How recruiting can become a business partner to the organization
HR Insights Writer
July 6, 2023
Let’s be honest: It’s a weird time to be in recruiting. With so much market uncertainty and the possibility of a looming recession, you might be concerned about the security of your role and your team. These fears often seem to be confirmed by reporting on layoffs. Recruiters are the most overrepresented role in layoffs, according to data from Revelio Labs. And The Economist suggests that a growing recruitment function is “a telltale sign of bloat.”
Many news stories take the simple view that the recruiting function should be directly related to the number of hires being made. For example, The Economist asserts that “as a headhunting rule of thumb, one recruiter can hire 25 new employees a year. Many of those same recruiters may now be surplus to requirements.” This represents the old school view of recruiting as a service function: recruiters’ sole purpose is to fill open roles. If you subscribe to this view, it follows that with fewer open roles, you won’t need the same number of recruiters.
But the truth is a bit more nuanced. More forward-thinking talent professionals see their roles as much larger than filling empty seats. The shift towards the “talent acquisition” (TA) label isn’t simply a name change—it also represents a more strategic approach to this function, one that’s more about building relationships than about completing transactions. And there’s good news: According to LinkedIn, 87% of recruiting pros say TA has become a more strategic function over the past year. Connecting your TA work to company strategy can be the key to demonstrating your value—even during lean times.
What exactly can recruiters do to avoid being seen simply as order takers and move into more strategic roles—especially when hiring isn’t moving as fast as they’d like?
Make sure your talent strategy is aligned with your business strategy
Connecting your work to business outcomes is a critical skill, and especially important when financial belts are tightening. Yet data published in HR Dive reveals that 66% of companies have not aligned their talent strategy with their business strategy.
In some cases, you may be able to make a concrete connection between your work and your company’s overall goals like increasing revenue or productivity. For example, hiring sales leaders or teams can help you meet your revenue goals, while hiring for manufacturing teams can support your production goals. And when you can’t hire these folks on time, your broader business goals get missed.
If you need help building your case, you can work closely with your finance department to build up your TA team’s reputation. Dr. John Sullivan writes, “The best approach is to lead a team that builds a strong economic case for the direct dollar impact recruiting has had on business revenue (work with the CFO’s office to make those calculations credible).” He also recommends looking at past data whenever possible to demonstrate the negative impact of reducing the recruiting function. How long did it take to recover when the market picked back up again? “Not only will this effort help limit departmental layoffs, it will also demonstrate to recruiting leadership that you know how to make a strong business case and that you’re doing your part to support the team.”
Become proficient in talent mapping and make it a habit to come to meetings armed with market insights
To cement your role as a strategic business partner, your goal is to establish your authority and become a trusted source of information on your talent pipeline, the market, and candidates’ expectations.
When it comes to your own talent pipeline and pool, strive to be the go-to source of information on how many candidates are in each stage, how much time candidates tend to spend in each stage, and which sources lead to the most applicants. You can also tap into your talent acquisition data to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. For example, are recruiters or hiring managers nurturing passive candidates with ongoing communication? And if not, are there ways you can help them begin to do this? Are there any interviewers who still owe you feedback (or who regularly take longer than expected to provide it)? Whenever you can, offer solutions and support rather than simply pointing out problem areas. Your goal is to be a partner to hiring teams and help them become more efficient and effective—not guilty about their shortcomings.
Remember that every interaction you have with a candidate is an opportunity to do market research, so make the most of these conversations to gather data on candidate dropoff and offer-decline reasons as well as anecdotes about candidates’ interviewing experiences elsewhere.
Make it your mission to educate hiring managers on what you’re hearing directly from candidates and what you’re seeing in the market. And keep in mind that this doesn’t only impact candidates in your pipeline—it can also enhance talent retention. As LinkedIn puts it, “As the leader with the clearest view of candidate priorities, labor market dynamics, and real-time recruiting performance at your company, you’re in the best position to lead the conversation about pay and its business impact—from championing comp models that favor skills over pedigree, to retaining your top talent by pushing for pay increases that keep pace with inflation.”
Build pipelines of warm and nurtured talent
This market won’t last forever, so lay the groundwork today that will benefit you when hiring picks up again in the future. You know that once you start hiring again, speed is one of the most important factors impacting your relationship with hiring managers.
