Why are Recruiting and Retention Always Lumped Together?

Over the past few years, the term “recruiting” has increasingly become almost automatically appended with “and retention.”

The titles of VP, Director, or Manager of Recruiting & Retention have become pretty common, and many industry commentators clump the two together, almost perfunctorily.

I don’t get the connection.

Most organizations carelessly use these terms, so it may help to gain some clarity by agreeing on our definitions.

First, “recruiting” refers to those activities that are undertaken to convince employees of other companies to leave their current job in favor of a new one. By definition, the end result of this process should be the addition of new workers to our payroll who were not on that payroll the day before we recruited them. In other words, recruiting results in the influx of new talent into a company.

An important point here: this definition renders the phrase “internal recruitment” oxymoronic, and properly so. There is no such thing as internal recruitment, since you cannot, by definition, recruit someone to join the company who is already an employee. You can internally move, redeploy, reassign, or transfer them, but you cannot recruit them. Having recruiters spend time on internal movement activities and calling it “internal recruiting” represents a misuse of a recruiter’s time that will decrease the effectiveness of a function’s ability to actually recruit new talent into the company.

On the other hand, “retention” refers to those activities that a company undertakes to keep its highly valued current employees engaged and committed to the company. In other words, after workers are recruited, hired, trained, and productive, we initiate certain actions and engage in certain behaviors to encourage their ongoing loyalty to our firm.

Many companies do a nice job of making new employees feel welcome and provide excellent onboarding programs to assist with boosting retention from the employee’s first day. But these also occur after a new employee has been recruited, and after recruiting has moved on to finding candidates to fill the next requisition.

Separate and Distinct

If “recruiting” focuses on external talent who does not yet work here, and “retention” focuses on keeping the employees who are already here, aren’t these two activities separate and distinct at their core? Don’t they require vastly different activities and different skill sets to accomplish? Why do we automatically lump these activities together?

The most common thinking, of course, ties the quality of recruiting to retention performance using the argument that if the recruiting function hires the right people in the first place, our workers will have higher engagement, will be more career-oriented, and will stick around longer. But there are a few big problems with this argument.

First, in all but a few rare cases, recruiting doesn’t make the hire; the hiring manager does. Almost universally, the most the recruiting function can do is create the slate of finalist candidates (if they even do that), and the manager takes it from there.

Recruiting may have a vote, but it is rarely a veto. And on those rare occasions when it is a veto, it is not an override veto: recruiting may be able to stop a hire, but it can never force one on a hiring manager who doesn’t want the candidate, no matter how poor the manager’s reasoning.

Turnover’s Fuzzy Logic

The other problem with the argument is that it reflects fuzzy logic about the prime causes of turnover. While a good recruiter should be able to increase the quality of the candidate slate, and therefore increase the quality of the final hire, a bad line manager, poor management practices, and unkind co-workers can frustrate the greatest hire in the world, causing them to leave in record time.

Does a recruiter have control over any of these factors? I have never read a study that links attrition to recruiting practices. I have read hundreds of studies, though, that clearly link attrition with bad management practices, poor selection practices (remember, the manager makes that decision), bad bosses, boring work, lack of career-enhancing opportunities, and unsatisfactory compensation opportunities. Notice that none of these qualities have anything to do with recruiting.

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Another challenge in merging these functions is that the capabilities required to be a great recruiter have little overlap with the skills required to build impactful, measurable retention programs.

Great recruiters have an external focus on the market of people who do not work here and may not have ever thought about working here. Retention initiatives are internally focused on people who have already decided to work here. Why would we think that one human being would be good at or be able to split their time between the two worlds? In fact, both roles are large enough to ensure that if you are doing one well you are almost certainly under-delivering in the other.

Interestingly, when we ask recruiting leaders who have this title to enumerate the scope of their retention activities, it is typically limited to ensuring the quality of candidates in the pipeline, sometimes providing marketplace feedback on competitive talent practices (usually compensation and talent management schemes at direct competitors), and marketplace feedback on the company’s market reputation.

