Mysteries in Recruiting

There are certain goals in recruiting that always seem unattainable, so much so that they often take on mythic proportions. Critical issues like measuring quality, becoming a strategic partner, and making recruiting a company-wide initiative continue to haunt us as they have throughout what seems like eternity. But until we understand why certain issues continue to torment us, we will never be able to solve them. So, on today’s edition of “Unsolved Mysteries in Recruiting,” we’ll examine those very same issues ó measuring quality, becoming a strategic partner, and making recruiting everyone’s business ó and the barriers to progress in each area. Unsolved Mystery #1: Quality Scott Weston recently called quality the Holy Grail of Recruiting ó and this issue is almost as old as the grail itself. There have been no less than 80 articles posted here on the ERE about this same issue, dating all the way back to Kevin Wheeler’s 1998 article Quality of Hire vs. Cost Per Hire (it’s unfortunate that the picture of Kevin that accompanied this article is no longer around, as it was part of Kevin’s now infamous grunge rock period). Kidding aside, why is it that we never solve this mystery? Some possible clues:

  • Standardized quality metrics do not gain traction. A recent industry report called quality metrics “the biggest opportunity area for the recruiting industry.” Deja vu? Haven’t we been hearing that for years? And doesn’t it seem like each year another quality index is proposed, discussed, and heralded ó only to go nowhere? This begs the question: Are the indexes flawed in construction, or are recruiters unable or unwilling to deploy them? I’d argue that the answer lies somewhere in between. Shortcomings in the “quality indexes” proposed to date include failure to address new hire performance over time, productivity, and results from performance appraisals. At the same time, most recruiters do not have the systems, tools, resources, and time to implement these metrics.
  • Performance and productivity are subjective. A great performer in one organization might be a below average performer in another. A great recruiting team might become a victim of unrealistic expectations, or even worse, a bad working environment that scares away potential candidates. These are subjective elements that a recruiting team has little to no control over, and this does not reflect on their performance.
  • Many of our current technologies are not quality focused. Most ATS and advertising vehicles are focused on quantity vs. quantity. Measuring cost-per-hire and the number of applicants you receive from a given source is an easy pattern to fall into, but the real value is in the quality of the applicants you receive and the hires you make, not just who you hire at minimal cost or how much traffic comes to your website.

Unsolved Mystery #2: Becoming a Strategic Partner Here are some phrases that are guaranteed to make you cringe or gag when you hear them:

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  • “Recruiting is a cost center.”
  • “Recruiting is an administrative function.”
  • “You work in the personnel department.”

Meanwhile, a Google search for executives saying, “People are our most important asset,” returns tens of thousands of hits. If getting the right people on the bus is so vital to our companies’ success, why do we struggle so much to “get a seat at the management table,” “be heard by executives,” or “not be the last one to know about business decisions that affect us most”? We are often so tied up in our world of cost per hire, time to fill, and efficiency ratios that we neglect the bigger picture of profit and what we’re doing to contribute to the bottom line. “Becoming a strategic partner” within the organization is really just part of an even larger question, which is: “How do we tie recruiting performance to profits?” Digging further, the question becomes: “How do we tie people to profits and measure our impact on people’s contributions?” There is still no definitive, ultimate human capital metric tied to profit that can be applied to the many types of positions an organization has. Some possible answers lie in:

  • Overall revenue and profit per employee ó possibly before and after recruiting programs are implemented
  • Yearly planning efforts that look at ways to incorporate profits and what recruiting will do to increase them
  • Piloting strategic recruiting programs with individuals who are directly tied to revenue and profits (such as salespeople) to gain support for enterprise initiatives

Business is driven by the bottom line, yet our contribution to the bottom line is currently tied to how much we cost an organization. It’s time to raise our voices and SHOW our executives how recruiting affects the bottom line. It’s time to SHOW our executives how recruiting is strategic. And it’s time to stop talking in the language of recruiting and start talking in the language of business. Unsolved Mystery #3: Making Recruiting Everyone’s Business We all say that the best ways to hire people are through employee referrals, networking, and strategic sourcing, yet one department cannot bear this entire burden. Recruiting success really hinges on the individuals in your company being engaged in helping the company find great people. Almost every company has an employee referral program which accounts for about 20% to 40% of their hires, but there are few companies that would say that their employees are very engaged in finding top talent on an ongoing basis or that they have very effective processes and tools for leveraging this resource. Cisco’s famous Friends@Cisco campaign (in which candidates were introduced to Cisco employees to help answer their questions and hire the best) held promise ó but became impossible to manage. A more recent example is from a recruiting manager I spoke with only a week ago, who said, “We would love to engage all of our employees in our recruiting efforts, but I feel like that would be opening up Pandora’s Box. Our current tools and processes could not support this.” Grass-roots, organization-wide recruiting also has potential to be a huge area of opportunity for recruiting, yet to date, the mystery of how to manage and develop this area remains unsolved. In a thousand years, recruiters may still be buzzing around on their jetpacks discussing how to measure quality, how to become more of a strategic partner, and how to make recruiting a company-wide initiative. Robert Stack may need to be unfrozen from his cryogenic state to report on this phenomenon. With an understanding of why we haven’t made much progress yet, and a new direction to go in, here’s hoping we can avoid that fate!

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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1 Comment on “Unsolved Mysteries in Recruiting

  1. #1

    ‘At the same time, most recruiters do not have the systems, tools, resources, and time to implement these [quality related] metrics.’

    Recruiting and Development is a continuum that continues to be splt in most organizations. Recruiters’ skills should be developed to the point where end-to-end recruiting means finding AND keeping talent. Until then, whine on.

    #2

    Human Capital analysis CAN be done – they’re just complicated. Does this mean HR should give up? Time to try harder – perhaps even recruit a different kind of executive to HR…

    #3

    Time to re-think recruiting; rather than add layers to existing processes, start anew. Believe that Friends@Cisco can be accomplished and developed new processes to enable success. Culture change is never easy but if you believe it can work, think differently.

    Nice article, Dave.

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