The ‘Three Commandments’ of high performance recruiting. A lesson from Japan

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I am writing this on a plane on my way back from a week visiting the Aquent offices in Japan. It was a great week, and the business is tracking well, but as I had not been to Japan for a while, I spent my
time meeting with virtually every recruiter, looking at activities and shining the light on efficiency and productivity shortfalls.

People often ask me about staffing in Japan, and how “different “ it must be to the rest of the recruiting world. Well of course Japan can bea perplexing place to an outsider, but 10 years of running a staffing business there has tought me that, at the very core, success in staffing
in Japan depends on exactly the same skills, metrics and activities that drive success anywhere else.

As you would expect, across a team of 30 or so recruiters we have a blend of exceptionally high performers, some solid fee generators, and ahandful who are struggling to meet targets and objectives. Just before I left Osaka, I debriefed with the local Regional Director, and it became
clear that once again we had been reminded that a few very clear basics are what drive success in this business, and we agreed to refocus everyone back on to these priorities.

I have blogged previously on my core belief in what drives recruiting success

Activity X Quality X Target Market

And certainly that formula holds true in Japan as much as anywhere else. However I found that underperformers in Japan were falling short in one or more of three specific key areas. As I jotted up my notes fromthe weeks work, I reflected that these ‘Three Commandments’ could well serve as a blueprint for staffing success, anywhere, anytime

. • Specialisation

Recruiters are easily seduced. A client wants help with a hire that’s outside our area of expertise and we jump right in. And then we find wedon’t have the skills, knowledge, or connections to do a good job. We waste time, we get frustrated and we actually risk damaging our client relationship when actually we were trying to go “above and beyond”. Andthink of the opportunity cost working in areas we are unlikely to ever revisit. Successful recruiters are specialists. They know a niche and they work that niche. Specialisation is critical because it creates a perception that the recruiter is a recognised industry expert. This status appeals to both prospective clients and candidates. Furthermore,
it gives recruiters instant credibility with passive candidates, which will be increasingly crucial. Don’t dabble. Don’t allow distractions. Godeep.

• Order qualification

This is just so critical. Most of us work a contingent business model. We only get paid if we fill the job. Yet so many recruiters try to fill every order that hits their desk. This is patently a mistake
because all orders are not equal and nor are all clients. The most successful recruiters in our Japan business, as everywhere else, are brutal order qualifiers. Is the client serious about hiring? Is the
order fillable? Are the hiring criteria reasonable? Salary appropriate? In fact Aquent has move to an “exclusive only” business model for our permanent business. It’s a work in progress, but in markets where we are doing this well, we have seen numbers of job orders fall (because we will only
work with a client if the order is exclusive with Aquent) but the ratioof orders filled skyrocket, with recruiters productivity (revenue generated as a multiple of salary) at the highest levels we have ever

• Talent selection

In financial markets they talk about canny investors being “stock-pickers” which refers to an ability to select ‘diamonds in rough’, investments that will outperform over time. Great recruiters are “talent-pickers”. We would love to place every person whoapproaches us or who we interview. But that’s not going to happen. In fact spreading your talent activity too thin will dilute your ability to
find people work. Candidate selection is key. Selecting the best ones will be an art, developing relationship with them will be a skill that many of today’s transactional recruiters will find hard to adapt to. We have to be nimble enough to understand the trends in clients needs and adjust our candidate activities to meet that need

There are many, many things that make for a successful recruiter, but the “Three Commandments” (which may as be almost as old as the original
ten!) still hold true, and I am finding it’s those recruiters who are
applying age old, proven strategies to their work, who are flourishing
most in the recovery

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Comment by Tom Byrne on June 11, 2010 at 5:31pm
Interesting article Greg, thanks for sharing it. I enjoy reading your articles! I am not surprised that recruiting is Japan is much the same as in other countries. I am in the US by the way. You hit the nail on the head when you talk about "qualifying" job orders, and clients. Often times recruiters are happy just to get the order that they do not take the time to carefully qualify it or qualify the client. This usually results in a "spinning of the wheels" and wasting valuable time.

Exclusives can be very rewarding however, if it is all contingency based there are no guarantees of a successful placement. I am curious as to how Aquent is serving client companies who may have both contract needs and permanent needs but are not willing to give you an "exclusive". How do you handle this kind of situation without damaging the client relationship?

Over the past couple of years 3rd party recruiters have become too transacational which in today's economy (US) can quite often result in less than better results. Quality should always be king! Of course you need quality and quantity and mutually beneficial relationships in order to be successful. Bottom line, we all need to get "back to the basics" and constantly strive to improve and add value.


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