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Staffing Management: Gaining Speed

By Michael Causey  11/15/2007
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Vol. 3, No. 3

Across-the-board growth in the recruiting industry is expected for years to come.

The recruiting industry is experiencing an upturn in growth, and it isn’t likely to lose momentum anytime soon. Recruiting agencies are witnessing the strongest developments. Opportunities in internal corporate recruiting are numerous, as are openings for sole practitioners.

Demographic changes in the United States are one major reason for this surge in growth. “Today’s workforce is changing dramatically in structure and composition,” says Alan R. Schonberg, founder of Cleveland-based Management Recruiters International (MRI), an executive recruiting firm. Large numbers of skilled baby boomer workers, for example, are just beginning to retire, setting off a scramble at many companies to replace them—a trend that is already being called the “war for talent.”

It wasn’t too long ago that some experts were predicting a decline in growth for the recruiting industry. They predicted that online job boards and other high-tech resources would minimize the need for recruiters. Yet experts such as Lauryn Franzoni, vice president and executive editor at ExecuNet, a networking and job resource firm, remain confident in the industry’s health and future prospects. “We see no sign of a slowdown,” she says.

In April, ExecuNet’s Search Firm Hiring Index survey found that more than half of all search firms (54 percent) had plans to hire additional professional staff during the next three months.

And more than a third (35 percent) said that their organization’s headcount had already increased in the previous three months. Adds Franzoni: “Of the 15 to 20 search firms I’ve talked with in the past six months, all expect more assignments” in the coming months. Even companies with relatively large internal staffing departments are increasingly leveraging recruiting agencies or sole practitioners these days. “Companies fill the easier positions, then go to search firms when it gets tough,” she says.

Still a People Business

James Wright has been a sole practitioner, has worked at an agency and has in-house recruiting under his belt. While he agrees that job boards and other tools have revolutionized job search and recruiting functions, he maintains that the industry is more or less dependent on humans: “But this is still a people business despite the technology, it is still about connecting people to people.”

When it comes to recruiter job growth, the Washington, D.C., market is scorching hot. Boasting the highest concentration of employment and recruitment specialists in the United States, the region is expected to have more than 2,100 recruiter-related openings between 2006 and 2014, according to a new study by The Greater Washington Initiative.

The D.C. area currently has more than 5,100 employment, recruitment and placement specialists. New York City tops the list at just over 16,500, followed by Chicago at 10,350, Los Angeles at 6,390, San Francisco-San Jose at just over 5,000 and Boston with 4,260.

Dabbling in Different Arenas

With all these opportunities, it isn’t surprising that some recruiters dabble in different recruiting worlds.

Cathleen Beetel is a recruitment consultant with TWC Group. She works in the field, and her current client is the director of talent acquisition at DuPont. For the past six months she’s been helping the company fill upper-level engineering positions. “This kind of work takes a lot of drive and organization,” she says.

It also takes flexibility. Recruiters uniformly said their workday seldom goes as planned. “There is nothing less predictable than people,” notes Wright, “and that can be very frustrating.” Every recruiter has a drawer full of stories about perfect candidates who took a job, only to change their mind the day they started work.

Wright, now in East Greenwich, R.I., has done it all as a recruiter. He says that an agency is probably the best place for a new recruiter to start—an invaluable place to learn from more-experienced, savvy hiring managers about the art of recruiting. “It’s about much more than matching skills on paper,” he says.

Charles Tenley runs Direct Networking Consulting in Montgomery County, Md. He has worked for a recruiting firm and has been a sole practitioner. But he cautions prospective recruiters against being too general in their approach.

“It’s a good idea to specialize and spread out in four or five areas” at the most, Tenley says. He focuses on construction, civil engineering, land surveying and development. At any given time, he has six to a dozen clients in various stages of the hiring arc. He tends to spend his morning making marketing outreach calls, and then devotes the afternoon hours to checking in with clients and securing follow-up interviews for candidates.

Dawn Walburg is an HR talent manager with Aflac, the insurance company with the famous TV duck ads. But don’t laugh at the duck, Walburg says. “We get a lot of good candidates coming in who have seen the duck.”

Working for an employer of choice, Walburg’s challenge is weeding through the huge paper and electronic resume piles she accumulates. (Last year, Aflac received more than 40,000 online resumes.) At the same time, she also must go after passive but high-quality candidates, she says.

Business Sense Needed

Recruiting today is different from only a few years ago, Walburg stresses. “You now need a strong business sense,” she says. “It is about more than [gauging] people skills.”

Today’s effective in-house recruiter must understand the overall corporate strategy and goals for his or her company. “In the past, recruiters were heavy on sociology and arts” in their education, but business knowledge is incredibly important today, she says.

Each day varies for Walburg, but she regularly attends division-head meetings in part because staffing action items frequently come directly out of those.

Keying in on the company’s actual vision and strategy is the foundation for effective recruiting today, Walburg emphasizes. “It used to be a good person could be placed almost anywhere,” she says. “But to make a good match today you have to be much more specialized because the ultimate goal is to retain top talent.”

As might be expected, being a sole practitioner is considered the riskiest professional move by most. After all, it is the most susceptible to recessions and other booms and busts. “The sole practitioner market took a real hit in 2001-2003,” ExecuNet’s Franzoni notes.

“I know a lot of sole practitioners, and the successful ones have a stomach for it,” Wright says. “It’s tough sometimes sitting there all alone on the phone getting rejected it can be hard to generate your own enthusiasm.”

But sole practitioners with a deep Rolodex, a winning personality and nerves of steel can do quite well.

Priscilla Chism of Arlington, Va., has thrived as a sole practitioner since 1991. She credits some of her success to her ability to zero in on one specific area and become an expert at it: She recruits high-level cardiologists at hospitals across the United States. Her clients “don’t blink” at a $30,000 recruiting fee, she says. “I have the experience and knowledge of this industry that gives my clients a real comfort level,” she says. “This specialty works because there is such a stringent need for cardiologists.”

But Chism is also adept at marketing, and that’s critical for sole practitioners who don’t have the “shelter” of an agency or corporate bureaucracy to find work. “I have a niche. I love it, but it is not easy,” she says.

What Makes a Good Recruiter?

Having a positive outlook, being a self-starter and understanding the business you are recruiting in is really important, says Franzoni. Possessing a well-managed ego that is confident enough to reach out and make cold calls, but that doesn’t come across as arrogant, is key as well. Successful recruiters also tend to have a lot of demonstrable outside interests and community involvement, she adds.

When sizing up a potential new recruiter, savvy recruiters look for people who have a strong network in their own industry. Recruiters should also be able to talk about their industry strategically, including the competition and the corporate culture, Franzoni says.

“I pay close attention to how my client’s competitors are recruiting and what kind of offer packages they are using,” TWC’s Beetel says.

Many wannabe recruiters drop out in the first year. “This is demanding, and there can be a daily grind to doing interviews,” says Chris Dougherty, vice president of business development at TWC. “There is high turnover in the first year, especially for someone who doesn’t have a good mentor pulling them forward.”

In addition to solid written and verbal skills, successful recruiters thrive on the fast-paced work environment, being flexible, establishing a rapport with different types of people and being credible, Dougherty says. “This is a fantastic career for those with drive and passion. The job is 100 percent people interaction. It is sales but not like selling software.”

Michael Causey is a freelance writer who specializes in HR issues.

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