No Time for Losers: Why We Love To Hate Recruiters.

queenPick any trending topic that’s top of mind in recruiting right now, from the candidate experience to onboarding.

Chances are that once you strip away all the unnecessary layers of BS, buzzwords and bureaucracy, and once you get rid of the ubiquitous consultants and unnecessary complexity, all recruiting is just variations on the same theme, really.

Step back and take a really good look. Fact is, every problem plaguing our profession shares both a common cause and a stunningly simple solution.

Turns out, overcoming even the most pressing or pervasive talent challenge really comes down to what seems, superficially at least, to be a pretty obvious silver bullet: adding a little humanity to the hiring process.

No matter how many machines we have, no matter how much data we generate nor how many processes we can automate, the simple fact is that every recruiting process revolves around people. Hiring managers, not algorithms, still have the final say in who gets an offer.

The most advanced matching engine or sophisticated software can’t build scaleable, sustainable relationships with candidates, no matter what the product marketing material may say.

And as much as the talking heads and “thought leaders” would like us to think otherwise, the fact is that for many of us, working directly with candidates represents a significant part of the way we spend the days we spend at work.

Under Pressure.

giphy (14)Now, if you’re a recruiter who doesn’t happen to be dedicated to backend research or sourcing, and you aren’t already spending pretty much all of your time directly interacting with candidates, do us all a favor.

Stop reading this right now, pack up your things and find yourself a new career.

Real interactions between real people is what real recruiting is really all about, and if you think otherwise, you’re not really a real recruiter, as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that interpersonal interactions are intrinsic to our industry, at least not judging from the way that so many recruiters fail so miserably at what should come pretty naturally to anyone who’s not a sociopath or an SPHR.

Even if you’re not the most extroverted or outgoing person, if you’re in recruiting, you either fake it until you make it or you get the hell out. A little practice makes perfect, and a little persistence makes placements.

Too bad there seems to be such an endemic shortage of shits given to perfecting what’s arguably recruiting’s most critical core competency, and too many shitty recruiters out there incapable of actually sounding like people, even when they actually do pick up the phone.

That’s the weird thing about a lot of recruiters – they manage to tick off candidates by acting and sounding like robots even when they’re at their most human. The tech sector is perhaps the best proof of this phenomenon.

Seriously. I know not a ton of people in tech necessarily had a ton of friends growing up, or really vibrant social lives as adults outside their World of Warcraft Guilds and occasional LARPing excursion, but still. That doesn’t make them any more likely to want to talk with you if you spit out your selling points and job requirements with the speed of a Hadoop stack and the feeling and fervor of an automaton.

I’m not sure if this strategy is deliberate, but it’s a miserable failure either way – and that’s putting it nicely, to say the least. So if a recruiter’s system isn’t hardwired for humanity, what can we do to update their software or reprogram their skills? How do we solve for this unplanned obsolescence?

Too Much Love Can Kill You.

tumblr_n8qd8gslp91tcw7cko1_500OK. I’m not one to beg, but in this case, I’m willing to suck it up and implore you to please, for every other recruiter out there, to change your approach to this particular worst practice TODAY.

By sending out mass email blasts responsible for generating more spam than your average online Russian pharmacy, you’re not only destroying your credibility, but the credibility of OUR entire profession.

Look, I get it. I really do. You’re being forced to do more work with less resources and more pressure than ever before. Your candidates are driving you crazy, your hiring managers won’t make up their minds, and every one of your open reqs was supposed to be filled yesterday.

Hey, I’ve been there, too. Hell, we all have.

In both agency and corporate environments, it’s easy to sacrifice for the sake of speed, particularly when you get all of the blame when good reqs go wrong. No one notices a recruiter until they screw up. And we all do, on occasion. But there’s no greater screw up screwing up all of us than the weapons of mass communication that recruiters use to blast out email sends.

