The Case for Working Directly with Hiring Managers


I believe in Human Resources and corporate recruiters.  They fill a necessary function at most companies.  They insure that there are no duplicate submissions of résumés, they coordinate meetings, they screen to insure that candidates meet the standards of the job and the company.  However, with respect, they should allow outside recruiters to deal directly with hiring managers when it comes to job specifications and follow up on interviews.  It would speed up the process immensely.


Outside recruiters, because they have to find the appropriate candidates, know the exact questions to ask in order to find the right candidates; they are adept at creating actionable and realistic job specifications.  And, if they are good, they should be able to work quickly and efficiently.


Not too many years ago recruiters worked directly with the hiring managers at many companies.  By working directly with those responsible for the ultimate hiring, It allowed recruiters to understand the nuances and personality differences among the various groups and hiring managers.  I am sure that most recruiters will tell you that the hiring process was faster, more efficient and smarter.


Case in point:  A few weeks ago, I received an assignment from human resources for an account director on a new account at an advertising agency.  I spoke to HR and asked permission to speak to the hiring manager.  Reluctantly, I was told who it was and it turned out to be someone I knew well.  Following is a slightly abridged version of the specs which were provided by HR and by the manager:


From Human Resources

We need an account director.  Very strategic.  To work on a new product.  Should be someone with lots of ideas and who can think through a new product introduction.  I was then told the product category but was told that category experience might not be necessary.  HR did not know the name of the product.


From the Hiring Manager

Need an account director for a new product.  This product that has never existed; its category, while related to some existing products, has never been marketed before.  So we need someone very creative, highly strategic, who can think on his or her feet.  There is no road map since this product is entirely new.  This should be an exciting opportunity for a strategic and creative advertising account manager.   We need someone who can work on their own, without any industry guidelines but who can instill confidence in the client and work with the client as a partner.  Will be doing everything from concept development, product naming and testing through to development of advertising executions.  Category experience is unnecessary, but extensive new product development experience is essential.  We would prefer someone who is strategic but has come from a creative oriented ad agency.


While the essence of the specs was identical, the nuance and context was far more revealing from the hiring manager.    The hiring manager told me that all this information had been told to the HR director who told the HR manager, who told me.  Ultimately, it is like a game of telephone with each successive person making minute but critical changes to the communications.  The written job specs were useless. 


Since I had a relationship with the hiring manager, I was able to determine who the right candidates were in terms of personality and fit within the company’s culture.  Before I spoke to the hiring manager, I was not sure where to look or who the right candidate might be.  After speaking to the manager, I knew exactly who to send.


The placement was made within two weeks, start to finish.  I involved HR at every phase of the process, copying them on all emails, leaving voice mails each time an appointment was set up and providing feedback on each of the three candidates I sent.  I worked with human resources on reference checking and then during the offer negotiations.  It was a smooth partnership.


I wish more companies worked this way.  It would expedite and simplify the hiring process.  Unfortunately, there are many human resources people who insist that the only way they can add value is to insinuate themselves into the process.  I am not suggesting that HR abdicate their responsibilities by simply sending résumés they receive on to the hiring manager and asking if they want to see the candidate.  I am suggesting that we can partner with both HR and the hiring manager to insure a smooth flow of information and the submission of totally appropriate candidates. 

Views: 144

Comment by Candace Nault on March 7, 2011 at 8:04pm

Great post and makes so much sense to me, I wanted to give it a rating but for the last several days that function has not been working for will give it 5 stars here!  Thanks!

Comment by Ken Forrester on March 8, 2011 at 8:46am

Excellent job in presenting your case, and now it is in the hands of the jurors.  I wonder what the verdict will be?  

Most likely nothing will change, because the party who pays the bill makes the rules.  From HR's perspective, recruiting is now a dollars & cents game.  And the rules that are perceived as saving the most dollars & cents will certainly get the verdict over efficiency most of the time.

Comment by Randy Alexander on March 8, 2011 at 1:16pm

Hi Paul,

Let me attempt to provide some perspective to this discussion.  When I was in Executive Search (contingency) with a top finance and accounting national firm 10 years ago, I was always taught to go straight to the Hiring Manager, and to stay away from HR like they were the plague (since corporate recruiting generally falls within HR I include them here to).  I believe most external recruiters are taught this as well (please post and let me know if this is not the case).


