Why Managers Don’t Respect Recruiters

Around the world, a frequent complaint heard from corporate recruiters is that they fail to get the respect they feel they deserve from line managers. Almost without exception, they wonder out loud why managers don’t return their calls, read the resumes they submit, or find time to conduct interviews they set up. This lack of respect is not based on perception alone. Studies from Watson Wyatt and other management consulting firms demonstrate that while managers feel recruiting is important, they typically rank their organization’s recruiting performance poorly. Why the disconnect between the importance managers place on recruiting and their simultaneous lack of respect for those who do it? The answer is actually quite simple. If you look at recruiting functions ó and recruiters in particular ó through the same lens that managers assess non-HR programs, you see that recruiters routinely operate outside the constraints and conventions that guide other business projects. The isolated dominion that recruiting and HR in general has created for itself is often devoid of metrics, rewards for performance, and accountability. Its continued existence sends a message that recruiting cannot exist in the same competitive business climate that line managers must operate in daily. In short, it demonstrates clearly that recruiting is not a profession of equals, but rather a profession of ineffectual social workers. (Incidentally, external executive search professionals are in direct contrast, and are generally held in high regard by line managers because they operate under a competitive pay-for-performance model.) Smart recruiting managers who want to elevate the level of respect given to their recruiters and their function should examine the factors listed below and use them as a checklist to improve the respect that the recruiting function receives. Factors That Cost Corporate Recruiters Stature and Respect Managers outside the human resource function understand that there are rules ó some of which are unspoken and undocumented ó that govern the approaches they take in leading their team, group, or unit to success. Adhering to these principles gains a manager respect, while ignoring them places him or her at risk of being singled out. Unfortunately, many recruiters seem to feel that they are exempt from these business rules, and they wind up losing the respect of the line managers they work with everyday. Some examples of this include:

