The Zen of Recruiting: An Industry Master Discusses the Mysteries of Locating Talent

September 18, 2014 Ray Rivera


First of a two-part interview

Few areas of HR are as visible yet as mysterious as recruiting. There is hardly a person in the workforce or a position in an organization where a recruiter has not had an influence.

What really goes on in a recruiting shop? More to the point, and probably far more interesting, what do recruiters really think about as they compete for talent on a global scale, and come across your LinkedIn profile? The short answer: they think about a lot of things, and quite deeply.

To learn more about just what those things are, I recently chatted with one of Appirio’s top recruiting experts, Vicki Moening of Appirio’s Cornerstone OnDemand Practice. Informed by over 20 years of experience as an HR professional, her focus has been on the capacities that serve the recruiting function, from the front lines to systems implementation to strategic planning. Currently a Cornerstone Consultant, she has worked most recently as an HR Generalist, Implementation Consultant, and a Recruiter.


What is the biggest pain point for recruiters today?

It sounds like a stock answer, but finding top talent is presently the biggest one. The reason is that top talent is usually also niche talent, which is what makes talent so scarce. And talent doesn’t always mean tech or executive talent, but also people with specialized knowledge of industries or operations.

And this level of talent knows they are scarce and regarded as top talent, and so they often don’t follow the same kind of recruiting behaviors as other candidates. They have many more options even about how they do work, for example freelancing or contracting, as well as their pick of the industries or the kinds of roles they could fill in organizations.

And consequently they can always demand top dollar for their services?

Their salary demands are indeed high, but that tends to be the result of job hopping frequently rather than playing hardball salary negotiations with any one company. Put it another way: these people haven’t hit the jackpot so much as they have parlayed their winnings. They have a keen sense of when and where to place their bets. So besides their talent, the biggest thing that sets them apart from the rest is their disposition job hop. Most people think that changing jobs frequently makes them look bad to employers, and therefore are hesitant to test the market regularly. And by the way the main motivation for job hopping is money…that’s one of the things recruiters mean when they say top talent doesn’t follow the same kind of pattern. Recruiters have to find creative ways to get that kind of talent.

How does this all look from the perspective of the hiring manager?

Pretty challenging sometimes…hiring managers cannot find seasoned specialists and start to feel desperate. They cannot take on any more work, which really constrains the revenue opportunities they can pursue and limited the growth of the company overall. And that’s why hiring managers really depend on referrals from their colleagues and peers from within the company.

There’s been a lot of criticism about referral programs recently, that they tend to favor certain ethnicities and exclude others.

Oh I certainly agree that the possibility exists for that to happen. But what I and most of my recruiting colleagues see is ethnicity is of negligible concern to hiring managers. When a hiring manager cannot fill a vacancy it makes him or her look very bad to the rest of the organization, and in particular the upline. They are desperate to fill the role because they are at risk of not meeting their performance objectives. Lack of personnel is regarded as an explanation not an excuse, and starts raising doubts about how that particular area of the business ought to be organized. I can guarantee that is not the kind of visibility hiring managers want to have with their senior leadership. 

I recall a recent Twitter conversation started by Marc Andreessen where he said essentially the same thing: if certain groups were excluded but still had the talent, it would create an arbitrage opportunity that no hiring manager could resist.

There’s a good reason for expressing it that way. A referral involves all parties putting their reputations on the line: the person making the referral is vouching for his colleague, the hiring manager is affirming a level of trust with her current employee in pursuing the referral, and the person referred as a candidate is diligent to demonstrate that trust is deserved. If any of those falter, then everyone loses. And so everyone involved has to pass the test that recruiters like to call the, “would you want to brush your teeth next to them?” test. So a successful referral is very much a reflection of a candidate’s work, and not ethnic background, or any other category for that matter.

Many HR thought leaders are saying that recruiters now need to become involved in talent management after hire, even if the selection process went smoothly, like a good referral might facilitate. Why is that?

You’ve heard the saying, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” Those two to four weeks after a candidate has accepted the offer represent critical time. You never want a talented new hire to wonder, “oh no, what have I done?”  Even during the onboarding period, a talented hire will likely still have one foot in the door and one foot out. They will likely be at the final hiring stages with other companies as well, and are ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble. The recruiter is best suited to facilitate this transitional role as he or she will likely have the best rapport with the new hire, and may be the only solid connection the new hire has to HR. Lots of communication is needed until the deal really is closed. Recruiters need to engage the talented new hire until both feet in the door. One foot is not good enough.

The interview continues next week, where the conversation shifts to LinkedIn, and what really goes into organizational fit.


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