Why Recruiters Need to Mind Their Own Business

Don’t take this as provocation; it is intended as advice on how to become a great recruiter. Let me explain.

Recruiters have a dual (and daunting) accountability to not only be experts in talent identification and acquisition, but experts in the businesses they identify and attract that talent to.

Therefore, it’s in our best interest to make it our business to know how our clients make money, develop and bring new products to market, beat the competition, and comply with Uncle Sam’s litany of regulations in a post-Enron world.

Without this knowledge and context, that job description you’re working off of is relegated to meaningless words on a sheet, putting you at an immediate disadvantage when you’re in sell-mode with a candidate.

To bring an opportunity to life, you need to generate excitement not only about the job at hand, but about a career filled with endless possibilities within the organization. You need to get candidates excited about the opportunity to shape the business and contribute to its continued success. You simply can’t do this justice without having the business context.

So, how well do you know your business?

The Basic Questions

First, do you know the basic financials of your company? Do you know if your company’s sales have increased from year to year? Do you even know what the sales figures are? What’s the biggest selling product? In what categories does the company compete?

Also, can you talk about the next three to four products coming out of the R&D pipeline or new markets your organization is venturing into? Is the company in growth mode? Is growth driven organically, through mergers and acquisitions, or both?

If you aren’t able to answer each and every one of these questions, stop reading this article and start learning about your business. (You can bet candidates who have a serious interest in joining your company are.)

Read your annual report and your company’s website as a start. Talk to business leaders, asking questions and testing your knowledge so you can understand the big picture. Shadow people in their roles to ensure you get first-hand knowledge of how things really work. Not only will this contribute to your level of business acumen, but it will give you even more credibility when responding to candidates when they ask, “What is the role like?” or “What will I be doing?”

If you can answer these questions, give yourself a pat on the back and get ready for the next round of questions.

The Intermediate Questions

Can you describe the life cycle of your product(s)? What are the internal and external factors that impact your business? How does the company market its products? How does the supply-chain flow?

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If you work for a pharmaceutical company (like I do), can you speak to how a product moves from compound to molecule through the drug development cycle to eventually land on the shelf at Walgreen’s? (From a personal perspective, if our recruiters at Johnson & Johnson can’t speak to this, how can we possibly excite scientists about the endless possibilities of a career at a Johnson & Johnson? Even more so, how can we convince a top scientific candidate that ours is the place to be when our biggest competitors are literally right up the road?)

How did you do? If you can answer most of these questions, you are in a great position to not only help sell an opportunity, but to collaborate with your hiring managers to develop the most complete, exciting, and informative position summaries that will provide candidates with a real perspective on “a day in the life” and paint the big picture of how they will fit in both now and in the future.

The Final Challenge

And now a bonus question, perhaps the most difficult one of all.

Do you understand, and can you articulate, the cost of empty seats to your organization? Can your hiring managers? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Don’t take chances; make it a point to help them understand the impact of vacancies. When you quantify it for them, I guarantee they’ll have a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to not only filling current vacancies but planning to offset future ones.

Sales managers at one of our Johnson & Johnson companies know that every day a territory is vacant, at least one point of market share is at stake. Multiply that by the average number of days it takes to fill one of the sales positions at this company and voila, an instant sense of urgency for hiring managers!

How did you do? If you fall into the remedial group (you know who you are), don’t despair. By being motivated and focused to learn, you will. Consider four additional tips to help:

  1. Talk to the clients. When was the last time you had lunch with a client to talk about the direction the business is going, versus following up with them about getting you feedback on a slate? Line people love to talk about their business. All you have to do is ask and I assure you they will tell.
  2. Stay informed. Attend as many “state-of-the-business” update meetings held by the leadership teams as you can. At the very least, keep abreast of organizational announcements so you’ll know who’s who. On the outside, follow what Wall Street and others are saying about you and your competition. This knowledge will serve its purpose when selling a candidate on why your company is right for him/her. When your company wins an award or receives other forms of good press, use it to your advantage by letting candidates know.
  3. Understand your market. Read the trade journals your clients read. Subscribe to industry staple publications, such as Pharmaceutical Executive if you work in the pharmaceutical industry. Trade publications do a wonderful job of keeping current with market drivers, competitive intelligence, and the impact of the political and regulatory environments. You’ll be surprised to find how you start to think “like a line person” after reading just a few issues.
  4. Learn about general business. Read the Wall Street Journal or Fortune to understand what the press and the investment community think about your company, competition, and industry. Verse yourself on the basics of business: research and development, operations and supply chain, and marketing and sales. No one says you have to be an expert in all areas; focus on understanding the basic concepts and how they integrate and impact each other.

Perhaps it’s because I “grew up” in the line that I have a perennial need to keep my fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in my businesses. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve heard hiring managers applaud and express appreciation to those recruiters who demonstrate a sound knowledge of their business so many times.

Whatever the reason, developing and honing your business-acumen skills will yield a return on investment far beyond what dashboards and recruiting metrics measure. When it comes to business acumen, how do you measure up?

Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, is Director of Recruiting -- Pharmaceuticals Team, for Johnson & Johnson Recruiting, the internal talent acquisition organization of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role, Lisa manages the development and delivery of talent acquisition strategies and execution for Johnson & Johnson?s U.S. pharmaceuticals and biotechnology operating companies. In addition to managing this segment of the business and a significant client base, Lisa focuses on enhancing JJR's consulting capabilities through specialty teams for business analytics, training, and recruitment marketing. Her background includes extensive experience as an HR generalist and recruiting, though she started her professional career "on the line" and held several line positions across key functional areas before moving from sales and marketing into HR.


4 Comments on “Why Recruiters Need to Mind Their Own Business

  1. This is a great grass-roots article on first things first. I’d like to see more like it!

    A service like Hoover’s can not only give you a convenient bird’s eye view of your company but also those of your competitors! There’s a free service that gives you an idea of what they offer.


  2. Lisa –

    Well put. I’d add that there’s another important piece that understanding your product roadmap can give you, beyond understanding how the company operates as well as it’s future potential. The roadmap is an excellent place to plan your hiring strategy. Certain trigger points on the map will guide you to ask your clients if they’ll need extra hands (and what type) at those points. Typically, they do. Also just as typically, they may be planning to ‘borrow’ someone’s expertise for part of a project. This may lead to a need in a different area.

    It boils down to this: being reactive to a ‘surprise’ req is both time-consuming and stressful. There’s a place you can get a long view into future staffing needs. You can get all proactive and start lining up resources to find up specific talent, as well as developing warm relationships with the people you’ve targeted. Your company’s product roadmap can be your guide.

  3. Lisa,

    Great points on understanding the business. I do third party recruitment and my clients pat me on the back all the time for understanding their world so deeply.

    I would add that in addition to knowing the companies strengths and the positive press, you must also know the negatives. When candidates are checking into a company, they are looking as much for reasons NOT to join as for reasons to join. Too many recruiters ignore the negative press but the best way to deal with it is be educated about it, find out if there is any truth to it, and figure out how to handle it with candidates – either by explaining why it’s really not a negative, or how it’s being solved, etc.

    When I’m taking a job order from a new client company I always ask, ‘What are the weaknesses of your company, whether they are real or perceived, that I may hear as I speak to candidates?’. From there I gather the information I will need to overcome those issues so they don’t keep me from delivering top talent to the hiring manager.

    Christi O’Brien

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