You’re Killing Your Own Recruiting Function

I’m talking to you, Ms./Mr. Head of Talent Acquisition. You’re killing your own recruiting function!

As with most of my articles, here comes the disclaimer: I am also historically guilty as charged at times. Also, if you want one of those quick 140-character, max world-problem-solving sound bites, hit the back button now.

What I am talking about is that you/we are setting goals for our recruiting teams that are driving the wrong behaviors, outcomes, and in turn reinforcing this bad message back to HR and the business.

The majority of talent acquisition leaders set goals and metrics for their teams, with the primary and most important goal to make hires. At first glance this makes perfect sense; this is why we exist, right?

Let’s think through this a little deeper. We also have other goals around speed, productivity, quality, cost, and customer satisfaction (potentially candidate and hiring-manager satisfaction) that you’re asking your teams to focus on, correct? But, at the end of the week, as captured in updates to the business, and annual performance reviews, the goal that we say matters the most is hires.

This one goal, this one primary driving focus, is the one that has been handed down from generation to generation as what drives our existence.

So for the next couple of minutes, I want you to take your leadership hat off, remember back to what it was like to fill requisitions, and put yourself in your recruiter’s shoes. After that I want you to put your leadership hat back on so we can discuss what this means and what we might want to think about changing.

Let me give you an example that plays out week over week over week in our profession to frame this situation in your mind.

Ring, Ring … Ring, Ring …

Recruiter X: “Hello, this is X.”

Ms/Mr Head of TA: “Morning X, how you doing today?”
Recruiter X: “Busy.”

Ms/Mr Head of TA: “I know you have 75 open requisitions at the moment, but I wanted to quickly checkin on how your pipeline is coming along for those sales roles, as based off hires this month you are five hires behind where we need to be.”

Recruiter X: [Silence.]

Ms/Mr Head of TA: “I really need you to pick up your productivity, as I am getting pressure from sales leadership to get these roles filled quickly as they keep reminding me of the revenue we are losing and them not meeting their targets.”

Recruiter X: [Silence.]

Ms/Mr Head of TA: “I really need you to focus on filling these roles as your No. 1 priority, OK?

Recruiter X: “Sure. I’m trying and going as fast as I can.”

Ms/Mr Head of TA: “Thanks … Good chat.”


So what do you think Recruiter X is now (or is continuing to think)?

“Shit … I need to:

  • Find more candidates
  • Make more calls
  • Send more emails
  • Find more referrals
  • Potentially shorten my phone screens
  • Submit them quicker”

And given the reality of this, Recruiter X also now has to find more hours in the day and/or in turn start cutting corners to operate quicker. What happens when a recruiter does this?

  • Phone screens get shorter as you only have time to focus on the high-level stuff (Location, check!, Compensation, check!, Communication skills, check!, Has three years of x, check!)
  • The candidate experience suffers as you don’t have time to make it any more than the minimum.
  • Little to no updates back to candidates, or only when they pester you.
  • Little to no status updates to the hiring manager, or only when they pester you.
  • I will have one ear on that team conference call as I am too busy doing email in the background to find more people or get this other admin crap off my desk so I don’t get yelled at.
  • I don’t have time to think about my colleagues’ requirements (even though we fall across similar talent) and keep an eye out for talent that could be a potential strong fit for them … Shit, I am behind on just finding my own candidates.
  • I’ll update the CRM/ATS when I have time.
  • And so on and so on.

With all this weighing Recruiter X down, this is what I’m sure we have all seen happen because of the above. Recruiter X is going to have their arm twisted to maybe force an outcome to make more hires given that is their primary goal and this is the area that they constantly feel the most pressure around. Depending on which company they work for, they might have their annual review goals, bonus, and salary increases tied to the major goal of make x hires a month/year. Sound familiar?

And this is what happens next:

  1. They scoot though the requirements discussion with the hiring manager (or not do it at all).
  2. They submit candidates they shouldn’t.
  3. They make offers they shouldn’t.

Because that never-ending hum they hear in their head is … make more hires!

OK, at this point you the reader clearly fall into two camps.

  1. Yep, I feel this, see this, or live this.
  2. Nope, we don’t have this issue, our recruiters are not like the others.

So let me tell you a true story of how leadership influences the behaviors of recruiters at a more tactical level to drive this point home.

In a large, well-known, company many years ago a senior HR/recruiting leader told their direct reports, “We need our recruiters to make more hires direct hires.”

Translation: we need them to be more proactive at finding talent vs. waiting for them to apply. Fast forward a week later after this message and goal was communicated to all the teams. The source of hire as captured in the ATS for candidates who were “direct sourced” skyrocketed by hundreds of percent. At surface value that HR/recruiting leader would now have a story to tell the business of how they moved the needle.

