Recruiters vs. HR - Breaking Down the Barriers

the following post was originally published at


I was inspired by the - let's call it compelling - visual Valentino Martinez gave in his "Mother of All Speed Bumps" blog post to pose a question to the members of RecruitingBlogs:

As a recruiter, what are the main challenges you face when working with HR?  Have you ever turned an HR roadblock into an opportunity?

Several recruiters & recruiters-turned-HR-professionals chimed in to share their experiences.  I thought it would be awesome to compile their responses into a  list of tips for working with HR.

Nothing gets recruiters going more than the big recruiters vs. HR debate.  While these two groups have a relationship that is mutually beneficial and has a common objective, they give pretty harsh reviews to one another and their roles in the job placement process.

The bad news is, you can’t control HR’s preconceived notions of third party recruiters.  The good news is, you can take ownership of how you respond to the obstacles you face when working with HR.  Evolve the way you work with HR and you can achieve a symbiotic partnership, rather than a tumultuous rivalry.


8 Tips for Working with HR


1.  Woo the Gatekeepers

Frustrated that you can't get through to the hiring manager?  Map out a different route.  Gatekeepers and facilitators - HR professionals in the traditional sense - can be your best advocates.  While they may not have the final say, they can be very influential, as they are in-tune with the overall company culture, know how to navigate every company procedure, and have direct access to hiring managers.  Don’t think of gatekeepers as an obstacle to overcome, treat them as partners and let them block the competition instead of you.


2.  Let Go of Titles

Even if your gut reaction to the letters “H” immediately followed by “R” is to throw-up in your mouth a little bit, try not to rely solely on HR stereotypes.  Titles are subjective and often interchangeable in the realm of HR and hiring managers - don’t let them get in your way.  Accurately identify who you are working with.  Determine whether she is a decision maker or a facilitator.  Can facilitators help you form a relationship with decision makers and vice versa?

A person's title may or may not indicate anything.  Some of my best relationship involve HR (or related talent role) and work quite well. - Jerry Albright



3.  Lend an Ear

Instead of trying to sell yourself to HR, take time to really listen to their needs.  Ask about their company strategy, what their goals are, and what hiring demands they may expect down the pipeline.  HR professionals have a lot on their plate, so show them how you can ease the demands they face.

It may look as though a lot of folks in HR are "lazy" or "slow", but there is much more behind the scenes that you as an agency recruiter don't see.  Other things they do like orientation, training, benefits analysis, employee benefit discussions, payroll/PTO, organizational management, employee reviews, employee performance plans, ect. take a significant amount of time out of the day. - Keith Plesha



4.  Be Accommodating

Take into consideration that while you may be “on” 24/7, your clients are probably working 9 to 5.  Don’t treat communication with HR as a scheduled sales call.  Find out when the best times are to speak with HR, and they may be more open to listen.

Many recruiters take the approach of calling on a set schedule and that shows on sales calls.  Companies come to almost expect the calls and they are already tuned off before you get them on the phone. -Robert Harvie



5.  Cool Your Heels

Resist the urge to be over-eager.  Communicate with HR or the hiring manager to gauge the appropriate time to present them with a candidate.

On the staffing firm side, we tend to get a bit excited when we A) have a quality opening and B) have a quality candidate for the role...we may tend to jump the gun on the hiring process.  If we ran into an opening, I would always ask the hiring manager if they have looked internally to fill the position or if they have done a local search on their own.  If they did not do that yet, I always gave them a week or so to figure out their process and true need.  My point: sometimes on the agency side we tend to get wound up over the position and tend to blame HR for the slowness...when in reality it's usually the hiring manager that is slow to give feedback or they truly don't have a hiring process setup (ie. expectations are different on both ends). - Keith Plesha



6.  Reinvent Your Candidate

HR does not always have a firm grasp on the nature of a position, especially positions that are very technical, or at the executive level. That’s why qualifications and skill sets are so important in the world of HR.  How else can they measure the quality of a candidate? When you have a candidate that is perfect for the job, yet maybe not as traditional as other choices, work with that candidate to show HR how they meet the qualifications/skill set of the role.

The main problem I face when dealing with HR or as I like to call them "The Gestapo" is that they are recruiting from a tick list they seldom have any knowledge of the role they are recruiting and cannot be reasoned with when you have an excellent applicant who is a little bit different but is a potential star.” - Terence



7.  Specialize

Narrow your focus and pin-point a niche. Don’t be just another IT recruiter. Specialize. That way, when HR needs to find a highly skilled or executive-level candidate, they know exactly who to turn to. HR professionals are certainly capable of finding run-of-the-mill candidates on the big job boards (although, maybe not that efficiently).  Let them.  Be a master of your niche and HR will seek you out every time they need a diamond in the rough.

Everyone in HR will say they are capable of sourcing candidates, but if most of your job is centered around benefits, you aren't honing your sourcing skills as effectively as someone who solely does sourcing. -Keith Plesha


8.  Knowledge is Power

Never stop learning. Soak up as much info as you can via industry blogs, magazines, and journals. Join industry organizations, participate in forums, attend trade shows and seminars. When you are knowledgeable about the industry you represent, you set yourself apart.  You also opening yourself to endless networking possibilities - some of which are with HR professionals who have the insider info about their companies.



In the end, recruiters and HR share a common goal - finding the best person for the job.  It is in both parties interests to work well together, and to make each other look good.  As a recruiter, you can choose to go to battle against HR, or re-evaluate the way you work and foster better relationships with your HR counterparts.  Special thanks to Keith Plesha, Robert Harvie, Jeremy Eskenazi, Ashley Ryall, Terence, and Jerry Albright for their insights and experience.

Views: 277

Comment by Valentino Martinez on June 14, 2011 at 12:37pm



I'm happy to be the VISUAL part of the inspiration for your great assembly of points & quotes (from contributors to your original blog on the subject) for external recruiters to consider when deciding to challenge or work with HR in the recruitment process.


As a former Corporate Staffing Manager, and now as an external Recruitment Consultant, I immediately saw the value of this GIGANTIC SPEED BUMP photo as the ideal metaphor   defining who ultimately wins in such confrontations between external recruiters and HR Staffing.

So, BEWARE--you external recruiters who feel you know a thing or two about the recruitment game...and take to heart Jessica's "8 Tips for Working with HR", because THE MOTHER OF ALL SPEED BUMPS awaits...



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