How To Develop A Recruiting Strategy

Recruiting Managers, Do You Really Have a Recruiting Strategy?

Part 1. What is a recruiting strategy?

When I meet with directors or managers of corporate recruiting, I routinely ask them a simple question: “What is the name of your recruiting strategy?”

Almost without fail, I get one of two basic responses, either, “We hire great people,” or a just blank look. The first is a horrible answer in that it’s not really a recruiting strategy as much as it is a goal or bland statement. It fails to identify where and when you recruit these “great people,” and how you identify them. It also provides no differentiation, because clearly no organization (other than perhaps the DMV) starts out trying to hire “bad people.”

The blank look is unfortunately the most common response. I used to be shocked when it happened over and over, but I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that most recruiting departments not only don’t have a name for their strategy, they have no strategy at all. Keep in mind that these are not line-level recruiters, but recruiting managers, the same individuals who frequently exclaim in meetings that they want the recruiting function to be more strategic. The simple fact is you can’t be strategic without having a clearly defined strategy.

Now, I happen to think I know a little bit about strategy. As an advisor, I have helped design strategies for a number of leading corporations in the area of human resources and staffing in particular; I teach strategy to business students at the university level; and I have written a book on HR strategy (Rethinking HR Strategy) that many business leaders have adopted as a bible for new HR. All of my thoughts and knowledge on strategy were formed via observations made during my three plus decades in human resources.

During this time I have been continually shocked by the number of recruiting professionals who:

  1. Can’t even define the term “strategy”
  2. Don’t know the available strategies in recruiting
  3. Don’t have a name for their own recruiting strategy
  4. Don’t know the steps involved in preparing a recruiting strategy
  5. Have never written down their strategy so that others can follow it
  6. Have never compared their strategy in recruiting to their competitors’ recruiting strategies in order to ensure that theirs is superior
  7. Have never integrated their strategy with their recruiter selection, budgeting, and time allocation processes
  8. Make no attempt to measure the effectiveness of their recruiting strategy

In this multi-part article series, I will cover each of these eight areas. I hope to help both recruiting managers and recruiters to understand the different strategies that are available and the process they can use to develop their own recruiting strategy.

What Exactly Is a Strategy?

The basic premise of having a clearly defined strategy is that by focusing your efforts and looking at the big picture, the recruiting function is more likely to meet its stated goals and have a significantly larger economic impact on the business.

Having a clearly defined strategy sets up an architecture to focus your efforts and planning beyond basic tactical recruiting and towards establishing a competitive advantage in recruiting. The strategy focuses the actions of a recruiting department, telling everyone what to concentrate on and what is unimportant. It further drives whom you hire as recruiters and how you allocate your budget and your time.

Academic definition of strategy: “The plans made or the actions taken in an effort to help the organization fulfill its intended purpose.”

From a practical standpoint, being strategic includes these elements:

  • Establishing a competitive advantage. The primary goal of a strategy is to drive actions that gain your firm a sustainable competitive advantage in your industry. It demands an ongoing competitive analysis of major “talent competitors” and adjusting of strategy to keep competitors from mirroring or one-upping current recruiting efforts.
  • Demonstrating economic impact. Strategic impact is measured in profit, stock value, return on investment (ROI), increased revenue, higher market share and increased margins.
  • Company-wide impact. Strategic departments have a measurable, company-wide impact, well outside their function.
  • Big picture approach. Strategic means taking a big picture approach. It’s global and it looks beyond the current boundaries of business practice. It does not deal with day-to-day issues (operations).
  • Future focused. Strategic functions are future focused. They anticipate and prepare for a range of possible occurrences. They rely on extensive information gathering and forecasting of the business environment.
  • Continually evolving. Being strategic means continually evolving and reacting to any change in the environment. It requires you be proactive and aggressive. If requires that you seek out problems and opportunities.
  • Data driven. Strategic functions rely heavily on the analysis of data and the measurement of outcomes.
  • A way of thinking. Being strategic is as much a way of thinking as it is a way of managing.

What Are the Available Recruiting Strategies?

As I mentioned earlier, most firms don’t have a documented or formal recruiting strategy. There are notable exceptions, such as Southwest Airlines, which is famous for hiring personality and training for skill. Microsoft is famous for hiring “brains,” intellectuals with a proven ability to solve complex logical problems that may or may not have experience in technology. Google seeks out candidates that think outside the box, not necessary how to accomplish something, but rather what all the possibilities are. These are all well-known, oversimplified examples of corporate strategies, but they serve to illustrate the fact that leading companies have strategies that are completely differentiated from others.

In fact, strategies can not be defined with a single word. Recruiting strategies are complex and may contain up to 12 distinct elements. The 12 elements of a recruiting strategy are listed below. In order to develop a complete recruiting strategy must select one or more items from each of the twelve elements.

Those elements include:

  1. The primary goals of recruiting
  2. The prioritization of jobs
  3. The performance level to target
  4. The experience level to target
  5. The employment status of the candidate to target
  6. When to search
  7. Where to search
  8. Who does the recruiting
  9. Primary sourcing tools
  10. What skills to assess
  11. How to assess skills
  12. Primary selling points to offer

An Example of a Comprehensive Recruiting Strategy Description

Comprehensive recruiting strategies cannot be accurately covered in with a single word or even a simple phrase. Before you can put a name on your strategy, you first need to make a variety of decisions within each of the 12 different strategy elements.

