World-Class Recruiting

Recruiting seems to be an eternal problem for companies. It was a problem in the 80s, in nursing and technology; it was a problem during the widespread economic expansion of the 90s; and it is a problem now in many industries, even with the economy in its current state of retrogression.

The truth is that with demographics stacking up against employers, finding enough top talent will continue to be a problem in many high-skilled industries, whether or not we experience a drawn-out recession.

Here’s a great question: Why is finding enough of the right talent such a chronically difficult endeavor for organizations of all sizes? Why do CEOs continuously report that finding and retaining top talent is a core challenge to growing their businesses?

The answers to these questions are often lost in discussions about tactical problems with sourcing, process efficiency, metrics, or “creative” recruiting methodology. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting the basics right.

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In working with several hundred clients, we have found there are five fundamental mistakes that can repeatedly lead to the failure of the recruiting function to meet the needs of the business.

It all begins with addressing a basic question: Is your organization committed to making staffing a success?

Here’s how to tell if an organization is not committed:

  1. Staffing functions in many organizations are severely underfunded. Companies have a bad habit of viewing recruiting as an expense, not an investment. Therefore, there is constant pressure to reduce overall recruiting spending. Without the proper funding, however, recruiting will always play from behind, unable to deploy the resources to effectively source talent, hire enough recruiters to process the work it creates, or hire the right recruiters in the first place. To make funding matters worse, recruiting managers often feed into the problem by accepting the charge to reduce the overall cost of recruiting and hiring (i.e., reducing cost-per-hire). At the core, reducing recruiting costs for the sake of cost reduction is a misguided attempt to accomplish two impossible feats. The first “mission impossible” is to find and recruit the best, most guarded talent by using the most inexpensive (read as “passive”), methods, thus reducing sourcing and process costs. This is misguided because top talent is generally passive, rarely caught with equally passive recruiting methods. So, the more an underfunded recruiting function tries to find inactive candidates using passive recruiting methods, the more inept it appears. The second impossible feat is trying to hire top talent at market-averaged salaries. This doesn’t work for a simple economic reason: in a free market, you get what you pay for. And top talent, like any high-quality product, always costs more than average talent. Simply put, you cannot hire top performers with average performers’ salaries. Companies need to think about recruiting the same way they think about marketing. Forward-thinking organizations are very clear about the “right” cost to acquire a new customer and fund marketing initiatives accordingly. Similarly, there is a proper cost for acquiring talent, where that cost is justified in the value of making the right hire at the right time. Failing to acquire customers is not an acceptable outcome for marketing. Neither should failing to acquire talent for the recruiting function.
  2. Recruiting is usually insufficiently/ineffectively resourced. Most recruiting functions we’ve assessed have one or both of these challenges: too few recruiters, or the wrong recruiters, to get the job done. We’ve seen numerous situations where recruiters have 40 to 50 or more requisitions each. Research studies commonly find that the optimal requisition load is 20 to 25 openings for exempt roles and 25 to 35 openings for non-exempt roles (depending on the number of repetitive or similar roles). Why do recruiting functions continue to accept unmanageable workloads? Perhaps they are afraid to fight or don’t know how to fight for proper levels of resourcing. Until recruiting managers learn to make a business case using cost/benefit analysis methodology, they will continue to be under-resourced. The second resourcing problem is that companies hire the wrong people to do recruiting in the first place. It’s amazing how few people working in the recruiting function possess a foundation of experience in the profession. This occurs because companies vastly underestimate the importance of recruiting experience and knowledge. Would anyone ever hire an accountant without accounting experience? A good example of how this happens lies in healthcare. For years, many healthcare providers have moved nurses into recruiting roles. The justification is that prospective nursing hires would respond well to being recruited by other nurses. The problem is that lacking foundation knowledge, a nurse can’t effectively become a recruiter overnight, just as a recruiter couldn’t become a nurse overnight. Neither can an accountant, customer service rep, pharmaceutical sales rep, or anyone else who hasn’t been trained as a professional recruiter.
  3. HR generalists are often too involved in the process. A common model for staffing is to have the recruiter interface with an HR generalist, then have the HR generalist interface with the hiring manager. This doesn’t work, for several reasons. In addition to the simple fact that adding another person into any process creates unnecessary hand-offs and potential process delays, HR generalists often have little experience in recruiting. Second, the skill set that makes HR generalist great at HR are the same skills that will make them fail at recruiting. Recruiters, at heart, are deal-makers, hunters, talkers, and closers. HR professionals, at heart, are mediators, gatherers, listeners, and problem resolvers. Ask any accomplished HR professional if they like doing the work of recruiters, and they will invariably tell you why they are better suited to be in an HR role. Finally, HR professionals are rightly focused on what happens inside their companies and spend very little time in the general talent market. This internal focus creates a skewed view of expectations around things like candidate behavior (candidates don’t behave like employees do), candidate negotiations (candidates are sometimes hard negotiators who make demands), and manager expectations (managers often require a skill set that isn’t available in the general market or at the price the manager is willing to pay). As a result, HR generalists can add more heat than light to difficult searches.
  4. Recruiting organizations are operationally unfocused. Many staffing organizations have been set up to focus too much on the transactional processing elements of the recruiting process rather than to meet the business objectives that drive recruiting needs. After a recruiting process is built, everyone in the organization is trained on the process, and very quickly recruiters become process keepers instead of talent problem solvers. A clear symptom of this is when recruiters spend more time at their computers than actually talking to managers or candidates. Another sign is when recruiters are spending more time filling internal jobs than recruiting new talent into the company. The purpose of recruiting is to find talent that does not currently work at the company, not shuffle our existing talent around. A good rule of thumb: if a recruiter isn’t increasing the net talent pool of the company, they aren’t recruiting.
  5. Measurement is weak and myopic. When you ask business leaders if their staffing functions are connected to the business, the answer is typically no. Believe it or not, most staffing functions still can only produce basic measurement data, if any. And those basic measures, such as time-to-fill and cost-per-hire, only describe the operational performance of staffing. They fail at linking staffing performance to business outcomes. The secret to creating meaningful business metrics is simple: the language of business is dollars and cents. Any measure that fails to carry the math all the way through to a dollar impact misses the point. To tie staffing impact to business, metrics should express themselves in dollars. Some quick examples: it is one thing to know that our sales openings average 75 days to fill. It’s another thing to know that the difference between filling them in 75 vs. 50 days costs us $30 million revenue. Or, that a 20% improvement in quality-of-hire will result in $18 million productivity improvement. Given the technology tools that recruitment functions have available today, it is relatively easy to produce a robust set of meaningful performance data. And it is becoming increasingly unacceptable not to do so.

