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Recruiters Are Roadies. The Hiring Decision is the Main Event.

Posted by Bob Corlett on March 31, 2014

Recruiters are drawn to the challenge of the recruiting effort. Like Dug, the talking dog from Up, we’re wired to chase purple squirrels. We enjoy the thrill of the hunt. We train to learn new ways to unearth candidates made of unobtanium. We measure our worth by who we can find — the more rare and unusual, the better.

But how we deliver value to a hiring manager is an entirely different thing.

Recruiters are roadies. Whether we work internally or as a third party, our recruiting efforts only set the stage for the main event.

The main event is the hiring decision itself.

Many recruiters forget that the candidates we unearth are not the main event. At the heart of a great hiring decision is … the actual decision. The true measure of recruiter skill – the true measure of value delivered – is not our ability to hunt squirrels. Our value flows from how our work supports a great hiring decision. Almost anyone can trip over a decent placement or two. But consistently helping managers make great hiring decisions is a whole other ballgame. A skilled recruiter will organize everything that goes into a hiring decision: defining the job, attracting the candidates, structuring the interview process, and providing the relevant competitive intelligence and market knowledge to help the manager understand how to evaluate the candidates.

Many recruiters blame hiring managers for not understanding “how tough it is out there,” but few recruiters move beyond anecdotes and organize their job market knowledge into a useful framework that hiring managers can use to make a decision. As John Sumser pointed out a few weeks ago, to decide which candidate to hire, managers need to know the supply and demand for those skills in their local labor market, how many of those people they can realistically attract, and how those attracted candidates compare to their peer group. (You can’t know who is in the top 10% unless you have already identified the other 90%.) The stack of resumes that results from running a job ad teaches you nothing.

Many recruiters blame hiring managers for not being decisive, but few recruiters have studied how the best decisions are made and applied that knowledge to their hiring process. The new (and brilliant) book “Decisive”, by Dan and Chip Heath takes a deep dive into the research on how great decisions are made. One of the key decision-making tools they recommend is “multitracking” – considering your options simultaneously. (We recruiters call it, “Interviewing a slate of candidates.”) According to one of the many research studies cited in the book, executives who considered more than one option made six times as many “very good” decisions as compared to those who only considered one option. (Translated: a slate of candidates interview approach is six times better than seeing candidates on a one-off basis.)

The authors noted that:

Many executives are worried that exploring multiple options will take too long. It’s a reasonable fear, but the researcher…found that the opposite is true. …Multitracking keeps egos in check. If your boss has three (options) in play, chances are she’ll be open to unvarnished feedback about them, but if there’s only one…it will be harder for her to hear the truth…Comparing alternatives helps executives to understand the “landscape”: what’s possible and what’s not, what variables are involved. That understanding provides the confidence needed to make a quick decision … with more options, people get less invested in any one of them, freeing them up to change positions as they learn.

Interviewing a slate of candidates helps managers understand the landscape they are making their decision within. As they learn more, a slate gives them the necessary context so that they can make a stronger, smarter, more well-informed decision. A different research study indicated that a slate of candidates approach reduces bias in the hiring decision. Clearly, with very few exceptions, recruiters should insist that managers always interview a slate of candidates.

But it’s not enough to just throw more candidates into the mix. The hiring process itself should challenge the thinking of the hiring manager. When a hiring manager forms a mental picture of their “ideal candidate” (their purple squirrel) most recruiters will only look for that kind of candidate profile. But the best hiring processes encourage the manager to consider other profiles (i.e. candidates from a variety of backgrounds). To really support a great hiring decision, the recruiter must expand the manager’s perspective and encourage them to interview people they might not have selected on their own.

If an employer is serious about hiring great people, their recruiters must develop and manage a rigorous decision support process, rich in context and analytics, and steeped in a deep understanding of how the best decisions are made…and only take the occasional opportunity to give chase to a purple squirrel.

This article originally appeared in the HR Examiner

Topics: Executive Search, Hiring Process