Much of what makes up your time-to-fill metric is the work you do at the top of the funnel before prospects even apply. As repositories of all your past hiring efforts, your CRM and ATS are goldmines of talent that you’ve already vetted, had exchanges with—and in some cases, already put through the hiring process. Platforms like Gem allow you to rediscover and reengage talent in order to start maintaining an ongoing relationship with them now.
And yes, you can (and should!) begin to engage your talent pipeline right now, even if your hiring has slowed or stalled. The beauty of talent pipelines is they allow you to build your brand with talent over time—whether or not you’re actively hiring. If you don’t proactively build a talent pipeline now, you’ll be racing to catch up with companies that are making the most of this slowdown by building and maintaining relationships with talent.
Wondering how to approach this type of candidate outreach? Your goal is to build trust and relationships. If you’re not currently hiring, make that clear. But you can still use the opportunity to assess basic compatibility between the candidate’s career goals and what your company can offer.
If it seems like a good fit, you can make a soft pitch for your company by showing how their skill set matches what your hiring managers will need and sharing some of the challenges and opportunities they’d be likely to face in a future role. Make the case for how your company aligns with their career goals and expressed values.
In the cases where candidates want to stay in touch, add them to your talent pool so you can nurture those relationships. If they aren’t interested, simply thank them for their time and wish them the best—even if they aren’t a good fit now, you don’t want to burn any bridges.
These discussions are a good use of your time when hiring is slow because you have the bandwidth to start building long-term relationships. Recruiters are often too busy to connect with top talent while in the midst of hiring. You’ll set yourself apart from competitors by taking the time to introduce yourself when you have the time to make a good impression.
This is also a way of building hiring managers’ trust over time—they’ll know you're doing the work in the background to prepare to hit the ground running the next time a req opens up. When they need headcount, you’ll be positioned to give them a clear estimate of how long it will take to fill the role based on the number of candidates in your pipeline and historical data of how many candidates and outreach touchpoints tend to lead to a hire.
Bring data to the table about how to optimize the hiring process
In addition to the research you’re conducting directly with candidates, you can tap into your talent acquisition data to generate insights and recommendations that will benefit your company both today and in the future. Here are a few metrics and reports you may want to dig into.
Historical passthrough rates, time-in-stage, and time-to hire for any given role: You can use this data to explain to HMs exactly where candidates tend to drop off, where bottlenecks typically happen, and which parts of the process will require more attention, effort, and optimization if they want to reduce time-to-hire. With a solution like Gem, you can break that data down by role, geo, recruiter, hiring manager, gender, race/ethnicity, and more, for a remarkably nuanced view of your hiring.
Sourcing insights: How much work is happening at the top of the funnel? Look into your sourcing data to find the number of prospective candidates viewed on LinkedIn, the number of prospects added to your CRM or outreach solution, the number of first messages and follow-ups, the number of interested replies, and the number of candidates converted into process. You can also look into the quality of your sources. No one wants to waste their time on job boards, events, and talent communities that don’t yield high-quality candidates. Examining your sourcing data will help you ensure you’re spending wisely and not pouring money into sources that don’t bring you the candidates you’re looking for.
Passthrough rates and offer acceptance rates: These figures will help you approximate how many candidates you’re likely to need to make a good hire—and thus, the minimum number of potential applicants you should have in your pipeline. Gem’s Pipeline Forecasting calculator allows you to easily calculate what you need throughout your funnel, based on historical data, to get the hires you need. You can also input the number of hires and the passthrough rates you think you'll achieve, and Gem will output a forecast to help you better plan and allocate resources.
Offer rejection reasons: Offer rejection reasons offer a goldmine of information about your candidate experience, your culture, your hiring process, and more. They also help you—and your hiring managers—make pivots in your process in real-time, enhancing the experience for those who are currently in your funnel.
Keep in mind that your job is not just to pull the reports, but also to put them in context and help translate the data into direct actions for HMs and hiring teams.
“Of course you can bring all the data in the world; but if you can’t explain why those numbers are valuable, the data is useless. That’s recruitment’s area—to educate hiring managers on what the patterns tell us, and how we can use them to optimize our funnel.”
- Kelsey Dirks, Talent Acquisition Manager @ Credera
Broaden your subject matter knowledge and develop your own skills
If you find yourself with more time on your hands, use it to learn and develop skills—especially those that will help you strengthen your relationships with hiring managers and leaders.
