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Raising the Bar: Why Barriers to Entry Are A Big Deal for Recruiting

There’s always been plenty of talking, tweeting, blogging, venting, ranting and raving about the sad state of recruiting – but lately, it seems like the topic of what’s wrong with talent acquisition has become an even more pervasive trending topic. It’s no secret that as recruiters, we rank somewhere near the bottom of the professional respect scale as an industry, somewhere between used car salesmen and telemarketers (although, cynics would say recruiters happen to be a bit of both).

The fact is, recruiting is a pretty easy target, primarily due to the misperception that this is an easy job that anyone with half a brain can do (and even that’s not always necessary) – probably because, well, anyone really can become a recruiter.

There’s no clear path to get here, and those of us in the business most likely ended up here by accident, considering that there’s really nothing required in the way of professional preparation.

You don’t need a certification, or even an education – just a willingness to learn on the fly, the ability to handle rejection, and, most importantly, those intangible skills for managing people and processes probably best referred to as “hustling.” And there are plenty of people knocking this particular hustle – even though the fact is, nothing hurts our reprehensible reputation and poor public perception more than the fact that there’s no real discipline behind this discipline, or at least not one can be consistently applied from one person or one place to another.

This means the requirements for a role tasked with the responsibility of improving professional lives and livelihoods are about as stringent as those prerequisites for scoring a gig whose primary duties involve folding sweaters at the mall. Which, no matter how you look at it, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

But the reality is there is an extremely low – or, in most cases, completely non-existent – barrier to entry in the field of recruiting. I’m not going to add to the growing canon of copy dedicated to this issue (like this one by Derek Zeller, or this one by Steve Levy) and illustrating the implications implicit to the complete lack of professional quality control inherent to this industry. So, instead of adding to the abundance of articles out there, I’m going to skip that stuff for now.

My intention (this time around, anyway) isn’t to point out all of the egregious behavior so seemingly endemic among those whose jobs are even tangentially related to recruiting. You know all about recruiters behaving badly – and likely, have had the misfortune of working with one. Instead, I want to talk about how all this translates to the bigger business – and bottom line.

Waiving the Standards

downloadInstead of standing on my soapbox and decrying the lack of professional preparation recruiting really requires, I want to talk about an interrelated, but alternative, barrier to entry, one that holds all of us to the standard that most of us agree we should be abiding by – and one that, if upheld uniformly and consistency, would help alleviate many of the extraneous employment related challenges created by crappy recruiting:

1. Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: Most recruiters have no idea about what the position they recruit for actually does or what the role really entails. This means that many talent practitioners are likely unable to identify what the hiring manager (or business) actually need, nor can they effectively or credibly message or market the position to their target candidates.

2. Our Greatest Weakness: The days of formal training or certification programs in core competencies like behavioral based interviewing or assessments are pretty much a thing of the past. Without having any actual interviewing or screening skills, recruiters often don’t know what to ask, or don’t have enough information or insight on the person or position to actually analyze and interpret responses to decipher what really matters and why.

3. Common Courtesy: Recruiters suck at following through or paying attention to details, like, you know, letting candidates know if they’re no longer being considered for a position or giving even the most minimal modicum of feedback as rationale for why, exactly, they’re not moving on in the process. Most recruiters talk about following up with candidates as some sort of utopian ideal that’s a pipe dream – but none of us should ever be too busy to handle this most essential of responsibilities.

4. Common Sense: Recruiting and common sense are often mutually exclusive concepts – and so much of what we do is based on intuition that actually applying a method to the madness seems, well, counterintuitive. This lack of common sense, however, means recruiters aren’t capable – or in some cases, willing – to effectively partner with hiring managers, push back on unrealistic expectations or improve an obviously odious candidate experience.

5. No Brain for Business: Let’s face it – our eclectic and diverse backgrounds means that while we may have a wide set of experience and expertise, most of us enter recruiting with limited business experience, and consequently, lack basic business-savvy. The lack of business acumen means many recruiters have no ability to proactively identify issues or opportunities, measure results or understand the bottom line impact – and business consequences – that their roles directly entail.

How This Hurts the Hiring Process

1349717645864_6811928Simple. The five factors above, in any combination, lead to wasted time, money and opportunity. Period. The impact of this can sometimes appear immediately, but sometimes, the real repercussions are a little less tangible and take quite a bit more time to manifest.

But ultimately, the low barrier to entry for recruiting means an unnecessarily high barrier to entry for qualified applicants and candidates when they have to navigate the many obstacles created by crappy recruiters. Which means that we’re failing at the most fundamental part of our jobs.

