The Top 10 Thought-provoking CFO ‘Questions From Hell’ for Recruiting Leaders

Recruiting questions from hell that most recruiting leaders can’t answer

May I suggest that this may be the most thought-provoking recruiting article that you read this year. It is thought provoking because it covers mind-numbing questions that you are likely to get covering the business impacts of recruiting.

Answering tough questions is becoming more critical, because as the business world becomes more highly competitive and thus data driven, it has become increasingly more common for senior executives to literally grill functional leaders who are requesting continuing budget support with scary and difficult-to-answer questions. I call these inquiries “questions from hell” and in recruiting they include questions like “Show me the ROI of recruiting?” or “Show me how recruiting provides us with a competitive advantage?”

Some also call them “bone-chilling questions” because they can create instant panic in leaders when making budget or new program presentations. Executives from finance, marketing, customer service, and supply chain routinely come prepared with great answers to these tough questions. However, during my many years of researching and practicing recruiting, I have been continually disappointed in the level of business acumen and the ability of many recruiting leaders to answer these “questions from hell,” when they are posed by their CEO, the COO, or the toughest questioner of all, the CFO.

What CEOs, COOs, and CFOs Want to Know About Recruiting And Its Impacts

The remainder of this article covers the most likely executive “questions from hell” that pertain specifically to recruiting at major corporations. So if you are a recruiting leader, examine these questions and if they seem to be reasonable questions, see if you can answer more than a handful, not with opinions, but with data, facts, numbers, and dollars. If you can’t answer them, work with the CFO’s office to see which of these questions are valid ones for your firm, and then develop a process that gathers the credible data that allows you to successfully answer each one.

The Top 10 “Questions From Hell” for Recruiting Leaders

Despite all of the experience, degree,s and titles that you have obtained, if you really know your own recruiting department and its impacts, you should be able to answer each of the questions about the effectiveness of your recruiting effort, not with opinions but with data.

The revenue impact of recruiting

  • Demonstrate the total dollar impact that great recruiting has on increasing corporate revenue — overhead functions are no longer exempt from having to have a direct measurable business impact of strategic corporate goals. As a result, you must be able to quantify in dollars recruiting’s impact on the top goal of increasing corporate revenues. Start by showing how by hiring higher-performing hires and innovators into revenue-generating and revenue impact jobs, recruiting has measurably increased corporate revenue. Also show with data that the revenue impacts of great recruiting are superior to those of other talent management and business functions.

Provide the firm with a competitive advantage

  • Show us how the unique and effective approach that we use in recruiting provides our firm with a measurable and difficult-to-copy competitive advantage in the talent marketplace — because recruiting operates in a competitive environment, a firm simply can’t regularly win head-to-head recruiting competitions for top talent using the same approaches and tools as our competitor firms. Demonstrate with data how our superior strategy, recruiting team, and recruiting methods not only give us a measurable competitive advantage today, but that they continually improve and evolve, so that we maintain that competitive advantage over time.

Focus on jobs where great hiring matters the most

  • Demonstrate which jobs, when we hire top performers into them, have the highest impact on company success and profit, and show that we prioritize those jobs — all effective business functions prioritize and focus their best resources in the areas where they can have the highest impact. Show us with data that you have identified those high-impact hiring jobs, how much higher the percentage of impact is in these prioritized jobs, and how you have allocated recruiting resources disproportionately to them, to ensure we get great hires into those positions.

Show the performance differential percentage

  • Demonstrate the “performance differential” that a top-performing hire produces over an average hire in the same job — it only makes sense to invest the additional time and resources that are required to attract and hire top performers in key jobs if those top new hires produce at a significantly higher level. Using data, demonstrate both the percentage improvement and the dollar impact that occurs when you hire top performers, rather than average performers, in each key job. Also demonstrate that you focus your best recruiting resources on those jobs and candidates who have the highest performance differential.

Show continuous improvement in your quality of hire

  • Demonstrate that the firm is continuing to improve the on-the-job performance of new hires (the quality of our hires) each year and show that we get more than our share of top talent, compared to our competitor firms — all essential business functions must continually learn and improve their performance each year. Show us with data that the on-the-job performance and the retention rate of our new hires improves each year, and that our quality of hire is superior to that of our competitors. Also show us how you routinely use failure analysis to identify and continually improve or drop poor-performing recruiting programs, tools, and sources.

Show our employer brand attracts top talent

  • Demonstrate in quantifiable terms how our external image as a top employer is ranked among the best in our industry and that top recruiting targets know the specific features that make our firm a great place to work — we acknowledge that having the strongest employer brand is the most powerful long-term attraction tool. Show us with data that the top talent in our industry knows about our compelling features and that our employer branding effort results in a higher volume and quality of applicants than our competitor firms.

