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Should Recruitment Secede from HR?

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By Kim Shepherd, CEO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer


There’s a controversial idea that I’ve been churning over and over in my mind, and I’d like to hear what others have to say about it. Here goes: I’m not sure the recruitment function has any business being in the human resources department.

Both deal with people, but recruitment and HR come from different mindsets. HR deals with what IS, while recruitment deals with what ISN’T. Recruitment is actually closer to business development or marketing. They all take a value proposition to market in order to bring something new into the company, whether it is clients or talent.

To be clear, I am not undervaluing the role HR plays in a successful business. But HR is more about analyzing, processing, tracking, and developing the talent your business already has. For the most part HR professionals are nurturing. They can be assertive when it comes to compliance, but their main focus is on collaboration.

Recruitment, on the other hand, calls for a competitive and even aggressive spirit, like biz dev. Both go hunting to identify targets. Both cold call and have to persist even after hearing “no” many times. I don’t see a Compensation Analyst or even an HR Business Partner in that kind of role.

HR is actually closer to accounting and finance — both are involved in tracking, managing, and protecting assets and resources. But you wouldn’t put biz dev under your CFO — the mindsets are too different.

To give you an example, at Decision Toolbox we market open positions for our clients. Our primary selling points are why a specific opening is an opportunity of choice for the right candidate (the chance to make an impact or master new challenges, for example). Only secondarily do we present why the company is an employer of choice. It’s Marketing 101: you have to differentiate your offering from the competition.

We were working with a particular client, and they told us that the kind of talent they wanted might be working at production facilities for Kraft or Pepsi. Good intel. A little later in the conversation, though, we asked what would attract the top talent. The HR representative answered, “We have a really great benefits package.” Better than Kraft or Pepsi? Not likely. The point is that HR doesn’t have the biz dev/marketing mindset. It never occurred to that person to think of challenging the competition.

Another example is the phrase “recruitment and retention.” We lump them in the same category, but the two activities couldn’t be more different. It’s my main premise again: retention is about what IS, and recruitment is about what ISN’T. You need to do both, for sure, but the talents and temperament that make someone good at retention aren’t the same as those that make someone good at recruitment.

Human Resources long has fought for a seat at the senior table, and they should have it. But I think it’s time for recruitment to be there, too. If biz dev proposes opening 20 new stores, you can be sure that will be on the agenda. But that initiative is going to need some serious workforce planning and a major recruitment effort — otherwise it will fail. The leadership team should include a Chief Recruitment Officer.

Okay, I’m getting off the soapbox, but I’m also bouncing the ball into your court. Do you think I’m out of my mind? Or do you think it’s time to shake the Etch A Sketch®? Should recruitment be a lean, mean, and independent function? If it’s not under HR, where do you think it should land? Under biz dev, marketing or somewhere else? Share your thoughts!


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5 Responses to “Should Recruitment Secede from HR?”

  1. October 12, 2015 at 5:04 pm, Deborah Rodriguez said:

    Oh gosh, I have so much to say about this. This idea of separating recruitment from the HR department reads like more of the HR-bashing we’ve become used to over the past 15 years. Your suggestion that HR professionals today are focused only on compliance and employee advocacy is disappointing. Since your argument is primarily a list of reasons why the HR leader is incapable of leading recruitment, you’ll find your requested feedback interwoven with an education on what HR actually does. Many of the statements you make about recruiting are accurate, but none that you make about HR overall are remotely close.

    I agree that the temperament and talents of recruiters are different from those of a compensation specialist or employee relations specialist; but that is also true for an accountant and a financial analyst or a product director and a communications specialist; and you wouldn’t suggest moving one of those positions out from the Finance or Marketing department.

    To suggest that HR “is more about analyzing, processing, tracking, and developing the talent your business already has”, or that it is about “what is” and not about the future, is not descriptive of HR. In my 20+ years in HR, I can tell you that less than 10% of my time is spent tracking and protecting assets and resources. In reality, HR is a highly interdisciplinary function, and separating the parts can only lead to a disjointed talent strategy for the organization. At the end of the day, we don’t just “both deal with people”. Our business is the people – and how we run that business belongs under one leader and not spread across multiple leaders. You can’t create a compensation strategy without understanding the talent market; you can’t attract great talent without understanding the company culture and perks (because candidates ask about those things); and the same things that attract great talent are those that keep great talent, so you can’t separate retention strategies from attraction strategies.

    Yes, recruiters should have marketing skills (so should benefits managers); however, you can break out every discipline in HR and draw a parallel to another business skill. To be effective, the HR team members have to understand and have some skill in just about every function in the organization—a bit of marketing, finance, technology, development, operations, customer service, training, business analytics, and sales. A good HR professional is not a master of any of these skills (if they were, they’d have one of those jobs instead); but the fact that they have to know a little about all of these things and a lot about human behavior rolls up into making a masterful HR professional. By your argument, the compensation analyst should be in Finance, the HRIS specialist in IT, etc.