The net result is a strategy that might, for example, sound something like this:

An external, hire-to-learn strategy targeting top performers: Our strategy is a skill-building, “hire to learn” strategy focusing on hiring experienced top performers (who are currently employed by competitors) into pre-identified key jobs. Our strategy employs a pre-need, external “within the industry” search that primarily utilizes sourcing and recruiting specialists. A branding strategy and employee referral program are utilized to attract candidates. Candidates are selected primarily through interviews that screen candidates for pre-identified corporate competencies. The primary “candidates selling” approach is a great culture and proven learning and growth opportunities.

I Bet You Can’t Name Your Firm’s Recruiting Strategy; If Not, Pick One From This List

Basic Recruiting Strategies

This group of strategies isn’t particularly exciting or new. But these strategies do offer viable options for less-aggressive talent functions.

  1. Butts/bums in chairs: This strategy emphasizes hiring the cheapest and then releasing them when their pay-level makes them too expensive to keep or they themselves get frustrated and quit. Cost reduction is the only focus here.
  2. Hire at the bottom: Hire at entry level where the competition is lower and then over time, develop and promote these individuals as their skill level allows.
  3. College hires: This strategy is related to hiring at the bottom except that it hires at the bottom of entry-level professional jobs. Using this approach, you hire a significant percentage of “actives” from college as entry-level professionals and then promote and develop them over time. An advanced element of the strategy focuses on hiring targeted students as interns first and using that process to weed out the less desirable.
  4. Flexible workforce: This strategy is effective in industries and companies where demand fluctuates quickly and dramatically. Hiring a large percentage of your workforce as contractors or temps allows you to quickly “ramp down” or up to meet changing business needs. Sometimes called the Shamrock approach, its emphasis is on flexibility.
  5. “Best source” strategy: This strategy is based on the premise that if you use the right source, you’ll get a great hire. You start by identifying the sources of your best hires and then focus on them. Because the best sources are usually “we find you” (also known as passive sources), this tends to be a passive strategy.
  6. Active strategy: Using a “they-find-us” approach, the primary focus of this strategy is seeking out the easy-to-find-and-sell “active job seekers” using mostly tradition ads, job fairs, and walk-ins.
  7. 100% “Passive” strategy: This strategy targets only “employed top performers” who you must fight for using various we-find-you approaches (usually referrals and events).

Advanced Recruiting Strategies

We’re now shifting to advance recruiting strategies that require higher skill levels to develop and implement. I estimate that less than 25% of Fortune 500 firms use even a portion of the strategies.

  1. Prioritization: This is a very focused strategy which assumes upfront that recruiting can have the biggest impact by prioritizing the jobs it recruits for. The strategy also works well in fast-growth businesses or when there are limited resources. Using the strategy, recruiting might put 80% of its time and resources into just 20% of a firm’s mission-critical jobs.
  2. Best and brightest: Hire the smartest most talented people you can find (aka: best athlete) and you will succeed is the underlying premise behind this strategy. It is borrowed directly from sports, where hiring the “best athlete” is quite common. It is a strategy that is partly used by recruiting powerhouses Google and Microsoft.
  3. Pre-need: This strategy emphasizes continuous hiring or at least beginning the hiring process long before a req is opened in order to build a talent pool. An excellent strategy for companies that need to fill openings rapidly.
  4. Magnet-hire strategy: Hire well-known people in key jobs and use them to attract others is the underlying premise of the strategy. It’s certainly true that if you hired Tiger Woods on your golf team, most of your recruiting problems would go away almost immediately. This is another strategy borrowed from the sports world.
  5. Narrowcasting for skills: Searching for skills (narrowcasting) rather than experience (broadcasting). The strategy works especially well when experience is less important than the particular skills that the individual has. Recruiters target public organizations, clubs, and events to find individuals with these skills or values (examples include rock-climbing clubs for risk-takers, ex-military for disciplined individuals, etc.).
  6. Low-wage, country-specific hiring: Placing your facilities and work in one or two low-cost countries is the basic premise of the strategy. Global organizations use it for high-volume hiring concentrated in a single country in order to cut labor costs.

Aggressive Recruiting Strategies

These are unique and effective strategies but they require some degree of courage and boldness to implement. I estimate that less than 5% of major corporations use them because most HR departments lack the “cajones” to implement these powerful approaches. In contrast, I have found that most CEOs love these approaches when they are made aware of them.

  1. Remote work recruiting: Attracting the very best individuals by allowing them to work remotely (at home or away from headquarters). Although it takes excellent management skills to manage people remotely, allowing people to work at home without having to relocate is a powerful draw. A global variation targets the very best one or two in every country… and lets them stay in their home country, much like the approach used in international soccer.
  2. Counter-cycle hiring: Purposely hiring when your competitor isn’t is the foundation for the strategy. Another option within the strategy is purposely hiring when the economy is down, because competition is low and the cream of the crop is available. This is an effective strategy for firms with weak employment brand names or in less-desirable industries.
  3. Hire to learn/hire to hurt: Hire to learn is a strategy that focuses on hiring in order to gain knowledge, best practices, or new skills. It is also used by more aggressive firms to target and to directly weaken a competitor. Another variation is “hiring them all” (all that are available), so the competitor can’t hire them. This aggressive strategy can slow product development at competitors because they lack the talent to pull off their plans.
  4. Guerilla recruiting: Primarily a poaching strategy, it focuses on hiring those trained by others. Most recruiting directors shy away from this approach but it is one of the most impactful and fun to execute. The approach requires the use of aggressive sales-like recruiting tactics.

Long-term Recruiting Strategies

Most recruiting strategies and tools are designed exclusively for the short-term. They focus on a single job opening and they do little to ensure a steady flow of high-quality applications over the long-term. These three long-term strategies are the most difficult to implement and clearly are the ones that should be utilized by companies that want to win the talent wars.

