Why Executives Often Avoid Using Their Own Recruiters
Four Ways to Fix That
Marsha, a highly placed financial executive in a large international firm where I once worked, called late one afternoon recently. We chatted about the terrible lack of talent and her fears that her critical position would not get filled quickly. She asked if I could recommend someone for this open senior-level strategic position.
I frequently receive job announcements and often get calls from executives asking me to recommend people for various positions. Marsha’s call is only one of several I have received recently from business executives looking for people who can help them meet the post-pandemic challenges they face.
But, the question these calls bring to my mind is why don’t they go to their own recruiting staff or recruiting manager to get recommendations? Why are they calling me and others like me for help?
The answer may seem simple. It could be that they are using their internal folks and want a second opinion. But, after some thought and a few conversations, I think the reasons are deeper
#1. They don’t have confidence in their recruiters’ business knowledge
Other executives, business owners, and even search consultants rank higher in perceived business acumen than recruiters. And in reality, most recruiters are not business savvy. They are not likely to know many senior-level executives nor are they experienced enough or socially connected to the kinds of people that are being sought.
And, often, they don’t really understand the business or its products or services as deeply as they should. They may not know how the organization is doing financially or what competitive challenges it faces. I have worked with recruiters who could tell you all the skills involved in a particular tactical job, but had no idea how their organization was perceived by the market or by potential candidates. They often not knowledgeable about who makes up the competition or what their organization’s strategy is.
To be a top-level successful recruiter you need to learn everything you can about your organization. What it does, how it has done financially over the past five years, and what its prospects are for the next five. Learn how to scan the annual report for critical facts about growth prospects, philosophies, and also about potential lawsuits or negative issues that could affect a candidate’s decision.
The more you know about the business, and the more you let senior management know that you know, the higher you will be regarded. It would help if you learned who makes up the senior team at a variety of competitors. Learn about their backgrounds, previous employers, and their education. With this information, you can at least sound informed when talking with your executives and can test them on their reaction to names you might mention in conversation. This will help you see who they respect and who they don’t.
Without developing a basic level of respect from management, you will never get the inside information or the choice recruiting assignment.
Many executives do not believe that internal recruiters will keep their searches confidential and that other executives or managers will learn about openings or discover that someone is about to leave. Insider knowledge can affect decision-making and impact the organization's profitability, so executives tend to be very cautious. By going to one of their acquaintances or outside experts, the executive believes she is building a layer of security that is lacking internally.
Recruiters have to establish a gold-plated reputation for confidentiality. You can explain how you will approach the search and set up clear guidelines and expectations that the executives approve.
If you are a recruiter, you must make sure that you tell only authorized people about the hiring plans in your company. If you are a recruiting manager, you have to become trusted, and you have to give assignments only to those recruiters you know can treat the information wisely.
Your recruiting record, past performance, and how well you have communicated your success to management will all be part of whether you get the confidential searches. You need to show that your business knowledge, connections, and background are strong enough to put you in the know about key individuals that could fit your organization. Many executives that I talk to are very dubious about whether or not their recruiters are strategic enough or well connected enough to know any of the key people they might consider hiring. If you are thought of as a clerk, you will never be taken into their confidence or given the best assignments.
Build a track record of successful placements. Communicate your success through data and reports. Try to enlist hiring managers who you have worked with and who are happy with your work to endorse you to other managers. If this sounds like showing off, you are mistaken. You are marketing yourself and what you can do. If you are a recruiting leader, showcase your team whenever you can. Communication and internal marketing are necessary even though often misperceived as bragging or showmanship. As long as you have the data and results to prove your accomplishment, there is no need to worry.
Can you offer up possible candidates as quickly as an outside search consultant or colleague of the hiring manager? Most executives have a built-in bias toward search firms. They believe they are more efficient and effective than their internal recruiters. Because of this, they may not ask to see as many candidates, or they may be trusting enough to follow the recommendation of the outside recruiter. It takes a big effort to demonstrate equal capability and show them that both the quality and the speed you can provide are as good or better than they can get from outside..
Speed is often the result of having built the right networks and streamlined processes. But it is also the result of having a trusting relationship with the hiring manager. Forging a relationship with a hiring manager is time-consuming and often hard to do, but it is well worth the time spent. It will simplify your searches, give you confidence and credibility to push back on what you feel is a poor candidate decision, and speed up placements.
You will need to attend staff meetings, offer skill or performance advice when appropriate, and communicate with the manager frequently. Try to schedule a lunch or coffee with her and understand what she values in an employee.
Nothing I have written is new or unusual. Success is built on skills, communication, and perseverance. The recruiter who lets her skills slide and doesn’t stay up-to-date will not get the significant searches or even be around for the next act.
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