It’s nuts out there.
Talent acquisition teams are overloaded with reqs, recruiting recruiters, moving their company toward its DEI goals, training up their own teams, training up hiring managers, improving candidate experience, rolling out new policies (remote work being a big one), building talent pipelines for future needs, and more. So much more.
So, what can we do when we’re stretched too thin?
TRY HARDER? Nope.
I’ll start by telling you what doesn’t work. I call it the “Try Harder” strategy. It’s where you just take on all the requests and then go back to your team with a combination of empathy and embarrassment. This is where you both acknowledge how hard it is right now and also realize how severely under-resourced your team is relative to the demand for your services, and ask everyone to just work a little harder.
I’ve been the leader who’s done this before. I feel shame about that. It doesn’t work. And it doesn’t instill confidence in our leadership with our team, our partners in HR, or the business.
PRIORITIZE? Yes, of course.
We can prioritize, of course. Actually, I should say, we can DE-prioritize. Because when I talk to TA leaders now, everything they’re working on is considered a priority by someone. It’s kind of silly to ask the business about their priority hires, as you’re likely to hear something like, “If it’s open, it’s a priority.” Duh. :)
Instead, we must prioritize deprioritizing, using a business lens. Gaining a deep understanding of the business consequences of not getting X hires by June is key to being an effective TA leader anytime, but especially in this kind of environment. Try asking business leaders questions like,
“What’s the impact to your business, your customers, your product ship date, your revenue targets, your ability to scale ahead of the next round of funding, etc., if we (you and my team) don’t get these 20 roles filled by June?”
And then the next step is working with our boss to align on both vertical priorities (within a business unit or region or department) and horizontal priorities (across business units or regions or departments), so that we’re sure to align our limited recruiter capacity (and scheduling and programs and other TA teams) to the highest business priorities.
In fact, a big part of our jobs as TA leaders now is leading discussions around priorities and nonpriorities, and then doing a road show with our own TA team, with HR, and with the business to show people how we’re heat-mapping our resources to the top business priorities. Prioritizing shouldn’t be done in secret — a lot of its value comes from our ability to point to public priorities so that our recruiters don’t feel like failures for not giving lower priority reqs 100% effort.
Now, what do we do when we can’t fully support all roles? As a TA leader, it’s critical to have a plan for the roles that aren’t getting the full TA support they’re used to. Some of our clients have tiered service levels, where top priority roles get the full talent advisor experience — with strong planning, sourcing, screening, interviewing, selection, offer, and closing support — and others get something less than that (perhaps just advertising, basic screening, basic scheduling, and offer letter support).
It’s never ideal to tell a part of the business that they’re getting less than, so I often recommend calling the basic stuff “core support from TA” so that the high priority roles are getting “core +.”
I learned an important lesson early in my career as a recruiting manager: Finance and my boss cared a lot more about keeping headcount down than spending cash. In fact, I’ve been in situations where I could more easily get $200,000 than a $100,000-a-year headcount. Fighting for more TA-team headcount can feel like 50% of a TA leader’s job in our current environment, where the demand for TA far exceeds our capacity to recruit. You will have some wins — you’ll get more recruiter headcount. But you’ll also have some losses — you won’t get all of the headcount you need to be fully staffed. Or at least it’s unlikely.
So, what can we do? Sometimes, we find a way to fund business needs with cash, not headcount.
It’s critical that we, as TA leaders, have trusted partners (vendors/suppliers) who will come in and do work that either 1) frees up our limited TA headcount to focus on high-value work or 2) delivers results directly for the business. The key is to have relationships with partners you trust — ideally, before you’re desperate for help. These partners can include recruitment marketing firms who can help generate candidate flow, consulting firms like mine who can help define hiring standards and train up and align hiring teams, RPO firms who can own sourcing, screening, scheduling, and closing, and exec search firms who can take on that critical VP role.
I worked with a TA leader years ago who told me he felt like a failure when he had to hire an outside firm to help him with strategy, training, sourcing, system implementation, branding, or anything else. He believed he’d be judged poorly if he spent money on outside experts, as people would think that it was all stuff he could have — and should have — been doing himself.
I understood those feelings, but I can tell you from experience that the business will not remember — or even care — if in a year from now you nailed your hiring goals, your diversity goals, or your hiring team capacity goals with outside help. But they will care and remember if you miss those goals.
NO MONEY FOR EXTRA HELP? Call Uncle Rick!
I can’t tell you how many outside partner projects I’ve funded with money from outside of HR. It’s a common practice with talent leaders we work with to get funding from the CTO or VP Sales or German GM to fund things like sourcing, training, or consulting work.
Years ago, when I worked at Amazon, I had five bosses in six years, but one constant leader I partnered with — in my role as the head of tech recruiting — was our CIO, Rick. Rick was super smart and saw talent as an investment, not an expense. If I could make a good business case for something, he’d fund it. Or he’d help me convince my boss to fund it. :) We all need an Uncle Rick in our lives.
Run to the fire.
For many TA leaders, this may be the most competitive market they’ve ever recruited in. I’m seeing offer-to-hire close rates plummet from 90% a few years ago to 40% today. I’m hearing stories of serious recruiter burnout. And from hundreds of conversations with business execs at our client companies, I’m hearing higher — not lower — expectations of TA.
The business wants more, not less.
This is our time to shine, people!
The business needs us now more than ever. They need our leadership, and “try harder” won’t cut it. They want market insights, strategies that’ll work, and honest talk about compensation and hiring decision issues so that they can hit their speed, quality, and diversity goals.
I know it seems like a lot of things are on fire right now, but — if you’ll allow me to reframe things a bit — this is GOOD news!
The biggest growth spurts in our careers as TA leaders come from environments like this. When things are on fire, and the business demand far exceeds our capacity, we get to educate and influence the business to try new things, to widen the aperture, to create more of that culture of recruiting, to make time for that hiring manager training so that we scale a high hiring bar, and to fund our teams at the level needed to get the best talent.
I’d love to hear what kinds of things you’re doing to align and motivate your team on big hiring goals, to deprioritize, to partner with outside experts, and to win in your job as a TA leader. You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.John Vlastelica is a former corporate recruiting leader turned consultant. He and his team at Recruiting Toolbox are hired by world-class companies to help raise the bar on who they hire and how they hire. If you’re seeking more best practices, check out the free resources for recruiters at TalentAdvisor.com and for recruiting leaders at RecruitingLeadership.com.
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