Hiring is too important to leave to recruiters

Written by James Ellis

James Ellis is an employer branding consultant and the host of The Talent Cast, a weekly deep-dive into the mechanics and theory of recruitment marketing and employer brand, and

As this is being written the day after Anthony Bourdain died, it might be appropriate to start with a kitchen metaphor. If you’ve ever had a chance to see how a professional kitchen operates (and in this age of Gordon Ramsey and Padma Lakshmi, everyone knows how a kitchen works even if they’ve never peeled so much as a potato), you know it’s a complex machine. Food gets delivered, inspected, and shelved. Prep cooks break down the raw foods and build dish components like stocks, sauces, and prepped meats or veggies. The chef dictates the menu and establishes the quality of things that the various cooks and sous chef build throughout the meal service. And the wait staff ensures that food arrives at the right table, in front of the right guest as ordered.

So who’s in charge of your amazing meal? Sure, the head chef is ostensibly “in charge” but if someone in the machine doesn’t do their job, the chef can’t do his or hers. With sub-par ingredients, poor prep, lax standards, sloppy plating and lazy wait staff, the best meal can be turned into the dog’s dinner in a blink.

The trick is that the chef is there to hire staff, set expectations, align all efforts towards a perfect meal, and identify gaps where a great potential meal misses the mark. The head chef is responsible and has the authority over all positions, and thus is in charge.

Now look at your average business (maybe yours!). If we use the kitchen as a metaphor for hiring talent for the business, what’s happening? HRBPs are there to ensure that the hiring need is aligned to the business need and leveled appropriately. Brand and sourcers are responsible for bringing in potential candidates. Recruiters are there to evaluate and screen candidates for the hiring managers to select. HR is there to make sure the “t”s get crossed and that paperwork is completed.

Like a professional kitchen, hiring is a complex process involving people in multiple departments with different skill sets and multiple agendas. But there’s a very obvious difference between the kitchen and hiring.

In the kitchen, while the chef doesn’t do all the work, they have responsibility over all aspects. They pick the dishwashers who ensure the meal go on spotless plates. They double-check the meats as they are accepted by the vendor. They taste the sauces periodically throughout the night. They spot-check the dishes as they go out the door. And they even walk the kitchen and ask patrons if the meal met expectations.

But in hiring, no one plays such a role. In fact, in most businesses, we’ve equated “recruiting” with “hiring” and placed the burden of overseeing the entire production on recruiters.

This might sound good, but have you ever seen a recruiter fire a HRBP for not approving a job rec in a timely manner? Or change the employer brand because it wasn’t attracting the right candidates? Or berate a hiring manager for botching an interview (or asking an illegal question)? Or course not. Recruiters are expected to carry the burden of responsibility without the authority to ensure that the client is satisfied.

Recruiters get blamed for every element in the candidate experience. I know some who get the sticky end of the lollipop about the interview rooms being too cold, for candidates having to wait for the hiring manager to show up for the interview, or the amount of time between the last interview and actual offer. Recruiters have zero authority to fix any of those things. No wonder morale in recruiting is so low.

Now, when I say that hiring is too important to leave to recruiters, that’s not a slight on recruiters (who have an insanely busy and complex job building and fostering relationships). But it is an admission that hiring is perhaps the ultimate team sport, one where there’s no coach and no general manager. No one person can wade into the process and be able to fix any element in the process.

That sounds like an impossible ask, but one we expect recruiters to succeed in every day.

Is the answer to hiring a majordomo or czar of hiring, someone who can establish service level agreements with HRBPs and spend money to fix facilities and mandate hiring managers be trained before ever talking to a candidate? Maybe, but that sounds expensive. And it misses the real point of hiring being everyone’s job.

What if there was another way to ensure that ALL the various elements of hiring were aligned together around the common goal of hiring the best talent as efficiently as possible, where every element could see how their actions impacted the overall experience and everyone was expected to do their part?

If your company established as its primary metric and KPI “Duration of Empty Seat” (DoES) and assigned responsibility to all parties in the hiring loop, suddenly everyone is responsible to stem the losses in the best and fastest means possible.

You might say, “we already measure Time To Fill, buddy.” But ask if anyone but recruiting is expected to manage that metric. And does the clock start when the seat becomes open or when the rec is approved? Does the clock stop when the hire is made or when the person starts adding value to the company?

And are you going to tell me an extra week of waiting to hire an intern is the same as a week of waiting to hire a VP of sales? DoES starts the second the vacancy costs the company money and ends when someone is hired, trained, and driving actual value to the company. TTF is a diagnostic metric to help you see where some issues are. It has no bearing on the business because it doesn’t speak in the only language business understands: money.

That’s the special mojo in this metric: it’s a value metric that is measured in it in euros, pounds or dollars. If a lack of a sales person costs the business $3,000 a week, it becomes crystal clear what an extra week of waiting (on a rec approval, on a compensation approval, on more applications, on feedback from hiring managers) really costs the business. Suddenly the conversation around “should we leave the rec open another week or two to see if a better candidate comes along?” isn’t a gut decision, it’s a business one.

A dollar figure is magical when it comes to aligning people to get work done, reject internal agendas and make better overall decisions. With the proper milestones in place, you can see that your bottlenecks in lowering the DoES are coming from HR, Comp & Ben, hiring managers, sourcers, or recruiters, and fix the problem appropriately.

Best of all, it positions your budgeting strategy as a means of adding value and lowering costs, instead of as a cost center. When you want to spend $10,000 on a new tool (AI, chatbots, new job boards, better job posts, video, whatever), you can predict that the spend will increase applications or quality such that the money isn’t an expense, but an investment with clear ROI. One that is measurable and validatable at year’s end.

Yes, I just used the term ROI in conjunction with HR and TA in a way that didn’t feel like a fairy tale. Allow me to take a bow.

Right now, TA and recruiting is at the table begging for scraps (or, more likely, crumbs). But when you get back to your internal meetings, you brag how you are the driver of the business’s success. This is the metric that allows you to prove it.

James Ellis (http://jamesellis.us) is the host of The Talent Cast (http://thetalentcast.com), a weekly deep-dive into the mechanics and theory of recruitment marketing and employer brand.

For more on this concept of measuring Duration of Empty Seat, listen to this recent podcast:


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