When Did “Vendor” and “Client” Become Four Letter Words? Part II

George Bernard Shaw once said that, “America and England are two peoples, divided by a common language.” Often I feel Corporate Human Resources Professionals and Staffing Agencies are two professional peoples, divided by a common goal.” Then I remembered – we don’t have common goals! But we do have a mutual self-interest and that is just as good. Good recruiting is good sales. Great recruiters are great sales professionals. The person who sold me a car was first a salesperson, who incidentally, sold cars. The person who sold me my house was first a sales professional who happened to sell houses. The best recruiters I know could have just as easily sold me a car or a house, because they too are salespersons first, recruiting is WHAT they sell. Salespeople do not see providing me with transportation or housing as anything other than a business deal, a monetary transfer, a chance to make a living. It wasn’t their “calling in life” to care for me, it was their business to sell to me. But that was OK, you see, I was in need of and in the market for a car and a house. We had a mutual self-interest. If I was in the mood to buy, we were “pals.” If I lost them a sale due to my reluctance to make a decision, if I wasted their time “pretending” to be in the market to buy, if I used them but resented them and treated them poorly or with disdain, well, let’s just say the free calendars and holiday greeting cards would cease (“Happy Holidays from all of us at Oblivion Realtors”). If we all agree that there is a lot to fix in the vendor-client relationship that is Human Resources and Agency Recruiting, then let’s also agree that a lot of this is due to not understanding each others missions and a reluctance to even try. (“Why do I need to listen to their point of view? I already have one of my own!”) The recruiter is by nature a sales person. Good sales persons live to “make the deal go down.” Corporate Human Resources Professionals are clients, which means they spend money reluctantly. More importantly, they do not like being pressured. To some extent, they also feel salespersons/ agency recruiters are overpaid pains in the “process” who undermine Corporate HR’s relationships with their own hiring managers. Corporate Human Resources Professionals see themselves as unappreciated and under-valued and over stressed in a relatively thankless, “What have you done for me today?” kind of existence (more often true than exaggeration). Let’s face it, oil and water have a better chance of blending without agitation. But, our respective chosen professions make contact inevitable – shouldn’t we want it to be productive/ profitable and as painless as possible? In my last article, I tried to give a few hints to those on the Agency side of the aisle. To help them better achieve their mission, making the sale, by seeing the Corporate Human Resources Professionals side of the mountain. This time I want to spend a few cycles trying to help Corporate Human Resources Professionals work better with their 3rd party counter-parts by pointing out a few of Corporate Human Resources Professionals traditional blind spots. This is the list for your wall:

  1. It’s Business – Do Not Take It Personally

    Yes – I know – this was also the first item in my last piece for recruiters, and no, I am not going to make the two lists match. But in all matters pertaining to business, this is always the first and most important item to insure you get the job done, quickly, professionally, and in a manner that will not reflect badly on you or your organization. Recruiters were not created to irritate Corporate HR (that’s just a perk). But they are trying to accomplish their mission just as you are trying to accomplish yours. Find the path where you both get something out of the deal, without stepping on each other’s toes, and a minimum of tears. Why should you, “the client,” make any effort to accommodate them, “the vendor?” What? Your life is so easy you need to make things more difficult than they need to be?

  2. The Hiring Manager Does Not Care – So Neither Should You

    It is said that “Pride goeth before a fall,” if that be the case, many of us in HR are tripping all over the place. Many in Corporate Human Resources see using an agency as a sign of failure or professional weakness. Alternatively, if your hiring manager is in contact with an agency, you assume it is because he does not think you are competent or capable of “doing the job.” Well, re-read rule #1 and continue on. In all my years of staffing on the “inside,” I have never had a manager compliment me on the way I run ads, do job fairs, search the WEB, or control agencies. They did say, “great job – WE – are really closing the requisitions!” Or, they said, “what’s the matter, – YOU – are falling down on the job!!!” (Please note the change from first person plural to second person singular, in the instances of success Vs. failure, no accident.) Hiring Managers want their requisitions filled, quickly, with good people, with a minimum commitment of their time. That’s all. If your boss is at a meeting where the various other departmental VPs are singing the praises of Staffing, if you are providing the support they want, expect and pray for from their Staffing Strategic Partner, I seriously doubt they are going to bring up or give credit to the resume sources. If, on the other hand, the hiring managers are “screaming” about poor hiring rates and low quality believe me, HR will not bring up your success at maintaining a low Cost Per Hire by alienating every agency in the Western Hemisphere, they will be too busy planting the tree while the rest of the VPs are off looking for a rope. Agencies are not the enemy. They are yet another source of resumes to help you accomplish your mission. Using them does not indicate you cannot “hack it” in staffing. You are the company’s project manager on all issues pertaining to staffing. Project Managers are not expected to be the hands-on experts on all issues pertaining to their project. But, they are expected to have the knowledge to use and control all useful resources to successfully control the project’s favorable outcome as measured by quality, meeting time commitments, and cost. Your hiring managers want you to be the Project Manager who solves their staffing issues. Use all the tools available to you. It indicates your competence as a manager, not your failure as a recruiter. They do not care how you became their hero. They just want you to be their hero!

