Know What You’re Recruiting For

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 11.15.16 AMA problem common to most recruiters and human resources professionals today is a lack of understanding the actual job they are trying to fill. It’s really a fine line a recruiter toes, because understanding the role itself is not only imperative for sourcing talent but is also a huge advantage for closing that top passive candidate. The overall understanding of the role itself starts with the job title. If the job title is not a good fit for what you seek, you are likely in big trouble.

Recently a friend in the industry said that they were looking for a Cocoa programmer, and while I completely understand why a hiring manager would say this is what they want, the title itself is so incredibly limiting because Cocoa is not a programming language — it’s a framework. For those less technical folks, it’s like saying you want someone who knows how to use a table sorting template for Microsoft Excel. “Framework” in programming is a fancy term for template. Cocoa is basically a pre-built software template that can be customized for a variety of types of software for either iPhone or Mac desktop apps.

Think about this question from a hiring manager’s perspective: do you want to hire someone who only knows how to use the Cocoa framework (template) or someone who can build a custom framework (template)? Which engineer is more valuable? I think we should all be able to agree that building custom fields in Excel is a lot more complicated than using a template, right?

The same concept applies to programming. Unfortunately many recruiters today continue to look for Cocoa Programmers, and some people have that as their job title on a resume/online profile because that was what such-and-such company called them when they were hired. However, recruiters who are targeting Cocoa only in that search are missing about 80% of the population of strong Mac programmers … not to mention not all Cocoa programmers do both iPhone and desktop app programming, as those are two completely different software development kits.

To overcome this obstacle of understanding, the answer is to immerse and educate yourself in the industry you are recruiting for. If you are a generalist, I completely understand this is certainly a time management issue, when you are recruiting for every type of job under the moon in any given day. But even a generalist should educate themselves about their industry and jobs they recruit for regularly. In the long run it will help when closing top talent. The greatest compliment a recruiter can get from a candidate is that they are impressed with your level of understanding of what they do. When you hear that from a candidate, they will respect you for life and may even end up being a great ongoing pipeline for future referrals just like them.

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There are tons of ways to learn about any industry today online. Wikipedia is of course full of online documentation, but the absolute best free online learning resource is YouTube. You can even learn things like how to build a hovercraft in the garage watching YouTube videos. Industry professionals in marketing, accounting, project management, software development and more are uploading free “tutorial” videos on the subject of “how to” in their jobs all the time. Watch a few Xcode (the iPhone software development kit) videos about Cocoa, and you’ll see why looking for a Cocoa programmer is so limiting. The iPhone/Mac programming language is actually called Objective C — which can be written so many different ways on a resume — but that’s better left in a whole different article.

If you are looking for something that you know nothing about, you might consider watching a few YouTube videos to get a better understanding. This will help significantly when talking to a great candidate on the phone, as you’ll be able to bridge the connection quickly and build a long-term working relationship.

Ryan Phillips is a technical writer & sourcing researcher at AIRS. She lives in Helena, Montana. Joining AIRS in 2010, she transitioned to the role from the internal recruiting team at The RightThing. Phillips began her recruiting career working for a technical recruitment staffing firm in the Silicon Valley, where she recruited for IT, Engineering, Marketing, and Accounting. She later moved into the RPO field, where she did mainly niche engineering recruitment for Microsoft. She works on curriculum development for all AIRS courses, including the industry-leading AIRS Certification classes. She also continues to consult with RPO clients on their social media branding strategies, as well as support the internal RightThing sourcing team to develop client specific sourcing strategies.


9 Comments on “Know What You’re Recruiting For

  1. This is a fantastic article! There have been many written about clear vs. unclear positions. However, in most of these articles the responsibility is often placed on a singular group to solve the problem. Hiring Managers need to be more clear. Recruiters need to ask more questions. It seems,though, that the responsibility falls on each member of the hiring process. In order for a hiring manager to know exactly what type of position needs to be filled, they need to be familiar with the types of positions they work with. It is only with a strong knowledge of jobs and departments that they can put forth an accurate job posting. Recruiters also have the burden of education. In order for them to find the best possible clients to present to a company, they must have a full understanding of the position sought. In order to do that, they have to ask the right questions. That isn’t possible without a strong understanding of the industry and different roles within it.

    Ultimately, recruiting doesn’t happen on an island. Every person involved in the process needs to be educated, ask questions and have a clear understanding of their part in the process.
    Ken Schmitt

  2. Thanks Ryan. As a recruiting *multi-specialist, I am very frequently needing to update my knowledge, as I am always looking for new and different kinds of people. I find Wikipedia a good start, and then following up directly with people on the things that are still unclear.

    @ Ken: “Every person involved in the process needs to be educated, ask questions and have a clear understanding of their part in the process.” As Meatloaf sang: “Two outta three ain’t bad.”



    *I used to say “recruiting generalist,” but then I kept getting asked if I do comp and benefits. I don’t.

  3. Excellent article! Every recruiter should have a clear understanding about the job before juming into the market,this will save their time and also the candiates will co operate with them in filling the position…

  4. As an HR generalist, it is extrememly difficult to know the details of all the positions I hire for – just like this article states. That is why I have a team of “experts” that I rely on to provide the technical knowledge of positions and assist in the hiring process.

    Why pretend to know everything when everyone knows that is impossible? Candidates have given us feedback saying how much more comfortable they were in the hiring process because they were able to talk to a “peer” that understood their field.

    As an added bonus for me, I have learned a great deal of every position in our organization just by stepping back and allowing these internal experts to drive that part of the hiring process.

  5. Wholeheartedly agree with you Ryan. A deeper understanding of the job spec will do wonders for a recruiter’s credibility when speaking to candidates and hiring managers.

    As a matter of fact my USP is “I’ll understand your job spec” because I’m an engineer turned recruiter. Wins me a lot of cred.

    Good to know there are like minded recruiters out there who feel the same as me.

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