Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Recruiters

I find it interesting and troubling at the same time that many corporate recruiters take so much crap from managers. Perhaps they do so in hopes of one day establishing a trusted relationship with them, or perhaps they are just too passive in accepting the lack of responsiveness and rude treatment often dished up by managers.

If you're tired of this lack of accountability, you must adopt a more forceful approach, and when necessary, put the manager in their place. This article outlines several approaches that recruiting managers have successfully implemented to shift the burden of responsibility back where it belongs.

Other Administrative Professionals Get Treated Better

There are many back-office professionals that who much less grief from line managers than recruiters. For example, when a line manager tells someone in finance that they want to do something outside the boundaries of normal financial practices, finance managers tell them no. When a line manager tells someone in IT that they want to change their computer system beyond the acceptable limits, they are told no. The same behavior can often be found in purchasing, travel, and even corporate security. When these professionals tell line managers that they must operate within the standards of the department, there is little discussion.

Managers adhere to these standards because they believe them to be necessary. They further believe the person enforcing the rules is an expert who knows the best way to get things done.

Corporate recruiting could learn several valuable lessons from these other functions. If corporate recruiters want to increase their level of respect and be treated the same way, they must act differently than they do today. Corporate recruiters must:

  • Learn to quantify the contributions they make
  • Learn to come across as true experts in the field of recruiting
  • Set credible standards and expectations that cannot be violated

Outlined below are three action steps you and other recruiters in your department can take to equalize your relationship with hiring managers.

1. Recognize the value you bring to the table.

The first step to take to end poor treatment by line managers is to understand upfront that although managers are certainly important, and even powerful, that doesn't make them infallible or always right. You need to respect them and their power, but also understand that there are limits to that respect.

Yes, managers do produce products and bring in revenue directly. But as a recruiter, you also must understand that they can't bring in much revenue when they are understaffed or if they have the wrong people working for them. It's time for recruiters to realize that when you build systems and processes that increase the likelihood of your company hiring top performers, you are adding tremendous economic value to the corporation. If this were sports, it would be obvious that any recruiter who brought in Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, or Shaquille O'Neal would be a hero, because everyone realizes that recruiting top-performing players makes all the difference in the world.

Without your professional help and guidance, there is little chance managers will successfully recruit top performers. Hiring great people is the value recruiters add to the corporation. If you quantify the dollar impact of hiring, it often exceeds the ROI of any other investment in the CFO's portfolio.

2. Act like an expert and demand respect.

The second step to take is to realize that in order to gain respect from line managers who themselves have a great deal of technical expertise, you must clearly be an expert in your field. Unfortunately, some corporate recruiters fail in that area, and as a result, they miss an opportunity to gain respect.

Corporate recruiters must learn to be knowledgeable in all areas of business, as well as in recruiting. Here are some of the steps that recruiters can take to demonstrate to line managers that they are experts include:

  • Benchmark to determine what competitors are doing in recruiting. Demonstrate that you know the best practices in recruiting and what major firms throughout the industry are doing, so that when a manager resists your advice or asks for something unreasonable, you can show that what you're recommending is in line with the best practices in the industry.
  • Demonstrate that you know the "critical success factors" of great recruiting. Show managers that you are data driven and that you know precisely what works and what doesn't.
  • Demonstrate that you know 1) the best sources that produce top performers, 2) the major reasons why candidates accept or reject offers, 3) the most accurate way of assessing a candidate's skills, and 4) the jobs that have the most impact on the business when they are filled with great hires (mission-critical jobs)
  • Make managers aware of your successful track record by showing them the on-the-job performance of the candidates that you identified and successfully recommended for hire in the past. Also show that when you recommended against some hires and the manager went head anyway, the result was high turnover and poor new-hire performance.
  • Demonstrate that you are widely known in the recruiting field by writing articles in journals that managers read, giving talks at industry conferences that managers attend, and being quoted on recruiting practices in the business and trade publications that managers subscribe to.

3. Set credible standards and expectations that cannot be violated.

The third but perhaps most important element of getting managers to respect and listen to recruiters is to develop a set of processes that restrict and constrain managers' behavior. Unfortunately, many corporate recruiters treat managers as gods and end up doing whatever managers want, even though it makes no sense. Recruiters routinely cave in to the silliest manager requests simply because the manager asked. For example, many firms continue to run large newspaper ads at the request of line managers despite the track record that demonstrates such ads routinely fail to recruit a single hire.

