October 18, 2023

Recruiters Are Terrible Listeners


Episode Highlights

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It’s no secret that the recruiting industry doesn’t have the best collective reputation. There’s a lot of fingers to point. Executives think hiring is easy. HR is resistant to change. Job seekers have unrealistic expectations.

But perhaps we should point the finger at ourselves. If “hiring is broken,” why haven’t we fixed it? Sure, everyone complains about recruiting. But are we even listening?
Jeff Smith and James Hornick discussed accountability while dunking on themselves in the next The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Episode 75 “Recruiters Are Terrible Listeners”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. You smile every time I start going into this. I love it. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space. Maybe even pitch a solution or two.

Before we dig in, all of our content can be found on talentinsights.hirewell.com. This week’s topic, episode 75, Recruiters Are Terrible Listeners. First, I’m just trying to be positive. I know. I know. I like it. I got the smile out of you. Your mood immediately changes. You could be in a good mood or a bad mood.

It doesn’t really matter. As soon as I rip into the intro, like, you just, you light up every time. That’s exactly right. And I could be in a bad mood because I’m broadcasting today from the covid dead for the third time. Oh. Oh. Three timers club. Yeah. So yeah, Recruiters are Terrible Listeners. This will be a, yeah, we’re looking to make all the friends today.

So, I’ve long said you know, recruiting is stuck in the dark ages. I couldn’t have ranted endlessly about how contingent recruiting is the dumbest business model in the history of business models. Yet it’s still the most widespread. Recruitment tech is a pile. Internal TA leadership is addicted to building teams and laying them off as soon as the market turns.

You know, on top of that, you got your stereotypes. Everyone’s heard these. Agency recruiters, they’re very boiler room, hard sell, married to outdated business models. You got your internal recruiters who for better or worse, get called paper pushers and order takers and whatnot. Why have these stereotypes and issues and things persisted for so long?

Like, why is it so slow to change in every way it seems? Yeah, it’s the classic take, but it’s true. And we don’t- I’m not saying everybody, and not every exec thinks this way, but you know, we found that leadership teams think that this is inherently easy, especially folks who have never actually sat in the seat before.

Yeah, it’s a popular take amongst us as recruiters. Yeah. Someone else’s fault. It’s obviously someone else’s fault, but there’s truth to it. And, you know, and I conversely, I know a lot of execs who know it’s hard as hell, so. Yeah. The flip side of it, to stop saying it’s the execs and the hiring managers and the annoying job seekers, everyone else.

It’s our fault. It’s the recruiters fault. We, the royal we, not just me and Jeff, maybe me and Jeff, terrible active listening as an industry. I think, we’re maybe great at the very tactical piece, turning every call into an intake call, asking what skills are needed, asking what the interview process is, going by the book, going down the checklist. But recruiters aren’t great understanding, like the business issues. Like what’s going on behind the scenes with hiring and budget and the same things on the flip side when talking to job seekers.

And that’s, what I believe, is why we’re kind of stuck in this mess. Yeah, ghosting, lack of follow up, poor communication, carelessness, lack of vetting, lack of understanding in their supposed subject matter expertise area, transactional thinking, inability to impact change. These are real. This is actually happening and it’s why our feeds are filled with it.

You can’t create a new or better solution, if you haven’t identified any core problems or, even more positively, opportunities. Yeah, and I think that’s, all the things that Jeff mentioned, people think that those are the problems that need to be solved, but those are just the symptoms and the resolve of the problem.

We’ll go in my origin story. Just give you some perspective. Those of you who’ve been in recruiting, this might ring true. A lot of you been in sales, might have this kind of perspective. Those of you who are- never been in either. Maybe this is gonna be like eye opening to you. My first job, it was terrible.

They gave me a script, no deviation from the script. Well, literally if you said one word different from that script that was on there, it was very, very frowned upon. There wasn’t a form to fill out on every candidate, there was this card, you had to like actually use pencil. And this is a long time ago.

You had to memorize the selling points to your clients, read them off verbatim. You had a job checklist. You had to read those things down. You had a list of a comma rebuttals. So you knew how how to robotically answer. I mean, I still have PTSD from this job, almost 20 years later. It took me years to unrobot myself.

You know, when I started working at Hirewell, things are immediately better, but like, bad habits are just hard to break. I know I’m not the only one out there, like that. I do think that sales and recruiting training has probably improved over the years since then. But it doesn’t change the fact that our job is, inherently, extremely repetitive.