But hold on a second. We all know that it takes on average a month to find most candidates and move them through to hire. How can the source “direct sourced” jump so quickly in a week?

It can and it did because the goal drove the behavior for recruiters to label new, or change old, candidates, as being direct-sourced.

Is this wrong? Heck yes, on so many levels.

Article Continues Below

For the moment I want you to focus on the point I am making vs. whether this action by the recruiters was wrong.

As a leader setting the goals, you influence the behaviors and outcomes of your team. Let me repeat that. I want you to think about this very carefully given the article so far.

You as a leader setting the goals influence the behaviors and outcome of your team.

So this is where I think this all gets interesting. I hope you are asking: “What is the solution to this problem?”

I am no guru. I do not have the silver bullet. I have some suggestions based on what I have tried. I have an opinion of what I think we need to do based on conversations with other heads of TA.

After all the years of doing this I personally and professionally think we need to change the paradigm and not make hires the primary marching order. I think that is the tail wagging the dog. I am not suggesting that goals and metrics around hires, speed, productivity, quality, cost, etc., are not important, as they are. I am suggesting that the primary goal, the one that we have everyone pivot around including the business should and must be quality.

I am not just talking about quality of hire. I am talking about quality across the whole recruiting continuum or recruiting life cycle as the primary focus. But to do this, you have to change the paradigm with your business and get them to understand the business benefits of quality over cost or speed.

Let me tell you another story (I know, I know) that makes this a little more real vs. just leaving a high-level “quality is the answer” statement.

At a previous organization I inherited and was responsible for fixing a major problem with an offshore sourcing team that was supporting the onshore recruiting team. The recruiters would not even look at any candidates who the offshore team was submitting, as the quality of people they were receiving was poor. Or, in short, the offshore team was only producing a handful of hires a year.

Here is what I did. I told recruiting and HR leadership that for us to win the confidence of the recruiters back, the only focus and goal must be quality. I told the leader of the offshore sourcing team that their goal for the year was zero hires from the whole team.

First they thought I was nuts. Then they debated me heavily, but I held my ground and reaffirmed that it was going to be a goal of zero hires.

What I did communicate to everyone was a quality goal of an 80 percent acceptance rate of candidates who they submitted to onshore recruiters. I just wanted an improvement in quality, as I believed if we got this right the hires would follow. I won’t go into the details here or what tactics I specifically used as that would make this article twice as long, but fast forward two years later.

The offshore sourcing team was now directly responsible for hundreds of hires from the candidates they submitted, and in turn the onshore recruiting leaders asked me that could we lower the 80 percent acceptance targets down so they could increase the number of candidates being submitted.

While this is one example I can draw on to help hopefully connect the dots as to how you can think about quality, I hope you can also think about other scenarios in your own business where quality is or should be the primary pivot:

  • A quality goal/metric around the intake/role requirements candidate submission success.
  • A quality goal/metric around candidate responses to email or voicemail responses.
  • A quality goal/metric around 80 percent + candidates submitted to the business are accepted.
  • A quality goal/metric around 3:1 candidates (accepted by business to final interview).
  • A quality goal/metric around 85 percent+ offer acceptance.
  • A quality goal/metric around a submission-to-hire ratio of better than 5:1.
  • A quality goal/metric around percent of candidates who are hired in the last 12 months are still with the company (Note: I will get into this quality of hire metric another day in another article).

As you think about these I am sure you can add more quality goals/metrics to this list.

Where most people are going to debate this is: how do you get the business to shift its own perception of the company’s/recruiting functions primary focus to be quality first, second, and even third? We all know or have worked for enough companies where getting business and HR leaders to get out of cost-center thinking and stop making it all about speed is a huge challenge.

I wish I could give you the easy button answer to this question, but unfortunately I can’t. All I can suggest is next time the opportunity arises, see if you can push the conversation to a discussion around things like the impact of making bad hiring decisions. You run the financials on just these below and it starts to add up to significant cost and speed implications that tie back to a lack of focus on quality:

  • Lost revenue
  • Lost customers
  • The cost to replace the position x number of positions.
  • Team morale.
  • Bad brand reputation in the market.
  • Time the business has to spend on extra interviewing.
  • backfillsAdditional recruiting resources to deal with overall percentage of backing roles vs. just dealing with net/new growth… [Sub Note: In the recent State of Talent Acquisition Survey, 1,400+ recruiters and leaders said that 45 percent of the time the recruiting functions spends its time on just backfilling roles … crap, that’s a heck of a lot.

In closing, think back to the Recruiter X story. Could the outcomes shift if the goals and focus was on quality throughout the recruiting life cycle? Could the business reshape its thinking to help partner to produce better quality outcomes? Could this mean we could have Recruiter X handle fewer requisitions on their plate with less focus on filling roles in an unreasonable timeframe with unrealistic budgets if the primary focus was quality?