Recruiting can certainly increase attrition through poor recruiting practices. Recruiters could, for example, misrepresent actual job duties, fail to eliminate habitual job-changers, or fail to stand firm with hiring managers about best hiring practices. But these are recruiting failures, not retention failures.

Look at it this way: assuming that recruiting does its job right, retention of that employee is no longer up to the recruiting function once that hire becomes an employee. It is up to HR and to line management to ensure their long-term success and loyalty.

After all, consider that line managers:

  • Make the final hiring decision.
  • Are primarily responsible, along with HR, for onboarding/new hire integration.
  • Direct employees’ day-to-day work.
  • Set the tone of the work unit.
  • Lead the career development, along with HR, of direct reports.
  • With assistance from HR, provide performance feedback/direction.
  • Using HR programs, are responsible for promotions, both within their work groups and throughout the organization.

Let’s stop pretending that recruiting and retention are natural soul mates. Even more importantly, let’s put the retention focus where it properly belongs: in the hands of HR for overarching programs and in the hands of line managers for day-to-day delivery.

Let’s make first-year retention performance and top talent retention performance part of line managers’ key performance objectives. Let’s measure HR business value in terms of their demonstrated effectiveness at impacting workforce engagement and key employee retention.

Let recruiting focus on bringing us the best new talent on the market.

Then recruiting and retention will have the space they need to improve.

Harry Griendling is a founder and Managing Partner of DoubleStar, Inc., a leading provider of talent acquisition and measurement solutions that enable organizations to optimize their talent management initiatives. During his time at DoubleStar, Griendling has led the design, development, and execution of more than 600 high-volume recruitment projects for 250 of the East Coast's fastest-growing organizations.


17 Comments on “Why are Recruiting and Retention Always Lumped Together?

  1. People are suckers for it.

    But really, some very interesting points. These days a big push is to link performance management software to recruiting software- of placing quality of hire metrics in the laps of recruiters. I think recruiters do play an important role in quality control, but overall I am with you: there is way more to the ouput of employee performance than the input of raw material. Like blaming teachers for dumb kids- not bloody likely….

    I do disagree with you on the notion that having recruiters spend time on internal movement activities and calling it ‘internal recruiting’ represents a misuse of a recruiter’s time.

    Many firms are so large that the notional fact of being employed by that firm may mean little in interactions with other units/divisions when it comes to job duties and compensation. A fresh hire in other words if the company directory looks like a phone book.

  2. That it’s because folks often don’t know where to put ‘retention.’ It sounds like an HR function–hey, who can argue that we shouldn’t retain our best folks? And it sounds like something we should be focusing on. But you’re right to place the emphasis on the hiring manager.

    On the other hand, one could argue that most of what HR does (or should do) is support management–particularly when it comes to measuring what factors (de)motivate their staff. That’s data that’s useful for recruitment, retention, training, you name it.

    One could also argue that many supervisors and managers are so busy simply trying to do their day-to-day work that they have little time to focus on issues like retention. That’s where internal consultants (HR) come in.

    So if there’s something wrong with ‘Recruitment and Retention’ perhaps it’s that it’s not broad ENOUGH–particularly in small organizations that don’t have the resources to create separate functions. Perhaps the en vogue ‘talent management’ would be more appropriate.

  3. Harry, I apologize but I couldn’t disagree more with your contention that recruitment and retention are separate. In the recruiting process, you mention that line managers take over the on-boarding and orientation and that may be accurate but the recruiter will also never have a successful hire until the candidate has been integrated in the organization. If the new hire is released before their probation period ends, then you haven’t properly identified what the hiring manager wanted in the first place. I realize I’m being simplistic and that there are examples of hidden flaws that lead to dismissal but the statement generally holds true, even moreso when the turnover rate increases.
    As for retention being a different process, I’ll go as far as saying that the tools used to retain employees are the same tools used to bring them into the organization. As well, there has to be a reason for losing any employee. It may simply be from external circumstances such as a need to relocate for family reasons. However, when an employee is lost due to internal circumstances, those circumstances should be made known to the recruiter.
    Here’s an example: an employee best described as hard working but socially withdrawn may not be able to handle a high energy environment where the manager may occasionally vent frustrations. The manager may derive maximum efforts from everyone else in his team so firing them won’t be the solution but making sure you recruit someone who can work in that environment would be. Part of the retention process would be to conduct exit interviews and determine the above circumstances.