When a high performer or highly skilled candidate starts searching for a new job, he or she has a (reasonable) expectation that the people responsible for screening and selecting them to have some degree of ability or expertise which qualifies them to be the primary arbiters of the hiring process.

That’s why writing a realistic and compelling job description is so important – a bunch of buzzwords and boilerplates means that they won’t bother applying – and if your jobs ads are incoherent or idiotic (as so many are), then stop bitching about how you can’t get any qualified applicants.

If that high performer actually somehow manages to make it through to interviewing for the position, then, similarly, they should also expect that the person on the other side of the desk “gets it” and can actually ask relevant questions and meaningfully interpret or gain insights during the interview process.

Asking asinine or generalized questions (“If you were a car, what kind of car would you be and why?”) is not only an immediate turn off and time waster for anyone with any actual “talent.” It’s also insulting to them – and harmful for your bigger business and brand, particularly if their first encounter with your company is with some mouth breather asking specious stuff like their greatest weakness.

Looking for work is almost as much work as the job most candidates are seeking, and the intensive amount of time required to apply and interview for new opportunities is a huge investment that’s pretty painful. Being a job seeker is no fun whatsoever, not in any way, shape or form.

No one in the history of ever enjoys running the recruiting gauntlet, but in the case of those high performers who you need worse than they need you, a blatant disregard for the basic stuff like regular communication, respectful interactions and timely feedback demonstrates the hubris that they’re not really important to your company – and if they’re that proverbial purple squirrel, that perception means you’re probably screwed. You’re not going to be making great hires, just bad impressions.

Along those lines, high performers know their value, are aware of the market demand, and don’t have the time for your crap. Unrealistic expectations and overly complex hiring processes are hoops that no one worth hiring will be willing to jump through – they’ll just move onto opportunities at your competitor whose process is less cumbersome.

While a recruiter or an employer reliant on any recruiter’s services somehow get that these problems are pervasive, for some reason, they almost never recognize that they’re part of the problem, and these flaws are flaws that exist in their own talent organizations. Ignorance, in this case, isn’t bliss – it’s a huge liability.

What’s the Big Deal?

090914_Signals_promoThe big deal is that recruiting’s lousy reputation is being justified by your colleagues, counterparts and coworkers, who repeatedly earn the piss poor professional perception that plagues the entire industry. It’s their actions, their laziness, their hubris that’s causing the problem, day in and day out.

The talent those “recruiters” purport to trying to attract are, in fact, repelled by this abhorrent behavior. High performers or highly skilled professionals, unlike recruiters, will always be in demand.

Once recruiters realize that these candidates are really the ones in control, and arrogance is replaced by an understanding that employers aren’t the ones driving this market, then they’ll realize there’s no reason for anyone to tolerate the unnecessary barriers so many of us build into our processes and best practices – nor is there any incentive for continuing to behave badly.

So, What’s the Solution?

Problem_Solving3The most obvious, and most widely suggested, seems to hold that some sort of licensing or certification would solve this dilemma. Others recommend additional, formalized training or professional development program to proactively address the skill shortages pervasive to the recruiting industry, like those I’ve already outlined.

And then there are the fatalists, the ones who think that bad recruiters will just disappear on their own, dropping out of the business without any need for intervention.

Even worse, there are those recruiters who think that they’re so good that bad recruiters do THEM a favor by making them look great by comparison – no need to do anything when the competition seems to be self-sabotaging, right? Wrong.

I’m not convinced that any official credentials or standard, consistent training will entirely eradicate the worst offenders from the recruiter ranks.

Selling a job is way easier than selling Amway or Avon, and way more lucrative – and with limited options for doing anything else, they’re likely in it for the long haul And, I certainly think that the idea that bad recruiters make good recruiters look better is anything but complete bullshit.

So what I’m saying is: I don’t know if there’s any single silver bullet or quick fix for this problem, but I do know it’s a problem worth fixing. Even if you’re not a recruiter yourself, you’re going to have to interact with one at some point in your career, and when you do, trust me – you’re going to wish that someone had stuck up some sort of barrier for entry, because you don’t want to place your career in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

How would you rebrand recruiting to make it a reputable profession occupied with reputable recruiters?

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About the Author: Leveraging her unique perspective as a progressive thinker with a well-rounded background from diverse corporate settings, Kelly Blokdijk advises members of the business community on targeted human resource, recruiting and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs.

Kelly is an active HR and recruiting industry blogger and regular contributor on RecruitingBlogs.com. She also candidly shares opinions, observations and ideas as a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @TalentTalks or connect with her on LinkedIn.