Stop Being An Order Taker! (Part 2 of a 5-part Series on Upping the Ante on Talent Acquisition)


This is the second article in a series (here’s part 1) on how to redefine recruitment. The author, a veteran recruiting leader within several global consulting firms, contends that the recruitment function at many organizations 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 the first of four recommendations on how to redefine recruitment by shedding an “order-taker” mentality.

Many of us in the recruitment profession who have been around the block more than a few times are sick and tired of hearing age-old complaints from colleagues such as “I am not appreciated,” “my clients don’t get recruiting,” and “I feel like an order taker.” Well, when you show up to a client meeting with pencil and paper in hand asking hiring managers, “Can I take your order,” then why should they expect anything more from you or treat you any differently!

Over the past 25 years, in both corporate talent acquisition as well as in consulting roles, I have mentored and coached recruiters to be avoid being order takers. In part, the order-taker mentality is rooted in recruiters’ own view of talent acquisition as a linear process where they receive a request to fill an open position, do a lot of activity to source people, and eventually all of this leads to a hire. But recruiting is so much more than that — it’s really a full circle of activities starting with strategic workforce planning and ending with onboarding and assimilation. To be effective in all aspects, recruiters need to be 100 percent immersed in the business and act as true business partners. So, it follows that recruiters stop acting like order takers and instead act as consultants to their organizations based on an agreed upon set of standards that defines the relationship in detail.

The single most important skill or behavior a recruiter can exhibit is that of a consultant. However, how often do we talk about, evaluate, measure, and manage recruiters against this trait? Never …

Too often, requirements for recruiters strictly focus on the following:

  • Proven recruiting experience
  • Solid ability to conduct different types of interviews (structured, competency based, stress, etc.)
  • Hands-on experience with various selection processes (phone interviews, reference checks, etc.)
  • Ability to organize assessment centers (in tray activities, work samples, psychometric, and IQ/EQ tests, etc.)
  • Familiarity with HT databases, applicant tracking systems, and CRMs
  • BS/MS in Human Resources Management

In contrast, consider the difference if the skills typically required of consultants were also applied to recruiters:

  • Customer Service: The ability to work with many different types of customers in a friendly, relaxed way. Customers are primarily hiring managers, but candidates and colleagues also fit into this category.
  • Communication: The capacity to explain — verbally and in writing — complex or new information to clients and candidates about the role and company, and to clearly present a multitude of options that must be understood and digested before making a decision.
  • Willingness To Learn: Eagerness to pursue ongoing education and training to stay up to date on the latest industry trends not just within the recruitment realm but also within your company’s industry
  • Listening Skills: The ability to listen to your customers (clients and candidates) and discern the best course of action for them.
  • Problem Solving/Decision Making/Critical Thinking: An understanding that people are different and therefore a cookie-cutter approach to recruiting doesn’t work. Problem-solving skills and the good sense to make decisions based on weighted multiple options.
  • Use of Tools and Technology: Knowledge of how to best leverage available tools and technology to be as efficient and effective as possible. Not being technology savvy is a detriment to your job.

Let’s take this thinking a step further and consider what metrics we use to measure recruiters. Metrics common to recruiters include things such as time-to-fill, for example. But they are not job requirements, only measurements. That is why I advocate service level agreements.

A SLA is a contract between a service provider (either internal or external) and the end user that defines the level of service expected from the service provider and the actions the end user must take to ensure success. SLAs are output-based in that their purpose is specifically to define what the customer will receive and what the customer is expected to do and/or provide.

Article Continues Below

Recruiting is not the job of a single individual recruiter. To work well, it must be a team effort, which is why organizations claiming that talent acquisition “owns” recruiting are missing the mark. Likewise, hiring managers who delegate and relinquish their role in recruiting also fail their organization. So the notion of a SLA between the recruiter and hiring manager is very important to ensure each is doing their role and no one is abdicating their responsibilities.

Changing the mindset of recruiters, from that of order takers to consultants while setting up performance expectations based on an agreed upon set of SLAs are two ways that organizations can redefine recruitment. In the next article in this series, we’ll outline concrete ways in which recruiters can flex their consulting skills to add immeasurable value by focusing on what’s strategic, versus tactical.

About the Author


For more than 25 years, Jim O'Malley has developed talent acquisition solutions to ensure that leadership talent aligns with changing business needs. At TalentRISE, he focuses on clients’ executive leadership challenges by leveraging his passions for executive search, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics, and executive coaching. 

Before TalentRISE, he was senior vice president in the human resource function of Fifth Third Bancorp. He also served for five years as managing director and leader of the talent acquisition function for Huron Consulting Group, a global professional services firm, was the vice president of human resources with Edward Don and Company, the nation’s largest foodservice supply and equipment distributor, and held various leadership roles with Arthur Andersen, Deloitte, and Internet consultancy Lante.

He serves on the board of directors for Sheila Greco & Associates, Staffing Management Association of Chicago, and Mount Assisi Academy. He is also an active member of the Society of Human Resources Professionals, Human Resource Management Association of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Club of Chicago. 

  • RecruitingBliss

    This is the approach we take at Sonos. Recruiters as trusted Talent Advisors to the business. But we do struggle with how to measure impact. I like the list of consultant traits you suggest. On the first one, customer service, we do struggle bc part of being a trusted advisor is having hard conversations and saying things people don’t want to hear. Even still, I appreciate that those conversations can be done well and in a way where everyone walks out feeling good. Will be looking forward to the next three installments. Started following you on twitter too. 🙂

  • Medieval Recruiter

    And that is the problem, RecruitingBliss. You can only be a partner if your customer WANTS you to be a partner. Most companies WANT order takers, most hiring managers WANT to abdicate responsibility for hiring. And as long as recruiting is dominated by fly-by-night operations run by dyed in the wool Sales! people who are only too eager to jump in and tell every client what they want to hear, as opposed to what they need to hear, there will be no change in recruiting.

    The simple fact is labor is, by and large, devalued. Most companies treat their employees as costs at best, and easily replaceable pieces of near worthless junk at worst. They DO NOT value their employees, whatever rhetoric may be written on their web page. Which is why they generally don’t care about talent acquisition. Why would they care about the process which supplies them with what they value least? Actions speak louder than words.

    I’m recently back on the job market, and this time I got canned rather than leaving voluntarily. The agency I worked at is very large in the region, and they were nothing but order takers, and that’s what their clients wanted, and I don’t work that way and it buried me. I got feedback on fewer than 5% of my send outs, the rest went into the ether. Several job orders I put time into were cancelled at the last second, not by the client, but by the over-eager Sales! person who forgot to tell the recruiters that we weren’t authorized to actually work on the job.

    Before this, I worked at a smaller agency equally messed up in most ways, but at least the made an effort to recognize bad clients when they saw them. The agency I was recently with is one of the largest and most well known and successful in the region, with multiple offices, and it was a total free-for-all, no respect given to any candidates, no follow ups, etc. I mean, I knew recruiting was bad, but this was an eye opening even for me. No wonder we have such a bad reputation as a profession. But, they were successful, they were making money.

    Because that’s what the clients wanted: order takers who would keep throwing resumes at the wall until one stuck or until someone else filled the position, and to hell with all the wreckage it caused. And as long as that is even possible as a successful model, this industry is beyond repair. The hucksters should be the exceptions, not the rule.