  4. ..because Recruiters make convenient scapegoats in these situations; a’la ‘They left after 6 months, so the recruiter made a poor hire’. Good article and timely! It was just touched on in the excellent Sitting Xlegged blog as well. If a candidate leaves inside of 90 days, I’ll take some of the blame as a Recruiter. Perhaps I set poor expectations or the candidate felt the onboarding process caused frustration, etc. But usually when the candidate leaves, by doing some digging, you will find it was a variety of factors the Recruiter has little control over. Shifts/schedules changed, promised compensation like overtime was cut, manager reveals their ‘Mr. Hyde’ side, etc. In a sufficiently large company, the Recruiter may find out the person left only when they are tasked to find their backfill.
    There are somethings we can do to influence the situation though. Recruiters in a corporate setting can/should take an active part in the onboarding process. If you have that contact in IT that will ease the new guys frustration in getting his email set up, use it! If you can make a call directly to an HR Rep and ask them to lend a few minutes of hand holding while the newbie sets up their benefits, make the call! Set up a note in your calendar a month or so down the road to hit them for referrals (again) and see how things are going, and direct them toward any channels that might solve lingering problems. We can be their cheerleaders and encourage them to take the field, but ultimately the candidate and the organization they work within, is responsible for ‘running with the ball’.

  5. Very good article, Harry – thanks! As you so accurately point out, recruiting and retention are two entirely different processes and should not necessarily be directly linked (as typically defined as both primarily being the responsibility of the recruiter).

    To those who want to argue that the linkage between recruiting and retention is strong and direct, I will gladly agree that there is, indeed, some limited correlation between quality of hire and retention. However, as Harry demonstrated, the factors that influence the length of an employment relationship are much more complex than just being recruited and then staying there.

    The answer to why recruiting is tagged with the negative aspects of retention is, as Dan stated, because recruiting is easier to blame than the HR folks responsible for training, compensation, benefits, employee relations, etc…all of which functions have at least as much impact on the tenure of an employee as the initial recruiting process did.

    Look at any survey of why people change jobs and the reasons will be very much in line with those presented here by Harry. Has anyone seen a survey which reports that a major source of turnover is because individuals took the wrong job specifically because they were influenced to do so by a recruiter? Clearly, there’s considerably more involved in retention than just the initial recruiting process – so why allow ourselves to be held responsible for something beyond our control?

  6. I disagree pretty much with the whole article.

    The process of bringing new talent into the organisation is not recruitment, it’s called recruitment & selection. Recruitment is the process of creating a pool of qualified talent to go forward into the selection process. Selection is about identifying the candidate with the best prediction of future on the job performance. These two activities are separate & distinct & require quite different skill sets & training.
    Retention certainly starts & is included in the selection process. But if you consider that a good part of the qualifying phase of recruitment is involved with delivering a keen, eager & motivated candidate into final selection, then I think that recruitment also has a part to play in the wider view of retention by helping to get employees through that initial on-boarding period & into longer term retention activities.

  7. Spot on, Harry. The COMPETENCIES of the two roles are different (ie recruitment is overwhelmingly externally focused whereas retention is completely internally focused) and as a result it is highly unlikely (although not impossible) you will have a person who is equally competent (or interested) in both functions compared to having them split into separate areas.

    If professional sporting teams/organisations (who, as Dr Sullivan is often reminding us, are normally using market leading recruitment philosophies and practices) don’t lump these two functions together then why do companies?

  8. Reading this article, which is largely on the money in my view, and also the comments brings to mind two aphorisms that seem appropriate to dust off. The first is that ‘we hire people for what they know and we fire them for who they are’ and it is my belief that in this age of at-will employment that is a sword that cuts both ways. If a hiring manager either modifies or misrepresents the essential nature of the job or the environment to the degree that an employee is inspired to leave, that must not be considered the fault of the recruiter. There are simply too many ways for an employment relationship to come undone that are outside the control of the (internal or external) recruiter to hold the recruiter accountable.

