How HR Can Work Better with Recruiters

July 2, 2002

There is an uneasy triumvirate in today’s organizations: human resources professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers. Everywhere I go, I hear managers complaining that recruiters aren’t responsive, so they have to go around them to get anyone hired. Or I hear human resources professionals complaining that recruiters don’t really understand the hiring manager’s needs. Recruiters, meanwhile, rant over bureaucracy that slows them down in making placements.

Is anyone’s position right? What’s going on?

Recruiters see HR as setting up blocks
Part of the problem is that HR is changing from being centered around administration to being centered on adding value. For the past half decade, human resources professionals have been clamoring to be accepted as business partners rather than administrators and regulators.

HR systems have automated many of the administrative tasks of HR, and intranets and self-service philosophies have taken over some of their service elements. This has led to a reduced need for people within most HR functions and to an identity crisis for HR professionals who now have to re-establish a value-adding role for themselves.

 Recruiters are faced with daunting challenges as well. They can no longer rely on volume to meet demand. For some positions, few people, if any, apply. For others, there are hundreds of applicants. The recruiter has to source people for the tough positions and screen them for the others. And they have to do more intensive screening and assessing than before and are held to tighter quality standards.

To be successful, recruiters, too, have had to adopt technology that removes much of the clerical side of their work. It’s critical to know who the best performers are and what their competencies and skills are. Yet, the HR professionals often won’t facilitate an interaction, won’t identify the best performers (or don’t know how to), and throw up procedural blocks to prevent the recruiters from doing it themselves.

The hiring managers don’t care about any of this—they just want good people fast. Because the HR professionals most often have the relationship with the hiring manager, they should be able to act as a broker between the hiring manager and the recruiter. Yet the two are often at odds with one another. Many HR people feel threatened by their own systems and by the recruiting technologies, and easily fall back into their more familiar administrative roles of regulator and policeman.

Here are five things that can be done to improve the fragile and difficult relationship between HR, hiring managers, and recruiters.

1.  Build awareness.The HR professional should facilitate the communication process between hiring managers and recruiters. One way that they can add value and act as business partners is to outline the benefits of working together, highlighting the improvements in productivity and satisfaction that can occur when all three act in alignment rather than in opposition.  

In one organization, the HR professional acted as a team leader for a group composed of hiring managers, recruiters, and a few technical experts. Together they identified competencies, developed interview guides, and made referrals.

2. Educate. Make sure that all managers get an opportunity for training on how to be their own recruiter. Hiring managers "own" recruiting and have to live with the results of the process. The best managers want to have control and are eager to learn. A quick seminar on how to be a good recruiter can go a long way toward building both some skill and a better understanding of what their recruiters do.

Recruiters don’t like to see hiring managers take on what they see as their job, and HR professionals often stay out of the recruiting picture altogether. The role of the HR professional is to facilitate and broker relationships, gather and share information about people, and make sure that the talent of the organization is "managed" in a way that maximizes productivity and minimizes turnover.

3. Re-establish roles and responsibilities. In a joint effort, discuss the evolving and changing roles and responsibilities of HR, recruiters, and managers. These roles should be clearly defined and even written down. If some administrative duties remain in the HR/recruiting world, they should be spelled out. Make an agreement that things not spelled out will not be done by HR—ever! Then live with this agreement.

One firm I work with agreed to invite HR to all staff and business meetings, involve them on cross-functional teams, and collaborate on administrative tasks. Duties were divided and shared. Even after almost five years, it’s working well and the business partners are not looked on as administrators at all. However, alternate systems for all administrative duties have been set up and work well.

4. Redesign recruiting to pass on to managers only those things that work. Just because you’ve taught the hiring managers a little about recruiting or because a recruiting system has been installed, it does not mean that everyone understands the impact it will have or how to use it. All recruiting roles have to be redefined. Managers are not automatically going to begin sourcing candidates from databases without fairly extensive training and without a cost/benefit ratio that they feel makes sense. If it takes them hours to find candidates who are marginal, they will quickly revert to the old system of calling up the recruiter.

Make sure that whatever you want a manager to do works flawlessly, is faster than it was before, and yields better quality. If you can’t guarantee that, don’t ask a manager to do it. Would you use an ATM if it were twice as complicated and took more time than going inside to the teller?

5. Use an evolutionary approach. Take things one step at a time. Don’t expect hiring managers to become recruiters—at least not right away. Don’t expect HR professionals to give up all administrative tasks; those tasks will eventually disappear anyway. Don’t expect recruiters to become completely versed in all the rules and politics of the organization. Make people want to use the new approaches because they are faster, better, or cheaper.

Remember to start by encouraging managers to do what they feel comfortable with first, such as interviewing or making offers, and then slowly introduce new things like sourcing or preliminary screening.

None of this is rocket science, just some very basic things that are often overlooked. Change is difficult for both HR and line management. Both feel that they are being asked to do things that aren’t "natural" for them. But these new skills will feel much more natural after some time and practice.

Become the change you want to see. Guide and teach the managers about how to recruit while you continuously figure out how to support their efforts from a behind-the-scenes, value-added approach.

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