Determining the Appropriate Requisition Load for a Recruiter

One of the most common questions I get from directors of employment is, what is the appropriate requisition (or “req”) load for a recruiter? It’s a tough question to answer, but no tougher than determining how many employees a manager can supervise, how many customers a waiter or waitress can serve, or how many kids a babysitter can handle. The short answer to the question is…it depends! It depends on a variety of factors, which I will highlight below. When you are doing this assessment the most important thing to learn is that no matter where you initially set the target, you’ll need to readjust the levels as you learn from your experience. No one ever gets it right to first time.

In my experience I’ve seen req loads that vary between 4 and 135 for a single recruiter. I’ve heard of individuals who had req loads of over 500. I also had a friend at a major Fortune 500 software firm that only had to fill four reqs per quarter, with no measure of quality! All the various levels make sense, if you differentiate based on a variety of factors related to the type of position being recruited for, the emphasis on quality, and the other tasks the recruiter is asked to undertake.

Two Basic Ways To Track or Assess Req Loads

There is no universal standard, unfortunately, on how to measure a req load. The two basic approaches include:

  • The number of open requisitions “carried” at any one time
  • The number of reqs that are closed by the recruiter per month (or quarter)

In my experience, most firms use the first measure (the number of reqs open at any one time), although my preference is for using the number you close as the standard. Closing is more accurate, because many reqs are “phantom” reqs that, while technically carried on the books, are really not meant to be filled in the near future by the hiring manager.

Factors That Impact Req Load

There are five general categories in which you can group the factors to be considered. They are:

  • The type of candidate you are targeting
  • The types of sources used and the resources that are available to the recruiter
  • The roles and responsibilities the recruiter is expected to handle
  • The type of job involved
  • The characteristics of the firm, the industry, and the economy

When you’re determining req loads, it’s important to look at a variety of factors in making your final determination of what is appropriate. These factors include the following.

1. Goals, and the type of candidate you are targeting.

  • Quality of hire. The most important factor by far to consider is the quality or performance of the hire that is expected. If you want top performers, they are harder to convince, so req loads need to be smaller. In contrast, if you want average performers you can handle twice the workload than when you’re targeting the best in the industry.
  • Passives or activists. Are you primarily targeting employed people (so-called “passives”), or candidates that are actively looking for jobs? Focusing on the first requires poaching, which is at least three times harder than sorting candidates that find you.

2. Sources used and resources available.

  • Sources used. If the sources you use (or have access to) to identify candidates produce a high percentage of qualified candidates, than less sorting time is needed and a higher load can be handled. Referrals, for example, produce a higher quality candidate (because they are pre-screened and pre-sold), and firms with high referral rates can handle higher loads.
  • Administrative support. The amount of administrative support available allows for increased loads (do your recruiters have a recruiting coordinator and/or sourcer helping them?).
  • Amount of technology available. For example, if resumes can be sorted and screened electronically with an ATS or if online assessment is available, than req loads can be higher.
  • Cost per hire. If you have a limited budget and you closely track the cost per hire, you need to reduce the req loads (if you want to maintain quality) because hiring with a big budget is significantly easier than doing it on the cheap.

