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It is better
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John Sumser

is more
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John Gall


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Types Of Recruiters

(June 27, 2003) - Hiring people is the single largest risk that a company takes. A new person in a company of 10 represents a huge (10%!) change in the local culture. A bad decision on a new person in a company with 100 employees can sink the company. Even at 1,000 employees, new players can significantly change the overall dynamics.

Since most work groups have fewer than 20 members, every hiring decision can be understood as the largest risk that a first level supervisor takes. Generally, hiring managers are happy with about 60% of the hiring decisions they make. They are very reluctant to let authority for this process flow far from their control. The recruiter who can help a hiring manager understand her risk and manage it is a relatively rare one.

In an ideal world, the hiring manager would have free ranging access to the tools and techniques recruiters use. She would be able to advertise a position, schedule interviews, comb through mounds of resumes and devote unlimited time to the hiring task. Usually, however, the fact that a hiring decision needs to be made is an indication that she is already overworked and floundering a bit. When it's time to hire, there is precious little time to learn new skills or software. Hiring typically involves a Catch-22; if you can justify the hire, you don't have time to make it.

One way of thinking about the recruiter's job is that it is a gap-filling role. The recruiter is responsible for everything the hiring manager cannot or will not do in the hiring process. The tasks range from administrative follow-up to measurement for regulatory compliance. Viewed from this perspective (hardly an organic vision), the recruiter is a sort of secretary-plus. The job responsibilities included identifying prospects, scheduling interviews, advertising and lots of paperwork.

Hardly a strategic player, this mode of recruiting amounts to administrative facilitation. At its best, it includes supplemental evaluation techniques. In the hopes of not offending too many of them, we'll call it "Decision Support Recruiting". Most of the tasks performed by this type of recruiter could easily be automated or outsourced. With entry level recruiting salaries pegged at $50K (in the high-flying bay area), you spend a lot of money on capacity that should be performed by a machine or a call center. Even profoundly intimate evaluations can be performed by third parties with a decision package going to the hiring manager.

More critical to organizational success is a type of recruiting we'd call "Strategic Partner Recruiting". There are far fewer of these folks. They tend to work as contract recruiters, in third party staffing houses or, occasionally in HR. They spend the bulk of their time getting to know the ins and outs of the hiring manager's job and world view. They have the freedom to make or influence decisions because they have earned 'trusted partner' status with particular hiring managers.

In general, the "Strategic Partner" produces fewer results, quantitatively. Not only are they much more expensive to hire and retain, they produce less (although quality and impact are significantly higher). They generate custom solutions. They flourish in environments that let hiring managers focus on operations while supporting them with specialized expertise. They are an indicator of a well managed operation that really believes that its future is dependent on the people it hires.

On a scale, these two types of Recruiters represent polar extremes. The "Decision Support" folks worry deeply about logistics, scheduling and sourcing. While the "Strategic Partner" class also needs logistics, their concern is primarily driven by fit, effectiveness and performance. Between the two extremes are the various types of recruiters we meet every day.

Recruiting style, technique and approach varies heavily from organization to organization (that's why hard to customize automation solutions always fail). More often than not, there are two core drivers: Recruiting budgets and hiring manager authority. They tend to be easiest to understand as Recruiting budgets. When the average salary for a Recruiter hovers at the low end of the scale (easy to look up on Salary.com), you're likely to be dealing with a nest of decision support people. After all, you get what you pay for.

We recently encountered an HR manager who was trying to energize a group primarily composed of "Decision Support" Recruiters. He presented a list of quantifiable things that the team 'should' be doing to support hiring managers. None of the items covered involved the real addition of value. His view was that recruiting was a volume transaction function in support of hiring managers. Pay scales reflected the reality that he was dealing with a complex pool of administrative assistants.

It's a perfectly acceptable way to run a Recruiting operation. Unfortunately for this particular company, their rhetoric about recruiting and their very real needs for 'Remarkable People' were at odds with the approach. It's not an unusual situation. The reality is that few HR Executives understand the distinction we've made in this article.

John Sumser

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