There are others ways to get the basics right, but these five issues represent the most common impediments to staffing success. Getting them right will go a long way toward strengthening your recruitment results.

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.


6 Comments on “World-Class Recruiting

  1. Harry, thank you for outlining the main difficulties that recruiting staff face in the real world. I found it it quite refreshing.

    A modest suggestion to rectify some of these problems:
    Ask everyone involved in hands-on recruiting work (from the scheduling coordinator to the sourcers to the recruiters or the one person who does it all, perhaps as part of their duties) what three things could be done to make their own work more effective and efficient. Then: implement these suggestions.

    I know it’s quite unusual to actually ask the people who do the work about how to improve it, but drastic times call for drastic measures.


  2. Great article. You have done a good job of capturing the essence of recruiting and how to work with clients in building and developing a strong corporate talent program. The only area I would ask you to think about is the value of the internal staffing organization at not just recruiting external candidates but helping the manager identify the right person (internal or external) for their organization. Great corporate recruiters should be equally skilled at bringing new talent into their organizations and helping current internal talent find a place where they can drive their corporation’s performance. The best recruiters I know are effective at looking at their corporation as a sports franchise and always stay on the look out for top talent.

  3. Harry,

    The points you make are so appropriate one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry…

    I’ve recently talked to colleagues about companies engaged in global recruiting who are not satisfied with results and thinking about RPO or rebranding their entire recruiting enterprise when they have not even seriously engaged the benefits of video interviewing and reducing their time-to-interview from 3-6 months to 6-7 days anywhere in the world. Resulting compressions of video interviewing would allow an organization to reallocate more resources into sourcing–put more in at the top–get more out at the bottom. …and they think RPO or rebranding is the answer…


    Bryan St.Laurent

  4. Harry,
    You are so right. It seems that so many organizations that claim to have world class recruiting overlook these ‘basic’ steps. But since so may overlook the obvious things required for world class recruiting, let’s not call them ‘basic’ as some may interpret that as ‘simple’ or ‘easy’. Let’s call them the Foundations of a World Class recruiting organization. Thanks for reminding us!

  5. What a strong article!

    Many companies that previously had successful Recruiting organizations implemented all or most of these steps. Sadly, many dropped these basics when faced with the tough economic times post 9/11 and are in fear of the repeating (or worsening) economic conditions of today. Blurring the lines between Sourcing/Recruiting/HR probably looks good on paper, but each role requires a dedicated, full-time professional.

    Holding the talent bar so high that companies only consider the top 10% in the industry but then compensate based on market averages is a joke that has definitely gone on too long.

    May I be so bold as to suggest a 6th ‘Basic’? Recruiting as a Key Business Partner.

  6. Harry,

    I liked your article and I think that every executive that ever touches HR/Recruiting should have to read and understand it.

    With the ever present rush to adopt new technologies and global strategies, most HR/Recruiting leaders forget that if they don?t do the basics well, they will not be successful, regardless of the technology or strategy. They seem to think that if it?s new, it must be better. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer. Every couple of years, when the economy turns a little, there is the instantaneous cry that companies can?t find enough good talent. Well, I will tell you a secret, it is always hard to find good talent! Especially in cutting edge technical areas, are large grow areas. It has always been this way, and it always will. New technologies and methodologies can make large scale searches a little easier, but if you don?t have the basics down, you are going to have a hard time. And I think that is why so many companies have a hard time recruiting. I have been in the business for about 12 years (I started with a phone and a fax machine). And most of the companies that I have worked for or have seen close up on the in side, just don?t do it very well. Either they think that you should be able to recruit with for little or no money, or they throw money at it without getting the processes and methodologies in place first. They never seem to ask the people that will actually be doing the job what they want and what will make their job easier and better.

    The other problem that I have seen repeatedly, is that companies tend to have an over inflated view of themselves. They think that if you are not standing in line to come work for them, something is wrong with you. They have very little idea about what their real recruiting brand and reputation are. They all talk a good line, but when it comes right down to it, few will admit that they are not the best place to work.

    With a little effort on the basics and simplification of the process, most companies could improve their recruiting efforts with little or no additional money. As well as make their Recruiters much happier!


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