  1. Talent management: The broadest of all HR-based recruiting strategies. It attempts to integrate the traditionally independent HR functions like recruiting, retention, employment branding, internal redeployment, workforce planning, diversity, etc. into one coordinated function in order to increase its impact. It’s incredibly hard (I used to be a chief talent officer) to get all of the HR-silo-owners to work together, but once implemented, it produces amazing results.
  2. Employment branding strategy: Build your image as a top place to work in order to attract the very best is the underlying premise of the strategy. In my experience, this is the most effective of all recruiting strategies. It includes a focus on winning awards, being talked about in the media, and spreading positive stories about the organization through employer referrals. Once implemented, you are assured a long-term stream of top-quality applicants. In effect, recruiting becomes a sorting problem.
  3. Recruiting culture: Under this strategy, the motto is “every employee is a recruiter.” Organizations that use this approach expect recruiting to permeate every aspect of the organization. Under the strategy, everyone is expected to be a “talent hawk” or “talent scout.” This approach is also borrowed from sports, where talent scouts are expected to search as low as elementary school in order to find talent. In the corporation, everyone from the CEO to the janitor is expected to seek out talent 24/7. It uses referrals as its primary tool. Some of the organizations that strive to develop a recruiting culture include Southwest Airlines, 1st Merit Bank, Eaton, Google, Booz Allen, and Starbucks.

I hope you find these recruiting strategies and their categorizations both helpful and informative. Given the current raging war for talent in most industries and regions, now’s a good time to rethink and assess your current recruiting strategy. And if you’re one of those who can’t actually name their current recruiting strategy, this listing should give you a good starting point.

12 Elements of a Comprehensive Recruiting Strategy

1. What are your primary goals? (Why hire?)

The first element of recruiting strategy is to determine “why” you are hiring outside people. First, you must determine your firm’s business goals and then what recruiting can do to contribute to each of them.

Some of the more common business reasons for hiring include:

  • Replacements for turnover
  • Current or future business expansion
  • Upsizing the caliber of talent because top talent has become available
  • Limiting the talent available in the market in order to hurt a competitor’s ability to staff adequately
  • Learning from other firms
  • Increasing the capability of your firm by adding new skill sets

Which of these focus areas you select is important because each requires that you direct your recruiting efforts in a different way. For example, if you are hiring for geographic expansion, you will need to implement a strategy that allows you to enter new geographic regions — as opposed to hiring to hurt, where you need to focus on hiring away key talent directly from competitors.

2. Prioritization of jobs

No recruiting function has enough resources to fill every position immediately with the top quality hire. As a result, your recruiting strategy needs to include a prioritization element.

Priority can be assigned in the following ways:

  • Hire all jobs equally with the same priority
  • Focus on key strategic business units
  • Focus on key jobs
  • Focus on key or powerful managers

3. Performance level to target

Recruiting top performers requires a different strategy and set of tools than recruiting average performers. As a result, you must first determine what level of performance you are primarily targeting before you determine the other elements of your recruiting strategy.

Performance targets include:

  • “Butts in chairs” (hire the cheapest candidates with adequate skills in all jobs)
  • Focus on average performers in all jobs
  • Focus on top performers in all jobs
  • Focus on top performers just in key jobs

4. Experience level to target

Some employment strategies require you to take the long-term approach and develop your own talent, while other approaches target bringing in experienced talent for immediate help or to bring in new skills.

Experience target ranges include:

  • Inexperienced talent that can be trained
  • Temporary and contract labor that can be converted
  • Hire at the bottom and promote within
  • Undergraduate college hires (interns, Internet and on-campus hires)
  • Postgraduate hires
  • Experienced hires

5. Category of candidate to target

Whether you target active or passive candidates has a tremendous impact on both the quality of hire and the difficulty of getting an acceptance.

Active candidates (the easiest candidates to attract):

  • Unemployed candidates
  • Currently employed but frustrated in their current job

Passive candidates (These are individuals who are currently employed and not actively seeking employment. They represent over 80% of potential candidates, but they are the hardest to attract.):

  • Focus on currently employed average or above average performers
  • Focus on currently employed top performers

Diverse candidates:

  • Diverse candidates defined by using EEOC standards
  • Diverse “thinkers” using a global standard

Magnet hires (Target magnet hires who are well-known individuals who, because of their notoriety, by themselves help to attract others.):

  • Magnet hires from within the industry
  • Magnet hires from outside the industry

6. When to begin searching for candidates

Most firms begin a search once a requisition has been created. But there are a multitude of approaches available:

  • Begin recruiting when an opening occurs
  • Continuous search (evergreen jobs where there is a constant need)
  • Begin before an opening occurs (pre-need hiring can be done to build a talent pool or to build a relationship over time, in order to increase applications and offer acceptance rates from employed individuals and top performer candidates)

7. Where to look for candidates

There are three sub-categories within the “where” element. They include:

Internal versus external:

  • Focus on all internal candidates (laterals or promotions)
  • Settle on a fixed ratio of internal to external hires
  • Hire primarily from college campuses
  • Hire primarily from external sources

Inside or outside the industry:

  • Target within the industry only
  • A fixed proportion outside the industry

Geographic focus:

  • Local commuting area only
  • Within the region
  • Within the U.S.
  • A truly global search

8. Who does the recruiting?

There are two sub-categories under this element. They include: Internally, who is responsible for recruiting?

  • Generalists do most recruiting.
  • Primarily internal recruiters working in HR
  • Separate sourcing and recruiting efforts within a centralized recruiting function
  • A mix of corporate and contract recruiters that work internally
  • Line managers do most recruiting.
  • Employees contribute significantly to recruiting through a heavy emphasis on employee referrals.

