Where Are All the Good Recruiters?

By Mark Feffer May 11, 2016
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As the labor market tightens, employers nationally have been hampered by a lack of experienced recruiters: veterans who have the chops to work effectively with hiring managers, identify qualified candidates, and develop the relationships necessary to build and maintain a pipeline of talent. As a result, businesses are taking longer to fill positions and often settling for candidates who turn out to be poor matches and who cause challenges down the road.

The issue, recruiters say, isn’t so much a lack of numbers: A lot of recruiter-candidates are on the market. Rather, the deficit is one of experience and skill.

“Companies need to add recruiters, but the challenge is the good ones are usually already working, so the people available aren’t always the best,” said Sara Ferraioli, managing director of the HR Contract Staffing Group for Waltham, Mass.-based search firm WinterWyman.

“It’s a shortage of good recruiting,” added Gerry Crispin, New Jersey-based principal of CareerXroads, a consulting firm that shares recruiting best practices. “Not many people are well-trained enough to treat candidates with the kind of care that supports employment branding and represents the organization well.”

Hitting Employers Where It Hurts

The impact on employers can be both obvious and subtle. When organizations lack recruiting talent, their time-to-hire lengthens and they’re forced to make trade-offs in how they hire. “Mission-critical roles get priority, and others take a back seat,” Ferraioli observed. However, many of those “other” roles involve handling basic business activities that, in a sense, keep the lights on. “The lack of talented recruiters,” she said, “slows down every process.”

Besides that, bad hires lead to increased turnover and a workforce that can be more difficult to manage. “Within HR, recruiting is the tip of the spear,” Crispin said. “If you don’t do it well, you’ll multiply your challenges in other areas. When you have better recruiting, you see less friction with employees and more engagement.”

Ben Gotkin, principal consultant for Recruiting Toolbox in Gaithersburg, Md., agreed that without an expert recruiting effort, employers face “misalignment on talent and a misalignment with hiring managers.” If recruiters are stretched thin, he said, “they can’t be strategic. They can’t work with hiring managers to develop the best solutions. They’re just putting butts in seats, and their ability to impact quality is hurt.”

“This has a huge impact on employers,” said Danielle Monaghan, director of talent acquisition, consumer, for Seattle-based e-commerce leader Amazon. “Not bringing in the right people to deliver can delay new products and upgrades. It just has a huge negative impact. It impacts the team, the culture and the product.”

No Easy Fix

Unfortunately, employers have few, if any, short-term solutions to choose from. Though outsourcing some of their efforts is certainly an option, agencies feel the shortage of recruiters as much as their clients do. “We’re in the same boat,” Ferraioli said. And though managers see plenty of recruiter-candidates on the market, those individuals often lack the training and experience to make a real impact.

For example, “a lot of recruiters out there don’t know how to source,” said Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition for Sodexo, a Maryland-based global hospitality company. “They’re just processing and don’t know how to influence a hiring manager or hunt for the right candidate.”

Good recruiters, she explained, know how to position candidates so a hiring manager will accept someone who matches, say, 80 percent of a job’s requirements instead of holding out for 100 percent. “Good recruiters are there to advise and influence to bring back the best talent to the organization, vs. just order-taking and essentially doing what they’re told,” Ball said. “We want a higher-level recruiter.”

Many say the situation is further complicated by the prejudices some company leaders bring to recruiting discussions. “The myth is that recruiting should be cheap and easy, but you pay for what you get,” Gotkin noted. “A quality recruiter costs more money. It’s the same trade-off as in any other hire.”

Leveraging Your Team, Building Your Pipeline

To bridge the gap in recruiting talent, employers should consider several strategies. Among them: becoming more flexible in their approach to hiring, taking advantage of technical tools to increase efficiency, building closer working relationships with outside agencies, and, most important, making a greater commitment to training and developing their recruiting groups.

For Sodexo, flexibility has been a key part of Ball’s approach to building and maintaining an effective team. She often brings in current employees who may not have a recruiting background but who know the company well, then invests the time and money to train them. In addition, she said, Sodexo’s policy allowing recruiters to work remotely and under flexible work arrangements makes it an attractive employer.

