Why Don’t Directors of Recruiting Become VPs of HR?

Have you ever noticed that few directors of recruiting ever get promoted to the VP of HR position at their firms? Is this “glass ceiling” because recruiters are such an independent lot, or does their aggressiveness and results orientation make other HR people too nervous? Is there a roadblock because the world of HR is so different that recruiters just cannot be accepted there? There is, of course, no single reason why directors of recruiting don’t often progress up the HR ladder. The purpose of this “think piece” is to stimulate the thinking of those who either are currently aspiring or someday may wish to become VPs of HR. Even if you don’t ever want to become a VP, learning to think and act like a VP can only help you increase your ability to work with other HR and business functions. Here are some of the steps that recruiting leaders should take in order to increase their effectiveness and improve their chances of ascending to the VP level! The 12 Steps From Recruiting Manager To VP of HR

  1. Declare your intention to be the VP of HR. Declaring yourself to be a “non-player” in the VP race is the first mistake made by many recruiting leaders. In the aggressive world of business, it’s necessary to state your intentions of becoming a leader early in your career. By taking yourself out of the running, you may be stereotyping yourself as a strictly behind-the-scenes player. But what you need to do is the opposite of what most recruiters do. You must declare your desire for broader responsibility and to eventually become the VP OF HR.
  2. Be tolerant of HR people. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to minimize their interactions with the rest of HR. It’s clear to most of us that “we” are different in many aspects. Recruiting is a high pressure field where winning and losing are obvious. Other areas of HR like training, OD, and compensation have less of a direct and measurable impact, which makes their perspective different than ours. Is important that we all learn to accept their slower pace, their degree of indecisiveness, and, yes, even their political correctness.
  3. Learn more about the big picture. It is important to broaden your contacts and horizons. Start by expanding your reading, networking, and benchmarking so that you eventually become a business and management expert. Consider forming or participating in cross-functional joint task forces that solve problems in other areas of HR and the business. Schedule periodic meetings with other directors of HR to share solutions and to learn about their problems. Also, consider taking short rotations and project assignments in other areas of the business.
  4. Consciously build your personal brand and image. Many recruiters seem satisfied that working hard and producing results will be enough to get them recognized and rewarded. But you need to realize that the success rate of “products” is increased in conjunction with a great brand. People and business functions also need a “brand” and a “positive image” to enhance their chances of success. Building a recruiting brand involves writing articles, giving talks, becoming a benchmark source, and developing programs that are so unique that everyone talks about them. The goal is to make yourself known both inside and outside the firm. Branding means increasing your exposure and visibility so that both your name and your work are synonymous with quality and innovation throughout the industry.
  5. Build financial acumen and metrics that prove that recruiting programs work. HR people are notorious for calling themselves “business partners,” when in fact they often fail to act like businesspeople at all. Success in business is measured in margins, profit, ROI, and productivity. Recruiting, however, often defines its success in totally different terms, such as cost of hire, number of applications, events attended, and “we have a program.” Recruiting needs to focus less on the “process” and more on reporting results and bottom-line impacts. If directors of recruiting are to become VPs of HR it is essential that they begin to work directly with the CFO to develop credible recruiting metrics. The fact that recruiting never appears in the annual report helps to confirm the common suspicion that recruiting strives to be no more than a behind-the-scenes player.
  6. Anticipate and forecast. Nothing gets a manager’s attention faster than predicting the future. Rather than telling them about last year, provide them with alerts and forecasts. For some reason, recruiting professionals almost without exception fail to produce any type of forecasts or predictions. This is unfortunate, because when recruiting makes forecasts, it shows not only that we are forward looking, but also that we are willing to take risks and to put our reputations on the line. For some unknown reason, many recruiting functions still have no workforce plan or planning function. This is a missed opportunity. Workforce planning is the primary tool that recruiting can use to gain strategic exposure and to demonstrate the accuracy of its forecasting.
  7. Focus on building a competitive advantage. CEOs constantly demand to be either #1 or #2 in everything they do. Beating (and even crushing) the competitor is essential in a fast changing, competitive business environment. In direct contrast, recruiting is almost always internally focused. Only one in a thousand recruiting departments does a side-by-side and function-by-function comparison that demonstrates that everything we do in recruiting is better than everything they do. Visionary directors of recruiting need to send a consistent message to their teams that everything they do must be designed to produce a competitive advantage.
  8. Forget equity, prioritize your work. Most directors of recruiting that I know seem to have an obsession with equity. They treat all managers and employees the same to avoid the impression of favoritism. They should be doing the exact opposite. We need to identify which positions have the highest business impact and then focus our time and resources on recruiting for those mission critical positions. Recruiting can significantly increase firm productivity and profitability by focusing its limited resources and time on key managers, key positions, and the recruiting programs with the highest ROI.
  9. Take the lead with technology. In a world of rapid change, nothing sends a clearer message that you are on the leading edge than being an early adapter of effective technology. By embracing the e-recruiting model, you can improve your image by becoming a leader in using technology to do everything faster, cheaper, and better in our 24/7 global economy. At some point, this also means becoming paperless and providing recruiting information directly to every manager’s desktop computer. This gives managers more ownership of their recruiting, and it will allow them to make faster and more effective hiring decisions.
  10. Think globally, and share information. The world of business is changing rapidly. Because of the growth of global competition, we now need the capacity to do business around the world. Unfortunately, most recruiting functions are U.S.-centric. If a director of recruiting wishes to become a VP of HR, he or she must develop a global vision and recruiting programs that are capable of finding top talent around the world. Recruiting managers also need to broaden their learning. The key here is to develop a “global brain” so that you can both learn rapidly and share information and solutions gathered from any industry around the world.
  11. Demonstrate expertise and effectiveness within recruiting. In order to build credibility and get a seat at the executive table, not only must directors of recruiting have a strategic vision, but they must also demonstrate excellence in their functional area. Many leaders have not succeeded because they failed to “make the trains run on time.” Recruiting must excel in the areas of transactions, customer service, and responsiveness, as well as in the more strategic areas of recruiting. Successful directors of recruiting must deliver solutions and recruiting answers that are the best in the industry.
  12. Lose the attitude. Let’s face it, if you are a damn good recruiter you are likely to have a bit of an ego. This might be less so if you are a longtime corporate recruiter rather than if you spent a good part of your career in executive search. But since a good number of HR people are soft-spoken and modest, you are just going to fit in better if you minimize the bravado. In addition, in order to fit the “HR culture,” you will need to be more deliberate and inclusive in your decision making. HR people are strong believers in consensus building.

Conclusion Directors of recruiting don’t become VPs of HR for fairly obvious reasons. But whether you just want to become more effective at recruiting or if someday you want to ascend to the VP OF HR position, the steps you need to take are clear. You must be more collaborative, build your image, focus on metrics and build recruiting programs which impact the bottom-line. If you are to be the exception to the “no promotion” rule, you may need to dramatically change the way you think and act.

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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