You know those old “recruiting is dating” and “interviewing is like dating” aphorisms? I hate those damn cliches, too. In the HR and recruiting worlds we’ve beaten those metaphors to a pulp, falling back on these silly similes with such alarming frequency over the years that there’s hair growing on our (collective) palms.
Some folks treat this concept as gospel. Even eHarmony, long the repository for desperate singles looking for a little loving served with a spoonful of sanctimonious superiority, finally got in on the action earlier this year. The launch of Elevated Careers (still in beta) promises to use eHarmony’s proven algorithm to match employers with potential new hires based on stuff like skills, culture and personality fit.
This is great news for the lovelorn and hapless; if you’re the kind of person whose idea of an exciting Saturday night involves a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, Netflix and a couple of cats, you can now use the exact same platform to find that career destination as the one you use to algorithmically find a life partner.
The good news here is you don’t have to wait until marriage to get a little eHarmony action anymore – you can now catfish recruiters instead, and they’re far easier marks than the average sugar daddy or total hottie out there online. For some reason, when I think about these people, I can’t help but look at all the lonely people – and feel for them. I mean, this is not a good place to be in life, thinking in between rounds of playing Cookie Jam on their iPads:
“I can’t find love. I can’t find a job. I DID find a bottle of white zin for under five bucks. Maybe that will give me the courage I need to switch over from getting no action on eHarmony to finally scoring that job I’ve been putting off since I was put on disability for gout six months ago.”
Shut up, already.
Look, I get it. The whole recruiting/dating comparison is superficially relatable, since pretty much everyone has both looked for a significant other and looked for a job at some point in life. We may have foundered our way through countless infatuations, been on one end or the other of an unrequited love (or lust, more often), or struggled through a passionate relationship turned dysfunctional trainwreck.
From Lust to Dust: The Six Phases of A Recruiting Relationship.
I’m tired of all the talk about finding (and winning) the love of your life your latest crush. Instead, I want to talk about something that’s far too often overlooked in this whole courting conversation – and something that’s far more important than simply successful talent attraction, in recruiting or in romance.
I want to talk about what to do once you’ve landed that perfect match. It’s one thing to start a meaningless fling (that’s what Tinder or oDesk are for), but building and maintaining a meaningful relationship that actually leads somewhere is another thing entirely.
Phase One: Infatuation.
Here’s the part of the candidate and recruiter relationship that’s the most obvious alignment with the old dating aphorism. That initial, instinctual attraction (“her profile is so sexy – she knows Python and Ruby. Just my tupe!”) quickly segues into an obsession fueled by the hormonal need to find and be togther no-freaking-matter-WHAT! Kisses.
While we like to think we can stay objective and learn from the painful lessons of past experience (“I’ve been burned before – and with these new knock out questions I’ll make sure it never happens to me again.”), the reality is that we exercise confirmation bias in almost everything we do.
In this case, that earlier infatuation leads us to largely downplay any potential flaws and often miss really obvious and overt objective red flags because we’re too busy trying to win someone’s heart to take the time to use our minds and realize that in the end, we’re just going to end up hurt again.
Phase Two: The Girl is Mine.
After you’ve won her heart and she’s yours, once she’s signed the marriage certificate (or offer letter) dotted line and showed up to the altar (or her first day of work, as it were), if you think the hard work is over after you’ve made everything official, you’ve got another thing coming. At this stage, many of us have a tendency to settle into complacency wedded bliss.
Hey, you’ve landed the one you were after, and should be able to at least savor that honeymoon period before real life inevitably intervenes.
This mindset is the same one used by recruiters, who manage to ignore the other 59 requisitions they’re working on and the dozens of candidates clogging up their inboxes and ATS in an inordinate display of time, attention and effort to a single suitor. While you’re giving chase, your hiring managers and candidates sit wondering why you don’t love them anymore – but inevitably, that honeymoon period comes to an end, the new hire actually onboards, and you promptly drift apart. It’s just not the same anymore now that you’re actually working together. It never is.
Oh, sure, you play along for a little while, doing a few requisite checkins and shooting off a periodic “hope all is going well” e-mail, but let’s face it: it’s time to move on. Sure, it might get a little weird if you run into them somewhere in the office or pass them in the hallway, but you’ll both know it’s for the best – they’re with their generalist, now, after all. But let’s get real – that new hire wasn’t your first, and won’t be your last.