If you stop and really think about it, no matter how many names you source, and no matter how rich your research may be, if you don’t have time to do anything more with these potential candidates than blasting every profile you find some shitty, generic e-mail, then do you really have time to deal with the off chance that some of them are actually going to respond?

I Want To Break Free.

tumblr_m8mfveK9Ok1rd524so1_500Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you want a person to take time to respond to a recruiting message, recruiters have to take the time to actually write that message to a person, personally.

Top talent is finite, but automation isn’t, and at some point, something’s got to give.

My guess is it’s going to be all of our asses when we finally reach the that inevitable tipping point where we’ve effectively turned away every candidate we’d actually want to hire.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at some of the data I’ve discovered in looking at my own performance over the course of a couple of years.

Yeah, I know – nerd alert, right? And yes, while I do crunch the numbers on my response rates from LinkedIn, I can’t get the whole picture simply by looking at this single platform, which I primarily use as a last resort if for some reason I can’t develop someone’s contact information on my own.

Even so, I’m using LinkedIn because it offers the most consistent and standardized way to monitor and measure my personal performance over the past few years.

Here’s what the numbers say:

Year 2009 – LinkedIn Response Rate: 18%
Year 2015 -LinkedIn Response Rate: 31%

You don’t need big data to tell that this represents a pretty big difference, statistically speaking. It’s also anomalous to the aggregate industry wide data that shows recruiting response rates dipping drastically. This downward trend, judging from the data, seems perhaps more pronounced on LinkedIn than any other potential source of hire out there.

So how the hell did I manage to more or less double my response rates, defying both logic and conventional wisdom in the process?  Not coincidentally, it was around 2009 (2010 at the absolute latest) when I really woke up to the reality that the disparaging responses (or lack thereof) from candidates was entirely my fault. I kept getting the same shit results, I realized, simply because I was treating all candidates the same.

I’d have been insane to expect different results, which is why I would have been crazy not to start taking the time to customize my e-mails to candidates – I mean, really personalizing them – and it wasn’t long before those response rates began rising, and dramatically so.

Now, while I admit I still start with a template, I genuinely shape it to that person, using it as a departure point for developing messaging and calls to action specifically tailored for their specific skills, experience and expertise.

While I did a pretty kick butt job turning my candidate response rate around, what was even more telling was that I soon began getting a new type of response that I hadn’t really seen before. Suddenly, but not surprisingly, I began getting replies from people who ultimately weren’t interested in the opportunity I had offered, but who still wanted to connect anyway. Mind. Blown.

Let me reiterate: I’m not for the total abolition or abandonment of email templates. They serve as an effective time saving device, ensuring that recruiters have a framework for creating compelling messages without having to continually reinvent the wheel every single time we send a candidate an e-mail.

What really matters is that there’s some element of humanity in them that shows top talent that they’re responding to someone who at least cares about them enough to take the time to at least try to make recruiting emails meaningful; I’m not sure why anyone would trust their careers to a recruiter who doesn’t even care enough to make sure they get their macros right.

When we fail to stay human, we’re not just failing the candidates we want to hire; we’re also failing other recruiters, particularly when we so frequently perpetuate the automation arms race on other recruiters, too. If we can’t even create a decent experience for our professional colleagues and industry counterparts, how can we hope to do any better for our candidates?

Another One Bites The Dust.

tumblr_lv38bboe2F1qdslbvo1_500To spend such an inordinate amount of time identifying and trying simply to talk to top talent seems like an egregious waste of time when so many recruiters do little more than simply rip through some script.

Consequently, recruiters often squander those rare chances for direct candidate contact by racing through some checklist of qualifications, focusing on “processing” candidates instead prescreening or, more importantly pre-closing them.

It’s not enough for a recruiter to find the right talent, after all – they’ve got to get them to accept an offer, too.

Of course, the fact is that not every candidate you’ll have a conversation with will be someone you’re able to place directly, but even if you don’t have any immediate opportunities. A little personalized outreach today will go a long way towards winning hearts, minds and top talent tomorrow.