HR, as a functional area of an organization, has and continues to go through a transformation.  Years ago, HR professionals cited "being a people person" as an attribute that was necessary for success in an HR profession.  Not so much today (wanna make me cringe???)  The very nature of HR, historically has been very transactional in nature.  Over the years, many progressive HR professionals have started to look at the function through a completely different set of lenses.  Yes, the transactional nature of payroll, hiring, firing, benefits, etc still remain.  However, HR today is MUCH more strategic in nature than it was only 10 years ago.  Human Capital systems and technology have made the transactional nature of HR very easy to handle, which allows HR professionals to be much more involved driving business decision from a strategic standpoint.  Granted, an HR profile today is very different than it was 10 years ago too.


All of this to say, the historic mentality of staying away from HR doesn't make a lot of sense (in many cases), and I am glad that you recognize the need to partner with HR professionals, in addition to Hiring Managers where appropriate.  Most organizations have preferred vendors lists.  Hiring Managers don't generally make decisions on who gets on that list.  That's HR.  Most Hiring Managers don't dictate a sourcing strategy, and many might not even be aware of the strategy (although they should be).  That's HR.  Hiring Managers don't even dictate compensation structures (although they do have a say).  That's HR.  It has been my experience that HR may not be making the hiring decision, but they absolutely will take your candidate out of the process if they don't feel that he/she is the right fit. 


I would be interested to know what the trends show on exclusive search agreements over the years, and if exclusives are more prominent, less prominent, or the same vs. 5, 10, 15+ years ago.  My guess (based on qualitative information), is that exclusives have become less prevalent over the years.  This means there may be multiple agencies working on a particular role.  Part of my role is to balance a Hiring Manager's time, so I may be less enticed to put him/her infront of multiple recruiters.  Having said that, as an HR professional, I am concerned with quality, and timeliness (amongst other things), so I better be damn sure the external recruiters I am partnering with have the appropriate information to go to market and source the right candidate for my organization, and critical role.  I would fully expect to get the right level of information, nuances, etc from the corporate recruiters, provided they are a strategic value add to the process instead of just "managing" the process.  More and more are moving from the "managing the process", to owning it, and adding significant value to it.


SO, as HR goes through a transformation, it also behooves agency recruiters to also go through somewhat of a transformation.  Corporate Recruiting is no longer the plague, but is your partner and advocate in a lot of situations.  Just some food for thought...


Comment by Valentino Martinez on March 8, 2011 at 1:16pm


Your example is the ideal scenario for improving the odds for a positive outcome in any recruitment effort.  However, you can always count on HR to slow the process, protect the fort, and even sabotage the effort--if you are working with paranoid incompetence.  Yet, every now and then HR reps are on point and can be most helpful in getting an outside recruiter to a positive outcome.

There are also scenarios where the hiring managers leave a lot to be desired in terms of what they really want, or will settle for relative to pursuing truly outstanding candidates; diverse candidates, or the logical candidate.  One example, at the height if illogical behavior--I presented a candidate where the response from the hiring manager was, "This candidates it too good to be true.  There must be something wrong with the fact that they are available to us."   Never mind my wooing process and the capability I provide to get such a talent to consider discussing a new opportunity.  They dragged the process out long enough for a competitor to swoop in and take my "too good to be true candidate".  I was fit to be tied.

Also, some employers, with HR as the protector, have been burned by aggressive recruiters who gained access to internal managers and/or key contacts and turned them into targets--then later recruited them away from the outfit they supposedly serving.  In a past corporate HR Employment Manager role, I recall busting a nationally recognized search firm, who we had on contract, helping us at one facility yet taking from us at two of our other facilities.  When I confronted them with our contract agreement they had the audacity to cancel our contract with the justification that they were making more money in fees by raiding us then they were in filling our openings.

So if there is reluctance with HR—sometimes they need a duration of ethical behavior, PLUS a proven track record of ethical behavior, before they loosen up access to their hiring management. 


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