The average recruiter places around 30 new hires a quarter, or 120 candidates a year, according to the ASA. That means when it comes to matters of the heart, we’re a pretty promiscuous profession. But that new hire probably thought that recruiting relationship meant more than it did. You were their first – before you they hadn’t even talked to anyone at your company. Now, they work there – but even after closing the deal, no one ever forgets their first.
Sure, you might smile at that candidate in the lunchroom or give them a perfunctory “hello” as you pass in the hall, but you haven’t even had a real conversation since that offer was verbally accepted. Not that they can forget you – every week, your name comes floating through her feed on some social network or internal e-mail asking for a referral or to share a job posting or remind her (along with her 4,000 coworkers) that their benefits acknowledgement form is due Friday.
And just knowing you’re there makes her feel bereft and utterly alone – you were their lifeline to the company, and now you’re just somebody that they used to know.
Phase Three: Hit the Road, Jack.
One day, a year or so later, you’re looking at the very latest “termination report” on your HRIS (which, since HR lives and dies by old data is no newer than a quarter old already), and you notice that candidate you had such a crush on just a few months ago has called it quits with the company.
That’s right – they just upped and left, without even so much as saying goodbye. Wait, what? They weren’t even here for a year?
That might impact your bonus – that pesky retention metric is always kind of a bitch, am I right – or damage the trust your hiring manager has in you to actually deliver a candidate who wants more than a one night stand out of this relationship, and doesn’t take kindly to being used. They got burned, and you introduced them. That’s never a good thing.
You want to know what the hell happened (the hiring manager will never tell you the full truth when you ask why the position is open when you have to refill it) – but since you work in recruiting, you’re not really in HR, and therefore cannot access the termination data fields in your HCM system. So, you call up your good pal Susie, an “HR Analyst” whose real job is more or less serving as the in-house HR data entry clerk, bless her heart – and ask her to take a peek for you.
“Well, let’s see here,” Susie says, “I’ve got her coded as leaving due to perceived lack of upward mobility or advancement opportunities.” Susie, on the other hand, has gotten a two dollar an hour raise in the past decade or so she’s spent as an employee, and clearly finds this a ridiculous reason indeed. There must be more to it.
That night, at home, you cry yourself to sleep.
Phase Four: Picking up the Pieces.
You go through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief grieving your lost love: denial, anger, chocolate, scotch and finally, acceptance. THIS is the moment, besides that awful bitter aftertaste Dewars and Toblerone, that will define the rest of your recruiting life. You won’t take being a victim anymore.
In this defining moment, you decide you’re going to finally grow a pair and vow, once and for all, to change the way you – and your entire organization – recruits and retains top talent.
For yourself. Forever.
First things first: you build an alumni network and put an emphasis on “boomerang” hires so that you can start getting the ones who got away back – they loved you once, and can learn to love you again. There’s still a place for you in their hearts, if only they listened. It’s your job to help them, so you set up alerts and track any and all activity for any former employee with the same diligence as the fresh meat you’re trying to snare in your ATS trap.
Don’t think it’s a good idea to stay stuck in the past, to go after the very same people who already hurt you once? Well, even old employees can be new talent, and hopefully, they’ve grown – personally and professionally – since the last time you were together. They’ve changed, and if they realize you were meant to be together, after all, they’re unlikely to make the same mistake twice.
Even if they’re never coming back, that doesn’t mean you can’t at least have a healthy relationship with your ex. Besides, they probably have a few eligible friends they’d be willing to hook you up with if you can stay on somewhat civil terms after you go your separate ways. Goodbyes don’t have to last forever.
Phase 5: Paging Dr. Ruth (or Dr. Feelgood).
So here’s how I see it: the average in-house recruiter spends 80% of their time on Phase One, 15% of their time on Phase Three, and maybe – if we’re being really generous – maybe 5% of their time on Phase Two.
I’m completely making those numbers up, of course, but I can safely say this because – confession time – that’s about the same time as I allotted when I was an in-house recruiter, and trained my recruiters to allocate their efforts accordingly.
