Recipe for a Talent Acquisition Fail

There’s a quick and easy way to tell if your recruiting team is operating effectively: observe how requisitions are assigned.
If requisitions are distributed among recruiters based on their current workload, chances are, your process isn’t efficient or effective. Chances also are you haven’t changed your talent acquisition strategy or operating model in a long time.
Why does req distribution matter? It’s a clue to what often indicates foundational trouble that can affect the very value of a business. How so? In our knowledge economy, the stakes for talent acquisition are higher than they’ve ever been. The most valuable assets in the world are intellectual capital and these intangible assets — like brands, customer relationships, patents — have only one source: people. But not all people and not all roles. Failing to prioritise and dedicate the right recruiting resources to the attraction and selection of talent for critical roles — those that generate a firm’s intellectual capital — can jeopardise the future enterprise value of your business.
Let’s back up.
For decades, recruiting teams have been organised largely by level. On paper, senior recruiters are responsible for executive openings, general recruiters work professional roles, and junior recruiters work entry-level roles. Within that mix, there might be some organisation around functional groups — these recruiters work IT reqs while those work sales and marketing — and coordinators or sourcers may support different parts of the effort.
Then reality hits in two ways:

  1. Req loads increase; and
  2. TA budgets are cut.

Recruiters end up working more requisitions, across the business, as quickly as they can. Even executive-level recruiters start working lower-level jobs. TA leaders are often forced to hire more junior recruiters because of budget constraints. In an effort for the distribution of work to be seen as “fair” as possible to the team and to hiring managers, requisitions are divided up as evenly as possible as they are received.
Let’s look at a real life example: as attrition climbed at a large healthcare organisation in the throws of mergers and acquisitions, recruiters had an average requisition load of 62 openings. These reqs ranged from hourly food-service roles, to RNs and corporate positions. A recruiter was often working with more than a dozen hiring managers at any one time. Each hiring manager had his or her own beliefs, desires and approaches for filling an open job. Reqs were distributed among recruiters based on who had the fewest at the time a new one came in. It was impossible to distinguish a Recruiter I, II or III from a Senior Recruiter. Everyone was muscling out the work load as best they could — and doing whatever it took to close the reqs as quickly as possible. This, predictably, led to higher attrition, more requisitions, higher costs and increased inefficiency. In a healthcare company, rapid and earlier attrition among RNs is a direct cause of reduced patient satisfaction, infection rates, quality care levels and — at the time of this writing — reimbursement rates. It’s a hiring and attrition quagmire that can cost an organisation an enormous amount in hard costs and reputation.
In such a scenario, recruiters can forget about being “talent advisers.” They can also forget about sourcing passive candidates, building talent pipelines, conducting meaningful intake or debrief meetings, or thoroughly vetting candidates before presenting them to hiring managers. Recruiters will be stuck as administrators and become even more removed from the priorities of the business, the leaders they support or the talent marketplace that they most need to tap into.
No technology, or additional recruiter headcount, is going to get an organisation in any industry out of this quagmire. To get out and stay out, we have to first move way up into the clouds — to 50,000 feet — and look down.
How does the business create future value? What is being promised to shareholders — either publicly or privately — that confirms the value of the shares and the confidence in the leaders and the direction of the company? How much of these plans require the building of intellectual capital over time — brands, technologies, customer insights, patents, etc.? Typically, these assets will power the lion’s share of future value. And remember, the source of this future value is people, but here’s the trick: not all roles and, consequently, not all people.
As another example, let’s look at a pharmaceutical company whose brands we would all recognise. This company’s future value — and the reason shareholders invest in the business — rests on its ability to bring new prescription and over-the-counter drugs to market. With nearly 100,000 employees, the employees closest to these efforts — scientists in the R&D group and brand managers — number less than 20,000. They are arguably the most critical roles in the company. If the business isn’t able to consistently hire and retain top talent in these roles, the company (literally) stands to lose market value. This is not to suggest that the other 80,000 employees — sales reps, operations, finance, human resources, legal, etc. — aren’t important. They are, or else they wouldn’t exist in the company. But they don’t have the opportunity to grow the value of the business. They support those who do. While top talent is needed in the most critical roles, top talent isn’t required (nor can it be afforded) in all other roles.
There’s another dimension to add here — one that didn’t exist in the past to the extent it does today: the availability of talent in the marketplace. Some of the skills most critical to the future value of U.S. businesses — STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) — are in short supply. Finding top talent for roles requiring these skills takes much more than just posting an ad on job boards.
Aligning talent acquisition (and, arguably, all of HR resources) with talent opportunity and availability positions the organisation to address the market realities of both value creation and talent supply and demand.
This strategic approach to talent acquisition allows leaders to build a differentiated operating model to address the hiring needs of the organisation. Aspects of this should include:

 Differentiated People
  • Org design should reflect the range of complexity of the work
  • Different skills and capabilities are required for each “box,” ranging from coordinator or entry level recruiter skills in the top left, to executive search-level skills and experience (and pay) for the bottom right
  • Success measures will be different (speed will likely be the key metric for the top left box, while quality will be the focus of the bottom right)
  • Req load could range from 40 or more (for the top-right box in the scenario, say, of a retailer recruiter regularly hiring many entry-level part-time sales associates) to 8 (for a recruiter in the bottom-right box working on business critical roles for which scarce talent exists.)
 Differentiated Process
  • The process for filling top left roles will be as efficient and consistent as possible — technology-optimised and leveraging the use of structured tools such as screening and interview guides.
  • The process for bottom-right recruiting will emphasise robust planning meetings, passive candidate sourcing, a carefully-executed candidate experience, and a professional, structured and targeted selection approach.
 Differentiated Technology
  • For top left jobs, applicants will likely complete a typical on-line application that includes screening questions or assessments.
  • Candidates might be asked to record a video interview, which would be evaluated by a junior recruiter.
  • On the other hand, technology will not be a key tool to winning talent for the jobs in the bottom right box. The primary use will be for identifying and researching prospective candidates and, once converted by a talented recruiter, making the experience as fast and easy as possible for them.

Metrics and results are key to delivering on and continuously improving this type of talent acquisition strategy. Again, the emphasis should be on the speed and quality of hire for those in the bottom right hand box. More resources and tools should be dedicated to producing and analysing how well the people, process and technology is working in this bullseye box. Source effectiveness, employee retention and performance are a few of the most essential metrics to consider here.  Recruiters should have individual goals based on the box they’re operating within and consequences for great — or poor — performance should be predictable and consistent.

Back to Recruiter Req Load

A strategic approach to talent acquisition, in our knowledge economy, means that there is a strategic approach to carefully assigning the number and type of requisitions to each team member. When hiring peaks, assigning more requisitions to existing recruiters will lead to only one outcome: decreased quality. Like the number of patients a hospital can care for depending on the number of beds and RNs, the number of requisitions a recruiting team can work is dependent upon the capability and capacity, which should be arrived upon in an inarguable, strategic and data-based way.
If you find yourself in a talent-acquisition quagmire similar to the one described above, it’s not easy to get out of it in a sustainable way. Leverage your resources — internal partners, senior hiring managers, your own team — to consider the options and the best path forward. In the end, adding value is everyone’s shared goal.
Images: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on Recruiting Trends on the 24th of April 2017 

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