Are You a “World-Class” Recruiter?

Almost every recruiter I have ever met says, when asked, that they are “the best recruiter in the world.” Salespeople also seem to have the same tendency to brag a little. But if you ever wanted to find out for sure how good you or your recruiters are, now there’s a way. Of course, it’s not easy to universally assess recruiter quality across companies and business units, but there are some general universal standards that can be used as a benchmark to compare recruiters against. As a chief talent officer and HR consultant, I have used this assessment tool with good success. Even if your recruiters (or you personally) don’t currently feel that they are world-class recruiters, this checklist is an excellent guide for what they must do in order to improve both themselves and their results! Not Everyone Strives To Be World Class The only difficulty I have encountered with this recruiter assessment tool is that a few individual recruiters “complain” that the standards are impossible to meet. My response to them is simple: world-class standards are, by definition, hard to meet. That’s what makes them world-class standards. I know numerous recruiters who can meet these standards, so if they seem unrealistic to you or your recruiters…consider the possibility that they might not be as good as they need to be! On the other hand, if you are using the checklist to assess yourself, and you can do the things listed here but are unable to because of restrictions (or the low expectations) at your current firm, then I recommend that you quit and find a firm that will allow you to “be all that you can be.” The benchmark numbers used in this example are for professional-level hires. If you’re hiring production or retail hourly employees, the numbers must be adjusted accordingly. Checklist for Assessing Great Recruiters First and foremost, great recruiters are measured on the results they produce. In addition, great recruiters are also assessed based on the tools they use and for the steps they take (or don’t take) during the course of recruiting. Scoring: A world-class recruiter meets 90% of the performance standards included in the “A” checklist and 75% of the “Do and Know” items in the “B” checklist. The “A” List: Performance Standards for a World-Class Recruiter Great recruiters are measured first with performance metrics that report their results:

  1. They produce high-performing hires. They periodically measure the performance (quality) of their hires. Most do it by comparing the performance appraisal ratings of their hires against the average performance score for hires made by other recruiters. A superior method is to compare the performance of their hires vs. the average new hire performance using standard job “output” measures. Their performance appraisal scores (or output) should exceed the average of new hires (usually in the same job type) by a minimum of 25%. Other indications that their hires are top performers include forced rankings, higher bonus, stock options rates, lower error rates, and faster promotion rates.
  2. Time to productivity. A “quality hire” takes less time to meet the minimum expected productivity level. Their time-to-productivity scores (measured in days) should be below the average (for all new hires) by a minimum of 25%.
  3. Retention rates. The turnover rate (during their first two years) of their hires should be below five percent in professional-level jobs. World-class recruiters follow up on their hires to ensure that they are doing well on the job. If new hires quit, they follow up (usually three to six months after leaving) and find out the specific reasons for this individual’s departure. If their hires are terminated, they reassess their processes and tools.
  4. Candidate and manager satisfaction. In addition to tracking the performance of their hires, it’s important that their hires’ managers and candidates are satisfied with their knowledge, their service, and the recruiting process. Managers should have a 95% (very good to excellent) satisfaction rating, while candidates should exceed 90% (very good to excellent) in customer satisfaction ratings. In order to be world-class, they must have zero written complaints from managers and candidates over the last “rolling” 12-month period.
  5. Faster response time. Great recruiters are responsive to questions and inquiries from managers and candidates. Great recruiters return all phone calls within 24 hours and all emails and correspondence within 48 hours. Great recruiters welcome and answer calls and emails at night and on weekends.
  6. Time to fill. Because top performers are “in the market” for such a short period of time, they fill critical jobs in less than three weeks. Their time to fill is at least half of the average for other recruiters. In no case is their average time to fill above 30 days, and no hire takes more than 60 days.
  7. Offer acceptance rate. Offer acceptance rates can be subject to manipulation. If a recruiter only recruits weak candidates, they will get artificially high acceptance rates. As a result, offer acceptance rates are only valid when they’re coupled with meeting the minimum standard of new hire performance (see above). If that standard is met, then a world-class offer acceptance rate is 90% or above. World-class recruiters do “post-rejection” surveys (three months later) in order to identify the real causes of the rejection. They also ask the new hires why they said yes to another job, and what factors made them consider rejecting the offer.
  8. Recruiting load. The requisition workload varies dramatically between firms, but great recruiters produce high quality as well as a high volume of hires. I have also found that world-class recruiters know how to manage their boss. As a result, their bosses set realistic workload expectations. For professional-level jobs, the world-class standard is being able to handle up to 25 open requisitions and to produce at least 12 hires per month. If your boss sets unrealistic requisition loads for a recruiter, that recruiter is not a great recruiter, because they should either manage them better or leave rather than sacrifice quality. Actual requisition loads can vary between 4 and 130 active requisitions.
  9. Workforce planning. Great recruiters see it as part of their job to forecast and anticipate potential problems and opportunities. World-class recruiters develop workforce plans that accurately forecast the demand for and supply of talent. World-class recruiters accurately forecast the firm’s needs (with a 75% accuracy rate) at least six months in advance.
  10. Legal compliance. They have had no lawsuits, EEOC, or OFCCP inquiries or complaints during the last year.
  11. Cost per hire. I have not found cost per hire to be an indicator of great recruiting. Although saving money is an admirable trait, recruiting top performers and “employed people” is much more expensive than recruiting the average. In addition, the total cost of recruiting is, relatively speaking, minuscule compared to the benefits of a great hire. As a result I do not recommend calculating CPH. Typically, the cost per hire can vary between $2,000 and $12,000.

