When I began my life in recruiting there were no such people as sourcers, or assessment experts, or social media managers. We did it all ourselves - what is now being called full-cycle recruiting. As generalists, we were proud that we did everything even when we knew we were not the best. We gave every candidate a personalized experience and actually got to know and care about them and where they ended up. We knew hiring managers and the compensation people and often went to bat for more pay for a candidate we really thought was excellent.
But somewhere over the years, the complexity of work, the increasing number of new roles, and the rise of technologies driven by the Internet drove specialization and compartmentalization, not only in recruiting but in almost every field, especially in large corporations.
In small firms, the generalist recruiter still exits although with automation and the growth of RPO they are an endangered species.
The job of a recruiter in large firms is now hard even to define. It encompasses a series of separate skills, often done by specialized experts, and is increasingly augmented with artificial intelligence. The diagram below illustrates what is happening and the likelihood that a particular skill will be automated. In many cases, no one is actually in charge of a candidate’s experience. Candidates are shuffled between automated tools and a variety of experts. They are found by software tools searching the Internet and scraping websites, their experience is curated by a social media expert and invisible tools, their screening is automated, their interviews are scheduled online autonomously and conducted via video by another expert. They often have no single contact person or, if they do, that person is not fully informed about their status and does not really know them.
Is specialization a positive trend?
Survey after survey shows us that candidates are not happy with their recruitment experience. And our current impersonal processes and atomization have contributed to this.
The paradox is that specialization tends to put the value on precision, analysis, and data and puts less value on personalization, creative thinking, and innovation. It often leads to overanalyzing and missing the complexities and contradictions of being human.
The same situation has engulfed other professions as well including medicine, nursing, engineering, and teaching. The requirements and expected expertise for each of these professions have risen to levels that require specialization. With specialization comes the danger of not seeing the forest for the trees and of creating impersonal, sometimes dangerous, and always frustrating experiences. With narrow fields of view, everything is viewed through the lens of the expertise often missing the bigger picture.
The specialization of doctors is a good example of how specialization can lead to suboptimal results. A person goes to their doctor with a complaint. This doctor is perhaps called a family physician and or is a specialist in internal medicine. She refers you to a specialist, almost always, according to your complaint. You go to the specialist who then does a series of tests that often result to a referral to another specialist and so on. Not one of them has a complete picture of your health, personality, medications, or lifestyle. The result is often a diagnosis that may be technically correct one but one that needs tempering with compassion or with modifications that a patient can follow. The recent trend, to try and correct this, is for a more holistic approach to medical care including better records, and more single point coordination with the original doctor.
Is being a generalist recruiter better?
The generalist has many positive traits including a more complete understanding of the candidates and the hiring manager, but it is hard for them to efficiently handle the volume of applicants or to tap into the data to get a deeper understanding of trends.
They may also struggle to use the new tools that improve quality and efficiency. The tradeoff is often between efficiency and speed and personalization and engagement. It is very hard to balance these.
A hybrid model may be emerging.
The answer may be in designing processes and systems to be teams-based and networked. Rather than have recruiters work in silos, the emerging model is for cross-functional teams that combine the best of both worlds as I recently described in an earlier article.
What are your thoughts? What are you seeing and experiencing?
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A Wharton podcast arguing in favor of being a generalist.
HBR article arguing, again, in favor of generalists