It’s the same mix that I’ve seen in most every company or HR function I’ve encountered. I’m talking about those who are 100% dedicated to recruiting candidates and personally responsible for, in my case, anyways, over 150 reqs across the Southern US – which was a ridiculous workload for any individual recruiter, much less one like me who actually likes to interact more with candidates than just getting them in, getting one hired, and passing them off to their new Hiring Managers and HR Business Partners before moving onto the next open position. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now You’re Just Some EE That I Used to Know.
Of course, in my entire career as an HR Generalist or later, an HR Leader, I always had some responsibilities related to recruiting, and when that became only a fraction of my focus, I was forced to spend a considerable amount of time stuck in Phase Two. This is the meat and potatoes of both the employee lifecycle and the employee experience.
Sure, even if you’re an in-house recruiter reporting up through the CHRO, you might not feel like you belong in HR. But that’s absolutely not true – in fact, recruiters can make a bigger difference than almost anyone else in the organization when it comes to employee retention.
Instead of always looking for who’s next, it’s important to also look at who you’ve got, and remember that recruiting doesn’t end at onboarding. It’s a continuous process, and while it takes time to look inside instead of simply outside the organization, it takes way more time to backfill a role when that new hire leaves for a reason that could have been easily preempted and prevented.
6 Ways Recruiters Can Shape Employee Retention.
Here are some small things recruiters can start doing today that will make a big difference tomorrow when it comes to shaping employee retention:
- Be A Part of Onboarding. Seriously. Even something so simple as having a spot for a recruiter to sign an offer letter along with the hiring manager can make a significant impact on your ability to impact retention. Why is the VP of HR, who has never met the candidate, signing the offer letter or that official welcome letter? Why is it that if they have any questions about anything related to working at your company after they choose to actually work at your company, it suddenly becomes HR’s responsibility instead of yours? You know I’m right. So change that shit.
- Be There On Day One. Even if it’s just to drop by and say hi, every recruiter should make a point to show their face at new hire orientations if one of their candidates is just starting out at the company. In most cases, you’ll probably have several recruits who will be glad to see you, catch up and maybe even ask for your advice. Just don’t get too buddy-buddy with HR and get sucked into playing along while they do some cheezy sketch or trust exercise – if you’re at an orientation, you never know how weird stuff is going to get when there’s some maniac from L&D in charge of running the show. Unless, you know, that sort of thing is your thing…
- Roll Out the Red Carpet. Something as simple as sending a personalized welcome e-mail so it’s waiting for your newest hire when they first open their new inbox is the kind of small gesture that gets remembered a long time – and serves as a welcome diversion to the impersonal forms, policies and procedures they’re likely overwhelmed with on Day 1. It’s important they know that even though they’ve already been recruited, their recruiter is always there for them.
- Welcome to the Neighborhood. If you want to go the extra mile, think about going old school and shooting them a postcard through snail mail – yes, with a stamp and everything – to their home address. If that seems a little overbearing, have a handwritten note waiting for them at their new desk. Follow that up by stopping by and putting in a little face time with them sometime during their first week. Those are the kinds of interactions that become the foundations of meaningful professional relationships – and sometimes, personal friendships, too.
- Never Stop Engaging: You don’t have to be besties with every new hire, or gossip over lunch or cocktails every week, in order to build a scaleable, sustainable relationship with each candidate you successfully bring on board. Develop a process with periodic touchpoints – make a regular phone call, give them a shout out on Twitter or Facebook, shoot off another follow up e-mail or text message or hell, send a smoke signal. Just make sure you’re constantly providing them with a personal connection by Day 30. Repeat at Day 60. And Day 90. And Day 180. Year 3. Year 5. The moment you stop communicating is the moment your relationship begins to slip away. Better to continually build and strengthen it, instead.