Utilizing external recruiters:

  • Utilize external recruiting agencies mostly at the very top or bottom jobs
  • Third-party recruiters are utilized only for hard-to-fill or key jobs
  • Primarily utilize external recruiting agencies
  • Outsource the entire recruiting function

Build a ‘Superteam’ — a Recruiting Strategy That Can Lead to Industry Domination!

9. Primary sourcing tools

Identifying candidates and convincing them to apply is essential to great recruiting. Some of the possible sourcing focus areas include:

  • Traditional media (newspapers, walk-ins)
  • Sourcing using events (job fairs and industry events)
  • Traditional Internet sourcing (large and niche job boards)
  • Nontraditional Internet sourcing (Google-type name search for passives; chat rooms)
  • Employment branding (a long-term sourcing strategy to build a steady long-term supply of candidates)
  • Acquiring intact teams and a large amount of talent through mergers and acquisitions (buy firms for talent)

10. What skills should you prioritize when selecting candidates?

When selecting the most appropriate candidates from the candidate pool organizations can use a variety of approaches. Those target skills or competencies could include:

  • Hiring brains or intelligence
  • Selecting based primarily on personality
  • Selecting based on the technical skills required for this job
  • Selecting based on skills (technical and people) required for this and “the next” job
  • Selecting primarily based on pre-identified, company-wide competency needs (present and future)
  • Selecting primarily based on the candidate’s experience (industry or job)
  • Selecting primarily based on the candidate’s contacts and network
  • Selecting the “best athlete” available at the time (hire and then find the best job for them)
  • Selecting primarily based on cultural fit

11. How to assess candidates

An essential part of any recruiting strategy is the process you will utilize to assess the candidates. Common choices include:

  • Interviews
  • Personality tests
  • Skills tests
  • References (business, personal or educational)
  • Grades or academic performance (primarily for college hires)
  • Drug screening
  • Job simulations
  • On-the-job assessment (primarily for temp-to-permanent conversions)
  • Hire more than you need and intentionally “wash out” the poor performers

12. Primary sales approach

Candidates can be “sold” on a job and company based on a variety of strategies. They often include:

  • Compensation
  • Opportunities for promotion
  • Benefits
  • A great team and manager
  • An excellent culture and values
  • Bonus and stock option opportunities
  • Challenge, growth, and learning opportunities
  • The firm’s employment brand and image

Steps in Developing a Recruiting Strategy

Very much like a roadmap you use when traveling, a recruiting strategy tells you where, when, and what you need to do in order to meet organizational goals. More specifically, it gives the recruiting department (and the recruiting professionals in it) a focus and a direction.

A recruiting strategy gives recruiting managers guidance about what they should do more of and less of. It also helps ensure that everyone on the recruiting team understands the priorities of the business and how recruiting can have an impact on the business. That’s why, when putting together a recruiting strategy, it’s important to make sure that the process you use to develop the strategy is logical and straightforward.

18 Steps in Developing a Recruiting Strategy

There are no shortcuts in developing a recruiting strategy. It takes a logical process and numerous inter-related steps. Each of these steps are outlined below.

1. Determine accountability for the strategy.

Start the recruiting strategy development process by appointing an individual to manage it. Clear accountability for developing and maintaining the appropriate recruiting strategy must be made clear the very beginning.

This individual and the team they select will manage the planning process, but it is critical that they should not own the process or the final strategy. Great strategies cannot be developed in a vacuum. In order to have a successful strategy, recruiting managers, recruiters and recruiting support personnel throughout the organization need to feel that they “own” both the process and the resulting strategy. If they don’t, there is a strong likelihood that they will either ignore the final strategy or not understand it. In either case, the net result will be that it will not be completely implemented.

Similar to a plan for a family trip, the strategy needs multiple inputs from individuals with different perspectives and “power bases,” who can help identify roadblocks and steer the strategy team in the right direction. Once you have assigned accountability and assembled your team, I recommend that they utilize these remaining steps as a guide for setting goals and developing your recruiting strategy.

2. Identify the business and overall HR goals of the firm.

It’s important to realize upfront that recruiting priorities and goals can’t be set independently; they are dependent on already-established business and HR goals and objectives.

When reviewing your company’s business and HR goals, be sure that your recruiting strategy is in a similar physical format and that the recruiting goals are closely aligned with or are clearly related to the already-established corporate and HR goals. To identify overall business goals, review the firm’s overall business strategy created by the board of directors or your executive management team. If you have the time and the access to it, it’s important to review this overall business plan and strategy to ensure that you understand where the business is going.

Another source for identifying key business goals is your CEO’s bonus plan. In almost all cases, whatever the CEO or senior officers are measured and rewarded on is, by definition, what is most important to the firm. Of course, if you closely “mirror” them with your key recruiting goals, you help to guarantee that your recruiting goals will directly support the highest priority business goals.

Follow a similar process in order to identify the established HR strategy, goals, and plan. I must warn you upfront that the majority of HR departments have no written strategy or strategic plan. As a result, it’s difficult to assess whether your recruiting strategy, strategic plan, or even your goals are in line with what the overall HR function is trying to do. Don’t let that deter you though; your efforts in recruiting might spur the rest of the HR department to follow your lead.

When developing your recruiting strategy, it is also important to limit your attention to only the highest priority business and HR goals and objectives; otherwise, you are likely to get bogged down with too many goals and thus increase the likelihood of confusion and the possibility of spreading your recruiting focus too broadly.

3. Identify which business goals and which business units you wish to impact.

For each major business goal, you believe you can impact, you need to cascade down to recruiting to identify any possible links or connections between recruiting programs and corporate goals. Some recruiting departments go even further and prioritize different business units, product areas, managers, or even jobs, based on business priorities. The recruiting strategy then directs managers to provide priority services and extra resources to those prioritized areas.

