While their strategies and styles were vastly different, all shared the same advice with me that I carry with me to this day – you can’t get ahead in this business without constantly learning and looking out for what’s new and what’s next, and the only way to do that is to become a voracious reader.
My trainers charged me to read a veritable library of literature, a litany of books on business, on communication, on sales and on personal growth.
And while we rightfully credit hands on experience and practical expertise as the proving ground for top talent acquisition professionals, the truth is, for me this profession can’t really be mastered without the perspective I’ve personally found perusing the pages of countless texts and tomes, most of them completely unrelated to recruiting – at least, superficially speaking.
For me, this profession is like running a grueling marathon while subjecting yourself to a brutal contact sport, simultaneously – and recruiting, in my experience, at least, requires a few critical core competencies for success. Most prominently is the need for recruiters to develop credibility and rapport with candidates, customers and clients; the capacity to not only find the right candidates at the right time but also the innate ability to close them; and, last but certainly not least, the intrinsic need to constantly navigate change and successfully negotiate conflicts while juggling dozens of competing demands and deadlines.
This business isn’t easy, and keeping these skills sharp requires constantly honing our craft and proactively developing these critical professional traits as the best driver for success in an industry where that outcome can be kind of hard to come by.
As Scott Love so succinctly summed it up in one of my all time favorite quotes, “Recruiting is personal development disguised as a job.”
Putting the “Mental” In Recruiting Fundamentals.
Recently, I’ve really begun to look critically at one of the most overlooked, but essential, tools any recruiter has available: their minds. Interestingly, it’s our innate, inherent intelligence, our intrinsic intuition and other matters of the mind most recruiters keep out of mind, entirely – although this is one professional competency any of us would be remiss to keep out of sight, too.
When people ask what makes me a successful recruiter and kick butt business woman, I immediately tell them it’s my habit of practicing meditation – and I know, some of you just cringed a little or clucked softly to yourselves.
And I get it – if you haven’t been exposed to mindfulness, it’s hard to get your mind around just how essential this practice is – and how it’s consistently led me to concrete, sustainable bottom line results throughout the course of my career.
Over the years, I’ve developed a very different relationship with my own mind the more I’ve meditated, and it’s this introspective insight that has made me, by all measures, a more efficient, more effective and ultimately an infinitely more successful recruiter.
That phrase, “my relationship with my mind,” is as good a place as any to start; I suspect most people in general, and recruiters in particular, don’t give a moment of thought to the fact that they indeed have one, and that relationship matters more than perhaps any other in driving better business outcomes.
Most of us don’t think about how and why we think; hell, some of us don’t think at all. But most of us just think without thinking, and in doing so, lose the learning opportunity that comes with taking the time to observe ourselves internalizing and intellectualizing information. Let’s agree, for a moment, to set aside the second person and any questions of who “us” is, and what it means “to think.” These might seem like small points, but they’re more or less the foundation of Western philosophy, which is a little too ambitious of a scope for this particular post.
No, I’m going to stay focused on practical recruiting, not abstract theories, I promise. Even if we are talking about a topic as ambiguous as the way we think and our relationships with our own mind. Just bear with me a moment.
Winning the Recruiting Mind Game.
An experienced recruiter can almost instinctually map out the full lifecycle of a hire, charting out the main drivers and decision points that will inevitably arise along the way, anticipating and proactively preempting the most common, consistent talent challenges, which remain more or less the same no matter how disparate the job description or different the hiring stakeholders involved might be.
We recognize the taste and texture of potential problems and plan for these predictable, yet pervasive, hiccups long before they happen.
The best predictive analytics tool any recruiter can have is the insight you can only get from years spent slogging away on the talent front lines, extended exposure that almost inevitably leads to practical experience and deep expertise.
But while we’re obsessed with looking at “big data,” managing recruiting metrics and forecasting future workforce growth, we rarely question our own minds and assumptions with the same intense questioning and process mapping we reserve for every other component of our respective recruiting tool boxes.
Over the years, I’ve made watching myself think into something of a subconscious habit, and I’ve made meditation as much of a part of my professional life as cold calling candidates. As I’ve learned to incorporate these lessons in mindfulness into my recruiting routine, one of the most salient mottos that’s always stayed with me is this one:
“The purpose of the mind is to secrete thoughts.”
This seems self-evident – what did you think minds do? Minds think, after all. Now, what they actually think isn’t necessarily true, of course – something I’ve learned the hard way after spending so much time watching my own thoughts. I’ve also noticed how much noise goes on inside all of our heads, a constant cacophony of competing demands, thoughts and ideas consistently banging around more or less unchecked – and multitasking only makes matters worse.
This discordant interior din is best illustrated in another of my favorite phrases, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Most of the stuff that floats through our minds is junk. Some of it is old stuff we consciously know to be wrong, and some of it are habitual patterns driven subconsciously as just another part of our daily routines. Even after all these years, I still uncover new areas for improvement that I wouldn’t have even noticed if I didn’t know to look for them in the first place.
Most of our mental habits remain largely unexamined, but whether or not you’re in tune with or out of your mind, the way you think and your relationship with your thoughts still inexorably shape your behaviors, actions and business outcomes.
Often, the lens with which we see the world has hardened to the point where we can’t see the faults in our own assumptions, which is why continuous professional improvement requires the benefit of conscious personal examination. If we don’t question our faulty assumptions, it’s our own fault entirely.
Don’t Make An Ass Out of You and Me.
If narratives are the context by which we consume the content we continuously come into contact with, than assumptions are in many ways the basic premise upon which the entire story of our existence is predicated. Problems arise when we ignore our own ignorance and aren’t even aware that our foundational views of the world are fundamentally faulty.