Technology and processes help by creating a more efficient recruiting operation. “Using LinkedIn Recruiter [and] providing access to databases and research organizations who can help identify the right people [to call on] in the industry” streamline the process of finding quality candidates, Monaghan said.

At the same time, she advises recruiting leaders to put in place appropriate incentives and measures of success. “It’s more complex than just tracking jobs filled,” she said. “You need to consider the number of quality candidates who stay on and raise the tide for everybody.”

Monaghan’s not a fan of traditional measures that can result in unintended consequences. Measuring only cost-of-hire often leads to acquiring poor employees, she notes, while focusing on time-to-hire encourages recruiters to take the first qualified applicant they see. “There’s cost involved in hiring great people,” she said.

With all that said, perhaps the best strategy is to further develop the skills of the recruiters you already have and to leverage the knowledge of existing employees in other areas of the business. The investment will be worth it.

“Companies need a realistic view of recruiters and expectations for speed and training. On-the-job training is not enough,” Gotkin said. “Not all recruiting skills are innate. Some of them need to be learned over time.”

And though training costs per recruiter will typically run “in the thousands,” Gotkin contends those fees will pay for themselves many times over: “Training could save you agency fees, so it’s paid for. You’ll hire faster and better, so it’s paid for.”

Some companies handle training through in-house programs. Amazon, for example, created its own recruiting academy and often uses the program to educate new college graduates with backgrounds in everything from marketing to business or even IT. “We interview them deeply because they don’t have experience in recruiting or HR,” Monaghan said. “But recruiting’s not rocket science. When people have the right attitude, we can teach them to be recruiters.”

She believes larger employers should “seriously consider” the academy approach, though she notes it’s not a quick-turnaround solution: Graduates need between four and five months to become productive.

Other employers look for recruiting candidates among their existing HR teams. Ferraioli sees potential in lower-level HR staffers, recruiting coordinators and sourcers who already understand the context of recruiting and some of its nuts and bolts. While the approach will leave HR with an open position to fill once the staffer starts working as a recruiter, Ferraioli believes it benefits both the company and the employee. “After all,” she said, “a coordinator’s going to grow out of that role at some point,” and you’ll help retain the person rather than lose him or her to another firm.

Being Smart About Outsourcing

With their internal teams stretched thin, it’s no surprise that many companies turn to outside agencies or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firms for help. However, like any vendor, relationships with such firms need careful management to be effective.

For example, when GE partners with an RPO, it makes sure the firm meets its standards for sophisticated recruiting, said Kimberly Warne, talent acquisition leader-U.S. for the Fairfield, Conn.-based industrial giant. Whether a recruiter works for GE directly or an RPO, “we expect [them] to manage managers, keep candidates warm, bear in mind diversity programs and a number of other requirements,” she said.

Getting the most out of an agency requires an investment of time, said John Mazzei, managing partner of Rand Thompson Consultants, a New York City-based firm that specializes in financial services searches. “Companies have to do the work to find and support good [outside] recruiters,” he said. “HR has to invest in forming a relationship.” The more time HR spends with the agency, he believes, the better results they’ll see.

Noting that many HR departments are under pressure to keep a lid on recruiting costs, Mazzei warns that “you can’t put all recruiting into one bucket when you’re making different kinds of hires.” Especially when you’re trying to fill a highly specialized role, “there are times you have to go to your boss and say, ‘This may be more expensive than we’d planned on.’ ”

“Not all recruiters are alike,” added James Kemper, president of search firm W.H. Meanor & Associates in Charlotte, N.C. “There’s a lot of value to industry focus and expertise, for example. Filling the specialized roles you need through a specialized recruiter may cost more, but you’ll get better results.”

However they handle the recruiting gap, “companies are clearly under pressure,” Ferraioli said. “Recruiting is now everyone’s job. Hiring managers should be reaching out to their networks, too, not just leaving things on the recruiter’s shoulders. We’re not just faced with a recruiter shortage, but a candidate shortage. Every group is struggling to find candidates.”

Mark Feffer is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.

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