Identifying goals you can impact means that you need to eventually translate these business goals into recruiting strategies and actions. For example, if the business goal is “Grow XYZ business by 20% in six months,” the recruiting translation may include:

  • Prepare to hire 20% more people
  • Determine if the necessary skills to grow the business are present to allow for internal redeployment. If not, determine whether it is better to develop them through training or through “hiring the skills.”
  • Determine if top performers and already employed individuals are essential for meeting that high growth target.

4. Identify any possible (future) changes to the internal or external business environment.

Forecast any possible changes in the business or recruiting environment in the next few years that may force recruiting (and the business) to reassess its current strategy, approach, programs, or process. Developing a “static” recruiting strategy that does not change with the shifting economic and business environment is a common but disastrous approach.

With the constant ups and downs of talent wars, it is critical that any recruiting strategy “flex” as the economy changes. Common environmental factors include globalization, new technologies, changing demographics, the unemployment rate, the availability of labor, company expansion into new geographic areas or products, and acquisitions or divestitures of business units.

5. Determine who your primary customer is.

Since recruiting can’t please everyone in a corporation, it is important to first determine “who,” by title, is your primary target customer. Whether you designate senior management (generally the best option), line managers, or applicants as your primary target, it’s important to realize upfront that you can’t set goals or measures without knowing who your primary customer is.

Once you have identified your customer, it’s important to interview or survey them to ensure that you know their current expectations and their changing needs. Document your findings and get confirmation from your target customer to avoid errors. Realize upfront that expectations will change along the way, so develop a regular customer feedback process to capture these changing customer expectations.

6. Select between the traditional “narrow” recruiting strategy and a broader talent management approach.

Most traditional recruiting strategies limit their focus to recruiting. However, select organizations have gone the next step to adopt a broader talent management approach.

A talent management approach integrates many of the often independent HR functions relating to talent and recruiting into a single coordinated effort. Talent management is the acquisition, retention, movement, and release of workers in order to maximize the productivity of a company’s “talent inventory.”

In addition to the traditional functions of recruiting, a talent management strategy also encompasses:

  • Retention
  • Orientation
  • Workforce planning
  • Employment branding
  • Relocation
  • Talent management metrics
  • Internal placement of individuals
  • Replacement plans
  • Redeployment plans
  • Forecasts
  • Releasing non-productive or surplus workers

Talent management doesn’t necessarily “own” each of the above activities, but it certainly coordinates each and ensures that the entire talent pipeline is constantly supplied and being updated. If you select the talent management option, obviously you must include broader goals in your strategy. These broader goals should relate to each of the above functions and include processes to integrate their individual efforts into a single unified output.

7. Develop or refine your recruiting mission statement. (optional)

Before you can set specific recruiting goals and select your strategy elements, you should first clarify your overall mission or purpose. A recruiting mission statement is a short (one or two paragraphs) statement of purpose. It describes what the recruiting organization does, who it serves (who recruiting’s key customers are), and what makes the recruiting organization unique. A mission statement can be used to direct and refine all current and proposed recruiting activities.

If you already have a mission statement, it’s appropriate to update it before you begin developing your recruiting strategy. The first step is to check the alignment between your recruiting mission and the mission statement of HR and the overall business. A note of caution: Most mission statements have little actual impact unless they are crystal clear and they are directly supported with an unambiguous recruiting strategy as well as strategic and tactical goals, metrics, and rewards.

A sample recruiting mission statement might look like this:

Our goal is to continually identify, assess, and sell top performers working in our industry on the value of some day joining our firm. By building a great employment brand and hiring the very best performers, recruiting will be a prime contributor in helping senior managers meet their productivity and business goals. However, we cannot succeed in our mission without managers and employees taking ownership of the process of continually identifying and selling top performers on the value of joining our firm.

8. Select your measurable recruiting goals.

Now that you know where the organization wants to go, it’s important to set measurable goals that ensure that recruiting will make a major contribution toward the firm’s and the HR’s department’s priorities. If you already have a current set of recruiting goals, start with them. Then add to the list any “new” goals that the changing business environment requires. Finally, delete any goals which are no longer necessary.

If you don’t have a current set of goals to start with, you can begin designating goals by:

  • Selecting a goal that corresponds directly with each major business goal.
  • Requiring each individual recruiting program or service to set up its own set of goals.
  • Trying “brainstorming,” and using that process to identify other potential goals.

The first lesson to learn is to avoid setting goals that are vague or difficult to measure. Examples of bad goal setting might include “work smarter” and “pay attention to sourcing.” Excellent goals, in contrast, are easily understandable and are always quantifiable and easy to measure. An example of an effective recruiting goal is: “Increase the applicant satisfaction rate in key jobs to over 90% being “very satisfied” with the recruiting process.”

When finalizing goals, it is important to note that recruiting program goals can occur in each of five different measurement areas. Here are examples of each:

  • Quantity (the number or volume of output) — e.g. “Hire 300 new engineers.”
  • Quality (did it work?, error rate, quality of any number) — e.g. “Have 25% of all new engineer hires rated as superior in on-the-job performance during their first six months.”
  • Time (when done, response time, time to complete, met deadline) — e.g. “Have 95% of these engineers hired within five days of their ‘need date.’”
  • Money (cost, revenue) — e.g. “Keep the cost per new hire below $4,000.”
  • Satisfaction (liked the process or result) — e.g. “Over 95% of all new hires are very satisfied with the process.”

