This is the fifth and final article in a series (part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4) on how to redefine recruitment. The author, a veteran recruiting leader within several global consulting firms, contends that the recruitment function at many professional services has become so specialized that recruiters have lost their all-important close connection to the business, and it’s hurting their ability to create relationships both with internal customers (including hiring managers and the C-suite) as well as with external candidates they seek to hire. Below, he elaborates on the final of four recommendations on how to redefine recruitment by resisting the temptation to do everything.
I saved the best for last for this final article in my series on redefining recruitment. The topic is one that I am extremely passionate about. In fact, I feel so strongly about it that I’ve decided to dedicate the remainder of my consulting career evangelizing this message to every company, company leader, talent acquisition, and recruiting executive who will listen! My message is this:
Recruiters should focus on being excellent at one or two things and build their personal brand. They must delegate or outsource what they are not as good at or what others can do better and/or more efficiently and less expensively.
Within recruitment (or talent acquisition, as we now call it) the last decade has been marked by increased specialization. Witness the myriad job titles such as specialized sourcers, executive recruiters, recruitment branding/marketers and researchers, etc. within many large organization’s recruitment functions. As the profession has become more specialized, many recruiters have lost touch with what’s most important to our clients — building relationships, assessing the right talent for the organization, getting talent onboarded, and, once they have joined, getting them to stay!
All of this specialization means that some recruiters focus more on managing their specializations rather than managing relationships. On the flip side, particularly within mid-sized and smaller organizations, the pendulum has unfortunately swung the other way and we see recruiters who try to do it all. That type of behavior defies common sense because no single individual can possibly be a sleuth, technology wiz, salary expert, sourcer, and assessment guru while also building and maintaining relationships with hiring managers and candidates.
However, resisting this temptation to be good at everything is difficult since so because of cost pressures. But when we attempt to drive down costs by doing everything ourselves, the business typically suffers as quality is ultimately impacted. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” It’s up to us in the recruitment profession to remind our CEOs that if getting the best talent possible is a priority, recruitment must be redefined. Redefinition means making informed decisions about what we do well — and not as well — at both the individual and functional level and then delegating or outsourcing the rest. The decision-making process can be challenging but, done right, it can be both cost-effective and also produce much better results.
The five considerations below can help weigh the pros and cons and ultimately help you decide which components of recruiting can be accomplished more cost effectively and better by someone else.
The Relative Costs
Like the weekend home improvement warrior, many believe that building something in house is always cheaper (therefore better) than buying. That can be true if you know what you are doing, but to really understand the relative price tags of in vs. outsourcing, do the math:
- Compare the costs of employing a senior-level recruiter as well as support staff (such as researchers) to using an external service that you can essentially turn on and off.
- Consider the costs of subscribing to/purchasing the research tools that a well-established external firm typically uses. Note that while social media has greatly improved the ease/speed of all searches, we often hear HR leaders say things like, “Anybody can source with LinkedIn.” That is not necessarily true. Dozens of sophisticated, hyper-effective, subscription-based tools can uncover passive candidates that over-the-counter tools like LinkedIn are unable to find.
- Finally, look into executive search firms that offer flexible pricing. Many search firms have changed how they price — and are often bundling their services to sell activities such as sourcing and pre-interview screening a la carte.
The Relative Output
Many believe that using in-house resources will produce the same, if not better, results, than buying external expertise. That can be true, depending on the caliber and experience of the home grown team.
However, in my experience on both the corporate and consulting side, external firms generally have more resources at their fingertips, including years of expertise specific to the type of talent you require, databases and social media expertise, and real-time insights into the market. In essence, by using a firm instead of an individual, you are buying the brainpower of a team.
The other consideration is leverage. By buying externally from a team, you will typically have more resources at your disposal. And more resources devoted to a single search usually means quicker results. I’ve found that the typical “requisition load” for internal executive recruiters might be 12-15 searches at a time. On the other hand, you would be hard pressed to find an external recruiter working on more than 6-8 at a time. The less time that’s spent on each search, the slower the results. When you compute the revenue your organization loses each day that an executive position remains unfilled, “cheaper” suddenly becomes a whole lot more expensive!
The Ease/speed of External Recruiters and Their Focus
Motivations guide behaviors. Not always, but often, external search firms produce results faster because the hiring organization is the client. External recruiters are not on payroll or being paid by the hour. It’s in their best interest to place and identify candidates quickly and move on to the next project.
The Cultural Component
Much is made of cultural fit in recruitment. It’s certainly logical that an in-house employee conducting recruiting is more likely to really understand the internal culture and therefore find a suitable candidate with the best cultural fit. You can also argue that an in-house recruiter is more likely to make a better impression upon a potential candidate than an outside “hired gun,” especially given the high-touch, high-value nature of recruiting top executive talent.
On the flip side, all other things being equal, this should not be an argument against hiring an external firm. Most experienced and reputable search firms seek to learn the pulse of the organizations they serve. During the intake process, their primary objectives should include getting to know your culture. If the external recruiters you are working with don’t ask those questions, look elsewhere.
The Strategic Component
In my experience, building — as opposed to buying — works best in two, frequently overlapping, scenarios intimately tied to the overall recruitment strategy of the organization: (1) when an organization needs to be really proficient at recruiting for the same type of position repeatedly, and/or (2) when an organization is growing so fast that it needs to hire all the people it can to fill certain critical senior roles.
Let me illustrate the first scenario through an example. Let’s assume you are a global IT hardware firm that sells large mainframes. Having the right senior sales staff with the right connections and the ability to sell multi-million dollar projects is critical. You are more than happy to pay that “right” salesperson more than most people in your C-suite are earning, and you will hire as many of these executives as you can find. This is the perfect scenario to “build” and use an in-house executive search team to invest in search/competitive intelligence; to constantly build talent communities of these executives; to attend the conferences that prospective talent attends, etc. In other words, your in-house team can focus, with laser accuracy, on a targeted campaign that repeatedly gets your employer brand in front of this group of candidates.
As far as the second scenario — recruiting during fast growth — I lived this first hand working for the largest professional services firm in the world. After their consulting division was split off, my employer rebuilt their middle market consulting practice. At that time, demand for those services was so great that we sought to hire any qualified individual from any of our direct competitors. We built an in-house executive search function, invested in research, and assigned recruiters to focus exclusively on our four largest competitors. Since we were not recruiting for a specific position, our approach was unique: we were not pitching a job; we were pitching our firm. Within this initiative, the focus was not on “how many did you hire?” or “did you fill that position yet?” We were entirely obsessed with building relationships and getting to know our competition intimately. My team became much more relevant as recruiters because we were tasked with business development, marketing, and competitive intelligence in order to sell our brand to these candidates.
This, in my opinion, is where in-house recruiting should be focused while recognizing that it always makes sense to buy from an expert recruiter to fill a “critical” or “difficult” position or a time sensitive position. That’s when external recruiters excel.
Trying to do it “all” is a painful Achilles heel for many talent acquisition functions as well as for many individual recruitment professionals. Unless you possess superhuman qualities, it’s virtually impossible to be good at all the specializations within the recruitment process itself. Even if you are bionic (or just exceptionally gifted!), there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. Either way, recruiters are often unable to build — much less sustain — a close connection to the business they support. They no longer serve as advisors and are, instead relegated to be “order takers” whose expertise is not really valued. This is exacerbated by the failure of most organizations to establish any meaningful metrics for the recruitment function. The end result is a direct negative impact on the organization’s ability to get the right talent sourced, hired, and properly onboarded. The way I see it, the best way to remedy this is for recruiters to focus more on doing less.
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