  3. If You Don’t Set The Rules – The Recruiter Will

    Sales Professionals live by two rules: (1) Don’t lose the deal waiting for the phone to ring. (2) Only work with decision-makers. If you make it difficult for agencies to work with you, why are you surprised if they work around you and use your own hiring mangers against you. In sales, goodwill may get you into heaven, but it does not pay the bills. Goodwill must be tempered with the belief in possible or potential success if they do it “your” way, instead of “another” way. If you do not control your hiring managers, do not blame or penalize the vendor.

    Here is an example. Agency “A” sends you a resume which is an 80%’er for one of your openings. You forward to your hiring manager. However, the HM does not respond. The agency recruiter keeps calling you, and you keep asking for time, patience, and eventually get rude due to the fact you are embarrassed that you are not getting back-up from your own hiring manager. Two weeks later the same HM calls you an says that they received a resume from agency “B”, they have already done a phone screen, the HM wants to set-up an interview and stand by for an offer if all goes well. Now, here are my questions: (1) Will agency “A” ever trust you again (should they?) (2) Should agency “B” ever work with you (why should they?) (3) If you feel inadequate – no argument – you are. However, the agencies in question are not at fault. The HM picked up the telephone and dealt with the agency because for whatever reason, right or wrong, he or she felt they had no other choice or was unaware of the preferred process. The HM did not get back to you about the resume you sent to them because in their busy world, they pay attention to you in direct proportion to how hard you try to get their attention. Maybe, since you dislike doing business with agencies, you did not push a “good” resume and let it and your vendor-client relationship go stale. But, if it was a good resume, once you accept it into your system, the source should be moot. Your reluctance to follow-up on agency resumes cost them fee. They are sales people, so they don’t like that. So, another agency will now work around you. You were so concerned with controlling agencies, you lost control of the process.

    Develop a policy, procedure, and process for your hiring managers to work with agencies. It can be directly through them, with controls. Through you, or be a parallel process. Establish and enforce this policy at all levels. But establish inside first. Do not abuse vendors as a means of controlling your own HMs. That’s weak. Be willing to accept standards of performance and quality control measures imposed on you be your hiring managers as a joint bargain for their acceptance. Be willing to establish standards of performance that you offer to the agency for their willingness to participate willingly. Give them their own standards to follow as well, it is always a two way street. However, do not “flog” the agency recruiter for your failure to control your hiring managers. They want to make a sale. If you control a fair, fast, open, and equitable process – believe me – you are in charge. I have never met an agency recruiter who hated making a 10K fee by following the rules. However, I could fill the Coliseum with recruiters who lost fees following the rules, waiting for the telephone to ring.

  4. Remember – The Recruiters Time Has Value Too

    Good recruiters can be a valuable part of your hiring plan. But, they are small businesses of their own. Treat their time and efforts with the same value you expect assigned to your own. If you make a vendor/recruiter appointment, KEEP IT! If you set up a conference call to work out details, KEEP IT! If you have an open item with a recruiter, FIX IT. This may be an issue of an open resume, a pending telephone screen, a pending interview(s), a pending decision, a pending offer. Nevertheless, make an honest effort to keep business current and make every effort to manage your process, staffing! Candidates today have a short life expectancy on the market. Your recruiter partner works on a heavy commission base. If you were the recruiter and the candidate in question has an annual base of 50K and you have a 25% fee policy, the agency has a pending fee of 12.5K and the recruiter has a commission of from between 4-8K based on their contract. Could you count on you to follow up in a timely manner? If the honest answer is no, why are you surprised that your vendors cannot either. Time is money, spend yours and theirs wisely and with respect. Who do you know that would still like and respect you after you cost them 8K?

  5. If You Ain’t Buying – You Ain’t A Client

    Vendors call you a client when they make money off you, till that time, you are a prospect. To many recruiters, in a business world full of stalls, lies and outright misrepresentations, an honest “prospect” who treats a recruiter professionally is worth the wait to eventually develop them into a successful client. But if you give out “job orders” and never follow up. If you accept resumes and never give comments. If you merely provide “lip-service” and never make an honest effort to give the client-vendor relationship a chance to grow. Well, you are not a prospect. If you are not a prospect, you will never be a client. If you will never be a client……….( Fill in the blank yourself).

  6. Give Everyone at Least One Chance

    Avoid the bad habit of limiting the number of vendors you will do business with as a means of keeping life simple. How do you know you have the best vendors? Will your approved vendors work as hard when they know there is no competition for them to be compared against? If your Time to Fill is long, maybe you need more vendors, not less. The person calling you is looking to make a living doing a good job, if you require a good job. Why? Because, is sales the person who does the best job, if managed properly, gets the sale. So, if you are going to spend the cycles with vendors, try to make the time well spent. Open each relationship with the honest intent to make the caller a vendor. Oh! You do not have the time? I’m sorry, did somebody tell you that managing the future of your company by insuring the timely acquisition of top notch talent by developing, controlling, leading and managing a complex and multifaceted process of cross industry diversified sources and services was supposed to be easy? Have a “Startup-Kit” ready to e-mail all new contacts with a couple of your hard to fill position descriptions, your policy and procedures for working with outside vendors, your standards of performance you impose on vendors and yourself, and your agency agreement that you send to every initial contact. Spell out the benefits and the penalties for following, or failing to follow your guidelines. Be willing to work closely with the new vendor as they make their first honest, sloppy, unintentional, or intentional errors. If the relationship does not work out, you tried.