After selecting your initial set of goals, narrow them down to a manageable number. Make sure that every major recruiting program or service has at least one measurable goal. Many organizations further condense these separate recruiting program goals into a manageable number of strategic goals for the entire recruiting department.

9. Prioritize these recruiting goals.

Next, prioritize the goals you selected and developed in step 8 above. Even though everything you do might be important, there is seldom sufficient time or resources to do everything well. By prioritizing or weighting each goal, you make it significantly easier for recruiting managers to make resource decisions. Goals can be given a “weight” (where the weight of all goals add up to 100%); they can be listed in descending order of importance; they can be given an “A,” “B,” or “C” designation to mark their relative importance.

10. Determine the “passing score” for each recruiting goal or sub-goal.

For each goal that was identified in step 8 above, designate a numerical “failing,” “passing,” “very good” and “excellent” score. A numerical passing score tells a recruiting manager upfront what level of performance they must reach in order to be assessed as failing, passing, as very good or as excellent. By assigning a numerical score to a goal, you take away a lot of the guesswork in assessing whether a strategic recruiting goal was met or not.

11. Select your targets in each of the 12 elements of a recruiting strategy.

Recruiting strategies are complex and may contain up to 12 distinct elements. In order to develop a complete recruiting strategy you must make choices (select targets) in each of the twelve recruiting strategy elements:

  1. The primary goals of recruiting
  2. The prioritization of jobs
  3. The performance level to target
  4. The experience level to target
  5. The employment status of the candidate to target
  6. When to search
  7. Where to search
  8. Who does the recruiting
  9. Primary sourcing tools
  10. What skills to assess
  11. How to assess skills
  12. Primary selling points to offer

12. Identify the individual recruiting programs and services that must be strong in order to meet these prioritized recruiting goals and to “fit” the selected strategy elements.

The next step is to identify which recruiting programs must be changed or strengthened in order to reach the goals selected in step 8 and the strategy elements from section 11. The best way to do that is to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your current programs and service offerings through a recruitment audit.

Finalize your assessment by making “lists” of recruiting programs and services that fall into each of the following areas:

  • Assess what you do really well right now and that you must keep doing. Identify your strong recruiting programs that directly impact your ability to meet your overall goals. Strong programs are designated as those that are well received by management and that also produce significant results that impact business goals.
  • Assess what you do not do well now but need to do better in the future. Identify the “weak” recruiting programs that, even though they contribute directly to meeting your goals, need significant improvement before they can live up to your expectations.
  • Assess what you are not doing at all now, but that you should be doing. Identify the new recruiting programs that you need to develop from scratch.
  • Assess what areas of recruiting that you need to do better than your competitors in. First identify the areas within recruiting where what you do must be clearly superior to what your competitors does. Next, complete a competitive analysis to determine which recruiting programs need improvement in order to be superior.

The final list will contain recruiting programs that must be strengthened, developed, or eliminated in order to meet the goals that you have set in step 8. Incidentally, if you have selected a broader talent management strategy you need to also look at other closely related talent functions including compensation, orientation, relocation, branding, workforce planning and retention.

13. Determine what organizational structure is most appropriate, given the goals and the strategy elements that you have selected.

Effective strategy and implementation requires that the organization adopt the appropriate organizational structure. Those that are developing the recruiting strategy need to benchmark and understand which recruiting structure (shared services, centralized, decentralized, or “mixed”) works best with the selected strategy, and what the appropriate staffing and requisition per recruiter levels should be.

14. Set your budget priorities around these prioritized goals and programs.

It’s important to remember that a strategy development and goal-setting process that’s independent of the budgeting and the resource allocation process will invariably fail. To ensure that goal setting and budgeting are aligned, start with the list of recruiting programs that must be added or improved from step 12 above. From those, make a list of the recruiting programs and services that are the most important (given your prioritized goals from part 9).

Then, work with your finance person and the recruiting program managers in order to determine which programs and services:

  • Require a change in focus.
  • Require a budget increase if you are to reach your designated goals.
  • Require a headcount or increased time increase if you are to reach your designated goals.
  • Should have no change in budget.
  • Should have a decrease in their budget, to aid you in reaching your designated goals (i.e. cost containment, increase productivity etc.). These are the items that you should “not do” or that you should “stop doing.”
  • Require or can make a quantum improvement with the addition of technology.

15. Determine the major roles and accountabilities for accomplishing your recruiting goals

Setting and prioritizing goals will not by itself ensure success. You can dramatically improve your chances of meeting and exceeding your program goals if you also clearly assign roles and accountabilities to each goal and program. This ensures that everyone involved (both line managers and recruiting professionals) knows who “owns” the responsibility and who will be rewarded or punished if the goal is not met. You should also identify what experience, competencies, and skills each responsible individual will need in order to be successful.

It’s also important to remember that you can increase the likelihood that your goals will be met if you develop processes for coordinating recruiting programs and services that rely on each other for success. Functional “silos” within the recruiting department can severely hamper your success. Fortunately, shared metrics between recruiting units or interdepartmental rewards can help ensure that those working on completely separate goals and programs still coordinate and work together.

16. Set task deadlines and effectiveness metrics for each major task.

You can dramatically increase the chances that your strategic goals will be met if you develop timelines or program milestones to guide the process.

Timelines (including beginning and ending dates) for each major strategic goal and recruiting program should include periodic assessment points. These periodic assessment points help to ensure that the goal or program is on time, under budget, and making sufficient progress to ensure that the passing score measure will be reached by the end of the strategic implementation period.

While developing these milestones, be careful to include only the major ones, so that your overall timeline doesn’t get clogged, making it difficult to use and understand. There should also be a reporting mechanism set up to ensure that managers are periodically provided with metrics and are informed of program progress throughout the year.

