Are We Losing the Art of Recruitment?
Long before recruiting and hiring had evolved into the data-driven science that it’s become today; long before the rise of algorithms, AI and automation, before programmatic advertising, platform plays and point solutions, recruitment was considerably less commoditized.
Filling reqs had precious little to do with tools or technology, and instead of the omnipresence of online recruitment, was predicated largely on interpersonal reaction and building sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships. Say what you will about the state of time to fill at many enterprise employers, but search duration used to be relatively irrelevant for those of us who have been in the business for a while.
That’s because recruitment was a long game; successful resourcing meant focusing less on just-in-time hiring and sourcing candidates for individual reqs; instead, it focused on finding individual candidates, developing them and finding the right match, no matter how long that might take.
Too often recruiters and employers alike now treat search as something of a volume game; the more candidates, the more coverage, the more options, the better. Before, a recruiter submission meant something.
At a minimum, they came fully vetted, manually matched by an intermediary with insight and inside information into both the company and the candidate, and the foundation of trust that was so critical for candidates and clients alike.
This was, of course, because recruiters understood what so few do now; you’re only as good as your last submission; recruitment results and reputation are inexorably intertwined; and, of course, relationship capital is worth more than direct compensation when it comes to offer negotiation and acceptance.
As a result, recruitment had a real sense of prestige; for candidates, being contacted about an opportunity or for an exploratory conversation wasn’t seen as an annoyance, a contrivance, a spammer or a scammer. No. Candidates used to see being recruited as a badge of pride, a source of professional validation that they were, in fact, in demand.
Before digital, this didn’t happen often, but those who were recruited could, with some degree of certainty, at least entertain a conversation knowing that it would likely lead to long term opportunities, if nothing else. Finding candidates was hard, of course, but getting them to call back was fairly easy back then. Recruiters weren’t seen as the gatekeepers or an obstacle, they were seen as a trusted talent partner, an advisor instead of an adversary.
Needless to say, things have changed
Today, it’s all about technological innovation over interpersonal interactions, which, let’s be clear here, has made resourcing decidedly easier. Finding people is as easy as going to Google. Engaging with them is as easy as sending an InMail. Matching is automated, and recruiter submissions now sit in an ATS, not a hiring manager’s inbox.
Technology has certainly made recruitment easier, but while it may deliver the numbers, ‘passive recruiting’ is not so hot at finding people with the right skills who can easily fall by the wayside if they don’t tick the right boxes.
“Online job descriptions rarely include how qualifications are tied to performance outcomes once hired,” writes recruitment coach, Dawn Graham in Forbes. Graham continues:
“A listing may ask for ‘5 years of relevant sales experience’ when what a company really needs is someone who is able to sell a complicated technical product in a declining market. ‘MBA preferred’ elevates the job status, however, we overlook deeply qualified individuals with 20 years of corporate and entrepreneurial experience since the correct box wasn’t ticked on the application. Often, the mavericks who've skipped the box-ticking in life are the ones we're seeking.”
In short, instead of increasing or augmenting our recruiting capabilities and hiring capacity, recruiters have started focusing almost exclusively on “right now” instead of “right” when it comes to finding fit. We assume, falsely, that since candidates are so easy to find, and we’ve largely no shortage of applicants, then we can find candidates who check these boxes ad infinitum. So, instead of looking at candidates holistically, we look at resumes much like candidates look at job descriptions (or search engines look at keywords). The problem is, when you only search for bullet points and highlights, you lose much of the fine print – and a lot of potential hires, too.
Job descriptions force us to actively search for passive talent; the problem is, the finite amount of places most recruiters find candidates is relatively limited. Around 85% of job seekers start their search from Google; 92% of Fortune 500 organizations currently have LinkedIn recruiter licenses, and all use job boards for at least some of their recruitment advertising, even if they’re not fully reliant on post and pray today.
The diminishing returns inherent in this approach should be obvious; the easier candidates are to find, and the easier they are to message, then the harder it is to actually get them to respond. This means if you’re reliant on traditional sourcing methods at the front of the funnel, you’re doing the same thing as every other recruiter out there. And it’s no secret that, as far as public perception goes, this is likely company you don’t want to keep. It’s a paradox: the lazier recruiters get, the harder recruiting in general, but sourcing in particular, becomes.