Know the factors that attract top talent

  • Because we realize that the factors that attract top performers and innovators are unique, demonstrate that you systematically identify those top-talent attraction factors — because of their higher impact, executives and hiring managers must know which company and job factors are essential for attracting top talent. Show that you systematically and accurately identify these attraction factors. And then show that you communicate them to executives and hiring managers, and as a result, they have acted to make the firm and the high-impact jobs meet as many of those attraction criteria as possible.

Show the impacts of hiring errors

  • Demonstrate that you have a formal process for identifying high-impact hiring errors and that you have quantified the impact of those errors, so that hiring managers and recruiters know the value of avoiding them — because hiring managers are a critical component of recruiting, they must realize the severe negative consequences that occur as a result of errors in the hiring process. Show that you have quantified the costs and the business impacts of every major process error (i.e. slow hiring, weak position descriptions, poor interviewing, and requiring excessive job qualifications). Also demonstrate using data the actual dollar costs of a bad hire as a result of their on-the-job errors, negative customer impacts, additional management coaching time, and rehire costs. Show that hiring managers and recruiters understand the cost of those errors and that they make fewer of them each year.

Show satisfaction with your processes

  • Demonstrate that hiring managers and the applicants/candidates who experience your recruiting processes have a high level of satisfaction with them — as a service function, recruiting should not only produce great results but also that those involved in its processes should be satisfied with them. Show us with data that hiring managers are satisfied with the processes, the responsiveness of recruiters, the amount of time that is required for them to recruit, and their satisfaction with the quality of hire. And because a bad candidate experience may negatively impact future applications and even product sales, prove with data that applicants and candidates are more satisfied with their recruiting experience than last year and their experience at competitors.

Demonstrating a high ROI

  • Demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of the recruiting function and show how much higher it is than the ROI of HR and other business functions — this last metric, ROI, is the most frequently calculated business metric, because it allows you to quickly compare the benefit/cost ratio between all business functions. Demonstrate the dollars of benefits that accrue from investing in recruiting and show that the return from that investment is superior to that of other HR and business functions. Show how much each additional dollar invested in your recruiting effort correlates with and results in a higher dollar amount of positive business impacts each year.

Some Additional “Questions From Hell” to Consider

Don’t be surprised if executives also ask you one or more of the following strategic recruiting questions.

  • Do the most profitable firms in your industry have great recruiting functions, and do they spend the most on recruiting?
  • Which firms have the world’s best recruiting function? What are the characteristics and factors that make up a world-class recruiting function, and how many of those factors does our recruiting function meet?
  • Which has a higher ROI and business impact, recruiting great talent from the outside, or promoting, moving, retraining, and developing our current employees?
  • If recruiting is so important, why aren’t managers measured and rewarded for doing it effectively? And why don’t our corporate recruiters receive a performance bonus or reward for producing great recruiting results?
  • How do our recruiting strategies and practices change with fluctuations in corporate growth, the rate of external economic growth, and with unemployment rates?
  • Does our recruiting function forecast accurately? Do we use predictive metrics to adequately warn managers about upcoming recruiting problems and opportunities?

Questions that corporate recruiting leaders should ask themselves

  • When recruiting fails, what element(s) of the recruiting process are most likely to be the key contributing factor to that failure (i.e. bad sourcing, bad screening, bad assessment, or weak “selling/closing”)? Who is primarily responsible for most failures: hiring managers or recruiters?
  • Which recruiting source produces the very best on-the-job performers? Which source produces the worst quality hires? Does the budget percentage that we spend on specific sources “match” the effectiveness of the source? Do the best-performing hires come from “active” candidates or from currently employed top performers who are not actively looking for a new job (often known as “passive” candidates)? Also, which recruiting source produces candidates who have a high retention rate, and which sources produce top-performing diversity hires?
  • Which schools do our top-performing college hires come from? Do we spend the most time/money recruiting at the schools that produce the best performing hires?
  • Does outsourcing recruiting have a higher ROI and produce higher-quality hires than maintaining a 100 percent internal corporate recruiting function?
  • What is the name of your overall corporate recruiting strategy, and what are our top recruiting goals? If you asked your 10 most senior managers and recruiters to name your recruiting strategy and its top goals, what percentage would get them right?

Final Thoughts

All too often recruiting leaders are so busy with day-to-day activities that they forget to take a step back and look at the big picture. As a result, the recruiting function at too many firms has been viewed by executives as a soft overhead function. But the time has come where recruiting must shift to a new model, which is a data-driven high business impact approach. Opinions, hunches, and estimates must now be replaced with facts, data, and charts. As part of that transformation, recruiting leaders need to anticipate these “questions from hell” that they are now almost guaranteed to get from cynical executives.

I hope you have found these questions to be stimulating to the point where they have convinced you to apply your time and resources, so that in the future you can proactively answer each one before it is even asked. If you have received “questions from hell” by your executives that are not covered here, please share with readers in the comment section. You can also reach me directly if you would like to have a further discussion on this topic at [email protected].

As seen on ERE Media on 4/13/2015

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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