Recruiting: Gateway to the New World or HR’s Dirty Little Secret

 “My name is Matt and I’m a Recruiter.”

…the rest of the group rise and there’s a smattering of applause, the first step on the road to recovery is admission. Finally the guilty truth was out…

 Is being a recruiter all that bad? Certainly while at school it’s not something you aspire to, others wanted to be astronauts and doctors; with recollection I think I wanted to be a fire engine. Note, not a fireman, a fire engine. So what is it that leads someone to become a Recruiter? Personally I enjoy the talking to people and, perhaps arrogantly, I think that in a Consultancy particularly Recruiting has a real and defined role to add value to the business as a whole. I’ll explain, ThoughtWorks as a business model doesn’t sell software, we trade on the ability of our people to create software – in effect we “sell” the skills of people. In my arrogant recruiter way I think that the success or failure of a project can be directly affected by our ability to hire the “right” people and the timeliness of those hires -both responsibilities of the Recruiter. If you don’t have confidence in the ability of your recruitment team to do this then it might be time to change that team – or at least look at the motivations of your recruiters.

In my experience of working in an agency (the dark side) I continuously found myself talking to in-house recruiters who either wanted to change their role or were just plain unhappy. In my opinion a lot of this is due to the position that “Recruitment” as a function occupies in these organisations. Recruiters are often the first contact a candidate has with an organisation if at this stage they are made to feel insignificant or unimportant why wouldn’t the candidate look elsewhere? Keeping the Recruiters in your organisation buoyant and motivated should be of paramount importance – too often the “People are the most important thing” maxim is touted and paid due lip service but not given consideration from an internal perspective. If your recruiters are sending the wrong message or are not the “Ambassadors” you want them to be then you should quite rightly give them that feedback.

There is much talk of the “War for Talent” and whilst too much of human ingenuity is given over to ways of killing other humans it can’t be argued that a raft of innovation hasn’t happened in the area of “defence” (better called “offence” in certain nations). How can this innovation happen? In the military money is given over to “think tanks” to R&D and people who are freed of the day to day military procedure and policy that works for the rest of the team, if you expect your Recruiters to be the “Special Forces” in this War for Talent (this metaphor is stretched pretty thin now) you need to give them the imaginative space and freedoms to do so. This is one of the main reasons why I feel the a Recruiting function needs to be separate of a HR function.

Depending on how your organisation is structured perhaps this division doesn’t need to be so concrete – if your role as a recruiter is just to ferry candidates through a predefined process then I don’t think you have to concern yourself with a broader strategic view. However, I would argue that “Recruiter” and “HR Professional” are different skill sets – I don’t possess the skills (or the patience) to work in HR, I know I couldn’t do it, it’s more pastoral care and empathy than I can invoke! HR Professionals work from strong and firm foundations based on policies laid down in advance, whilst recruiting benefits from having an agreed process as a platform on which to extrapolate. We need a goal and some hurdles but what’s important is the individual candidate experience. Even if a candidate is rejected or told to try again later no one in their right mind wants that person to tell all his friends what a terrible time they had. I tailor the process to suit the candidate – interviewers are chosen with care, they might be peers, direct reports or part of the same team – I don’t just use whoever happens to walk past the interview room!

Recruiting should never be a “one size fits all” approach, and with a tangled web of policies and procedures with which to conform to it can become this. I’m very lucky in my role, I get to try new things all the time, I don’t have constraints on who I can hire based on country or nationality, I am “free” to recruit for talent. It can take a long time – the visa process for a Japanese/Brazilian coming to the UK is a path less trodden – but ultimately I think it’s worth it.

So the point of this torrential rant? If you’re hiring a recruiter make sure they want to be there! Test for ability to stay motivated, flexibility and personal drive. If you’re applying for a position assess if you’re valued as a person or are you meat for the grinding wheels of draconian HR dogma – let this inform your interactions with the company – a great recruiter working in a small team may be fallible some of the time but the process will fee more personal and less of a shunting from one gate to the next. Above all if you mention even in passing that it’s your company’s “…people that make the difference…” be prepared to invest time and energy ensuring that your Recruiters “get it”, realise that this is your first human impression beyond a job advert and make it count!

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