Confessions of a Recovering Executive Recruiter
It never felt right. After a rewarding career that allowed me to see inside a wide variety of companies and experience a range of strategic directions, and the people who were charged to deliver them, I learned like so many of us that the common denominator to success is people.
I wanted to apply all I had learned in my prior career to help companies succeed by improving on their critical people equation, so I transitioned to a contingency recruiting firm, which appeared to express a similar desire. However, from day one there was an abnormal emphasis on “transactional sales,” and not truly mastering the craft of human resource strategies and management. Internally, we hired for sales behaviors, and not for any particular expertise in human resource advisory or even an understanding of people.
All of the supposed expert recruiting trainers and training materials all focused heavily on “sales.” Go ahead and look up executive recruiting training manuals or videos. Look at how much time is devoted to volume-based sales training. Do you find any training on retention planning? Or how to identify the specific behaviors that lead to success? Or how to help a client company identify a build out of a succession plan as part of the hiring initiative? They are all about the techniques involved in driving high volume transactional sales phone calls.
So, I dug in and gave the “accepted” approach the benefit of a doubt knowing that I would never waver from a commitment to properly collaborate with a client in their best interest.
Long story short, for many years I continued to enjoy my clients and candidates. I found myself more and more learning the recruiting side of human resources by doing the opposite of what had been preached for way too long in the recruiting world. My professional growth focused on independently learning more and more about the details of human resource initiatives and strategies. How to conduct an accurate behavioral assessment, how to build productive teams that match a company’s vision for growth, how to develop onboarding strategies that are critical to increasing retention, and as the Baby Boomer generation continues to grow older— the nuances of successful succession planning.
Every industry must evolve, and today it is happening at an increasing rate due to technology and the changing values of generations. We need to ask ourselves in every business and industry: “What should we be doing differently to be more effective?” This may mean that we break away from doing what we have always done. Tough to do in a niche, such as Executive Recruiting, which still relies on training and sales methods developed over 30 years ago.
As I recover from my contingency recruiting experience, there have been many takeaways, but there is one absolute flaw that must change, and it can be summed up in one word: transactional. Contingency-based recruiting is mired in a transactional method of doing business. A “throw as much against the wall and see what sticks” strategy. Make hundreds of calls a day, get as many job orders (positions companies agree to let you recruit for) as you can, and once you have all those job orders— get as many candidates as possible to get “send outs” (candidates your client has agreed to interview).
Recruiting industry metrics continue to focus on this volume approach. However, the paradigm needs to shift to a focus on quality conversations leading to long term relationships with clients and candidates, and not on how many calls you made. In the Contingency Recruiting world all your time is spent working for free unless one of the many resumes you threw against that job wall sticks. Then, and only then, will the client pay you even though they are likely pushing their internal team to find a candidate to hire, so they don’t have the recruiting expense, and have also engaged several other competing recruiting firms (for free once again) on the exact same position they engaged you on. Thus, creating a horse race that emphasizes speed and quantity over quality.
Does this sound like a recipe for success? Do you think this process places the executive recruiter as a trusted advisor to either client companies and candidates? Do you think recruiters are thoroughly learning what they really need to know about your company to best represent your brand and find the right cultural fit? Does the recruiter know anything about how human resource strategies are changing? Do you think a recruiter is identifying what really motivates a candidate and what is best for their career development? Most importantly: Do you think this methodology leads to quality results?
“Get as many job orders from as many clients possible!” We heard it over and over. Internal contests are developed in Contingency Recruiting firms to focus on getting as many job orders as possible. I watched many recruiters take on jobs from clients they would never have done otherwise and were never going to put effort into hiring. Let’s guess how well an executive recruiter understands your company culture, strategies, strengths, weaknesses much less the role itself when they are making hundreds of calls a day? A competent contingency recruiter will focus on the process your company has in place for hiring during this conversation but misses what is even more important— a pure understanding of the position and how that position positively affects where your company is going.
“Get as many send outs as possible!” These contingency firms also have internal contests that focus on the most “send outs” during a period. Makes sense statistically in that the more candidates you get your client to interview, the more you increase your chances of getting that person hired. But who benefits other than the recruiter? Let’s say I was able to get a client to interview (7) candidates. How much time has the transactional recruiter even spent with these candidates? 60-minutes max, and many are submitted after a 30-minute conversation. Or worse – submitted even without talking to the candidate! At least 4 of the 7 candidates presented are taking up that client’s time unnecessarily. That is not the fault of the candidates. We are all at that point doing the candidate a tremendous disservice as well. What is missing is the quality understanding of the company, the role, and the candidate to properly and confidently put the candidate and company together for further conversations. The send out contest? How many were quality candidates that fit compared to a number the recruiter put on the board to win a gift card?
Remember the contingency recruiter is working for free. The old but accurate adage “we get what we pay for” could not apply more. The evolution of business has outdated the commission-only model. Contingency recruiting inherently puts into question the quality and motivations of the recruiter. Moving into a retained relationship with hiring companies is a critical paradigm shift that both Executive Recruiters and their client companies must embrace. Do you want a true professional who takes the time to understand your company, brand, culture, strengths and weaknesses so they can properly assess candidates who fit these? Or do you just want a bunch of resumes? You get what you pay for.
Do you want an executive recruiting partner who can advise your succession plan, retention strategy or myriad of other human resource challenges? Or do you want a bunch of resumes? Today’s technology can easily get you resumes. Today’s technology can not get you a trusted advisor who takes the time to get to know all they can about your company, so they can provide insight and management strategies to what is the most important asset of a company— people. You get what you pay for.
If you just want resumes then pay one of the hundreds of resume services out there. If you want quality executive recruiting and human resource advisory partnership, then retain that individual or firm.
Remember – you get what you pay for.