Maybe I am living in a dream world of what could possibly be vs what is. Maybe.


image from Shutterstock

Rob McIntosh is a talent acquisition leader at Honeywell’s Connected Enterprise business. He is a senior talent executive with 20+ years of global recruiting experience spanning four continents where he has consistently delivered results through building high-performing teams for Fortune 100 companies in senior leadership roles for McKesson, Avanade, Deloitte, and Microsoft. 

As a public speaker his articles, presentations, and case studies have been shared and downloaded over 50,000 times. He is one of the early pioneers of corporate sourcing functions and the co-founder of SourceCon. He is the primary content, strategies, tools, and case studies provider for the Human Capital Institute Talent Acquisition Strategist Course & Certification and ERE Media’s Talent Advisor course.

His strategic advice is constantly sought after for use of advanced metrics/analytics to help tell the business story around the value of talent acquisition, and how to scale delivery while improving quality of hire through optimal talent org designs; shared services, CoE, offshore, outsourcing, and hybrid talent acquisition structures. 



10 Comments on “You’re Killing Your Own Recruiting Function

  1. Great article, Rob! I agree we focus too much on number of hires…and I think we put too many job reqs onto each recruiter….and together this hurts the quality. I believe that focusing on quality may decrease the number of hires per recruiter (a little), but the quality of service provided and quality of candidates hired will go up and have a stronger ROI than what we are doing now. Not to mention the higher quality would make what we do more valuable to the managers and other clients we serve.

  2. thanks Eric. The real change needs to happen with the business and our role is to show them the light 🙂

  3. The flip side, touched on in this article, is that quality has a marginal unit as does any other criterion you choose to judge on. For electrical components in certain applications, there’s an acceptable failure rate. No QA process can or does guarantee 100%, so the real questions are, how much quality do companies really want, and what’s the real point, regardless of what they want, at which that marginal unit is hit and the cost of getting one more bump in quality is more than the return? my feeling is the push for ‘hires’ over all else finds its roots in the same place as all the other problems with recruiting; companies don’t actually value their employees. They pay them begrudgingly, but the reality is they are disposable commodities for most companies and are treated as such, which is why the churn and burn approach is used and favored.

  4. Medieval – You just hit one of the elephants in the room……Quality at what cost (not necessarily financial cost). My 2 cents is we need to first get people to start thinking differently and then once the conversation had begun, then to your point, we need to be asking the deeper questions around trade-off’s. As we all know how the old saying goes: Speed, Quality and Cost, Pick any two.

  5. Hi, I am a byproduct of such recruitment – thirteen months out of job – no IT job offer (Walmart $9 per hour not counts). I believe that there is no winners of such Recruitment and Hiring practices.

  6. Rob this is so spot on and a debate I have been having at my most recent assignment for the last 18 months (I lost by the way…). As someone that spent many years in Sales Mgmt prior to getting involved with TA, this post brings back memories of past sales strategy debates…should a sales person be goaled for building a recurring book of business or for spiking monthly sales depletions…a consultative approach (qualitative) to sales will build trust with customers – but takes time, and a transactional approach will drive sales (quantitative) – but is short term and needs to consistently fueled with “deals/discounts” to keep customer interest. It seems pretty clear that a qualitative approach in the long run benefits both customers and the business, and it seems so obvious that in TA if we goal for similar qualitative activities, that we’ll reap quality rewards.

    One of the very first and best lessons I learned as a young sales guy was that if I put the interests of my customers first, worked ridiculously hard and handled myself professionally, that I would never have to be concerned with how much cash was in my “cash register…” Unfortunately, most enterprise companies have a hard time organizing their priorities when it comes to driving TA quality behaviors. When picking themes to align around for a National Recruiting Assn. – this would get my vote as the #1 theme to get behind…

  7. This is a blog about management/leadership style NOT recruitment.
    Too many recruitment managers (in-house and agency) only learn how to fill vacancies and not how to manage people. Most recruiters are promoted in to management positions on the back of placements and not their ability to manage people or projects. The world of recruitment would do well to start hiring mid-senior management in from other more mature industries where there is a considered approach to leadership and management.

  8. Like it. I’m thinkin about Jez’s comment. How much of quality is simply a function of the skill in managing speed but not cost or cost but not speed. Manage 2; Buffer the third

  9. Jez you are correct if we really want to boil it down. Most of the challenges and opportunities in recruiting I have found are people related problems. If you even did deeper a lot of the time its not recruiting problem but a business problem. That is why the recruiters and leaders who stand out above the average is because their “soft skills” (Influencing, etc) are more finely honed.

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