    The business development (sales) mindset you attribute to recruiting is accurate, but that trait can also make them singularly focused on closing the sale. Over the years, the one team that I’ve had to coach the most to think more broadly about the business needs, strategy, culture, and the future of the company is those doing the recruiting. Recruiters (especially recruiters in outside firms) on every team I’ve taken over have (initially) understood the least about the business, its long term strategy, and even the competency of the hiring managers they are working with. Many came to the team with little interest in those things, interested only in putting their numbers on the board regardless of whether or not those hires were successful. They didn’t see the value of joining the larger HR team meetings since that took them away from their hunting time. And while recruiters need to be great marketers and sales people, they also need to be able to screen for fit and competence, and that is why their involvement on the HR team is critical to their hiring of great talent. Recruitment and the other HR functions are part of one team where all are responsible for attracting the best talent, ensuring the fit is right, helping talent be successful on the job, and holding on to them – like the financial analyst and accountant in finance, they have to work closely together under one leader (and one strategy) to meet the goals of the business.

    Finally, that same “competitive and even aggressive spirit” you indicate is necessary for recruitment applies to all the HR disciplines. HR (not just the recruiters) has historically heard “no” more often than any other department and has to deal with the stickiest of interpersonal conflicts, so perseverance, the ability to present a clear business case, and strong negotiation skills are important characteristics for anyone in HR. I find it annoying that the biggest insults to the HR profession come from service partners who want to perform some HR function in my organization………..doesn’t seem like a good marketing strategy for gaining new customers. So, you’ll probably go direct to the hiring manager only to be shut down by the CHRO at some point in the process because the hiring manager was unaware of the CEO’s direction, the executive team’s new strategy, or how his/her boss feels about hiring another person for that team. And then you’ll point to that as another example of HR being a roadblock, ineffective or incompetent.


  2. October 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm, Kim Shepherd said:

    Thank you for your insightful comments. Please know that I did not intend for my thoughts to come off like HR bashing. I have a tremendous respect for a profession I admittedly know little about. Even though I have been in the human capital space for over 25 years, I still contend that HR and TA are two entirely different skill sets, personalities and temperament. I agree with you that the two must interact to efficiently get the job done, but I see it more like sales and delivery – both critical but polar opposites. More than making my point heard, my goal with this blog was to get people talking and reasoning. Thank you for joining the conversation.


  3. November 05, 2015 at 12:11 pm, Linda Haft, SPHR, CCP said:

    Sorry, I don’t agree. And am disappointed that a CEO sees HR in the framework presented. Recruiting is tied to strategy which is what HR has been working on for a very long time. Yes, recruitment is “sales” and I’ve always said that, but it’s also finding the right skill sets and getting the right butts in the appropriate seats. It’s about knowing the various client groups, the culture (and subcultures), and where the Company is headed and when the talent needs to be brought on board. It’s about knowing how a wrong hire can affect the team and the business. While a good HR practitioner might not always be great at recruiting, HR does need to be a driver of – and very involved in – the entire process.


  4. June 06, 2016 at 12:09 pm, Kevin Parmenter said:

    This is brilliant work and I completely agree – I also agree with the previous poster too much to say on the topic. Im not HR bashing however my experience is that HR has become an internally focused (under the legal department?) organization which protects the company from the employees and enforces policy – keeps the place from getting sued etc. and it shows in the recruitment – the applicants are a problem to be “risk- managed”. Companies should treat candidates like their very best customers not like the enemy – make it easy to do business with you. Somewhere along the way the C level guys have given the HR department crazy metrics to optimize and it has nothing to do with treating candidates like valuable customers.

    Case in point, When you encounter a company with an ATS system you should just exit out of the website. Filling info into an ATS system and de-constructing your resume (which we have always been told is so important) and feeding in these awful systems that no human ever looks at is a waste of time. Hiring managers are not allowed to talk to prospective candidates.. where did we loose our minds? Linkedin jobs is so simple to use why not just use that for example?

    Here are some articles Ive written on the subject and its rare but fantastic to see someone talking about the same things. Will it ever be sane again? I am just glad I’m not 25 and just starting out. Highly qualified people cant get past the nonsense minefield HR has laid down for them and are often not willing to resort to it. Why don’t companies see this and want to fix it? Enjoy. Comments welcomed – I’m easy to find.


  5. June 08, 2016 at 6:52 pm, Kevin Parmenter said:

    Good article on what companies have been doing for some time now – its beyond rude too.

    here is another great article on how insane recruiting and interviewing has become this now has a term associated with it “ghosting” If a candidate did this they would be immediately disqualified – astounding how insane its gotten.


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