  7. Good Recruiters Seek a Decision Maker – Be One

    Only wine improves with age, decisions are best served fresh. If you want to control vendors, be the one they can call and get a fair, fast and balanced decision. Good sales professionals are looking for a fair and equitable relationship. Be part of that relationship and they will work with you, gladly. Most Recruiters seek hiring managers because hiring managers treat them “better,” not good, just better. A good HR professional is worth his or her weight in gold to a recruiter. You oversee multiple openings in many departments. In the end, you do the paperwork, either quickly or slowly, based on your relationship with the agency (oh come on now, we all know that’s true). A good staffing professional has a desire to fill requisitions. If we have a requisition under control, we have no need for a recruiter and tell them so. They waste no cycles. If we are in trouble with a requisition, we give it out gladly to recruiters we feel have a good relationship with us. Hiring Mangers tend to give everything out, make everything a job requisition, whether it is needed or not. That means that often, although easier to get to, the hiring manager’s information is of dubious quality. Often, the hiring manager’s schedule does not make them consistently available or consistently in the “mood” to talk staffing. Most recruiters prefer dealing with Human Resources Professionals as long as they feel they are dealing with a fair professional that is giving out accurate information. In sales, you want to deal with the “check signer.” That is what a “decision-maker” is to a sales professional, a check signer. Be that person and you will be amazed how good a relationship you have with your vendors.

  8. Control The Inevitable – Do Not Ignore It

    In the insane market of the late 1990s and early 2000s, there is not a source a Corporate HR professional can ignore in meeting their commitment to staff their company. When you prepared the budget for the current year you reviewed the previous years openings and performances and measurements. You discovered those positions that were relatively easy to fill and those that were difficult. You identified the successful sources based on type and level of position they best supported. Based on your hiring plan, you have a rough guess of what needs will arise and roughly when will be opened. You have a “guess-timate” on unplanned turn-over and contingency funds set aside to deal with the issue as each cases arises. This is called a detailed hiring plan. If you do not have one, the issues you have with your vendors is the least of your problems and now make sense. Armed with this plan, go to your hiring managers and make it clear what positions are going to be “fee allocated” and which ones are not. Let the agencies that call know that you will not pay fees for one type of background, but gladly for another. Give them an idea of your planned needs and make them aware of your “planned unexpected” needs that fall into the agency profile due to difficulty or urgency. When I ran a desk and I had a contact that kept me in the loop, I worked to keep the business. We used to say, “I want to stay on their speed dial.”

In conclusion, the negative aspect in the vendor-client relationship (Agencies and Corporate HR) has always been about money and control. Agencies are the most expensive form of recruiting and that shows up on your budget. We can argue about quality, time to fill, lost productivity and all the rest, but none of that is on your budget. Your requests for new equipment, new software, more space on the corporate web, a researcher, an assistant, anything-something is never more than 1/2 of what you asked for (1/4 if you tried the old “double your need trick”) if that much. Then you see that agency hires were 35-45% of your budget, but only 10-15% of your hires. You go nuts. You have to be mad at somebody, why not the agency? Since recruiters are sales professionals they want to insure that they do not lose a sale due to any mistakes made by “other people,” so they push. So you get offended. So they are spending your money and trying to control your process. Ouch! However, if the process is designed and controlled by you and operating within the confines of the budget developed by you and accepted by your boss, where is the issue, really? Unless of course you have lost control of your managers, the process and cost. It is easy to blame the recruiters. Some of them make it very easy to blame. But if you are responsible for the process and that process is out of control, is it really the recruiter you should be angry at, or is you who needs a “good talking to”? Take control of your project and manage it. Meet with your HMs and spell out the process you want to follow and the advantages it represents to them. They do not care if it is good for you. Call your vendors and do the same with them. Tell the agencies where the advantage lies for them to follow your plan. If the HMs are on board with you, if the plan is fair and equitable, the agencies will come on board as well. They are not in business to get into arguments. They are in business to make money. There are exceptions to this rule, there always will be. Some agencies and some recruiters are very unprofessional. Guess what? Some of us need a lesson in integrity and professionalism as well. But if you design your policies for vendors based on the lowest common denominator, that’s who you will attract. If you develop policies based on dealing with true professionals that’s who you will be getting calls from to do business. There is an old saying, “It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” Staffing is craft, you are the only one in the process who is responsible for all aspects of the project and has total responsibility for the total outcome. Use and control all the tools at your disposal. Stop blaming the hammer for busting your thumb and pay more attention to what you are doing. Control the process by having one. Have a great day recruiting!

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Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

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