    The other aphorism? ‘People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.’ The broad range of retention issues goes way beyond onboarding and way beyond the honeymoon period in a new job, and in my experience the responsibility for those issues most often lies with management, not the recruiter.

  9. For employers of choice, recruiting and retention connect in two important ways ? job matching and employee engagement.

    Job matching involves knowing ?what it takes? to perform well in each position (i.e. using formal job analysis), identifying individuals who have what it takes (i.e. conducting valid job-related assessments) and attracting job-matched talent with well founded expectations and mutually satisfactory ?employment deals?.

    Job-matching drives job performance and job-matched performance boosts retention ? employees who perform well in positions that suit them tend to stay. When employees are ready for advancement, the same job-matching disciplines will underwrite successful promotions that further reinforce retention.

    Employee engagement involves emotional connections between employees and their position/employer that lead to discretionary efforts on the job (i.e. more performance). Those same emotional connections also predispose employees to stay, long term (i.e. higher retention).

    Employee engagement depends on individual and collective perceptions about the workplace and the employment deals. Financial compensation, time & flexibility, health & family benefits, learning & development, work climate and management climate all contribute, for better or worse. Hiring managers make huge differences, too, because talent tends to ?join good companies? and ?quit bad bosses?.

    Job matching drives performance and retention. High levels of employee engagement also drive performance and retention. Job matching and employee engagement operate synergistically to deliver ever higher levels of performance and retention.

    High levels of employee engagement also help to attract candidates who have what it takes. This happens several ways. Highly engaged employees like where they work and tell everyone they know. That creates well deserved favorable buzz for the employer’s employment brand. It also helps drive employee referrals ? an excellent source of talent (i.e. quality and quantity).

    One thing for sure: talent will win the talent wars and only their employers of choice will share in the victory. Job-matched, highly engaged talent creates mutually reinforcing conditions for achieving high levels of performance and retention. In turn, that enables the perfect storm, by adding high levels of attraction (i.e. employer of choice) to high levels of organizational performance and talent retention.

    It matters little how we slice and dice the relationship between recruiting and retention, as long as we job match and engage talent to deliver performance, retention and attraction, too! We have the tools to measure and manage job match and employee engagement, superbly. Seize the initiative! Reap all of the rewards!

  10. I must respectfully disagree with most, if not all, of this articles content. The logic only prevails if ?recruiting? is defined in the very narrowest sense, something that clearly gone from most forward looking companies. This is symptomatic of what ails HR and reinforces HR lamenting about such things as not having a seat at the table, not perceived as credible, etc.
    Retention is a crucial outcome of owning the talent acquisition process. Organizations that can?t retain talent in the short term are correct in attributing fault to portions of the talent management process. In my consulting work I have found that recruiting plays a critical role in early turnover (voluntary and involuntary).
    Recruiters are the first people that form the impressions and expectations in candidates? minds. These set the stage for their future inquiries and are often used to compare job reality with job expectations. If there is huge discrepancy, dissatisfaction results and turnover might ensue. Recruiters need to really understand the good the bad and the ugly about the jobs they are filling and provide realistic job previews to their candidates.
    Top recruiters do not just present candidates to hiring managers and allow them to make the selection decision. Top recruiters place candidates under their own microscope and do their own assessing and selecting. Top recruiters present a final slate of candidates, any one of which they would hire and bet they would excel.
    Recruiters need to make sure that new hire?s on-boarding experience and their first few days/weeks on the job are meeting their expectations. They need to make sure supervisors, trainers, and other personnel who creating those first impressions are all in sync with creating very positive first impressions for all new employees.
    As HR processes get streamlined, recruiting needs to take on more responsibility for process before and after their traditional boundaries. This includes talent management planning (before) and talent assimilation (after).

