This post is dedicated to all those recruiters out there who give a shit about what they do. I know that you’re out there, which is why it saddens me that for some reason I’m still writing about the RINOs (that’s recruiters in name only) out there who continue to give our profession a black eye.
And yes, in case you were wondering, recruiting is not only a “real” profession, but a rewarding career, too.
That I even have to address this point pains me, considering that most sourcers and recruiters are damn good (and damn skilled) at their jobs.
In my experience, these are the rule, rather than the exception.
It’s those exceptions, however, who continue to exceptionally screw the rest of us recruiters over. Those recruiters who are too slow to call candidates, too quick to cut corners, who care more about making a placement than the person they’re placing.
This, of course, creates poor candidate experiences, pissed off clients and the perception problems persistently plaguing our profession.
I heard this story from a new friend of mine I recently met at a conference, who shared with me his experience of how a rogue hiring manager, a rookie agency recruiter and a train wreck of a hiring process collided in a perfect storm of shitty recruiting and worst practices.
I think it’s kind of a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with recruiting today, a cautionary tale contained in a single search.
Talent Wars: A No Hope For Hiring Managers.
This probably sounds familiar, and that sucks. Because this is a story about what happens when bad recruiting happens to good companies, and the story of this particular opportunity should provide a pretty good example of exactly how high the opportunity cost of a broken hiring process can really be.
There’s a reason that you need to meet with your hiring manager before kicking off any search. Contrary to popular belief, however, the primary purpose has nothing to do with reviewing requirements or writing a job description. Nope.
It’s essential to get that face time for no other reason than to make sure you, the recruiter, are able to help protect the hiring manager from themselves – because often, they can be the biggest threat to a successful search.
This isn’t intentional, of course, but the truth is that hiring managers don’t manage hiring; that’s the recruiter’s job. And doing that job means establishing this role, no matter what role you happen to be recruiting for, and doing so as soon as the search starts.
That’s why we have intake meetings, a fact that’s not generally discussed with less experienced recruiters. Learning how to match up reqs and resumes is easy. Learning how to make a hiring manager happy while keeping them from self sabotage, not so much.
Guess the secret’s out.
The Hiring Manager Strikes Back.
My friend, however, made a critical mistake when initiating the search at the center of this story. Even though he was a senior recruiter who had filled roles like this a million times, the fact that he didn’t establish expectations and clearly define roles and responsibilities in the recruiting process with his hiring manager led to what’s often a worst case scenario: a rogue hiring manager.
And that rogue hiring manager made the unfortunate decision of calling a third party recruiter directly, without telling his in-house counterpart until it was already too late.
The hiring manager, of course, likely thought that he was helping by being proactive in casting a wider net and augmenting their recruiting resources with some additional firepower. As they’d say in the South, bless his heart. Because, of course, this inevitably hurts hiring way more than its ever helped.
In fact, if there’s one thing that can derail a search, it’s too many cooks in the kitchen. When one of those cooks is an agency recruiter, it’s always a recipe for disaster.
I know most hiring managers think they’re doing recruiters some sort of favor, helping reduce their workload by taking direct control over the screening and selection process. The thing most don’t realize is that they’re inevitably creating far more work for the recruiter by going rogue than by trusting the process that their employer already has in place.
That process, inevitably, flows directly through the talent team. There’s a reason for that, believe it or not.
Now, I don’t wish to disparage my agency and third party counterparts categorically, since many of them are skilled and capable recruiters. But for a hiring manager, finding good agency recruiters is a lot like Stevie Wonder throwing darts – odds are good you’re going to miss a whole lot more than you hit the target.
Having to deal with both a rogue hiring manager and a crap agency recruiter is every in-house talent pro’s worst nightmare. And if you think that there’s no chance this will happen to you, no matter how good a recruiter you really are, you must be dreaming.
Consider this a wake up call.
Lose The Force: When Contingency Plans Go Wrong.
Once upon a time, there was a hiring manager who decided to recruit for his own role instead of working with his talent acquisition team. I’m sure most of you know how this story goes (spoiler alert: shit show).
After a lot of fighting, he finally had an open headcount. These were hard to come by, and he was understandably excited to start looking at candidates as soon as possible. He hoped, as all hiring managers do, for a high potential A Player, which was why he was so encouraged when the phone rang the very same afternoon the job was posted to the public.