  • Failure to demonstrate your ROI. Every line manager competes daily in a competitive and unforgiving marketplace. Part of that competitive struggle requires them to consistently calculate and demonstrate their return on investment. In short, to secure additional or ongoing resources, they must provide data to prove that the dollar benefits exceed the dollar cost in whatever they do. While many recruiting functions do look at and track their costs, the majority fail to measure the revenue impact of great recruiting. Without measuring the revenue impact of hiring top people (versus hiring average people), there’s no way to calculate the ROI of recruiting. Other overhead activities like supply chain management and customer relationship management have demonstrated their value in economic terms, while for some reason recruiting and human resources in general has not.
  • Unknown payback period. When CFOs invest in a project, they want to know how long it will take to get their initial investment dollars back. For this reason all line managers routinely calculate payback period on each of their programs and projects. Unfortunately, a majority of recruiting functions never even attempt this calculation. For example, when purchasing a new ATS, it makes sense to assess the value received and to demonstrate the point where the initial investment is returned. By refusing to calculate an investment’s payback period, recruiters demonstrate contempt for standard business conventions.
  • Poor customer service. In a highly competitive business climate, almost every company emphasizes the importance of customer service. Many corporations have even adopted a customer relationship management model where building and maintaining relationships is considered essential. Recruiting, on the other hand, operates one of the least customer-sensitive processes in any organization. Recruiters often fail to communicate effectively with their customers, neglecting to inform candidates and hiring managers what exactly to expect from the recruiting process and on what timeline. For example, when candidates ask how they’re doing, the answer is almost universally, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” In a majority of firms, applicants that fail get no feedback on how to improve should they want to apply in the future. Using any customer service measurement criteria, the way recruiters treat candidates is disappointing. Since few firms track candidate satisfaction, recruiting never really knows how dissatisfied candidates are or the impact of that dissatisfaction on the recruiting power of the organization. If the real cost of poor customer service was known, it would be clear that the recruiting function would cease to exist as we know it.
  • Pay for performance. Many line managers have a significant portion of their pay at risk. If they don’t perform to expected levels, they lose their bonus and eventually their job. In direct contrast, corporate recruiters often have none of their pay at risk. In order to build respect, all recruiters pay should be directly tied to their performance, as should the recruiting department’s budget.
  • Competitive advantage. Nearly every major business function is required to compare itself to the direct competitor and to demonstrate to senior management that it provides a distinct competitive advantage. While some recruiting departments do some basic benchmarking, only a handful ever do a side-by-side competitive analysis. Recruiting managers should demonstrate on a quarterly basis that their results and their programs are superior to their competitors’ and that they provide a distinct competitive advantage to their firm.
  • Six Sigma quality standards. Many organizations have undertaken Six Sigma programs to help ensure that quality permeates their organization. Line managers must constantly demonstrate to internal and external organizations that they produce high quality products with a low error rate. Recruiting, on the other hand, not only does not use Six Sigma standards, but in most cases it fails to measure quality at all. Less than a handful of recruiting departments have undergone Six Sigma assessments, and very few quantify the quality of their hires. By exempting themselves, recruiting departments damage their image among managers who must demonstrate quality everyday.
  • Lack of fee for service. Managers are accustomed to getting what they pay for. Because managers are often not required to pay for internal services, they have no basis to evaluate the value they are receiving. When using external recruiters, managers not only have direct access to output of the process, they also have to pay the bill, which provides them with all of the information needed to determine value. Corporate recruiting managers should shift internal recruiting to a fee-for-service model or institute service level agreements that extend choices to managers between internal and external recruiters. Operating in a competitive environment improves everyone, and recruiting is not exempt from that rule. Living in a “socialist” world where line managers never really know the cost of the services provided by corporate recruiting weakens recruiting and the respect that recruiters get.
  • Branding. Nearly everyone would agree that branding is one of the hottest corporate topics among senior executives. Senior managers constantly talk about the importance of building a product brand and the value that it brings to the company. In contrast, most corporate recruiting departments fundamentally ignore the importance of branding. If you want senior managers to respect you, you need to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable in this important area of business. By building a great employment brand and demonstrating to potential candidates that the organization is well managed and a great place to work, you show senior managers that you possess the same skills and understand the complex environment that line managers live in. Building a strong employment brand should be one of the top priorities of any recruitment manager.
  • Professionalism. All major universities offer degrees in management, accounting, and finance. It is not possible to get a degree in recruiting. There is no credible recruiting certification and a majority of recruiters start their job with literally no formal classroom training of any kind. There are no books on the theory of recruiting and there is no standard body of knowledge that is recognized within the recruiting profession. Until recruiting becomes more professional, it will not reach the standard of acceptance that finance and supply chain management have.
  • Productivity. The universal measure of any department’s effectiveness is productivity. Every business unit must demonstrate its productivity improvement on a monthly or quarterly basis. For some reason, recruiting has not jumped on this productivity bandwagon. Few recruiting departments even measure their productivity, let alone report it executives. It’s time for recruiting managers to demonstrate a significant percentage improvement in productivity each and every year.

Action Steps to Increase Your Respect Among Line Managers Almost everyone in recruiting agrees that managers don’t pay enough attention to recruiting. They value recruiting itself but they undervalue and under-appreciate recruiters. If you are a recruiting manager and you want to gain the respect of line managers, there are several things you can do. The first is to begin to understand how line managers think and the problems they face. They live in a highly competitive world where measuring and producing results is essential. They are highly impatient and focus on activities that produce immediate results. The hiring process takes so long that they see recruiting as a long-term investment that can be postponed when more immediate short-term needs arise. In order to resolve that perception of being long-term, the recruiting process needs to be streamlined so that the time period between its start and completion is less than one month. In addition to rectifying the items highlighted in the beginning of this article, there are some other things that recruiting managers can do to increase the respect recruiters get. These include:

