Do Your Recruiters Have What It Takes?

Hiring top talent begins with an exceptional talent acquisition team

By Erin Binney May 13, 2016
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BOSTON—Finding top recruiters is harder today than it was just two years ago, according to three talent leaders who spoke during a panel discussion May 3 at the Human Capital Institute’s Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference. But knowing what attributes to look for in new recruiter hires and what competencies to develop in existing staff can help companies build exceptional recruiting teams, they said.

Skills gaps and talent shortages have made it difficult in recent years for employers to hire the staff they need, and hiring becomes even more difficult when a company’s recruiters don’t have the necessary skills. Complicating matters is that these skills have changed over time. For example, today’s recruiters are being asked to be marketers and strategic partners, the panelists said.

“Businesses in general are demanding more of recruitment” than they used to, noted Lisa Maronski, senior vice president and head of talent at Boston-based Santander Bank.

Maronski and her fellow panelists identified several qualities recruiters today must have to be effective. Two of the skills—business acumen and consultative skills—are included in the SHRM Competency Model, which is the basis for the Society for Human Resource Management’s SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications. Specifically, the panelists said it’s critical for recruiters to have:

Sales and marketing skills. At Equifax, the biggest change in hiring strategy over the past few years is that the consumer credit reporting agency now looks for recruiters who have a sales focus, said Penny Burnett, global talent acquisition leader for the Atlanta-based company. “Being able to tell our story to candidates is critical,” she noted, especially as Equifax expands globally into areas where its brand isn’t as well-known as it is in the U.S.

Business acumen. It’s hard to find recruiters with solid business acumen, Maronski said, but it’s a skill today’s talent acquisition professionals need to have. When interviewing recruiters, she said, she is often less interested in how candidates respond to her questions and more interested in what they ask her about the business and the industry. This shows that a candidate is focused on understanding how he or she can drive the business, Maronski explained.

Consultative skills. Burnett said Equifax wants recruiters who aren’t simply going to be “yes-men.” Instead, it wants people who aren’t afraid to challenge a hiring manager’s thinking and who are able to advise hiring managers on how to proceed based on what makes sense for the organization.

Time management and organizational skills. Because the volume of work in talent acquisition is increasing, knowing how to manage time and structure the work is important, the panelists said. “Most recruiters drown and fall down because they don’t know how to prioritize and organize their day,” Maronski noted. For example, recruiters often get caught in the trap of thinking that posting and filling positions as quickly as possible is the top priority, when the primary focus should be on communicating with stakeholders, she said. Sometimes, successfully structuring work time means determining whether some of the more operational tasks can be moved to a different team, Burnett added.

The ability to adapt. If you’re a recruiter, “you’ve got to be able to embrace change,” said Tara N. Amaral, senior vice president and head of talent acquisition at Fidelity Investments, based in Boston. “At some point, the market’s going to change, and you’ve got to be resilient.”

Developing Existing Staff

In addition to hiring the most-skilled recruiters, companies need to invest in helping existing talent acquisition professionals update their skills so that they can stay at the top of their game, the panelists noted.

First, talent leaders need to identify what skills are lacking within their teams. This can be accomplished by recording recruiters in role-play situations in which they are asked to “sell” the company, for example, or by accompanying recruiters to intake meetings with hiring managers and seeing if they offer alternative viewpoints grounded in business knowledge.

Leaders can then point out where recruiters may be missing the mark and provide guidance on what a more successful interaction would look like.

Amaral said it’s important to make sure recruiters feel challenged in their roles and to offer them a career path. However, “not all jobs go up,” she noted. “Sometimes you have to go over.” At Fidelity, for example, some talent acquisition professionals have taken on additional responsibilities and gained new skills by accepting short-term assignments in locations such as Albuquerque, N.M., and Dublin when offices there have needed to ramp up.

When asked about incentives for recruiters, the panelists stressed that it’s important to make sure the company is rewarding the right behavior. Incentives for processing hiring requisitions quickly, for example, can be problematic.

At Santander, Maronski gives out spot bonuses when recruiters exhibit desired behaviors, while Fidelity’s Amaral calculates an annual bonus based on factors such as difficulty and complexity of hires.

Erin Binney is a staff writer for SHRM.

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