Stop Being Tactical; Aim To Be Strategic (Part 3 of a 5-part Series on Upping the Ante on Talent Acquisition)

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This is the third article in a series (part 1, part 2) 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, which hurts 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 ways to redefine recruitment by becoming more strategic.

Ever hear the riddle “How do you know when a recruiter is truly strategic?” The revealing punch line is, “When she still has a job — even though her company is not doing any recruiting”!

A bit contradictory, isn’t it? But the scenario is not terribly far-fetched, because being a strategic recruiter entails far more than just filling jobs. That, in fact, is the most tactical part of the job. Strategic recruiters, on the other hand, do far more for their clients than fill positions. If your organization wants to redefine recruitment, your recruiters must think and act more strategically. What exactly does that entail? Listed below are the four most critical ways in which strategic recruiters distinguish themselves from the rest.

They act as business partners. Not long ago, we saw a mindset shift in HR where our colleagues stopped identifying themselves as generalists and started calling themselves “business partners.” Why has it taken so long for talent acquisition professionals to adapt the same moniker? Perhaps it’s because you can’t just change job titles and expect people to act differently!

Being a business partner requires a deep knowledge of the business that goes far beyond just scheduling an intake meeting with a hiring manager before beginning a search. With a true business partner, the intake meeting is unnecessary because the recruiter is already so intertwined with the business that he/she knows exactly what the hiring manager needs and what the business requires.

True recruiting business partners understand the business they support. They are invited to all key department meetings and — beyond all the buzzwords — they have a better than basic understanding of what each person does within the functions they support. Candidates frequently mistakenly assume that the recruiter works within the business and is not “just a recruiter.” True business partners also have a point of view and are not merely the people who shepherd candidates from interview to interview. Hiring managers value the opinions of their business partners because they have well-developed assessment/interview skills. (More on those below.)

They establish mutual accountability for getting the job done. Recruiters are not responsible for hiring; that is the hiring manager’s ultimate responsibility. But convincing the hiring manager that she has equal responsibility for successfully recruiting the right person to her team can require a strategic approach. One way to make it clear is to tell the hiring manager, “If I do this, you need to do that for us to be successful.” Remember service level agreements? For a time they were all the craze in recruiting and now, in my opinion and as discussed earlier in this article series, need to be revisited.

They are great interviewers. Strategic recruiters add incredible value to the assessment process. Being a great interviewer is not easy; it requires knowledge of the business so that you ask the right questions. It also requires a deep understanding of the corporate culture at the business unit level, so questions get to the heart of whether a particular candidate will be a good fit with their soon-to-be closest colleagues. Finally, a good interviewer also has great Emotional IQ. To paraphrase internationally known psychologist Daniel Goldman, this means knowing how to really listen, how to read verbal and nonverbal cues, as well as showing empathy and understanding.

Note that I’m not an advocate of any particular style of interviewing (whether behavioral or using case studies). A strategic recruiter can be trained to use and adopt whichever style that works best for his/her organization.

They are focused. In today’s world, it’s very easy to get distracted. That’s especially true within recruitment, which offers many temptations, such as looking up former colleagues on Facebook, for example. Recruiters frequently also deal with equally distracted hiring managers, who often don’t devote adequate time to the process of filling roles on their team. Here are three pragmatic tips to stay focused:

  • Structure your recruiting department in such a way that everyone does what they are best at doing.
  • Constantly ask yourself, “Am I spending too much time pursuing a course of action that is not yielding results?” If a particular search doesn’t yield candidates after 30 days, change course!
  • Finally, as mentioned above, establish SLAs with your internal clients. Don’t let their lack of focus impede your work.

Let me summarize by sharing an anecdote related to my opening wisecrack about knowing when a recruiter is truly strategic. The answer, “When she still has a job even though her company is not doing recruiting,” takes me back to the final months of Arthur Andersen where I was responsible for recruiting experienced consultants for the Business Consulting practice. As soon as the Enron debacle hit, recruiting came to a standstill. Rather than being asked to leave, I was asked to evaluate the pros/cons of our recruiting function against that of our acquiring firm. I knew the other firm very well because they were our serious and longstanding competitor for talent. Fortunately, as a strategic recruiter, I had spent a lot of time sizing up the competition.

This is how — despite the fact that we weren’t filling any chairs — I was able to add value. It’s also then when I realized that I was indeed strategic. So, consider your own situation … if your employer stops hiring, will your job be eliminated? If there is any doubt in your mind, it’s time to become more strategic.