Recruiting Revolution?

Nice essay here, but is there any evidence that, “[t]he recruitment industry has gotten lazy and a revolution is upon us?” Revolution usually means a shake up of some sorts – advancement, new technology or processes, etc., – whereas here, revolution seems to mean acting like we’re still in the seventies. There are a couple problems with that, I see.

‘Lazy’ recruiting is effective as far as many corporations are concerned. If you took two batches of resumes, one into which you poured your heart and soul, and the other which you sourced real quick with minimal work via a mass email campaign, they’re likely to get the same consideration from the client, or the hiring manager for those already on the corporate side. Put another way, the ability to jump on the phones and cold call is not the rate-limiting step in the recruiting process.

I don’t know of anyone who removed their resume from a database because they were worried about being seen as “active.” In fact, few outside the recruiting industry even know what the jargon of “active” and “passive” means. Resume databases lost their effectiveness because they lost their newness, the initial crowds of people who went there because they were active are now passive, but still in the database. The postings which were once new are now ubiquitous, and buried among thousands of others that look much the same.

There has been no revolution in recruiting, all I see is more of the same. Job boards are just hopped up versions of the white pages and corporate directories. LinkedIn is more of the same. Social media outlets are a slightly different version of the same thing. These are all just means of contacting people, and many of these people won’t pick up the phone when called, so these means of finding and contacting people compliment cold calling, they don’t replace it. If communication is key, then one form of communication doesn’t trump all others. The one that’s the most effective for a given situation is what should be used. Calling ten people from warm leads gotten via an email campaign and then cold calling some of the desirable candidates I wanted but who didn’t respond is way more effective than cold calling 70+ people a day from scratch, in my experience.

Here’s what a genuine revolution in recruiting would be: Honesty with candidates and clients.

To start, explain to everyone that salary matters and it can’t be ignored. This is not a statement on low salaries, but one about the inherent taboo in even discussing the topic. I can’t count the amount of times people have nearly had heart attacks when I’ve discussed salary ranges openly and honestly with candidates and clients at the start, or near to it, of a conversation. “Why would you do that?!” I recall one person asking me. Apparently you’re supposed to speak to people for an hour and get their life story, and then find out they’re making 10-20K more than your client is willing to pay. Also, you’re apparently also supposed to take any job at any price and not even mention to your client that since they’re targetting a salary that’s 30%+ below market rate, it might take a while and/or they might need to sacrifice quality. When this BS ends and both candidates and companies honestly face their own worth on the market, that will be a revolution in recruiting.

Further, being able to have a greater effect on, and potentially fix dysfunctional hiring processes would be revolutionary. Having had to do this myself for two companies now, I know how difficult it is, and being back on the agency side I’ve felt the effects of ones I couldn’t change. As long as the majority of hiring processes are dysfunctional, that will be the rate limiting step in recruiting. An unwillingness to get on the phone is not necessarily the problem with recruiters today. I’ve seen the best firms put the best candidates into the meat grinder of a dysfunctional hiring process, and that is the rate limiting factor in recruiting.

The real revolution in recruiting will be taking as much of the ‘art’ – BS in other words – out of the process as possible by outlining standards and best practices for hiring that are based on evidence, and not merely plausible sounding rhetoric or the pontifications of people like Steve Jobs, and then having honest conversations with those who come up short, both companies whose processes are deficient and candidates who think they should be hired with no vetting whatsoever.

One of the first moves toward that end of evidence based hiring is for someone to actually present evidence that so called ‘passive’ candidates are better. Evidence would be direct evidence of better performance and longer tenure than so called ‘active’ candidates. Unless that’s presented then it’s a marketing distinction for targeting different audiences, not one that’s linked to actual candidate quality or subsequent performance.

A further revolutionary step would be stop looking at Employers of Choice uncritically, assuming all their methods should or even could be adopted by companies without the brand pull they have. Most companies operate with far less brand recognition and far tighter budgets and human resources. Truly revolutionary methods will work to improve hiring regardless of the company that uses them.

I’ve used the term rate limiting in this post a couple of times. In chemistry and biology a rate limiting step is basically the slowest step in a process that determines the speed of the rest of the process. If you’re talking mechanical systems, you could say be dealing with a pump that pushes 10 gallons of water per minute. If you want more per minute then it won’t matter how much water you add to reservoir, it will still only pump 10 gallons a minute to the destination. The pump is what needs to be changed. In recruiting the rate limiting step in most companies is the hiring process. And we as recruiters are constantly trying to put more water (candidates) in the client’s reservoir in the hope that more will end up hired, but it doesn’t work that way. The pump is too slow, and in many cases is broken. What’s more, a good number of companies engage in such poor hiring and management practices that they actively work against their own ability to hire quality people by destroying their reputation as employers.

To finish, we also live in a highly managed market, and it’s mostly special interests, those with money and thus political pull, who manage this market. Companies, from small to large, all have more pull politically at the local, state, and federal levels, than individual workers. That’s why politicians never raise the minimum wage until the currency has devalued to such a point that raising it is essentially a meaningless act. That’s why industries often write the legislation that gets passed. And, whether actively or simply as a byproduct of pursuing their own interests in the political process, businesses have essentially managed the labor market into a permanent surplus of labor. And as long as there is this perceived plenty of labor, and businesses think there’s always someone new ready to replace anyone they don’t like, they won’t put any serious resources into getting good people or keeping the ones they already have. They will continue to run people ragged and then replace them when they burn out. They will continue to demand loyalty from their workers while they show none. They will cut labor in seconds if the bottom line dictates it, but if an employee makes the same decision based on a better offer they are black listed.

This imbalance of power in the employer-employee relationship dictates the quality of the process in the end. This imbalance is the result of economic reality, because employees are disposable and easily replaced in many cases – but also critically the result of social mores. The ‘entrepreneur’ is deified even though no such thing exists, while the laborer is considered a loser of sorts. The entrepreneurial function is an economic concept that just differentiates the profit of risk taking from the capital return of funding a production process, minus the uncertainty and risk, for pedagogical purposes. In reality all people serve all economic functions to varying extents. Those who tend more toward the entrepreneurial function take on more risk, but they are also usually a mix of private entrepreneur, one who makes money by taking risks and satisfying customers, and political entrepreneur, which is one who makes money by using the government to turn the arm of his potential customers by limiting competition. There is no pure, Ayn Randian ‘producer’ or ‘entrepreneur’ in reality. But, thanks to rhetoric from both the right and left wing, and well meaning but somewhat theoretical economists of various stripes, we are taught to deify the entrepreneur a no one else. The owner/CEO of a business and his cohorts get a pass on poor, immoral, and unethical behavior, while everyone else gets held to a higher standard.

Once that stops, maybe then a revolution is recruiting is possible. Until then, it isn’t, because the peasants have no power.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s