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that companies admittedly have little to no standardized organizational planning, demand planning or professional development initiatives; this means that while we hire from job descriptions, we give precious little thought into the type of talent that our companies really need; we aspire to quality of hire, but have no consensus or discipline around what “quality” even means.
This is problematic, to say the least, a sentiment that was underscored in a recent AGS study on The Shape of Talent Acquisition in which fully 50% of recruitment professionals and people leaders reported that their company does not manage, nurture or engage a defined network, dedicated database or similar “talent community” to support its sourcing and selection efforts (despite, of course, the fact that more than half report to having invested in some technology to support these capabilities, ironically).
Similarly, fully 1 out of 3 respondents report that they don’t know how to source or find the talent they need outside of inbound applications and job advertising (with mixed results, at best); it’s hard to go where the proverbial fish are when you can’t even find the pond in the first place. So, we do the easy thing and turn to LinkedIn, job boards or recruitment advertising, instead.
It’s important to remember, though, that as helpful as technology might be, it’s never actually made a hire or accepted an offer. It doesn’t care about culture, and it can’t provide context for what’s not on the resume or profile, nor can it have an exploratory conversation. Technology can fill reqs, but finding fit – and true top talent, rather than the best talent available at that particular time and price point – requires human intuition, not artificial intelligence, process automation or online advertising.
You can download our full report – ‘The Shape of Talent Acquisition’ – below.
Finding the right fit for candidates and companies alike
While the term has become something of an anachronism, it’s important to remember why recruiters used to be called “head hunters.” And while obsolete, recruiters who think more like “headhunters,” who rely more on pursuing their prey instead of post and pray are going to be infinitely more successful than all the passive pastoralists out there.
So, branding aside (“headhunter” sounds really, really cool), I think it’s time we revived this mindset and approach while we still have a chance. Because while it might be pejorative, these days “recruiter” is a four letter word to so many job seekers and employers.
Technology has slowly, but surely, eroded our professional reputation and with it, the respect that’s earned not by filling a funnel, but by finding the right fit for our candidates and our clients alike.
I know I’m probably a bit biased, of course; our AGS team has extensive experience proactively pursuing passive candidates, screening and shortlisting not based on what an algorithm says, but instead, on our clients’ business needs and our own industry expertise, and finally, eschewing the low hanging fruit for high value connections.
Part of this is process, of course; our recruiters are successful precisely because we maintain a consistent, scalable, sustainable sourcing strategy. The foundation of this strategy is relentlessly building relationships and actually talking to candidates, picking up the phone instead of relying on emails, and focusing on not only finding the talent you need today, but developing the top talent of tomorrow, too.
How to Proactively Source Talent
- Referrals, referrals, referrals
People who know good people are an invaluable resource. The problem is, we are so used to using digital platforms to source talent, we have forgotten the power of the referral. It pays to tap into all your networks – including hiring managers and your existing workforce – when trying to source particular skills. A referral has much more power to connect than an unsolicited email and is more likely to get a positive response.
- Know your target industry and be inquisitive
If you take time to research your client’s industry, you can have more meaningful and intelligent conversations to engage strong candidates, which will increase your credibility and reputation within the market. You’ll also uncover information about each candidate, revealing more than if you simply used the generic questions typical in passive recruitment. Research thought leaders, read articles or watch videos to understand the current buzz in the market.
- Hang out with passive candidates
Another advantage of research is that you’ll get a good understanding of where strong passive candidates hang out. Find out which associations they belong to, what conferences they attend, which professional forums they participate in, then go hunting there. It will give you a competitive advantage over those that fish in the same ponds.
- Invest in building relationships
Sourcing teams tend to engage with candidates only when they need to, which is understandable if they are busy. Yet there is a serious advantage to developing relationships, putting you in a good position to recruit when the opportunity arises. Yes, this means an investment of time, but it makes life easier in the long run.
Here at AGS, we’ve always looked at sourcing as part of the bigger business picture. This might explain why we’ve been generating the best short-term results for such a long time now; because when it’s just in time, all the time, the right time is always right now. We’re ready when you are. So are our candidates.
If you need expert help in recruiting passive candidates, reach out to AGS and one of our consultants will be in touch. Contact us here .