It was a sweet talking agency recruiter, who, coincidentally, hadn’t even seen the ad, but the timing couldn’t have been better. You know this shill drill by now.
You want the best in the business, the recruiter promised, you need to work with us. We fill roles like this all the time. We have a great network and can find candidates other recruiters can’t. And you only pay if we actually make a hire.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And the truth is the role was actually one of the harder to fill positions within the hiring manager’s business unit.
But without really doing any sort of due diligence, before he hung up the phone, he had agreed to give the agency a shot at the search.
After a postmortem, it turns out that the recruiter had, in fact, gotten the contact information of the hiring manager from his account manager, who called in a favor from someone in the company who they’d taken to one of those three martini steak lunches earlier in the week in an attempt to recruit him away to a competitor.
So it goes.
Agency Recruiters: The Phantom Menace.
The recruiter who the account manager referred, it turns out, the one who promised the hiring manager that they had just interviewed a bunch of great candidates with the exact same skill set for a similar role they’d filled (suuurrree….), had virtually no experience, was new to recruitment and had absolutely no expertise or industry exposure.
She was dialing for dollars, and she had struck gold.
Of course, a day or so later, a random resume lands in the corporate recruiter’s inbox forwarded from some agency they’ve never heard of. The hiring manager found this great recruiter who had this great candidate, would TA go ahead and do whatever they do to get an interview on the calendar?
Well, a couple of problems at this point. First, there’s the compliance component; not only is the agency not an approved vendor, but as an OFCCP company, working outside of the system (technically and figuratively) constituted a pretty big party foul.
The recruiter tried explaining this, of course, but explaining employment law is like talking through IKEA instructions. If you don’t get the picture, you’re never going to figure it out in the first place. The hiring manager, one can assume, took this ten minutes of cursory compliance training for a quick power nap.
The second problem is at this point, the recruiter had lost all influence or control over the search, which at this early stage in the process is a pretty big problem. No matter what the recruiter does at this point, they’ve been effectively relegated to the backseat while the hiring manager steers (and in the wrong direction, too).
If you find yourself in a place where you’re basically a glorified admin, well, you’re not really recruiting. Asserting authority is imperative, because once you’ve lost control of a req, it’s damn near impossible to get back.
The recruiter, in this case, could do little but comply and silently stew over the fact that he didn’t even get a chance to start sourcing before the search was effectively out of his hands. He didn’t even have the opportunity to reach out to his network, search the ATS for previous submissions or ask for referrals.
He did the only thing he could do: manually entered the resume in his system of record and hoped he didn’t get audited.
C’est la vie.
Attack of the Clones: When Good Offers Go Bad.
A funny thing happened after the candidate came in; somehow, despite not even remotely resembling the job description or meeting any preferred qualification for the role, the candidate nailed the interview. Great presentation skills, articulate and personable, the candidate checked all the boxes the hiring manager was apparently looking for.
The recruiter was unable to push back, since without doing intake, he couldn’t possibly argue that the profile and position didn’t actually align – and again, he found himself forced into a paper pusher, forced to develop an offer for a candidate he didn’t actually own in a search he was effectively ostracized from.
Of course, like every recruiter, he was juggling a pretty busy req load, so he was secretly relieved that he didn’t have to spin his wheels on what’s historically been a really hard to fill kind of role with a very niche skill set. So essentially, he felt justified in at least trading one irritation for another.
That is, until the phone call. The recruiter called the account manager who had submitted the candidates, but that person was unavailable; I then asked to be transferred to the recruiter of record. After all, he couldn’t put together an offer without knowing the particulars on the sort of package the candidate was expecting.
When the recruiter answered the phone, it became immediately clear how she won the business; she was extremely articulate, personable and cheery. She came across, at least at first, as professional and polite. That is, until we got down to the brass tacks of extending the offer itself; “why aren’t you doing that? Isn’t that your job?,” she asked, without a hint of irony.
The recruiter was stunned, to say the least.
“Uh, that’s kind of what agencies get paid for,” he responded, and asked if the offer was at least in the ball park with the candidate’s expectations. His stomach stopped some time during the awkward pause that ensued, when she backpedaled again, trying to deflect responsibility for the offer acceptance to the internal recruiter, insisting that was the company’s job, not hers.
What the hell do you think you get paid for?
It suddenly dawned on him that as much of a miracle as it seemed for her to throw a candidate at a really hard search and actually have one stick, the other shoe had just dropped. She hadn’t discussed salary with the candidate at all, nor had it come up during the process.
