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Staffing Management: Help Recruiters Vault Ahead

Stephenie Overman  1/4/2006
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Staffing Management, Oct - Dec  2005

Vol. 2, No. 2

Roundtable offers tips for hiring stellar recruiters and developing lackluster ones.

The war for talent has turned inward, with companies having a tough time finding highly skilled and highly motivated recruiters and keeping them on board, warns a Recruiting Roundtable executive.

“Most of the time when people talk about the war for talent they mean hiring IT people and so on. But, if you don’t even have the people to get those people, you really have a tough row ahead of you,” says David Williams, executive practice manager of the membership organization of senior executives.

The solution? Learn the winning attitudes and skills that the best recruiters have and mold your so-so recruiters into star performers through training and performance management. A report by the roundtable, Accelerating Recruiter Performance, studies the characteristics that set star recruiters apart from their peers.

Starting Out

Williams recommends asking several questions, such as: What sort of recruiters do you want to hire? How do you get your less-successful recruiters to act like more-successful ones? How do you get the one to behave like the other?

Recruiters with higher degrees of engagement and job fit dramatically outperform their peers who score lower in those areas, according to the report. That’s measured both in the quality of hires and in productivity.

Engagement is the most important attitude to find in a new recruiter, or to develop in recruiters already on the job, but “engagement” doesn’t just mean “satisfaction,” Williams explains. “Satisfaction in and of itself doesn’t get you the results you want. A person might be satisfied sitting at work and playing solitaire all day. The person is satisfied, but is the organization going to be satisfied?”

The Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) has done extensive research on engagement, which it defines as “the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work, and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.” The CLC and the Recruiting Roundtable are membership programs run by the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Executive Board, which provides business research, analysis, support and executive-education services to companies.

According to CLC research, employees who are most committed perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization—indicating the significance of engagement to organizational performance.

And while organizational fit is a factor in the profile of a star recruiter, it’s less important than job fit, according to the Roundtable report. A recruiter doesn’t need to be a good fit for an organization to do a good job at recruiting for it. “Look at the recruitment firms. The job fit is what is critical. The loyalty of recruiters is to the profession. If you have to choose [between loyalty to the profession and to the organization], that’s what you go for,” Williams says. (Recruiting contractors made up only a small percentage of Roundtable’s survey respondents.)

Developing Skills

Good recruiters must have, or acquire, a list of specific skills: for example, customer service, sourcing and interpersonal skills. The roundtable report recommends that employers focus on developing the handful of skills that recruiters are found to be relatively weakest in, but that have the biggest impact on performance—needs definition, leadership, candidate conversion, sales, business acumen and customer service.

The most important skill for recruiters to develop, according to the report, is “needs definition,” the ability to work with the hiring manager to determine what skills and attitudes the ideal candidate for a particular job would have.

“Most recruiters are order-takers. You need to get them to act as consultants to the line manager,” Williams says.

Traditional views of customer service restrain recruiters from pushing back against hiring managers.

“Recruiters tend to think of conventional customer service, that the customer is always right. But part of the point of consulting is to show where the customer is wrong, to push back, not just to acquiesce as an order-taker,” he says. “Hiring managers think they know what they want, but they don’t really know what they need.”

Good recruiters also must be able to sell the job to a candidate that the company wants. Too often “recruiters think, ‘Now I’ve got the job offer out there,’ ” and then they just wait for a response, Williams says. They don’t actively listen to candidates during the interview process, he says, and they wait until it’s too late to really sell the position.

“The less-adroit just struggle to interview for selection purposes, not selling purposes,” he says.

The star recruiters, on the other hand, listen during interviews not only for selection purposes but also to identify “sell levers” that will convince the candidate the company wants him or her to accept the offer, he says. They realize that “decisions are being made both ways: We’re making decisions about them and they’re making decisions about us.”

It is possible “to replicate the skills you want and need,” Williams adds. “You can actually ‘upscale’ recruiters where there are those deficits. You can change B players into A players. That’s good news because there just aren’t enough good ones to go around.”

Performance Management Crisis

The bad news is that companies are missing a great opportunity to ratchet up recruiter performance, Williams says, noting, “There is a crisis in performance management in recruiting.”

More than one in four recruiters receive no structured evaluations from their direct manager, according to the roundtable report.

“Just as the talent war turns inward, HR services for the rest of the organization must be provided” within the HR department, he says. Part of the problem is that recruiting managers often don’t have enough time and enough resources to effectively guide a team of recruiters; another factor is that “many managers are better at managing processes than people. It’s the same within the recruiting department.

“There’s an interesting tendency in HR that’s like the shoemaker’s children not receiving the shoes. The provider of a service is sometimes the last to receive the service,” he says. “This is a tremendous opportunity being missed.”

There is no special trick to conducting performance reviews for recruiters, Williams believes. “It’s the same issue as in the rest of the organization—it’s about competencies. What is a competency at the novice level? At the expert level? How do competencies graduate upward?”

Training Needs

More bad news from the roundtable report is that most recruiters “fail to receive training in the most critical areas or are disappointed in the training they do receive.” (See “Training ROI” on page 34.)

“It’s a big need,” according to Williams, and “the more strategic an activity is, the harder it is to train because strategic activities aren’t linear. Things can go in six different directions. How do you prepare someone for that? It’s easier to do a checklist but harder to teach a person to push back in the hiring process.”

One of the Recruiting Roundtable’s member companies conducts training to help recruiters become better consultants. The company does its own training, in part because “there’s a real dearth of training on strategic recruiting topics like consulting to the line and candidate conversion,” says Williams. He notes that the Recruiting Roundtable is developing training modules for its members.

The company uses role-playing to mirror real life. “The recruiter takes one role, and the ‘hiring manager’ plays a role,” Williams says, but “There’s a catch. There’s something the hiring manager isn’t telling, something the hiring manager should tell but isn’t because he or she is not thinking through implications.” The role-playing exercise allows the recruiter to find out what might need to be uncovered.

In real life, what often happens partway through the recruiting process is “the recruiter will ask the hiring manager, ‘Why didn’t you tell me [some critical piece of information]?’ And the answer is, ‘You didn’t ask.’ This training is designed to prevent that,” Williams says.

With role playing, “you can inject emotion into it. The hiring manager can act impatient, say ‘I went through that already.’ The best recruiters are able to push back, are able to say, ‘If I don’t understand the job description, how can I fill it?’ ”

Stephenie Overman is managing editor of STAFFING MANAGEMENT.

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