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Strategies for helping internal recruiters bring in the right hires

Published on April 30, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

Trying to recruit IT staff with the help of an in-house recruiter can sometimes be like using a forklift to drive a nail, as TechRepublic member Louis Avalos pointed out in a recent e-mail.

Avalos was looking to fill a couple of DBA positions with experienced Oracle specialists at his former employer, First American Real Estate Solutions, a provider of real-estate data for the mortgage industry. Instead, HR staff sent him cooks who had recently completed a night class on databases.

Obviously, the recruiters weren't skilled enough at scanning tech resumes to be of much help.

"That was the last time I used the in-house dudes," said Louis, who then turned to professional headhunters to find his staff— a much more expensive solution. "I have yet to meet a good in-house recruiter that can properly interview a technical person," he said.

Louis' experience with internal recruiting assistance isn't unique. While internal HR staffs may shine when it comes to creating policies and procedures, they can fail miserably when faced with the task of finding skilled IT candidates. That's probably why most tech managers polled find most new hires through networking, staff referrals, online job postings, and paid ads. As a recent TechRepublic poll (Figure A) indicates, headhunters and recruiters account for just 25 percent of new hires.

But there are ways to avoid the scenario Avalos described. Here are some tips from members on how to boost your recruiters' performance and give you access to better applicants.

Improve your internal relationship

One way to improve your working relationship with your recruiters is to meet them face-to-face. Often, recruiters are searching for job candidates for more than one department, so their attention is divided. Additionally, your recruiter may be pulled off your staffing project midstream and assigned to something of higher priority. Simply meeting with the recruiter face-to-face can go a long way towards building goodwill.

Befriending your recruiter may also spur him or her to treat your staffing project more favorably. The recruiter may be less likely to accept another staffing project until yours is completed, and the personal relationship with you may inspire some feelings of empathy on the recruiter's part for your staffing predicament.

Coach the recruiter

In your meeting with an in-house recruiter, rather than simply saying, "I need one Oracle DBA, two QA people, and one wireless network administrator," it's more useful to coach the recruiter about available tech positions.

While it's essential to inform the recruiter about staffing requirements, budget, and deadlines, don't stop there. Help the recruiter truly understand the requirements and capabilities of the positions you're trying to fill.

Start by providing the recruiter with a clearly worded job description for each position. The best job descriptions describe a combination of hard and soft skills necessary for excelling in the position.

Using phrases such as "must have five years' experience in xyz" will only undermine a recruiter's ability to select the correct applicant. Instead, explain that you're looking for someone with "midlevel experience," and give the recruiter some discretion in determining the definition of midlevel.

A DBA with only two years of experience, but who has single-handedly implemented the relational database structure and SQL queries that gather and output a company's various metric reports, might actually be qualified for the job opening. Stipulating that someone must have five years of experience to be considered may cause the recruiter to overlook otherwise stellar applicants.

Along with job descriptions, creating profiles of current staff members will help recruiters better understand your hiring needs, said Shelli Hargrove, a TechRepublic member. The profiles are nothing more than summaries of the responsibilities, skills, previous experience, and attitudes among your current star performers. You want your recruiter to look for new hires that closely resemble your best employees, she explained.

"We basically have profiles for our various positions, and the recruiter can use these questionnaires to qualify candidates before we spend the time to bring them in for an on-site interview, which takes a significant amount of time away from accomplishing our business objectives," said Hargrove, a solutions delivery leader at an HR consulting firm.

Pool recruiting resources

After you've detailed the job descriptions, start talking with the recruiter about the tools he or she will use to locate candidates. Pooling your recruitment resources with those of your recruiter can widen the pipeline of potential candidates.

An internal recruiter probably has access to online recruiting tools, such as, and their company's recruiting Web site. Many TechRepublic members note that their company Web site is a primary vehicle for finding candidates.

"It's much cheaper and much faster than the traditional newspaper ads," explained one manager of IS, who works at a government agency in British Columbia.

"Generally speaking, we post positions on our own Web site and up to three external job sites for IT positions," explained the member. "While we now receive a fairly high volume of responses, HR is able to cut it down to a manageable number for our review."

Job boards can certainly boost the volume of candidates, but they're rarely the best place to find quality applicants or executive-level talent. Pointing the internal recruiter to professional associations and contacts who might yield high-quality candidates can also improve the outcome of your staffing campaign.

If you don't succeed, try something else

If, after taking all of these steps, you're still unsatisfied with your company's recruiter, consider alternative strategies— such as pulling in an external recruiter or putting the staffing burden on your direct line managers.

Some tech managers, such as Alavos, prefer working with recruiters who specialize in placement for IT positions. These recruiters have a greater understanding of the particular needs of tech leaders and the roles and responsibilities of IT workers.

"Some have even walked in my shoes," said Alavos, a former senior technical manager now consulting in Irvine, CA. The downside, however, of working with headhunters is the commission, typically negotiated based on a percentage of the new hire's salary.

Another way to improve the quality of your hires may be to compensate your IT managers for doing the extra work. One TechRepublic member related that 12 years ago, his company started paying commission to the IT managers instead of headhunters.

According to the member, the company believes that if department heads are responsible for hiring their own staff, and reap the financial benefit for finding the right candidate quickly, then those same executives will be more motivated to make the right hiring decision.

That strategy also guarantees that the technology leader can't complain about a candidate they sourced, interviewed, and hired, the member pointed out.

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david southgate
writing for living.