The “B” List: Things World-Class Recruiters Do and Know In order to qualify as world class, a recruiter must meet at least 16 out of the following 21 criteria. If they argue that these items are “not essential,” they are definitely not a world-class recruiter.

  1. Market research. They do (or get others to do) surveys and hold focus groups to identify what the top candidates’ decision criteria are. First, they identify the criteria that potential candidates have for deciding which jobs and firms to apply at. And second, top recruiters identify a candidate’s “offer acceptance” criteria. World-class recruiters know more about the top candidates than what’s in their resume, including what frustrates them in their current job and what their compensation minimums are.
  2. Branding and image building. They periodically speak, write, and undertake other PR activities to help build the company’s overall “great place to work” brand and image among the public. They have written or contributed to one article about recruiting (in the last year) in a local or national publication. They have spoken at one public recruiting event or college class. They talk to people everywhere (and encourage employees to do the same) about their company, especially on airplanes, rental car shuttles, and at professional events.
  3. Technology usage. They know how to operate their company’s ERP (like Peoplesoft or SAP) and ATS (applicant tracking system). They regularly use “bots,” Boolean searches and other Internet tools to “mine” the Internet for candidates. They regularly “hit” candidate’s personal home pages and technical/functional chat rooms. Over 50% of their sourcing somehow utilizes the Internet.
  4. Effective sourcing tools. They numerically track the effectiveness of each sourcing tool and source they utilized. They do that by identifying top candidates and top performing hires. Then they do “reverse tracking” to identify which source or strategy produced and identified them. They focus 75% of their time and resources on the ones that produce the highest quality candidates and hires.
  5. Effective sorting/screening. They continually numerically track, assess, and test the effectiveness of each of their sorting and screening tools. They then increase or decrease their usage based on the tools ability to sort and screen out all but the top candidates. During interviews, they give candidates “real problems” (or simulations) to solve.
  6. Competitive intelligence. They view competitive intelligence and best practice gathering as key elements of their job as a recruiter. They are constantly seeking information about the recruiting practices and the top talent at their competitors. They can specifically name their competitors’ three best and worst recruiting practices and their five top performers. They ask all new hires from these competitors, “Who else is good?” during the interview or on the first day. Great recruiters successfully forecast and identify recruiting opportunities as a result of layoffs and business downturns at our competitors.
  7. Competitive analysis. Great recruiters view recruiting as a competitive game. As a result, every six months they do a side-by-side competitive analysis comparing where their firm’s recruiting programs, tools, and offers are superior or inferior to their direct talent competitors. They then make recommendations to management on how these “gaps” can be reduced.
  8. Develop new recruiting programs. World-class recruiters continually experiment with new tools and then they measure their effectiveness. Next they inform their colleagues about the ones that work and the ones that don’t. World-class recruiters also help design at least one corporate recruiting program every three years.
  9. Membership. They are a member of EMA or some other professional recruiting association.
  10. What they read. They are well read. They subscribe to at least one recruiting magazine and at least two online recruiting e-newsletters. They subscribe to ER Daily.
  11. Books they have read. They have read the McKinsey report on the “War For Talent” and the books First Break All The Rules, CareerXroads andPermission Marketing.
  12. Learning on the Internet. They are a member of at least one recruiting list server and/or recruiting chat room. They post or answer a question at least once a month.
  13. Great recruiter network. They continually seek out and learn from the very best recruiters in their industry. World-class recruiters also have a “learning network” that includes some of the best “thought leaders” in recruiting. They also continually recruit these individuals to come work at their firm.
  14. Focus/prioritization. They prioritize their customers and vary their time and resource allocation based on the hiring manager’s potential business impact. They spend 50% of their time on the requisitions from the hiring managers that are (prioritized) in the top 25% and less than 10% of their time on the bottom 25% (low priority).
  15. Knowledge of strategy. They know the elements of the company’s business and recruiting strategies. They can name the top five business objectives for their firm. They can list the name, goals, and top five performance measures of their company’s recruiting strategy.
  16. They encourage referrals. Even though it’s not part of their job, they educate at least 10 employees a month on how to identify potential candidates and then they encourage them to refer those they find using the company’s employee referral program. They also encourage their firm’s employees to use the internal “job posting system” in order to increase/encourage internal movement.
  17. Their own candidate database. Great recruiters think of themselves as “talent scouts.” As a result, they are constantly identifying prospects and entering them into their own personal (or company) “who’s who” database. They contact (or communicate in some way with) each of their top prospects at least once each month. In addition, great recruiters can name the top five performers in any job category they recruit in within their industry. They pre-qualify great candidates so that they can do “instant” hires.
  18. They mine their own firm’s database. They search their own internal candidate database at least once a week to quickly identify top candidates.
  19. Global reach. Even though their job might not currently require global searches, they are constantly identifying effective tools and strategies for global recruiting. They also benchmark and learn from the best global recruiting practices and firms. They add at least two “international” candidates to their database each month.
  20. Assess websites. At least once a month they visit the “jobs” component of each of their competitor’s corporate websites. They assess their strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations to management on how to improve their own firm’s job website.
  21. Provide advice to managers. In addition to doing their “regular” job, world-class recruiters take on the role of informing and educating hiring managers on the importance and economic value of great recruiting (i.e., they make the business case). Great recruiters have calculated the economic value of top performers (compared to the average), the cost of a bad hire, the cost of turnover, and the cost of a vacancy in a key position. As a result of their advice, managers they work with have a 25% lower time to fill because these hiring managers now realize the high return on investment that comes from devoting time and resources to recruiting.

