The Art of Recruiting

Rodney Stigall

Talent acquisition professionals must be savvy operators in the attention economy today whether they like it or not. A successful recruiter can put a well-placed advertisement in front of an active or passive job seeker in the right way, at the right time to elicit a positive response. It’s a practitioner’s art that is learned and evolves over time which starts with junior recruiters who are simply focused on volume contacts to people who meet the basic qualifications of a job. Juxtapose that with masters who have a deep understanding of the markets and skill sets they recruit with an ability to read resumes or profiles on par with a hiring manager. These rare recruiters have honed the ability to understand probabilities of who might be open to a role and who might not which requires fewer contact attempts. They have deep networks or the gravitas to network within the professional community to dig out potential leads. So, how do they do it? Well, there is an art to doing it which requires knowledge, good decision making, communication, and exquisite judgement. If you are in the talent acquisition industry as a practitioner or leader, this article will help conceptualize and create constructs around performance you can use to develop and assess yourself or a team in achieving a high level of mastery in the field. For those outside of recruiting, this article will help you understand about the function and provide some notion of rudimentary assessment skill as you interact with talent acquisition professionals and increase the quality of those experiences.

Early career recruiters are often taught that it is a numbers game, i.e.- it takes X amount of contact attempts to get Y candidates, yielding Z interviews and 1 hire. Implementing that formula works in bulk, but it has burned a lot of goodwill in our industry. Talent Acquisition professionals end up pitching opportunities that obviously don’t fit and/or to people who aren’t interested in hearing the pitch. These potential candidates come away with the feeling that the recruiter has wasted their time. In some cases, the recruiter reaches out to more people than they can possibly manage to respond to and they inevitably ghost someone. Better recruiters learn how to reduce X to a minimum yielding a very high quality Y while maintaining a ratio close to 1:1 between Z and offer accepts (hire). Being able to do that requires a few things coming together:

Know the job: Ideally, you should be able to have a functional level conversation about the job with the hiring manager. If you can’t fluently discuss what the job does or the KSA’s required to do it, you are going to struggle speaking with candidates. This has a cascade effect of not being able to properly assess the candidates you are evaluating creating multiple downstream problems:

  • Increased submittal volume (X) with low qualitative consistency
  • Poor candidate experience as they are not able communicate their skill set properly. This also creates a fairness issue as candidates who can speak to laymen benefit over equally qualified candidates who can’t.
  • Shift of the screening burden to the hiring manager, potentially leading to loss of credibility for the recruiter. Hiring managers who have to sift through unqualified candidates can lose trust in their talent acquisition support team. However, recruiters with a high submittal accuracy rate can focus on more qualitative discussions with the hiring team.

It takes a significant amount of time and research for an inexperienced recruiter to learn enough about a functional skill to have a meaningful conversation with a hiring manager and candidate. However, our profession has evolved to the point where it is necessary to require a recruiter has the business acumen to do so. Recruiters should spend some mandated time learning about the functions they are going to recruit prior to getting engaged in a search. Whether in a staffing agency or corporate environment, success and level of effort will be determined by how well you understand the job.

Know the labor market: Understanding the labor market you are recruiting for is pivotal for a talent acquisition professional. That knowledge should drive your entire strategy: sourcing, contact plan, compensation, EVP pitch, and level setting with your hiring manager about tolerance for selectivity. The easier tools in researching this information are often behind a stiff paywall (LinkedIn, Indeed, Mercer, etc.) and the free tools are often less reliable or not as easy to use. However, there is no excuse for not knowing this information as a talent acquisition professional. Most people often develop their own sense of the market based on their experience, but intuition is not data. There is no excuse for not learning how to navigate the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and reports to maintain an understanding of the labor market you interact with locally and nationally. Understanding the volume of potential targets in a given region or nationally helps understand scarcity and drives how you look for and interact with candidates. Additionally, being armed with the most up to date pay rates helps drive the conversation relative to your internal pay rates which rarely match up.

Marketing to candidates: Presenting opportunities to candidates is one of the most important skills a recruiter can build. It includes sourcing the candidate, but also building the right messaging around the opportunity that will produce engagement and interest. Basic sourcing techniques like building search strings are table stakes skills, but understanding how to create an effective sourcing plan with maximum candidate reach sets recruiters apart from their peers. Crafting a message that a candidate will respond to is difficult and a skill that takes time to acquire. Understanding how long a message should be, what time of day to send it, and who to send it to are not readily apparent to people. As is understanding the difference between how to build and utilize a job posting vs. a job description or realistic job preview. Strong skills in marketing to candidates will separate poor to mediocre talent acquisition professionals from excellent ones.

Communicating: The ability to effectively communicate in recruiting can never be underestimated. Recruiters who are at ease speaking to business professionals at different levels and from all stripes stand out to hiring managers and amongst their peers. It’s not about being introverted or extroverted. It’s about being able to communicate as a peer level business professional with business acumen that keeps the person on the other side of the conversation in their native comfort zone. It takes time to get comfortable with and gain knowledge in new subject matter areas while learning how to interact with different levels of people within new functional areas. You don’t have to be a senior level person to have a meaningful conversation with a business leader, but it does require a certain command of facts and understanding of different subject matter which can range across different functions from management, HR, to basic concepts of engineering.

Influence: Recruiters who know how to have a direct affect on the outcome of a discussion, project, or negotiation are highly impactful. We’ve all known people who can influence well and the smoothest among them know their information well and use data driven points to arrive at conclusions that drive their desired outcomes. Growing as a talent acquisition professional requires an awakening of your power in the recruiting process and learning how to wield it. It’s all too easy to be heavy handed burning bridges along the way. The smoothest among us in this profession don’t leave a wake as they exit conversations having agreements on everything they need. It takes time to learn, but being intentional and data driven in your discussions with clear outcome expectations around your requests is a great habit to get into.

As we can see, there is a body of knowledge and practical skills that are required to operate at a high level as a talent acquisition professional. Talent acquisition doesn’t have a governing body like other professions such as accounting or nursing with certification requirements that codify a practitioner has command of a body of knowledge. As a result, our industry has a wide performance gap of professionals operating at different levels with no barrier to entry to calling yourself a recruiter or sourcer. Nevertheless, by taking control of your own development it is not hard to acquire the knowledge and experience to be highly effective. It does require a lot of dedication, self-study, and constant self-awareness of your skills to continually improve.