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  1. Involve managers more directly in recruiting. Start by periodically rotating managers into the recruiting function. Next, develop an advisory committee to give managers more input into the recruiting process. Until they see firsthand the difficulty of your situation and feel that they have some input, they are unlikely to increase their level of respect for what you do.
  2. Make metrics an essential part of everything you do in recruiting. Begin to measure your ROI and use that calculation to improve your recruiting process. Measure the on-the-job performance of new hires and compare that to last year’s hires or the average worker. Finally, quantify the dollar impact of hiring “better,” more productive workers as a result of great recruiting.
  3. Focus on building your organizations employment brand. Get your organization and its best practices talked about in the media. Apply for and get on best-place-to-work lists. Try to be written up in the same business magazines that line managers regularly read. Nothing impresses them more than seeing the quality of your recruiting process being recognized in external industry and business publications.

My final recommendation is to tie recruiter pay to recruiting performance. If you are serious about diversity recruiting, recruiting top performers, or improving recruiting overall, nothing works faster than regularly measuring and rewarding individual and departmental performance. Not only will it improve overall recruiting performance but it will also demonstrate to line managers that you too are willing to live within the rules of business.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



3 Comments on “Why Managers Don’t Respect Recruiters

  1. I’m currently working for a company whose practices mirror many of the challenges faced here. One underlying issue that was not addressed, and should be considered a root cause of many of these problems, is the role and view of the recruiting arm within the HR organization itself. Too often, recruiting teams are seen by the ‘real’ HR folks as a necessary evil: either the HR staff lacks the time/resources to recruit themselves, or simply lacks the skills (both professional and personal) to effectively recruit. In either case, there is a perception that a recruiter is an ancillary part of the HR organization itself – and this perception is either knowingly or unknowingly filtered out to other key players in the organization. Having the backing of your own HR team is an essential first step to ensuring that the recruiting function is perceived as a valuable part of the company’s business plan. Getting that buy-in can certainly make developing the relationships with the line managers much easier, a fact that was not explored in this otherwise excellent article.

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  2. I’m actually quite surprised that this article received only one response. I assumed that it would have triggered a flurry of activity and debate. I was very excited about seeing this article in my inbox because I know that lack of management?s respect for recruiting is a huge problem in many companies and it is one of the biggest challenges recruiters face constantly. So needless to say I was very surprised and honestly disappointed in Dr. Sullivan?s ?solutions? to the problem, which places a lot of emphasis in recruiter compensation and quantifying everything we do so we can plug it in to a lame excel spreadsheet in order to justify our existence. While I completely disagree with his ideas on compensation (we?ll table that for another time) and do whole heartily agree that what we do should be measured by establishing quantifiable metrics (while I hate it, I am a metrics queen!), but I believe that he completely missed the boat as to WHY recruiters don?t get any respect. It makes me question whether or not he has EVER actually spoken to hiring/line managers outside of HR before. Well I have and do so every single day and I?ll share with my colleagues as to why managers don?t respect recruiters (I hate to say it, but someone needs to): It?s because most recruiters have absolutely no clue what the heck they are doing! Many have no idea what the business REALLY does, not to mention what their hiring managers even do, let alone the challenges they face and how they view themselves and their group as it relates to the overall strategic direction of company. I?ve seen on countless occasions recruiters who don?t even know what position they are ?recruiting? for actually does and how it ties in to the manager/company?s objectives.

    I find it amazing that Dr. Sullivan (no disrespect intended) actually believes the reason why hiring managers circumvent internal recruiters in order to use outside agencies is because they somehow have it in their heads that paying for something means that it must be good. I hate to break the news, but that IS NOT the reason. Again, I?ll tell you why ? it?s because the hiring managers do not have the faith that the internal recruiters actually ?get it.? Nor do they trust the recruiter?s ability to identify, target and perhaps cold call potential candidates. Rather they see the internal recruiter no more than paper-pushers (aka ?glorified admin?). With that said, even if you go with the ?fee-for-service? model; they?ll REALLY feel as though they?re being ripped off. So we?re back where we started ? Their lack of confidence that the internal recruiters actually ?get it.?