Note: For other comparison metrics in recruiting visit or the Saratoga Institute. Other Indicators That a Recruiter May Be World ClassDoing the following things won’t automatically make recruiters world-class, but they are signs of coming close, or that they are at least well on their way toward excellence:

  • Senior or top performing managers request them by name.
  • They have personally recruited away a direct competitor’s best salesperson, marketing executive, technologist, or design person.
  • They are assigned (or choose) all of the “hard to fill” positions.
  • They are assigned executive searches that are normally assigned to external executive search firms.
  • They have a world-class recruiting strategist or consultant as a mentor. In addition, they are mentoring other recruiters.
  • They teach a class or train others to be recruiters.
  • They have had experience working at an executive search firm, in “outside” sales, or customer service.
  • They have extensive knowledge of their firm’s (and its competitors’) products and customers, as well as their business strengths and weaknesses.
  • They set and adhere to high professional standards.
  • They hate to fail and they take each failure personally. They remember even minor failures.
  • They do a personal “audit” each year, using this (or a similar) checklist.

Signs They Are Probably Not a World-Class Recruiter Doing the things listed below doesn’t exclude them from being a world-class recruiter, but if they do these things the odds are dramatically against them:

  • They rely heavily on cold calling (more than five a week).
  • More than 50% of their meetings and interviews are held face-to-face.
  • They get more than 10% of their hires from large electronic job boards.
  • More than 25% of their candidates are “active” candidates (unemployed people that “find you”).

Conclusion Less than one percent of the people in any profession can be classified as “world-class,” and recruiting is no different. If you have reviewed this complete checklist, you must now realize how difficult it is to be the very best in a difficult profession. So even if your recruiters (or you) didn’t “score” very high on the checklist, consider using the checklist as a road map to guide them (or you) that much closer to excellence! Note: If you have any additions to this list, please feel free to pass them on. If you think this checklist is “unrealistic,” I challenge you to develop a better one. Email it to [email protected].

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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