She hadn’t discussed what the overall rewards package we offered entailed, what our culture or work life balance was, or anything even resembling pre-closing the candidate.
She confirmed as much. “Um, I just told him about the job and sent him a description. I mean, I don’t like make offers or anything. I let the companies do that.”
Revenge of the Meek: The Real Cost of Rogue Hiring Managers.
What. The. Actual. Hell. Where did this rookie recruiter learn this stuff? That’s not how any of this works, but somehow, she was under the impression that this was business as usual.
The recruiter tried to keep calm, responding through gritted teeth: “How am I supposed to extend them an offer when I don’t have their contact information?”
This strikes me as a reasonable question. Now, he could probably have pretty easily sourced it at this point, but hell. If by some chance the offer was actually accepted, he thought, the recruiter had to try to do something, even if it wasn’t much, to earn that hefty commission they’d receive for a successful placement. It was only fair, after all.
And with that, he firmly told her that he’d expect the answer to come through her, and gave her permission to extend the approved offer. She said something snide and quickly hung up.
The recruiter immediately called the hiring manager, trying to warn him of the storm clouds he saw gathering on the hiring horizon. Sure enough, his answer was every recruiter’s worst nightmare.
You’re the recruiter, and you’re part of HR. You’re the person who has to close the candidate.
This was the problem, summed up in a sentence: the hiring manager and the agency recruiter were both equally oblivious to how business as usual is usually done in this business.
It was no surprise when the recruiter called back to explain that the candidate was tabling the offer “for a week or so” so that they could complete the process at a few other companies they were considering.
So much for time to fill. The req was officially on hold, and the outlook didn’t look good. He asked the recruiter about what other types of companies and opportunities were on the table, how his company’s offer compared and any additional insight that might provide a timeline or contingency plan for the contingency candidate.
Of course, she knew nothing about any other position; instead, she told me that his major hesitation with our offer so far was over the job title – if we really wanted him to say yes, we could change that while we gave him a week to think it over, right? For this, she stood to make a cool $30k. The world of work is a funny place.
The recruiter, of course, jumped through the requisite internal hoops and barrels, fighting for an amended offer with a new title; by the time he was able to get all necessary approvals, however, and send the updated letter to the agency, the account manager (of course) called back with some bad news.
Turns out, the candidate took an offer from one of their other clients. The recruiter’s company came in significantly lower in terms of total rewards, although they never actually knew what the candidate wanted to begin with since the agency failed to provide them this information.
Not that they were too worried; they got the higher placement fee out of the deal, but hopefully, they could work together on another search soon.
The Force Awakens: How To Manage Your Hiring Managers.
Let’s hit pause here. Think of how frustrating this scenario was for the recruiter in question. Not only was there a total lack of empathy or accountability offered by the agency, but he now had to start the search over from Square One and was ultimately responsible for filling the req – and for the offer fiasco, too.
He didn’t do anything wrong, but he was forced to suffer the load of the ball the agency had dropped. Which is why he called me to see how he should deal with the fallout from his rogue hiring manager and told me this story. I smiled and simply said, “welcome to the world of recruiting.”
I wasn’t being harsh, but I told him the truth: that he was the one who mismanaged his hiring manager.
If he didn’t make it clear that there were consequences for bypassing the internal talent team, he didn’t stand a chance in hell of ever regaining credibility or internal influence with that hiring manager or his team ever again. He should consider this a learning opportunity.
Because it’s happened to the best of us. Or at least, it’s happened to me. The good news is, once was enough – and this problem, it turned out, was an avoidable one. It just took process, project management and partnership, three of the essential parts of recruiting, period.
So how do you deal with a rogue hiring manager? The same way you deal with a crappy agency recruiter.
You’ve got to preempt the problem before it even starts, because once it does, the problem is all yours. Never start a search without making sure your hiring manager knows who’s really managing it, first. Or else, you’re going to be screwed. Trust me on this one.
About the Author:
Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliance. He is currently serves as Technical Recruiting Lead at Comscore.
By Derek Zeller
Derek Zeller draws from over 20 years in the recruiting industry, and he currently is the Director of Recruiting Solutions and Channels with Engage Talent. The last 16 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared IT space under OFCCP compliancy. He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, and military and college recruiting strategies. Derek currently lives in the Portland, Oregon area. Follow Derek on Twitter @Derdiver or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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