The goal of engaging a candidate isn’t necessarily to place them into a position, but instead, to make them aware of who you are, the kinds of roles you’re hiring for and what they can do to help. That’s why instead of going for the direct sale, it’s a good idea to use that initial candidate conversation as a chance not to talk business, but instead, simply to get to know each other a little bit better.

This serves two purposes: it makes candidates more comfortable (and trusting) while talking to you, and it allows recruiters some sort of insight into whether or not they might be a fit for your company culture (and if not, to screen them out as early in the process as possible).

And no, you don’t need some sort of bullshit, peer reviewed, PhD proctored “personality assessment” to gauge this culture fit; if you know your company, and you know what it takes to succeed in the business unit or teams you’re hiring for, then you’ve got all you really need to know to go with your gut. This, of course, remains the best tool in any recruiting arsenal, big data, social and mobile be damned.

During this initial recruiting conversation, it’s always a good idea to review their background and experience for some sort of mutual affinity, whether that’s both having graduated from the same college or having a common connection from a previous company. Or, instead of trying to do that dance around how much comp they’re looking for, instead talk about that unusual pastime or extracurricular activity that’s often the most interesting part of a candidate’s resume.

In my experience, I’ve found this a fertile source for finding shared interests or hobbies outside of the office. You know, the kind of stuff candidates actually want to talk about. Hell, I just spoke with a candidate a few days ago who actually stuck something at the bottom of his resume about his love for Lego.

When I called him, we instantly connected after spending the first 15 minutes of our conversation talking about all the new Lego stuff we were getting our our kids for the holidays (read: cool new toys for Dad to play with). Turns out, once we started talking about the real reason I was calling, dude wasn’t a fit, but we developed a good rapport that lead to a great referral before we finally hung up the phone.

While talking about toys with a candidate before even bringing up potential opportunities may seem silly, or even a waste of time for recruiters trying to fill reqs as quickly as possible, but I’m willing to bet he’d never have connected me directly with a former co-worker (and current friend) if I was just dialing for dollars and treated these calls like some sort of “Robo-Cruiter.”

Nope, I was calling as Pete. And Pete is a far better person than the perception pretty much any candidate currently ascribes to recruiting professionals writ large. That’s why I’ve found it always pays to be yourself with candidates – unless, that is, you suck. If that’s the case, you won’t get very far with top talent in the first place.

Friends Will Be Friends.

tmAnother tactic that I employ on almost all of my calls is that when discussing their potential future team or manager, I’m careful to use only first names with candidates to convey the kind of open, collaborative culture candidates are almost always looking for in a potential new employer.

It seems like a small detail, but in my experience, it’s made a big difference, particularly in tech recruiting.

So when I’m talking about our Hadoop Engineering team, which as a collective is every bit as boring as it sounds, I instead refer to Eric (the manager).

I also refer by name to every member of Eric’s team (and call them that, collectively), how the group is structured and how success is measured, both subconsciously creating a sense of familiarity with the group while also opening the door for the candidate to ask any questions they have related to Eric’s management style, professional history or interviewing style.

Whatever they want to know, I want them to know that they can do so on a first name basis. This seemingly superficial, often subconscious strategy can go a long way in developing a sense of trust and transparency with the candidate in question. You’re not only being candid and open with information, you’re also giving them the insights they need to know in order to have the best chance at getting through your hiring process and, ultimately, getting an offer.

Of course, the earlier you’re able to establish this candid candor, the easier getting that offer accepted becomes. It’s hard to refuse someone you trust. Trust me.

The Show Must Go On.

tumblr_m6xq7cjjWX1qaef0yo1_500I know it probably sounds crazy to most recruiters out there, but as much as an emphasis as we should be placing on humanizing the recruiting process, it’s also imperative for us humans to intervene when that process doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

That means actually taking the time not only to offer the candidate good or bad news, but updating them on their status even when there’s no news at all.

Look, things get stuck in recruiting all the time, and when this happens, recruiters more or less have one of two choices to make.