  11. I read this article last week, and immediately felt both agreement and disagreement with the premise. At first, it seems that not relating retention to recruiting is a self-serving way of avoiding the responsibility that is at the core of the recruiting and staffing industry- putting the RIGHT people in the RIGHT jobs. If we agree that recruiting and retention are not related, than it’s not our fault, as recruiters, if the company can’t retain the individuals. Top Talent IS NOT the best indicator for success in a workplace, indeed the skill set as a whole is often over emphasized in the process. I truly believe this is often a reflection of the ego of the staffing and recruiting professionals, who want to show of how great a candidate they had, based on pedigree.

    What is lost in that transaction is that the most important factors in job satisfaction are engagement and comfort. You can have the best skill set in the world, but if you like being left alone to do your work, and your company requires you to participate as part of a team, then you are definitely not the best fit.

    As the article goes on to address, though, job match is the key to engagement, which is the key to retention. However, isn’t the act of recruiting finding the right person to match to the job? It’s my feeling that this relationship between recruiting and retention is absolutely vital and relevant. Though, it may be that they are not directly connected. Maybe it follows this logic statement: IF Recruiting affects Job Match AND Job Match affects Engagement AND Engagement affects Retention THEN Recruiting affects Retention.

    Nice article to get the juices flowing though!

  12. Yes, they are two separate initiatives but each couldn’t be more closely related.

    I think it only makes sense to lump the two together, within the same department…i.e.,HR. There should be one manager over both and then that one person, should have a team dedicated to recruitment, and then other individuals who oversee the onboarding and retention process. This way communications between the two can happen, easily.

    You wouldn’t have to recruit if you retained and you wouldn’t have to retain if you didn’t recruit. So…they are a direct effect of one another.

    I agree with Richard. It’s clear that making adjustments in how you recruit can affect the retention process. So the teams need to work closely together and communicate.

    For example, since learning about and then joining Climber.com, I can clearly see that job matching from the beginning of the recruiting process will make the retention process a heck of a lot easier. It’s why we’re in business. It’s why our client partners love our site. Job matching makes sense, it cuts turnover costs, lessens recruitment cycle times and will help retention efforts because you know you have the right fit from the beginning.

    Each team can gain valuable insight from the other on their processes and if changes need to be made. Retention Team can offer a lot of insight as to what is broken in the recruiting process. The recruiting team can then gain valuable feedback from the Retention Team if things have changed within the organization and the Recruiting Team needs to change their ‘pitch’ to external candidates.

    These two teams have to work closely and be overseen by the same person, otherwise you’ll have a major disconnect within the organization.

  13. Carl, you stated ‘They(recruiters)need to make sure supervisors, trainers, and other personnel who creating those first impressions are all in sync with creating very positive first impressions for all new employees.
    As HR processes get streamlined, recruiting needs to take on more responsibility for process before and after their traditional boundaries. This includes talent management planning (before) and talent assimilation (after).’

    In my experience, that has been outside of my area of influence. Do I as a recruiter become an enforcer of the process when in fact, I don’t own it?

  14. Thank you, Harry. I’d like to go further and say that not only are recruiting and retention often linked improperly, most of the time their interests are diametrically opposed! Think about it: minimized turnover/maximized retention reduces the amount of work that a recruiter has to do, and thus jeopardizes his/her job security. It’s foolish to try and fill a full cup, but trying to fill a sieve is job security.

    I suppose it is theoretically possible in an ideal organization to design a system which resolves this contradiction (and still pays its recruiters a lot of money), but I am not personally familiar with that organization.


  15. Harry – I really like your article. In fact, I recently posted on my blog a similar type discussion. Here is the link:


    It is interesting to see all the responses and thoughts.
    All I can say is we hire people to do job. It up to the individual to give us the correct information throughout the interview process. The issue with all of this is people sometimes tell us what we want to hear and not necessarily the truth. In this case, it doesn’t matter how good the recruiting process is or how mature the retention programs are, it just won’t work out. We have the most unreliable product. A product that can think and make bad decisions.

    Now all that being said, my opinion is biased because I am on the recruiting side and will never hold an HR position. But that is just me.

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