3. Role, responsibility, and skill level of the recruiter.

  • Difficulty and time required to get a req approved. Some firms have electronic requisitions with electronic approvals, while others require recruiters too literally walk around to get the signatures. A recruiter’s workload must be reduced based on the difficulty of obtaining req approvals. Some of the factors involved include using paper reqs, the number of days it takes on average to get a signature, and the number of signatures required. Generally, the harder it is to get approvals, the lower the number of requisitions any recruiter can handle. However, if the delay is primarily waiting for signatures, then a recruiter can generally handle a larger load, because there ends up being a lot of sitting-around-and-waiting time.
  • Recruiter responsibilities. The more tasks and responsibilities your recruiters are expected to do, the lower the req load they can carry. Does their workload regularly include placing ads, sourcing, preliminary screening, testing, interview scheduling, preliminary and final interviews, references, orientation and relocation?
  • Experience and skills of the recruiter. For example, generalists who are also serving in a recruiting role can handle fewer reqs than a trained recruiter can.
  • The skill of the recruiting team. If the manager or recruiting team is experienced, the increased availability of advice can allow req loads to increase.
  • Finding or selling. Many recruiters are primarily sourcers, which can take a great deal of time. Other recruiters are skilled at selling the candidate, which takes more skill but less time. If your company is well known and easy to sell, expect recruiters to be able to handle larger loads.
  • The role a manager assumes. In some organizations the manager takes the primary lead in the hiring process (sourcing, preliminary screening, interviews, references). The larger the role the manager takes, the higher the req load a recruiter can carry.
  • Manager ability also plays a role. In many high-tech firms, managers are promoted for reasons other than their people and selling skills. As a result, recruiters have to do more, because managers are relatively weak.
  • Incentives and metrics. If recruiters and/or managers are directly measured and incentivized for closing reqs, quality of hire, or time to fill, then there efficiency increases and workloads can be increased by as much as 25%. If recruiters are paid on direct commission (as many third-party recruiters are) or if their base pay is higher than the industry average, recruiters can handle a slightly higher workload.

4. The type and level of job involved.

  • Level of job being recruited (e.g., executive, professional, college or non-exempt). The higher the level of the job, the smaller the load.
  • The mix of jobs. If a recruiter must recruit over many different jobs (in different job families), then recruiters must carry smaller loads (because the candidates for one opening can’t be “tried” in another open job).

5. Characteristics of the firm, the industry, and the economy.

  • The firm’s average offer-acceptance rates. If there is a low offer-acceptance rate (due to low monetary offers or a bad image), then req loads tend to be lower, as many searches must be extended or re-opened.
  • The firm the recruiter works for. Temp recruiters tend to have the highest load, followed by contract employee recruiters, then corporate recruiters, and last, executive recruiters.
  • Turnover rate at the firm. Firms with high relative turnover rates generally have lower loads, because their reputation is also generally tarnished, which impacts the quality of candidates and offer acceptance rates.
  • Size of the firm. Small firms tend to have smaller and less experienced HR staffs, so loads tend to be higher because they don’t understand the consequences of excessive recruiter workloads.
  • If a firm is geographically dispersed. Large, international firms tend to have lower req loads because of the difficulty of recruiting at a distance and the delays in setting up interviews.
  • The firm’s industry. Government agencies, for example, have complex hiring systems (often with tests), which means loads must be reduced. High-tech firms tend to have lower loads because of the high value they put on talent.
  • The unemployment rate. As the rate climbs, req loads can be increased due to a higher number of applications and a higher offer-acceptance rate.

Other Caveats

  • Remember that when you increase req load, you also increase the error rate and the likelihood of recruiter burnout. If recruiters are easy to replace, or if they just think of recruiting as a step in their promotional ladder, you can increase workloads.
  • Some recruiters make a lot of hires but, in actuality, contribute little to the actual hiring. For example, recruiters that must find candidates by cold calling put in a great deal more work than a recruiter that primarily handles employee referrals (where most of the worker is already done).
  • Some recruiters don’t really recruit, they just manage external recruiting vendors. In these cases normal req loads can’t be used as guidelines.

Some Targets

Although I hesitate to give guidelines, if quality matters and you really need some starting points, you might try these numbers:

  • For corporate, non-exempt jobs: 60 open reqs
  • For corporate exempt jobs: 25 open reqs, where the recruiter fills approximately eight per month
  • For corporate exempt jobs at high-tech firms (and other firms that use a great deal of technology in recruiting): 45 open reqs
  • For executive searches: 15-20 open reqs per year, with a fill of every three to four weeks
  • For third-party search in technical positions: 35 open reqs
  • For college recruiting: 50 open reqs per year

Refine Your Targets Over Time

Smart managers refine their workloads over time. Generally, I recommend directly tracking and documenting through observation over time of the amount of hours and the work involved in an average hire. Look at how many reqs the best recruiters can handle, but also look closely at those that fail to see if the workload is a major contributing factor. In addition, look at peak and slack hiring periods (because they may throw your numbers off) and expect the unemployment rate to also play a role. Expect also to find variations and set different workloads depending on the division, the experience level of the recruiter, and the type of job involved. Whatever you do, continually adjust as conditions change.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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