You can either entirely freeze out a hot candidate (or, more likely, keep them treading water), or you can take three minutes and make a call to give them the peace of mind that they’re still top of mind. In recruiting, common courtesies are anything but – and this is the type of tactic that stands out the most to active and passive job seekers alike.

I know what you’re thinking: “calling a candidate with an update that there’s no update. Who does that?”

The answer is almost no one. Which is why they’ll always remember you’re the one who took the time to let them know you were looking out, which, come closing time, has a funny way of working out almost all of the time. These three minutes, in fact, can be the most valuable time any recruiter spends connecting with candidates.

Even if the entire point of the call is that the recruiter has nothing to say, it’s a gesture that truly speaks volumes.

Don’t Stop Me Now.

giphy (4)Ultimately, that old aphorism that recruiting isn’t rocket science is true. We’re in the people business, and we need to always remember that, no matter what tools, tech or trends the HR Technology industry happens to be making noise about this week, these vendors will never be able to automate what makes real recruiters really dangerous.

This business is all about basic human communication, common courtesy and emotional empathy. Good luck getting that across in some shitty e-mail template or catch-all communication.

All the tech in the world will never help build rapport with a candidate or trust with a hiring manager. Only recruiters can do that.

And that, after all, is why they pay us the big bucks.

unnamed (11)About the Author: Pete Radloff has 15 years of recruiting experience in both agency and corporate environments, and has worked with such companies as Comscore, exaqueo, National Public Radio and Living Social.

With experience and expertise in using technology and social media to enhance the candidate experience and promote strong employer brands, Pete also serves as lead consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consulting firm.

An active member of the Washington area recruiting community, Pete is currently a VP and sits on the Board of Directors of RecruitDC.

Follow Pete on Twitter @PJRadloff or connect with him on LinkedIn, or at his blog, RecruitingIn3D.

 



  • The day you should stop being a recruiter, is the day you begin to hate or resent candidates. Once you lose empathy for them, you lose the most important ingredient to being a successful recruiter.
    IMHO.

    • Well, the moment you lose empathy for a candidate, turns out you become one. Karma is kind of a bitch in this business.

  • apikoros18

    Great Read. This line, though, I want to change: “to make them aware of who you are, the kinds of roles you’re hiring for and what they can do to help.” from what they can do to help, To “what YOU (and your company) can do to HELP THEM.” I’ll get into their potential impact later— but I want them to know what I can offer, from Hot Tech, cool projects to the standard “beer culture” perks

  • Janet

    Great article Pete!

    • Pete Radloff

      Thanks Janet!

  • Great read! As easy as auto-emails and follow-ups are, to be on the receiving end of those make the candidates feel like one of many. Adding a personal touch shows them you are putting in the extra effort as well.

  • John Prpich

    That was one hell of a lengthy article, I can’t imagine the effort that was required. It’s interesting to me how a profession that plays such a critical role in organizational success, still is very clueless about where there focus needs to be, it’s like they don’t even understand the discipline. The root of all recruiting problems has to do with process, specifically the interview process, how is it that the industry doesn’t grasp that simple concept. Recruiters goal should be to align talents and values of the candidate with the culture and values of the organization, that’s it. Any recruiter worth their salt should understand the concept of aligning the strengths or talent of the individual with that required by the organization, that means don’t focus on the job description, but on the talents required to be successful and don’t forget that the candidates need to be able to spend the majority of their work week, doing what they are best at, if your not communicating that to your clients, your not doing your job.
    I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I can tell you without any doubt, this problem has gotten worse not better. More than half the individuals that conduct interviews don’t have any idea what they should be doing or asking the candidates, that’s painfully obvious.
    Organizations that use assessments, don’t understand how those assessments play into the final decision of which candidate to select. Which brings me to the other bigger issue, what’s the criteria that recruiters use to make their decisions and is there decision defensible, you’ll find the answer to be limited but unweighted criteria and no, they can’t defend their decision.


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