Managers should be allowed to make requests and even have opinions, but those opinions must be subject to your expertise. Instead of constantly acquiescing, recruiters need to define the role of a manager in the recruiting process so that they have input but are not allowed to go outside the boundaries of generally accepted recruiting practices.

Professional recruiters know that managers harm the company's ability to bring in great hires when they are slow to read resumes, can't find the time to create job descriptions, are slow to interview, or are indecisive during the offer process. The damage incurred as a result of such inaction is not caused by the recruiter or the recruiting function, but instead by the managers.

As a recruiting professional, it is your job to stand up to managers, set expectations, and respond accordingly when one of those expectations or limits is violated by a manager. Instead of letting managers decide on their own when they have enough time to get around to their recruiting responsibilities, you should instead set standards prior to beginning the recruiting process in these critical areas:

  • Number of days a manager has to develop a job description
  • Number of days a manager has to read resumes and select interviewees
  • Number of days a manager has to schedule and conduct interviews
  • Number of days a manager has after the final interview to make a decision on a finalist — you should require a decision within one day!

Yes, managers will initially resist these constraints. But they have learned to live with standards in finance and purchasing, and as long as you maintain your results and are uncompromising in demanding respect for your own standards, they will learn to live with yours too. Managers take their time with recruiting because while there are severe economic consequences for not meeting their business goals, there are no immediate consequences for failing to meet recruiting goals.

It's important not to be subtle here. Just as finance "chastises" or penalizes managers when they violate financial rules, recruiting must learn to penalize managers when they fail to adhere to recruitment standards.

There are several ways to "encourage" managers to meet the recruiting department's standards. They include:

  • Service level agreements. An SLA is a joint agreement between managers and recruiters that specifies in advance each party's roles and responsibilities in recruiting. Responsiveness levels, effectiveness metrics, minimum standards, and expectations are set as well as minimum and maximum times for certain activities. An SLA may or may not include any penalties, but the mere fact that terms are mutually agreed to in advance helps to ensure adherence.
  • Develop a priority treatment process. Many service functions prioritize their customers, depending on their importance and their adherence to standards. If recruiting is to get managers to adhere to its rules, then it must make it clear that a manager's adherence to expectations in recruiting directly impacts whether their future jobs openings receive a high, average, or low priority. Tell managers that in order to get priority treatment, they must meet or exceed pre-assigned goals and deadlines. Failure to adhere to set standards will decrease the priority assigned to their requisitions. Some recruiting departments go the next step and completely cut off services to managers who fail to meet minimum requirements. The obligation of the recruiting function to the corporation is to avoid spending time and resources where they will have no positive impact. Make it clear to line managers (and their managers as well) why you must cut off services and what they must do to be reinstated.
  • Institute a penalty. Another approach is to charge non-compliant managers an increased fee for internal recruiting services. If you don't currently charge of a fee, institute a $2,000 recruiting penalty charge for each non-exempt position and $5,000 penalty for each exempt position when standards are violated. Non-compliant managers will learn quickly to recruit on their own or to follow the rules.
  • The "wall of shame" metrics report. Non-conforming managers need a wake up call. Consider instituting a "wall of shame." The premise is that managers who cannot recruit or retain workers effectively will have their picture displayed on a wall of shame. Although the wall is only an idle threat, the thought of embarrassment certainly strikes fear. The actual way to embarrass managers into compliance is to prepare monthly reports that force rank every manager from best to worst on their performance in different areas of recruiting and retention. The report becomes even more powerful when it is distributed to every manager in the organization at the first of every month. It turns out that little spurs a manager to action faster then appearing on the bottom of any force-ranked performance list that everyone else sees!


Recruiting is a thankless job in part because recruiters have allowed it to become that way. But it's time for recruiting managers to realize that line managers are not gods; they are mere mortals who will treat you with respect if you demand it properly. I am not advocating that recruiters be rude or unprofessional with managers. But I am declaring that it's time that recruiters equalize the power balance and respect between recruiters and line managers.

To the skeptics who will invariably say that "it won't work," I'll respond by noting that every approach in this article has already been tried and proven. In fact, there are a few select recruiting organizations that have already separated themselves from the pack in this important area of improving manager performance. Instead of waiting for managers to grudgingly provide respect and adhere to expectations, these departments took the initiative and made non-compliance no longer an option.

It's time to stop the excuses. Recruiting managers need to put a stick in the sand and say with a clear, firm voice (and with the negative consequences to back it up): "This is the way that recruiting is done in this corporation. Non-compliance is not an option."

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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