Last week I was in Kuala Lumpur running a workshop for a group of predominantly internal recruiters.
Although the workshop was specifically focused on ‘recruitment metrics’, I noticed that even early on during some of the breakout sessions and group activities, questions and discussions were taking place off the topic of ‘metrics’ and more around the general frustrations they were all feeling in their jobs.
I promised the group that as long as they let me cover everything I wanted (and needed!) to cover on the topic of metrics, I would be comfortable and happy to facilitate some group discussions around the challenges that internal recruiters typically face.
I also reassured them that whatever concerns, challenges and frustrations they did share were certainly not due to the fact that they worked for a Malaysian based employer. After all I have worked with internal recruiters from all corners of the world and I knew that the challenges they felt in Kuala Lumpur were no different to those experienced in San Francisco, Sydney, Hong Kong, or Amsterdam.
Not surprisingly, by far the biggest frustration or challenge this group was facing was their relationship with their stakeholders.
Many of the delegates described feeling like they were “the jam” in the sandwich stuck between the HR managers and the line managers with very little room to move. I’d heard the phrase “trapped between a rock and hard place” many times in similar conversations over the years, but I have to admit I really liked the ‘jam’ analogy.
As I started to share my thoughts and ideas on how they could all improve the relationships they had with their ‘clients’ (HR and ‘the line’), they all started nodding attentively and scribbling notes in their workbooks.
“But how can we actually implement your suggestions, Paul?” one of them asked (clearly feeling brave enough to articulate what many of them must have been thinking at the time).
“Talk to the bread”, I said.
They couldn’t stop laughing and for a moment I felt like I was the headline act at a comedy club.
But “talk to the bread” became the catch phrase for the entire 2-day workshop since the only way for internal recruiters to be able to have a strong working relationship with the HR team and their line managers is to have open lines of communication … always.
1. Set expectations up front
When a vacancy comes up in an organisation of any size, it’s not just a matter of sending an email to an internal recruiter saying “please recruit an account manager to work on the XYZ account immediately”, or “we need another receptionist asap. Maggie’s just resigned”.
The recruiter and the line manager should sit down or at least have a phone conversation to discuss exactly what’s required and how the process will work. This would include setting realistic timeframes, not only around when the candidate would need to start, but on when an initial shortlist could be provided as well as when first- and second-round interviews would be taking place.
2. Ensure two-way communication
HR Managers expect their internal recruiters to operate at the speed of light. Meanwhile some line managers are expecting to see résumés an hour after they’ve sent out the job requisition … seriously.
And yet when the internal recruiter does send through a shortlist of appropriate candidates, often days can pass before the internal recruiter will hear a peep from the hiring manager. The HR manager is then chasing the internal recruiter for a status update. And when the internal recruiter does finally hear back from the line manager it could even be a “none of those were suitable” email situation with no further explanation.
Expectations around feedback need to be established up front. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) should be discussed around (for example) how quickly after a CV or résumé is shared will the line manager provide feedback; and then how quickly after interviewing a shortlisted candidate will the internal recruiter receive feedback, etc.
3. Have a standardised interview process
More often than not internal recruiters will conduct an in depth behavioural based or competency based interview. They will share the candidate with their hiring manager who will then simply ‘sit down for a chat’ with the candidate and decide that for whatever reason “I just didn’t like him”, or “I just don’t think she’s what I’m looking for” – again with no further explanation.
The interview process between the internal recruiter and the hiring manager needs to be streamlined so that at every step along the way the candidate is being assessed against exactly the same criteria.
There’s no point in an internal recruiter benchmarking strictly against a series of competencies or attributes and then the line manager making the final call purely based on gut feel. That’s just a recipe for a recruiting disaster.
4. Understand that it’s not an open buffet
Dear hiring managers, internal recruiters do not have access to an endless supply of candidates.
If they send you a shortlist of 3 – 5 candidates that match the criteria you have (hopefully) discussed with them up front, then this literally means that those candidates meet your brief. It’s not simply the first 5 candidates in a never-ending supply waiting eagerly in the back room.
Line managers need to trust that their internal recruiters have filtered and assessed all the applicants before submitting the shortlist.
A shortlist is exactly that: a short list of the most suitable candidates. Not just the appetizer before another list to choose from for main course.
5. Agree on a proactive approach
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but too often hiring managers fail to have a recruitment strategy in place or a hiring forecast planned out. Then the minute there’s a resignation, or a vacancy comes up, it’s über urgent and the internal recruiter needs to jump to attention.
If possible on a monthly or at least a quarterly basis, the HR team (along with the internal recruiters of course) should sit down with each team manager to plan what recruitment might be coming up in the weeks or months ahead.
Ads can be written and approved in advance; sourcing strategies can be implemented; and a recruitment strategy can actually be planned for a change.
Last minute recruiting demands will very rarely result in a successful outcome.
6. Agree who will measure what?
Imagine the following scenario: HR is looking at the cost of hire ratio; hiring managers are scrutinizing recruitment efficiency ratios; meanwhile the internal recruiters are monitoring the ratio between how many candidates they submit to the line managers compared to how many actually get interviewed.
Basically there’s no common approach and all parties are just measuring what they feel is important for them without taking into account how it might impact any of the other metrics.
Metrics must be established up front. At the same time exactly how the results are going to be interpreted needs to determined, so that everyone knows what they are accountable for.
7. Talk to the bread!
Whilst my response to one of the delegates last week may initially have been seen as a cheeky play on words to the ‘jam in the sandwich’ analogy, internal recruiters must feel confident enough to raise their challenges with both their HR manager and their line managers.
But perhaps more importantly HR managers and hiring managers need to make the internal recruiters feel comfortable in approaching them and discussing their approach to each individual recruitment campaign in an open and non-threatening environment.