By John Vlastelica and Jenifer Lambert
Learn how to better connect with your buyers and build critical relationships and credibility that will lead to more business.
In the last article, we talked about best practices for demonstrating your expertise as a recruiter and building trust with your buyers. Now, in Part 3, we’ll address one of the biggest issues to create friction between corporate HR and outside recruiters.
“ Why do recruiters insist on going around the process? While I appreciate their interest in making money, end-arounds don’t help them. I want a partner that I can trust (especially since I use recruiters for confidential searches or high-visibility searches), not just some money-motivated recruiter who’s in it for the short-term sale.”
Best Practices for Building Profitable Client Relationships Based on Performance and Trust
In Stephen Covey’s best-selling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he advocates the habit of “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If ever there was a situation where that habit could be applied, it is in the sometimes tenuous relationship between corporate HR and outside recruiters. Too often these relationships are viewed by one or both parties as unnecessarily adversarial. Bad intent is inferred where none may exist. Assumptions are made about motives, boundaries are broken and trust eradicated. This is a recipe for a dysfunctional relationship at best. Worst case scenario—the recruiter is locked out of that company for good.
A common hang-up is that many recruiters, overeager to make a placement, fail to understand the importance of building trust-based partnerships with HR. Even if they are fortunate enough to win the battle (make the placement), they lose the war (long-term client relationship). The good news is that for recruiters who invest the time and energy necessary to forge a productive partnership with their corporate counterparts, they can create a differentiation that pays dividends.
1. A little empathy goes a long way. Empathy is really nothing more than the ability to see something from another’s perspective. Relationships without empathy will never succeed. It’s difficult to have empathy for someone you view as your enemy so the first step is to realize that HR is not your enemy. They don’t exist inside a corporation to serve as a roadblock for your business development efforts. In fact they spend a lot less time thinking about you than you imagine. Their first priority is the same as yours—to be productive and stay employed. If you start from that understanding, you can now look for opportunities for genuine cooperation where you can both win. You need to understand:
- What does she want to accomplish by working with an outside recruiter?
- How can I help her meet her goals?
- How will this affect her personally and what are her concerns?
- Is she under pressure to fill a key role that I could help with?
- Is she under pressure to reduce her company’s total spend on recruiting?
- Is her hiring manager struggling, and not taking enough personal responsibility for recruiting the right kind of talent?
- What has been her past experience working with recruiters?
- Has she been burned by recruiters who’ve ignored the candidate submittal or screening process required by HR and legal?
- Does she feel she has paid fees to recruiters who didn’t earn their fees, but just got lucky with shotgun pitches to her managers?
- Has she had a tight partnership with outside recruiters, and leveraged them as a strategic resource to make her look good and help her managers find the top talent they need?
2. Respect the process. As a good recruiter, you probably have a methodology or process that you use to get repeatable, consistent results. Most companies have their own process for the same reason. While most hiring managers are less concerned with the hiring process than the end result, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore established processes altogether.
An HR process is in place to protect the company from unnecessary fees (i.e. paying a fee to an outside firm for a candidate already discovered by the company). An HR process is in place to create the right candidate experience and protect their employment brand (i.e. all candidates talk to someone in HR about the company, the job, immigration, relocation, work culture before being presented to a hiring manager). And a process is there to address compliance and diversity goals.
Sometimes HR’s typical process is not conducive to landing high-demand, low-supply candidates. If you are doing your job properly and surfacing candidates who aren’t actively seeking new employment, you may need HR to modify their process to attract a candidate who isn’t throwing himself at the opportunity. Instead of ignoring their process, which will be perceived as disrespectful and will erode trust, take the opportunity to recommend process changes that will help your HR contact get what she wants.
Here’s the formula:
A. Acknowledge the process. “I know that your process is typically to have the candidate go through a phone screen with HR first so you can spare the hiring manager from wasting time with unqualified candidates.”
B. Provide market data. “This candidate is currently employed and was not actively looking to make a change when I contacted him. He’s intrigued by your opportunity, but at this point has questions that are going to be best answered by the hiring manager because they are so specific to the role.”
C. Suggest a process change. “What do you think about having the candidate talk to the hiring manager first, to get his questions answered and get him invested in this role and opportunity? After that, if he is interested, we can put him through the standard process.”