17. Institute a “fresh eyes” review of your draft recruiting strategy.

After completing your draft strategy, it’s important to have it reviewed and critiqued by individuals who were not involved in developing the strategy. It’s best to have the strategy reviewed by at least one individual in finance, by several “line” managers, and where feasible, by an outside neutral consultant. Revise the draft strategy based on the feedback that you get from these “fresh eyes” individuals. The next review step is to have the strategy approved by senior management. Revise it one final time and then implement it.

18. The final step: Schedule a mid-course strategy review.

Even the best recruiting strategies can lead to failure if they are inflexible. This is because business strategies, HR strategies, and any “assumptions” about external business factors can change after the initial recruiting strategy is implemented.

As a result, it’s critical that you set periodic times to review the implement strategy and the results it is producing. I recommend at least two mid-course reviews. Obviously, at the end of the strategy year, you should also review your overall results and reward the individuals involved in developing the successful recruiting strategy. It’s important to have this “feedback loop” in order to ensure that your strategy development process improves each year.

Improving Execution by Auditing Your Recruiting Strategy

If the modern business world were static, it would be enough that you dedicated time and effort to craft a recruiting strategy. But the world is not static, and the recruiting strategy you just invested so much time and energy in will be virtually useless if you don’t put into place a process to revisit it, update it, measure its impact, etc. In short, without a method to audit your recruiting strategy you might as well not even craft a strategy to begin with.

Recruiting is just like any other important business function. If it doesn’t start with a sound plan and strategy, it is destined to wallow in mediocrity.

No matter how good your initial strategy is, it will over time need to flex. This need for flexibility is based on the fact that the assumptions about external business factors and data that help form your conclusions can and do change. That’s why it’s critical that you set periodic times to review or audit the implementation or execution of the strategy and the results it is producing.

I recommend at least two midcourse reviews. It’s important to have this “feedback loop” to ensure that your strategy development process improves each year.

Increasing Your Chances of Successful Execution

In order to increase the chances that your strategy will be executed successfully, you must develop a process for making sure that the strategy directly influences other key recruiting processes, such as resource allocation, service priority, and internal rewards and recognition systems. You also must ensure that all of the necessary individuals have access to a usable copy of the strategy. (Making a strategy usable is a topic worthy of it own book, but for the purpose of this article, usable means that it is in a form that is easy for others to refer to periodically, be it in print, multimedia, or online format.)

You must also set up at least one midpoint revision to revisit the strategy and its goals. This step is important because most strategies can be improved (and thus you can improve recruiting’s chances for reaching its goals) if the strategy is refined utilizing the knowledge and experience that are gained during the first months of its implementation.

Auditing Your Recruitment Strategy

Whether you have just developed a brand new recruiting strategy or are attempting to improve and refine a current one, it’s important to undertake a “strategy audit” to ensure that the strategy you painstakingly developed is being successfully executed.

The great majority of the recruiting strategies that are developed are never fully implemented. In fact, most documented strategies are immediately relegated to someone’s top bookshelf and never used. Others fail to have the desired impact because the operational processes within HR and recruiting do not change to mesh with or support the strategy.

In order to increase your success rate, you should audit your strategy every three to six months.

Elements of a Strategy Execution Audit or Midcourse Assessment

The following strategy audit checklist can be used as an assessment tool for any recruiting strategy, be it one recently redeveloped or one newly created.

Part 1. ROI and Meeting Your Goals

  1. ROI. Compare the ROI on recruiting activities to date with the pro-rated ROI that was planned or targeted for the year.
  2. Goals met. Identify how many stated goals have been fully achieved. For those which have not fully achieved, identify to what percent they have been achieved.

Part 2. Strategic Elements

  1. Awareness of the strategy. Assess whether the strategy has been widely distributed and completely understood by everyone who participates in the recruiting process. Ask a random sample of hiring managers and recruiters to repeat the key elements of your strategy in order to assess their awareness and understanding of the strategy.
  2. Competitive analysis. Assess how your strategy is superior to your competitors’ recruiting strategy and execution. Has a competitive analysis (a side-by-side comparison) of your direct talent competitors’ recruiting programs been completed? Have changes been made in your strategy or execution based on what your competitors are now doing?
  3. Shift in assumptions. Recheck any assumptions about environmental factors to ensure that they are still accurate. Assess whether the strategy needs to shift its approach as a result of changes in the economy, changes in business goals, and what your competitors are doing.
  4. Ownership. Has your strategy and its implementation convinced line managers, teams, and employees to take “ownership” of recruiting? Ask a sample of your managers and your employees who is responsible for hiring in order to determine if a majority of managers answer that they and their employees “own” and are responsible for effective recruiting, rather than HR.
  5. Technology utilization. Does recruiting utilize the latest technology, your intranet, and the web to reduce costs and increase recruiting effectiveness? Assess whether databases can talk to each other and whether all new recruiting programs involve technology. Is more than 75% of recruiting administration self-service, outsourced, or automated?
  6. Competitive intelligence gathering. Does the competitive intelligence gathering system (and its tools) continuously tell you what the competition is doing in recruiting and retention?
  7. Market research. Has periodic market research (surveys, focus groups, interviews) been conducted in order to identify the decision factors top performers use when they decide to consider another job (or the criteria for accepting a new job when they already have a good one)? Has that information led to an increased hiring and closing rate?
  8. Continuous improvement. Asses whether your recruiting and selection systems have a learning feedback loop that guarantees you learn from (and change your approach as a result) successful and unsuccessful hires and offer turndowns. Do you have a formal, continuous-learning, benchmarking and knowledge-sharing system that keeps your staff up to speed on the latest tools, strategies and industry intelligence? Is there evidence that the best practice sharing system is working?