Not sure where to start? Dr. John Sullivan recommends focusing on growing business units. He writes, “Most corporations have learned the value of continual hiring in certain key strategic business units even while simultaneously laying off employees in other business units (ask someone in strategic planning to point out the growth areas).” Focusing on roles in these key business units may help secure your role. “If you make yourself indispensable, some business leaders might be willing to actually fund your position during down times,” writes Dr. Sullivan.
Another tactic is to use any extra time to do a deep dive on any of the roles you’re already supporting. Attend team meetings, read industry blogs, and do whatever you can to develop subject matter expertise that will help you become fluent in your hiring managers’ and candidates’ language. You can also look at other areas of your own business. Can you learn from sales about how to demo your product and speak about your solution with more confidence?
“I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding the business you’re supporting to be able to tell the right story to the candidate and get them in the door. It’s easy to get buyin if you’re educated on the HM’s side of the business.”
- Candice Tang, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition @ Roblox
Beyond developing specific role expertise, you can focus on developing soft skills that will serve you in any recruiting role. Data from LinkedIn suggests the three skills recruiters believe are becoming increasingly important are:
engaging passive candidates,
analyzing data to drive talent decisions, and
advising business leaders and hiring managers.
(See the earlier sections in this article for ideas on how to achieve all this!).
This could also be an opportunity to explore recruiting trends, tools, and technologies. What are the newest tools on the market? Which best practices are changing? Who’s doing candidate experience right and which tactics can you steal (er… borrow) from them?
Finally, take advantage of any downtime to start building out a recruitment marketing strategy and creating content. You can use your deep knowledge of the market and candidates to enhance your company’s employer brand. This might involve refining your employer value proposition (EVP) or creating and collecting content about your organization to share with talent—think interviews, blog posts, social media takeovers, and whatever else you think would resonate with your prospects.
Become an advisor for internal mobility
It’s long been a refrain within the HR world that it’s better to “build” than “buy” talent—it’s much more expensive and time-consuming to hire externally than it is to train your existing employees to take on new roles. And if your company is pausing or limiting external hiring, you’re likely to see a more deliberate shift towards an internal mobility strategy.
Many recruiters are already anticipating this change: According to LinkedIn’s Future of Recruiting report, 81% of in-house recruiting pros say they will need to work more closely with L&D in the future. Your role as an internal mobility advisor might include helping match hiring managers with internal candidates, developing more defined internal application processes, and helping hiring managers anticipate their future needs. The Future of Recruiting report suggests, “As recruiting leaders’ portfolios expand to include things like internal mobility, skills-first hiring, and employee retention, they’ll need to cooperate more with L&D to prepare internal talent for new roles, identify skill gaps, and ensure their company is a place people can grow their careers.”
Strengthen your relationships and processes with hiring managers (HMs)
We’ve hinted at this throughout this article, but let’s just come out and say it: One of the most important things you can do is strengthen your relationships and processes with HMs.
This is true anytime: We know that organizations that improve hiring manager satisfaction are 3x more likely to reduce time-to-hire and 2x more likely to improve quality of hire. Plus, the biggest driver of talent acquisition performance was strong relationships between recruiters and HMs.
But if these partnerships aren’t already in place, now is the time to start building them. Make the most of the lull by putting in extra time and effort with your HMs. Not sure what to do? We’ve peppered plenty of suggestions throughout this article: share market data and anecdotes from candidates with them, look at data from your past hiring processes to identify areas for improvement, and learn more about their subject matter so you’re better positioned to speak with candidates. And of course, if you’re ever in doubt, just ask! Most HMs will be happy to share their thoughts and suggestions and they may even have specific requests for reports or metrics they’d like you to gather for them.
Your goal: Integrate recruiting with the rest of the business
Becoming more strategic is a skill that can benefit you personally in the short and mid-term, but that’s not all. It’s the key to becoming a high-maturity talent organization, which will ultimately benefit your company, too. Bersin’s research found that high-maturity talent acquisition orgs share a common trait of “thorough integration with the business.” And you can achieve this integration through all the steps we’ve outlined here: gathering data and turning it into insights; forging relationships with hiring managers, business leaders, Finance, and L&D; and continuing to evolve your skill set.
There’s no silver bullet that’s guaranteed to secure your position, but the steps we’ve outlined here will help you gain confidence in the value you bring to your organization. And hey, maybe they’ll help replace some of the uncertainty you’ve been feeling with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.
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