D. Show her how she wins if you get pushback. “I don’t want to put you in the awkward position of trying to answer questions that you couldn’t possibly be expected to have answers for. I know you want to get this position filled quickly with a high-quality candidate and this guy has all of the experience the hiring manager requested. I think it makes sense to get the hiring manager involved in helping to land him. Can we get the candidate on the phone with the hiring manager? ”
3. Earn the right to be introduced. The old adage that “you are known by the company you keep” applies not just to personal friendships but to vendor relationships as well. In speaking with HR leaders about best practices in partnering with agency recruiters, time and time again they spoke of the importance of the outside recruiter being a good reflection on the HR department as well as the company as a whole. Not only is HR willing to give recruiters access to hiring managers, they understand the value of doing so, but that access must be earned. The way to get that access has everything to do with demonstrating your value and the only way to do that is to deliver high-quality candidates that the client cannot find on their own.
Again, look at the situation from the HR professional’s perspective. If they give you access to a hiring manager and you don’t produce, they have just wasted that hiring manager’s time and created the perception that they aren’t skilled at selecting strong vendors. You should always ask for access to the hiring manager. If your HR contact is reluctant to grant that access, be prepared to work directly with HR until you establish a track record of delivering strong candidates. If you are doing your job well, doors will begin to open for you. Direct access and referrals to other departments come from strong performance. Ask again, after you’ve demonstrated that you can deliver the goods.
4. Seek out opportunities to make a contribution. Your goal is not just to make a quick score. You want to provide a competitive advantage for your client and to be irreplaceable. If you want to make yourself irreplaceable, look for opportunities to give. Give information, give time and attention. Above all, give impeccable service. The axiom that all things being equal, people do business with people they like, has never been more true. Being the first to give in a relationship pays huge dividends. As human beings, we are psychologically wired to reciprocate. That means when you extend yourself and give value and service to your clients, you create a situation where they reflexively want to reciprocate. And that’s how bonds are formed. Average recruiters worry about “what’s in it for me,” while top-producing recruiters know that what they give will come back to them tenfold.
Look for opportunities to bring value even when you’re not actively engaged in a search with your client. Passing on industry information, making them aware of changes inside a competitor (provided you’re not violating any ethical boundaries), and keeping them informed about potential high-value candidates in their industry are all ways of demonstrating your commitment to the relationship and can often surface new business opportunities.
5. Embrace HR. We know there are plenty of trainers in the recruiting industry who will teach you all sorts of techniques and tactics for skirting HR. But that approach begs the question: “So, how’s that working for you?” When HR comes into the process late, it’s never good. The hiring manager might be sold on you, but the HR professional sees you as a “necessary evil” and feels forced into working with you. Now, not only are they not going to be a helpful ally, they are actually rooting against you. Not exactly the best way to build a long-term relationship.
Forging relationships with hiring managers should remain your goal and proactively making hiring managers aware of top-shelf talent that you believe could make an impact on their department is still a smart marketing strategy. Keep doing that! The only difference is that instead of avoiding HR, ask to be introduced. When a hiring manager tells you that she wants to interview a candidate you marketed to her, arrange the interview and ask her to introduce you to the appropriate HR contact. “I’m sure at some point HR will need to be involved in this process. I’d like to keep that person informed early.” The sooner HR is involved, the less likely they will be to question your intentions. If you have a legitimate business agenda and your goal is truly to be of service, you don’t need to hide from anybody.
About the Authors:
John Vlastelica is a former Corporate Recruiting Director with Amazon.com
and Expedia, and is a regular speaker at top recruiting conferences. He is
currently Managing Director of Recruiting Toolbox, Inc., a consulting and
training firm focused on helping corporate recruiters and hiring managers
improve their sourcing strategies, employer branding presence, interviewing
process and tools, and system effectiveness. www.RecruitingToolbox.com
Jenifer Lambert is a VP with Terra Staffing Group, a Pinnacle Society
recognized Executive Recruiter, and President of Elevate Performance
Systems, LLC, a consulting and training firm that helps third party
recruiters grow their business. www.ElevatePerformanceSystems.com