    I could go on an on about this, but one last point before I go. In the opening paragraph it mentions that hiring managers aren?t reading the resumes their recruiters submit. I know this is common, but I always wonder WHY recruiters even do this. Screening resumes is not their job, it?s OUR job. Hiring managers shouldn?t EVEN be screening resumes if the recruiters fully know what they?re doing. And if they are requesting to see resume first it?s because again, they lack the confidence that the recruiter understands what the objectives of the position are and what the person who fills the spot is actually going to be doing. A recruiter who is truly on top of their game will take that resume, call the candidate, ensure they are really qualified and will fit with what the hiring manager has envisioned for this role and if so, let the hiring manager know to be available Tuesday at 10 am (or whenever) for an interview. But again, we?re back to the root problem?recruiters need to fully understand the business objects of the hiring managers.

    I’m saying all of this, not out of any disrespect to my colleagues but rather to share some of the success I have had with my hiring managers. It is my hope for everyone to feel how I feel, which is this: ?I LOVE MY HIRING MANAGERS!!?

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  3. Good observations by Tammy Shin re. Dr. Sullivan’s article. I must say that I fall to Tammy’s side of the fence with regard to a few points. When I joined my current organization, the Controller had a very strong relationship with a staffing agency and he liked using their services exclusively for his hiring purposes. A couple of reasons: 1) The same agency placed him in his current role (he felt a degree of kinship/loyalty to the agency; 2) He believed that they knew his business better than the recruiter (and, surprise, surprise – it was true). His dedication to this agency was not based on a compulsion to spend the companies $$ so he would have a basis for evaluating the value of the newly hired employee. He’s the Controller for goodness sakes! He doesn’t want to spend a penny more than he absolutely has to spend. Getting past his loyalty to the agency, he is confident in their ability to provide the best talent that is currently available on the market. Having never demonstrated this ability, the recruiter was reduced to the role of paper-pusher & highly paid interview-scheduler.

    If we are to gain the respect of our customers, we have the obligation to change their mind regarding our role in the organization – it will never be accomplished until we become *** consultative business partners *** with them. It has taken several months, but our Controller is now persuaded of that value. I challenged him to give our team the opportunity, and to hold us accountable for the results. When the dust settled and we were able to provide the facts with regard to our efforts (see my blog on metrics at http://recruitersdumpingground.blogspot.com),
    he became our advocate within the accounting organization. Realizing that he might not become our corporate champion after only a few months of metrics, we are still light-years ahead of where we were when we stood in the shoes of the so-called ‘paper-pusher.’ We are no longer paper-pushers; rather, we are partners who proudly tout an understanding of our customer’s business and the strategic direction of the company. Recruiters who are savvy enough to settle for nothing less than stategic relationships with their cusomers become ‘INVESTMENT BANKERS’ who daily add value to their organizations bottom-line.

    Tammy strikes another chord with her thoughts on ‘manager’s screening resumes.’ If we are passing on the task of resume screening to the managers, it’s only because they’ve convinced us that we don’t know what we are doing and do not have the skills to assess candidate fit. Remember, perception is everything. If that is their perception, than it’s probably true (rewind to our Controller). Suddenly, we’re no longer in the role of partner/investment banker – we’re back to being pushers.

    It is our priviledge to provide our customers a level of service that will boggle their minds. How about sending your customer a ‘candidate profile’ that summarizes their experiences/skills? A truly professional-looking document (much like those used in the agencies/search firms) that answers the questions regarding skill-set match and explains the value the candidate will bring to the organization and how it will negatively impact your direct competitor. The absence of resumes will be confusing at first…but the proof will be in the pudding.

    Not much else I could fault (given my infinite wisdom) in the good Dr.’s article – it’s a given that we must demonstrate a positive ROI; provide exceptional customer service; work hard to raise the standard of professionalism within recruiting, and proudly display our improved productivity for all to see (esp our CEO). I just believe that much of this is accomplished as we rid our industry of the card-carrying paper-pusher-recruiter-wannabes, and become ‘Consultative Investment-Bankers.’

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