Part 3. Coordination With Other HR Units and Processes

  1. Strategy and budget alignment. Assess whether budget and recruiter time allocations are being spent in direct proportion to prioritized goals and customers. Budget dollars and recruiter time should be spent in direct proportion to your strategic priorities.
  2. Cooperation with recruiting. Assess the degree of cooperation between recruiting and other HR functions, and the degree of cooperation within the recruiting function, through a survey that asks to what extent people find each of the related functions to be cooperative and responsive.
  3. Coordination with compensation. Do your recruiting strategies synchronize with your firm’s compensation strategy? Is there evidence that the compensation department is closely coordinating its work with recruiting in order to ensure rapid and effective offers?
  4. Coordination with retention. Are your recruiting strategies integrated into your firm’s top-performer retention strategy? Do recruiters get notified when a recent hire quits or is terminated?
  5. Coordination with orientation. Are your recruiting strategies integrated into your firm’s orientation programs and tools?
  6. Coordination with training and development. Are your recruiting strategies integrated into your firm’s training and development strategies and tools? Is there evidence that new hires are immediately getting the appropriate training and development in order to rapidly bring them up to speed?
  7. Coordination with executive search. Assess whether there is an increased level of improvement between traditional recruiters and in-house/third-party search firms. Assess whether the right proportion of high level jobs are allocated to the most effective group.

Part 4. Recruiting effectiveness metrics and rewards

  1. Metrics distribution. Do you distribute monthly results metrics for all important aspects of recruiting to all managers and recruiters, in order to raise their awareness and cause a behavioral change that gets them to act differently?
  2. Time to fill. Has a review of approvals and recruiting processes been completed so that the recruiting bureaucracy is reduced and hiring decisions can be shortened to a shorter period (e.g., less than 30 days)?
  3. Quality of source. Has management periodically assessed the performance (quality) of hires from each source and then reduced the usage of less-than-effective sources (e.g., Internet job boards and newspaper ads) that flood the system with mediocre people? Identify what percentage of key jobs are sourced through the most effective sourcing channels. Is a majority of your “attracting” budget (and tools) focused primarily on the unemployed and the active job seeker, rather than top performers that are currently working at competitors?
  4. Diversity goals. Have you identified the best sources and tools for diversity candidates? What is your success rate in filling key management and executive jobs with diverse candidates?
  5. Employment brand. Assess how effective your employment branding campaign has been in building the awareness among your target population that your company is a great place to work. What success have you had in getting on best-place-to-work lists and speaking at conferences and industry events? Assess whether recruiting coordinates events with PR in order to improve the brand and increase the applicant flow as a result of any good press coverage.
  6. Rewards. Assess whether recruiters and managers are measured and rewarded for effective recruiting. Determine whether bonuses are being allocated in line with strategic priorities and goals.
  7. Manager and applicant satisfaction. Do you have customer service and satisfaction measures for ensuring that you satisfactorily treat applicants like potential customers? Have those satisfaction rates steadily increased?
  8. Time to productivity. Do you calculate the time it takes for a new hire to reach the needed level of productivity (time to productivity), and has that time to productivity steadily decreased? Is there evidence that the orientation and on-boarding functions are contributing to a decrease in time to productivity?
  9. Forecast accuracy. If your strategy and strategic plan include workforce forecasts, assess whether workforce plans or forecasts are within the acceptable accuracy range.
  10. Pre-need hiring. Have the pre-need systems that calculate the need to “pre-hire” been effective? For what percentage of positions does sourcing and hiring begin before a requisition is issued or approved, in order to ensure hires can start on the day they are needed?
  11. Website effectiveness. Is there evidence that your firm’s website actively “discourages the average” from applying to your firm, thus minimizing the number of applications, legal issues, and paperwork? Has the application completion and hiring rate improved among website hits?
  12. Global recruiting effectiveness. Do you have true global hiring capabilities that allow you to hire the best experienced and college hires from each of the countries in which you have major facilities? Is there evidence that the percentage of hires from global sources has increased?
  13. Individual contribution. Recruiting strategies are more effective when everyone cooperates. It’s important to assess teams and functions, but it is equally important to assess individuals on how well they are contributing to the execution of the recruiting strategy. This can be part of the normal performance appraisal, but it can be done more effectively in one-on-one meetings that specifically ask team members to present evidence of their cooperation and contribution to successful strategy execution. This should be a data-driven session rather than an informal discussion.
  14. Cost effectiveness of the hiring process. Most firms measure their cost per hire, but that metric leaves out the all-important factor of new hire productivity and contribution. Assess not just the cost of hiring but also the impact that new hires have had on increasing business output and revenue. It is almost always more difficult, time consuming, and expensive to recruit top performers than it is to recruit average performers. It’s essential that your audit “connects the dots” between recruiting costs and the performance of new hires on the job.

Final Thoughts How to Develop a Recruiting Strategy

Some studies have shown that just by having a strategy in place you can improve your organization’s effectiveness by over 50%. But you can’t just assume your strategy is working, because if you do, you might end up wasting a lot of time, money, and effort.

The strategy execution audit or mid-course assessment that is outlined above can be used to ensure your strategy is working. It can also be used as a mechanism for auditing the recruitment function independent of any emphasis on strategy. The key to success is to not just to assume something is working, but rather to have a formalized process of checking to ensure that it is.

Obviously, after you complete the audit, it is essential that you revise either your processes, tools, and programs or the initial strategy itself. Nothing in recruiting should be considered sacrosanct or etched in stone.

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

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, I Bet You Can’t Name Your Firm’s Recruiting Strategy; If Not, Pick One From This List

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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