World-Class Recruiters Prioritize. Do You?

Recruiting managers frequently ask me, “What are the smartest things that I can do to dramatically improve recruiting ó when I have no budget?” Fortunately, it’s an easy question to answer. After first focusing on employee referrals and then developing recruiting metrics, the next smartest thing any recruiting manager or recruiter can do to improve their performance is to prioritize their recruiting activities so that the most effort and resources are focused on the highest priority business units, jobs, and managers. Strangely enough, when I attempt to demonstrate the importance of prioritization to most corporate recruiters, their reaction is immediate resistance. Perhaps this is because so many HR people have a “social worker mentality” which leads them to believe that it’s important to treat everyone equally. Unfortunately, any attempt to treat all jobs and business units equally automatically limits the recruiter’s ability to be successful. It not only hurts your own credibility and performance but also damages your organization’s ability to prosper in the marketplace. Executive recruiters, on the other hand, always prioritize their clients and candidates. Perhaps it’s their reward structure that makes them so laser-focused on the activities and jobs that have highest impact. No matter the cause, it’s an important lesson to be learned by all corporate recruiters: there is never enough time, people, or resources to do it all and do it well. And unfortunately, doing it all at the same speed (with extremely limited time and resources) guarantees you’ll be overworked, stressed and produce mediocre results for all positions. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, tells us, “Good is the enemy of great.” What Does Prioritization Mean? Other overhead functions like production, shipping, purchasing and “IT” already prioritize their customers and services. In recruiting, prioritization means that you make a conscious effort to give priority treatment to (taking first action, spending the most time with, and allocating the most resources to) the jobs that, if filled with top talent, would have the most impact on the bottom line. Areas that recruiters should prioritize include:

    • Key business units or departments


  • Critical products
  • Key managers
  • Key jobs
  • Essential skills that the corporation needs

Why You Should Prioritize There are numerous reasons why prioritizing jobs can have a tremendous impact on a recruiting department’s success. Some of them include:

  • CEOs already prioritize. By focusing on the jobs with the highest impact, you show that you are in alignment with the business. CEOs already prioritize business units. Some receive additional resources while others are the first to be cut or to face layoffs because of their growth rate, margins, or importance in the firm’s strategic plan.
  • It impacts profits. A major quick service restaurant chain found a 35% improvement in sales in stores where top-performing managers were placed as compared average performing managers.
  • It’s essential for a performance culture. If your organization is attempting to build a performance culture, you must prioritize all business activities based on their potential impact on the firm’s success. Just like in sports, not all positions have an equal impact on team success. That is why a quarterback might average $5 million a year in salary, while a kicker’s salary might average $200,000. HR has a long history of treating all positions the same, but when you realize that the ROI of the top performer in a high priority position might be three times higher than a top performer in a lower priority position, you quickly begin to think like a sports coach. You put the most recruiting resources in the positions that have the highest impact.
  • It builds your image. By focusing on business units and managers that the organization has already determined to have the most impact, you are also increasing your own opportunities to impress these highly visible managers. Providing top quality, fast service to powerful people can only help improve your internal image and increase the resources that flow to recruiting.
  • It saves resources. Because prioritization allows you to provide slow, minimal or even no service to low impact jobs and business units, it frees up your recruiters’ time and resources to be used on areas with greater impact. In fact, once you get comfortable with prioritization, you might eventually delegate all recruiting for these low priority positions to agencies.

Steps in Prioritizing Positions That Have the Most Impact on “Winning” Once you decide to prioritize your jobs and your customers, there are a series of steps you should undertake. They include:

  1. Determine the high priority business units. Consult the strategic plan or work with the CFO’s office to identify the high priority business units. If you’re still in doubt, look at the budget in order to identify who is getting significantly higher resource allocations. Priority business units are generally those that produce high margins, are undergoing rapid growth, or produce products or services that are essential to the organization’s future.
  2. Prioritize critical products and services. Identifying and prioritizing jobs related to key products and services is also important, because not all product lines in high priority business units have the same impact on profit. In a similar light, some low priority business units have product or service lines that have high impact, and as a result, positions in these product lines must also be given a high hiring priority.
  3. Identify the key jobs. Where possible, work directly with the general manager or director of the high priority business units in order to identify the key jobs. Ask them to list the jobs that, if vacant, would have a high negative business impact. In addition, ask them which jobs, if filled with top performers, would have the most impact on business success. Finally, ask them for which positions they might want you to “hire every top performer” because the firm is always facing a perennial shortage in this key position. Compile a list and run it by a few other managers to ensure it’s accurate.
  4. Identify the key skills. Contact the individuals responsible for workforce planning and training and development. Ask them to provide you with the list of the key skills and competencies that have been identified as being essential to the future success of your firm. Have the GM of each priority business unit verify that those skills are in fact essential and also that the firm is facing a shortage of those skills. Next, identify the positions that require those skills and give those positions a higher hiring priority.
  5. Answer their calls and inquiries faster. Just as banks do, it’s important for recruiters to respond first to customers with the highest impact. Respond to their voicemails, emails, and meeting requests right away, even if other requests from low priority managers came in earlier.
  6. Work on priority requisitions first. Instruct your administrative staff and recruiters to handle requisitions for key positions first. This means dropping or putting on hold any low priority positions that were in the queue before the high priority requisition came in.
  7. Assign your top recruiters. Always put the most skilled recruiters on high priority positions.
  8. Develop rewards. Consider providing a bonus for filling high priority positions rapidly with top quality candidates. Because recruiters have bad habits like playing “political” favorites or treating all requisitions the same, putting an incentive on high priority positions can help break those negative tendencies.
  9. Increase spending limits. Increase the spending limits and the cost-per-hire targets on high priority jobs. Allow the recruiters to use the highly effective but more expensive sources and tools.
  10. “Punish” bad managers. Recruiting success depends as much on a manager’s actions as it does on what we do in recruiting. As a result, it’s important to let managers know upfront that any high priority treatment they receive is contingent on their meeting their own recruiting responsibilities. Managers that fail to keep up their part of the bargain by not reading their resumes in a timely manner, delaying interviews, or being indecisive about what they need should be automatically given a lower priority until their performance shapes up.
  11. Track your success. After six months of prioritization, assess the relative improvement in manager satisfaction and business impacts. Estimate a dollar value on those impacts in order to prove to the disbelievers that prioritization is producing results.

Examples Of Disconnects Between Corporate and Recruiting PrioritiesIn addition to prioritizing positions, recruiting must also ensure that it is spending its overall budget and time primarily on high priority business items. In order to have the maximum strategic impact, it is essential that recruiting allocate its budget and time in close proportion to the corporation’s goals and objectives. In short, recruiting priorities and expenditures must “mirror” corporate priorities and expenditures. Unfortunately, senior recruiting managers seldom make any formal effort to match up their own budget and time allocation with either their own internal departmental goals or the corporation’s strategic goals. The following chart illustrates that disconnect:

Recruiting budget and time expenditures Corporate priorities
10% of total recruiters’ time is spent in business unit A… However, 50% percent of all corporate resources are devoted to business unit A.
Zero priority is given too hiring customer service reps… However, the #1 corporate priority is to improve and maintain customer service.
Only 7% of the HR budget is allocated to recruiting… However, 44% of corporate projects that are running behind schedule cite an inadequate supply of talent as the number one reason for the delay.
47% of all recruiting positions that have been funded remain vacant… But not surprisingly, 47% of funded positions in the business units remain unfilled as a result of our diminished recruiting efforts
Only 2% of the recruiting budget is spent on technology… However, 22% of the corporate budget is spent on technology.

Conclusion The impact of prioritization on recruiting is immediate and dramatic. Within months you’ll see a difference, both in reduced recruiter workload and in increased business impact. The most powerful managers will view what you have done as businesslike, because you will have aligned what you do with the corporate priorities. This increased satisfaction and results will come with a price, however. Almost everyone within the HR department, and a good number of recruiters (especially those with no third-party recruiting experience), will whine about and even resist the change. Some of the reason behind their resistance will be their “social worker mentality,” while others will resist because they lack the courage to tell customers that they are a low priority. My advice in this situation is simple: If these individuals don’t get over their resistance quickly, they should be released. Any individual that would put themselves above stated business priorities is demonstrating both their inability to change and their disregard for what is best for other employees and shareholders.

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.

Check Also

Hiring Innovators – The Highest Impact Action In Talent Management (Highlighting the benefits from hiring innovators)

Hiring has the highest bus. impact in HR, and innovators produce the highest impact of …