- Be With HR, Not Against It. Recruiters often set themselves somewhat apart from the rest of the HR department, who conversely often don’t see the TA team as “real” HR. That’s bullshit – and it’s up to recruiters to break that impasse and get HR to work with them instead of against them (or work with them at all, as the case may be). This starts with gaining enough cache to convince HR to give you access to their super duper top secret HR systems. While recruiting can talk about predictive analytics and big data all day, the truth is that being able to answer questions like why people leave, who the top performing and high potential employees are within an organization or which department is in danger of having headcount cuts and losing a slew of staff can only be answered with the data that sits in the HCM systems recruiters rarely have access to. The reality is recruiters can probably run rings around their HR counterparts when it comes to tech, and actually apply that data to driving actionable change in the way you recruit. This information is much richer, much deeper and much more potentially prescriptive than even the most robust data contained within an ATS, and if you’re a recruiter, you’d be wise to butter up one of those HR ladies to spread the love and somehow help you get access into these systems.
Love Will Keep Us Together.
All of us have that new hire we used to be infatuated with, who you couldn’t live without – only once you actually closed the deal, you both moved on. Different directions, different priorities, drifting apart.
But no matter how far past that fling might have been, never forget what you used to have – that connection where you knew all of their dreams, aspirations and career goals and would do whatever it took to help get them there.
That intense longing for them to say yes to your proposal, that fear of rejection that gnawed your stomach when you finally called to make them an offer.
When they said yes, that rush (it’s an HR high, almost) of closing that requisition with your dream candidate was enough to almost make up for having to deal with all the other crap that comes with recruiting. But now, the thrill is gone.
But you should never stop fighting for that special candidate, even after you’ve hired dozens more after them – now that they’ve seen the realities of working for that jackass hiring manager and realized that copy on your career site about your culture was complete BS, and they’re feeling like they’ve been hoodwinked, it’s important that you remind them why it was they fell in love with the job in the first place.
You’re probably the only person at the company who remembers that, after all – and there’s nothing like reliving the good times to temper the bad ones. At the office or otherwise. Make sure you fulfill your promises and keep them in mind for internal promotions, recognition opportunities or even just the occasional cup of coffee. You promised that candidate sunshine, moonbeams and an endless Sinatra soundtrack when you were trying to close the deal – don’t let them down. If you promise something as a suitor, you’ve got to follow suit, whether it suits you or not.
Because you know what? If you leave that new hire adrift, drowning in a sea of corporate bullshit, backstabbing and back office politics, they may blame you for sweet talking you here with a bunch of lies – and that whole relationship you’ve worked so hard to build can come crashing down in an instant.
They no longer trust you, and certainly feel no compunction about giving you the heads up when they start updating LinkedIn, refreshing their resumes and, ultimately, not letting the door hit them on the way out. And you’ll be left alone, again – and forced to find another match for that role after already losing the perfect fit – forever.
No, forget that. You know what I want? Every candidate I hire, I want to grow old with. I want you to do the same thing and make sure that no matter what, you keep the romance alive. I don’t believe in a whole lot these days, but I believe in the power of a couple of crazy kids coming together over a job – and building their lives and careers together at the same company for the rest of their working lives.
You can make it last. I believe in you. I believe in us. And I believe in the power of relationships in recruiting.
Robin Schooling is on a mission to make organizations better by making HR better. With 20+ years of senior HR leadership experience in a variety of industries, she consults with organizations, advises HR teams, speaks to HR and business audiences and writes for a variety of sites and publications.
Schooling has been an active and involved SHRM volunteer leader, holds a few of those HR certifications herself, and at one point in time even received an award as “HR Professional of the Year.” She has been known to search out the perfect French 75 and is a fervent and unapologetic fan of the New Orleans Saints, even if they did trade Jimmy Graham.
VP Human Resources, Hollywood Casino – Baton Rouge Robin is on a mission to make organizations better by making HR better. She’s worked as a Human Resources and Recruiting Leader since the days of fax machines and has traversed a variety of industries including healthcare, banking, 3PL, and gaming. She speaks to global audiences on a variety of HR, Recruiting and HR Tech topics, has a popular HR blog, and one time had a by-line in Fast Company! She serves on the Advisory Board for HROnboard, is the current Ringmistress at the Carnival of HR, and stays involved with groups including HR Open Source, the ATD Baton Rouge chapter, and various SHRM entities. A fervent and unapologetic fan of the New Orleans Saints, she continues her relentless quest to find the perfect French 75. Follow Robin on Twitter @RobinSchooling or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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