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Time Management Tips for Recruiters

A black alarm clock next to a notebook and a cup of coffee.

​A recruiter's day is spent juggling applicants, candidates, hiring managers, e-mails, phone screens, intake meetings, queries and reports—making effective time management a critical skill to stay above water.

"Talent acquisition is an onslaught of a thousand seemingly important things competing for your attention," said Christian De Pape, head of brand and operations at Recruiting Social, a recruiting services firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and in Los Angeles. "Many of the recruiters I know love it for this very reason—they love the rush of juggling so many moving parts, the multiple ongoing projects, the surprises that pop up and the tactical maneuvering needed just to keep pace."

But that rush can make it hard to keep track of the process, which could doom a recruiter to being perpetually in catch-up mode, missing deadlines and failing to complete tasks.

"Practicing time management will determine whether someone is an effective recruiter or not," said Lindsay Mustain, SHRM-SCP, a talent acquisition leader at Amazon and founder of recruiting consultancy Talent Paradigm in Seattle. "You have to move fast, and I tend to find that recruiters are naturally more in line with their people-person, extroverted side and not so much with tracking and being organized. That's why I try to build a lot of automated steps into the process."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Time management doesn't need to be complex or high maintenance, De Pape said. Instead, practices should be simple and "complement how your mind operates." Many of the talent acquisition professionals interviewed for this article described themselves as "old school" when discussing what works best for them.

In a response typical of those interviewed, Wal-Mart Senior Corporate Recruiter Catherine Pylant said that she has "dabbled with a lot of different organizational platforms, apps and methods," but ultimately she goes back to "tried-and-true handwritten notes and utilizing the Microsoft Office suite."

Take Notes

Keeping a list of what you want to accomplish is a basic organizational tactic, whether you prefer writing it out by hand or using digital list-making tools.

"The act of writing down my workday's goals with pencil and paper really helps me stay focused," said Michelle Cugini, an HR and talent acquisition consultant at HRawesome, based in Oceanside, Calif.

"A notepad next to my keyboard is all I need," said Nina Rodriguez, an Orlando, Fla.-based recruiter for online travel site "Once I finish the task, I cross it off the list. If it's something pertinent that I need an alert for, I just plug it into my Google calendar. If I want to keep an electronic note for future reference, I use Notes for Google Drive, which is an extension on my browser and easy to access without having to open a new tab."

Pylant uses Microsoft OneNote to keep track of tasks. "I keep all of my notes on this platform because it is easily shareable, there is no limit on how much information can be cataloged in it, and it's easy to access and pull from," she said.

Task management apps like Asana and Trello are also effective, De Pape said. Whatever you use, "pick a tool you're already comfortable with and make sure it's something you can keep at your side at all times," he said. "Avoid software that lives exclusively on your desktop and doesn't sync between devices."

De Pape recommended capturing clear, specific information when jotting down tasks. "Assume you'll forget the details, because you will," he said.

Block Time

Assign yourself time to accomplish assignments. Mustain uses Calendly, a scheduler app, to block time in her day. "I go in on Fridays and block off meetings and sourcing power hours for the next week," she said. She uses a planner to set daily goals like "source 20 candidates, do three interviews and submit five people," she said.

Pylant segments her day using her Outlook calendar. She blocks time, titles each block, and adds details such as bullet points or a plan of action. "Some tasks I do pretty repetitively, such as extending offers and processing them, so I know that if I have a call to extend an offer I also need to block off 15 minutes after that in order to process and complete the administrative piece. This helps me ensure nothing slips through the cracks and I get my tasks done in a timely manner."

Pylant cautioned recruiters to be realistic when blocking time. "If you underestimate a meeting or task, it will throw off the rest of your blocked time for the day—and sometimes week—due to the repercussions." She also recommended adding a floating 30-minute time block each day, which can be parceled out to make up for unexpected but unavoidable time-wasters—like a meeting that goes too long or being stopped in the hallway by a chatty colleague.

Prioritize Tasks

When it comes to prioritizing tasks, solutions range from the simple—Pylant keeps a written list handy and constantly updates and reprioritizes it—to more-complex organizational methods.   

"Whether you're using Google or Microsoft for e-mail, it's easy to color-code your inbox and calendar," Cugini said. "I use red for urgent items that have deadlines associated with them and green for items that are important and need my attention but might not have a firm deadline. I find this really useful because it's so easy to continuously put off important things." 

For each task, Mustain considers where in the process the related requisition lies, the urgency of the task and the stakeholders involved. "If your boss is coming to you with something urgent, that ranks higher than a candidate who needs something on the side that can wait."

She spends the first hour and the last part of each day reading e-mails and schedules her sourcing time early in the morning. "I can get people responding that same day and that drives my results," she said. "What I'm really doing is focusing on the 20 percent that will net 80 percent of my goals. I'll target what is the most value-add for my time. Two hours of sourcing each day gives me the candidate generation I need to fill the [requisitions] I'm working on."

Mustain also believes in getting the most challenging tasks done early in the workday. "Try to do the things you are most reluctant to do in the morning," she said. "If you hate calling to decline people, do it in the morning and get it over with or it will hang on you all day."

It gets tougher to solve problems and complete challenging work later in the day, De Pape agreed. He schedules calls and meetings and does administrative tasks during the "downtime" periods of the day, such as right before breaking for lunch or midafternoon.

Take Breaks

Everyone knows that taking breaks during the workday is important for recharging, but many recruiters find this hard to do. "In my time in recruitment as well as working remotely, I have found myself many times logging in at 8 a.m. and then the next thing I know it is 6 p.m., and I never took a break and sometimes forgot to eat," Pylant said.

"I schedule a lunch hour on my calendar every day," Mustain said, even though she admitted that she usually works through it, eating at her desk. "When you are doing anything for over 90 minutes, you need to step away and take some time to clear your mind. Take a walk, grab a cup of coffee or chat with colleagues."

Take breaks away from your desk or work area when possible. "I like to take a walk at lunch and maybe even a quick walk around the building for a shorter break during the day," Cugini said. "Hopefully others are breaking at the same time, and we can walk and talk about life outside of work. Workplace friendships have such a big impact on employee engagement, and these walks and talks have proven that to me over and over again." 

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