The only way to uncover assumptions is to skillfully frame arguments and positions from every side, unpack any existing bias or preconception, then work on putting a concept back together by building a stronger case.
So, I know what you’re thinking: what, the hell, does this have to do with recruiting? Only everything.
Let’s return to the example of the hiring roadmap every experienced recruiter can navigate with some degree of expertise. The recruiting process might start with reviewing resumes, or sourcing profiles of potential candidates and then making a decision on whether or not it’s worth pursuing that particular candidate for whatever req you happen to be working on.
Now, I’ve trained a fair number of my fellow recruiters over the years, and one of the most telling exercises I’ve always employed is to ask recruiters to explain exactly why or why not they made a decision whether to call or e-mail any given candidate. This exercise is an ideal way to not only examine our thought process, but also, to understand how many assumptions most of us naturally make. Think about it.
“No one would leave that job at that company to take a chance on my client.”
“This candidate looks way overqualified for this role and wouldn’t be willing to take a step back.”
“I don’t see a degree, so chances are there’s no way this candidate is even remotely qualified.”
“There’s not one single keyword in this profile that’s listed on the job description. While they could probably do the job, it doesn’t look like a perfect match on paper.”
I could go on, of course, but you know the laundry list of reasons you justify passing on or passing along candidates with that are fairly entrenched, largely uninformed and almost always based on erroneous assumptions. The obvious answer isn’t always the right one, and the right choice is rarely the easiest or most obvious.
A Think Piece: Unlearning Bad Recruiter Behaviors.
The key for recruiters, particularly when considering candidates, is to take a step back and consciously question why a choice is being made, and consider all available information to make the most skillful and most objective decision possible.
This exercise in challenging personal bias and professional misperceptions is particularly pertinent as we continue to wrestle with issues related to diversity recruiting and workforce inclusion.
It’s a fine line between screening out candidates who aren’t a fit, and letting your own assumptions preempt you from considering perfectly reasonable candidates without any real reason other than your own mental biases.
Talent practitioners know it’s one that must be walked carefully, because this is just one of the many battlegrounds in an industry that’s fertile ground for innumerable conflicts and intense competition.
Perhaps recruiting is just an extension of our existence in general, and the manifold dramas constantly unfolding in all of our lives aren’t limited exclusively to work, although they inevitably impact the quality and outcome of that work. The complexity of our work as recruiters, of course, emphasizes situational decision making, subjectivity and abstract approaches predicated on potential rather than reality, all of which make us much more likely than most other professional cohorts to give into faulty assumptions and thoughtless, processless thought processes.
Rethinking Thinking: The True Test of Thought Leadership.
Every day, for example, I catch myself overreacting to some perceived slight, or getting wound up as the result of something I see as bad behavior, even if the imagined impunities I’m forced to suffer are entirely imaginary.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better about taking a step back and opening up enough space to explore the gap between my personal perception and my reaction – meaning sometimes, in observing my mind, I get to choose how I act.
This exercise alone has saved me several tantrums a quarter, at least – and a lot of heartache and hair pulling, too.
Have you ever gotten an e-mail that pisses you off so much you literally shake with anger? I have.
These often come from clueless internal recruiters I’m forced to interface with who––when I’m looking through my darkest lens–– I’m convinced have made it their mission to do everything in their powers to piss me off. I’ve learned, though, never to dash off an angry response or immediate reaction, but rather, to take a moment and take a step back. It’s just good business hygiene, after all, even if it does take some of us some brushing up once in a while.
Perhaps one of the most valuable practices I’ve employed while examining my recruiting mind has been making a habit out of reviewing old e-mails (many of which had me seeing red and smelling blood when they were sent), and noticing how my reaction differs along with a different state of mind.
It’s always humbling – and eye opening – to notice the situations that set me off the most in the past were, with a little perspective, clearly not some malicious plan to harm me and my business, but instead, to realize what reactions are actually appropriate for any given situation – and hindsight is probably the most valuable teacher of this critical recruiting lesson.
By understanding how to change your mindset, even the same e-mail can lead to drastically different reactions, which is why it’s up to all of us to question what and how we read – and react – before reading too much into anything. Question your approach, and unquestionably, your approach will improve – as will your decision making capabilities and, ultimately, your recruiting outcomes.
Sometimes, changing your mind by paying attention to it can change your relationship with reality – and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how much I still don’t know. I’ve become acutely aware of the limitations of my personal perspective and biased, narrow point of view and conscious of the innate need to step back and look at the bigger picture instead of sweating the small stuff.
This realization has consistently helped me salvage offers gone awry, heal broken relationships with candidates and clients, and keep me relatively calm in even the most stressful of staffing situations and survive – and thrive – in the face of even the most daunting or complex recruiting challenges and talent crises that inevitably accompany almost any search any of us ever undertake.
Now, granted, I’m still not where I’d like to be, and my improved insights and increased mindfulness might be only a mere fraction, but it’s a start, and if there’s one thing I know about meditating, it’s that self-actualization doesn’t happen overnight.
And if you think getting in touch with a candidate or hiring manager is hard, try getting in touch with yourself and your own thoughts. It’s not easy, but I promise you this: it’s worth the work, and if you don’t think you’re capable of changing the way you think, then think again.
Lisa Rokusek is currently serves as a Managing Partner for the St. Louis office of the AgentHR Recruiting Group, where she is a top ranked recruiter who has almost 20 years of experience connecting top talent with top clients after initially starting her career as a successful tech entrepreneur prior to finding her calling in the business of talent.
Lisa specializes in creating sourcing, recruiting and retention strategies, and she is passionate about sharing best practices and learning from her recruiting peers. An incessant networker both online and off, Lisa cares deeply about the current state and future direction of the recruiting industry.