Leading and Managing a Team of Recruiting Professionals — Remember Who the Team Really Works for

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Have you ever heard that old analogy: “the best salesperson often makes the worst sales manager”? Well, I am sure you can tell where this one is going.

Often, in corporate talent-acquisition departments, the person who was the best recruiter often gets promoted to manage and lead a team of recruiters. That was me … many decades ago. I was (and am) a great recruiter, but, I was not — at first, a great recruiting manager. I did, in fact go from recruiter to manager to director of recruiting in the space of two years, and was I ready for leadership? Not 100 percent, nope. But I can tell you, I stubbed my toes many times and I have learned a lot of managing (which really means: coaching, mentoring, directing, and leading) a team of professionals.

Unfortunately, there were no college courses, seminars, books, or other educational opportunities to learn how to be a better manager of the people who do recruiting. In fact, if you examine most of the current educational, training, and learning opportunities available in the recruiting space, very little content is available on this subject. Sure, there is a lot of content available on the “how” of recruiting (how to source, how to negotiate, how to brand, how to measure, etc.), but where is the content on how to lead and manage a team? There is very little content available, and most of us had to learn it the hard way (as Nike says, “just do it”).

Recruiters, the folks who recruiting leaders actually lead, are a difficult bunch to lead. Without sounding overtly generalizing, many recruiters are very outgoing, gregarious, socially adept folks who excel at building and managing relationships. And, many of the relationships recruiters have are with hiring managers and company leaders. These relationships are the key to understanding how to effectively lead recruiting teams. This here is the crux of this article: as much as you as a recruiting leader believe the recruiting team works for you, they don’t. Most all recruiters work for the “love” of their hiring managers. Pure and simple, many recruiting managers simply don’t get this concept. They don’t understand that the recruiting teams that report to them on the org chart, may in fact get almost all of their motivation or demotivation from hiring managers they serve as their clients.

In reality, everyone wants to feel as if the hard work they do makes a difference. This is the reason why recruiters recruit. They work to see the efforts of their hard work become successful: that is: great people getting into great jobs that make the organization successful, successful and meaningful careers for people who are hired into the organization, and hiring managers and leaders who are pleased with the people they selected. Things like metrics (time to fill, etc.) are less motivational to a recruiter then having hiring managers really happy with them. A recruiter who gets measured on time to fill may be less motivated to improve a poor time to fill metric if they get good feedback and “feel the love” from hiring managers and executives.

So leading recruiters is a much more difficult management job than most believe. Add into the mix the desire to increase the ability of the corporate recruiting department to improve and become “more consultative,” and efficient … it is a big challenge to lead, coach, motivate, direct, manage, and lead recruiting teams.

How to Leverage the “Love” from Hiring Managers to Lead Recruiting Teams

Just knowing and accepting that recruiting teams work for the “love” of the hiring manager, and not always for you, their recruiting manager is the key to successfully motivating and coaching recruiters. Once you accept this, then you can work it to your advantage.

For example, I once had a recruiter who worked on my team. She was always dragging her feet on some of the requisitions she had in her portfolio and she wouldn’t be motivated by long “days open” or time-to-hire metrics. She wouldn’t care if some of her reqs were open hundreds of days and others were opened and closed in just a few weeks. And, she was fearless when discussions of performance were brought her way because of this. Some of her hiring manager clients loved her, while others didn’t. So, what to do?

Well, I learned that a few of her hiring manager clients loved her and consistently praised her and brought her into their confidence. This recruiter was welcomed as part of their business team and was engaged in everything from business meetings and updates to office celebrations and outings. And, because this recruiter felt the love from these managers, she gave them the love back! Those other hiring managers, who weren’t as engaged and were potentially giving negative vibes to the recruiter, didn’t get any love back. But because some of the hiring managers she was getting positive feedback from were also very senior-level leaders in the company, this recruiter had more organizational credibility in her little pinky than others … so she was fearless.

So, here’s how this played out. I spent some time encouraging those other hiring managers to do the same thing … bring this recruiter into their realm … provide positive feedback and really share the fact that (when she did work hard for them) they liked her work and the candidates she presented. What I also did was encourage the hiring managers she already was getting the “love” from, to communicate with those managers she wasn’t working so hard for about what a great recruiter she really was and how to bring her more into the fold.

This very simple-sounding solution did work. It just required a lot of work on my end as her leader to dig deep into the reservoir of what motivates recruiters, and in the end — it was the “love” from hiring managers.

If more recruiting leaders could understand the real motivators of recruiters, then we could all optimize recruiting so much easily. Those real motivators are generally not to exceed on their metrics dashboards — it’s really seeing the results of their work in the form of great people, enjoying a great career inside the organization, and the respect and “love” of hiring managers.

Come Learn More!

Even though I mentioned that there are few resources to teach the whole concept of managing recruiting teams, I am excited to be conducting a comprehensive workshop on this very topic at the upcoming ERE Recruiting Conference, April 2016 in Las Vegas. My workshop, “Leading Consultative Recruiting Teams” is based on my 2011 book, RecruitCONSULT! Leadership- The Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader’s Field Book, which focuses on the really important issues of leading recruiting team members in the highly political environment of a corporate recruiting function.

I also will be working with my workshop participants on such topics as the importance of prioritization of jobs and functions and aligning the right people and resources against the work that needs to get done. We will also discuss issues related to dealing with the political issues related to territorial behaviors between recruiting teams and HR business partners/generalists, and how to transform your team from being “order taker” recruiters to “consultative partners” to their clients.

This workshop is interactive, with exercises and lots of participation from other workshop participants. I hope to see you there!