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Debunking the Hunt for a Recruiter

Graduation season always reminds me of insights I have gained from my favorite graduation speech of all time. In This is Water, David Foster Wallace begins with this anecdote:

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

The lesson here for recruiters, and really for anyone who is truly engaged in her work, is that when you are too close to a situation, it is difficult even to define what the situation is. While I can spot a business in need of a recruiter from a mile away, a corporate exec deep in the throes of running her organization has a totally different perspective. It is amazing how easy it is to forget this simple truth.

In the spirit of gaining perspective, let’s talk about the decisions you need to make before you hire a recruiting partner. Of course, you’ll need to know the nuts and bolts about which vendors do what type of work (staffing agencies, RPOs, contingency and retained executive search firms, etc.) and how much it costs. Don’t worry. We’ll get there. First, you need to know whether to hire a recruiter at all.

Why hire a recruiter in the first place?

Good question! You could find yourself in one of these situations:

  • Your organization is too small to have a recruiter on staff. Generally speaking, companies under 100 people often find themselves in this position.  Classic examples are many nonprofits, associations, and startups.
  • You have a specialized role to fill, a “one-off” hire. You might need a dozen customer service representatives, but you only need one financial person.  What do you do when your network doesn’t yield the right hire?
  • You are experiencing a surge in the business that can’t be handled without swamping the existing talent team. Your recruiters are humming, but you’re headed into your busy season, what do you do now?
  • You are building out a new group, division, or subsidiary that will require talent in a new area in which your team has no expertise. How do you go from zero to 60 in 90 days with no track record recruiting in this new arena?

Even after we’ve broken down the hiring process in this way, why are you still feeling nervous?  Because just “the idea” of hiring a recruiter can feel daunting. Any new activity about which you know very little can appear challenging.  I know how you feel. When I started recruiting in technology, I remember my head swimming in acronyms, concepts, and titles. I would attend meet-ups and hope that no one would ask me a question about a platform, language, framework, or process. It took some time before I was totally comfortable with what I needed to know and what I didn’t. I owe my evolution to many technologists who clued me into the best questions to ask and more importantly the ones not to ask. I am grateful for their support.

I am sure many of you feel the same way about recruiting that I felt about technology – overwhelmed with the language, options, and partnerships available. Yes, recruiting is complicated, but we in the business don’t have to intentionally make it so hard to figure out, especially for those who want to take advantage of our services.

My technology allies back then, embodied the Wallace wisdom above. They recognized where I was and what I needed to move forward. At the end of his speech, Wallace suggests that the greatest challenge we face in life is simple awareness. We have to keep reminding ourselves over and over that what is real is hidden in plain sight all around us.  I hope breaking down the world of recruitment helps you see more clearly.

Recruiting is the air I breathe and the water I swim in.  Let me be your guide.

Another easy way to become more informed and savvy about recruiting is to follow the conversation I’m having with others on social media. Click the links below to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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