You’re doing the same thing, over and over again, every single day. Yeah. Habit leads to autopilot and autopilot inevitably leads to a lack of creativity and a lack of positive change management. Yeah. And frankly, that leads into the the dumb stereotypes that you can never shake. Right? So, let’s get into a few concrete examples. I know you’ve got one for agency folks. Yeah, so-

if you’re an agency, because this replies both agency and internal, but the examples and specifics are a little bit different. But if you’re talking to a potential customer or prospect, could be someone in HR, someone in TA, someone- a hiring manager, like, how often do you catch yourself regurgitating the same points back to them that they’ve already heard from five other recruiters?

Spoiler: pretty often. All the time. Yeah, work from home and hybrid and comp and like asking about these things, like what their policies are, as opposed to like, what their product is, what their business problems are trying to solve are. Like, what is truly unique to them or what’s like trying to uncover what the true challenge is for their hiring and why it’s happening, as opposed to like the tactical parts of the job that- doesn’t really matter as much. Yeah, hit them with that list.

Tune out. Yeah, and like internal recruiters, like I can say this because I talk to a lot of them. I know great ones. I know terrible ones. And I can usually figure out who they are right away, because if I ask them like what the business need is for the opening, sometimes you get a really detailed answer on the product and the initiative and why it’s exciting and they’re excited about it.

You can tell in their voice. And I’ve had others that literally say, I don’t know. Like, they have no idea. And, yeah, anyways. I mean, you know right then and there, like, are you talking to someone who really gets it, that’s excited and passionate and like, is trying to solve a hiring problem versus someone who’s literally just an order taker.

And I’ve heard so many times, you know, we just need more candidates in the funnel. Why? Why? Another thing for corporate workers, because I’ve sat in that seat is, like, of course, all the hiring managers work for the same company, obviously. But there’s still different humans with different viewpoints in different silos with different subject matter expertise.

If you’re slaying them with the same bullshit, they’re going to tune you out, just like the prospects that we try to sell to, tune us out if we go through our laundry list. Which anyway, leads us to- ask open ended questions. Anybody who’s in recruiting should, in theory, know how to ask behavioral based questions, but newsflash, they don’t.

Look up the STAR method, if this is new to you. Just, frankly, just Google behavioral based interviewing techniques. You’ll get some good best practices out of that. Everything will make you a better listener if you do those things. The more You get a prospect or hiring manager or a potential customer to talk about their product, their issues, their opportunities, the more information you’re going to collect to actually pitch or solve a solution that makes sense in their differentiated world.

Yeah. And just put yourself in the customer’s shoes for a second or the hiring manager’s shoes. If this is their sixth time talking to a recruiter and they’re desperate to talk to someone else who actually has a salute, like they’re talking to more firms because they don’t have any confidence whatsoever in the first five they talk to, because they all end with like zero value, zero insight, zero knowledge of the market or zero insight into why they can’t make the hire themselves. Which is what they’re really trying to look for, someone to tell them, yet with a high price tag, like you’re just- you’re doing the same dumb thing as every other firm does.

Like, your competition setting a really low bar, just trying to get, I mean, your goal shouldn’t be just getting a job rec, it should be like defining an opportunity where you can actually help a company unfuck their hiring problem, which reframes the entire conversation. Yes, exactly. Like you’re- in that scenario, all you’re doing is running towards wasting a bunch of time, including your own, like if you’re treating a conversation as a transaction, the recipient will as well, it’s human nature.

We are in a business that depends on rapport, but how on earth does anyone think that doing the same repetition thing over and over and over is best practice? Like we’ve stated, you just said it,

it’s a thousand times a race to the bottom when you’re overpaying to just get resumes thrown to you with no strategic initiative whatsoever.

And I want to talk about the candidate side too, because we’ve been talking more about the hiring side of things. But, the thing that I think we have to keep in mind is people who are willing or able to, intrinsically able to, accept feedback and have an open dialogue. They have higher EQ. They’re better able to present themselves to a wider audience, regardless of how many boxes they check.

Yeah. And you can’t uncover which of these job seekers fall into this bucket, if you’re just skimming their experience, and trying to rule people out. And point being, like, if you have to coax this stuff out of folks and listen to all of it, you’re not going to get the meat without spending at least 50 percent of the call shutting up and figuring out if this is someone you can work with. And I think that the recruiters that have the most success in this business just kind of understand that they can talk to someone who might not check every box, but they understand their story. They understand they can get the big picture and they understand they can sell themselves to get themselves a job.

Which also, the last point kind of on this, it kind of circles back to metrics and when they come counterproductive. Like, some of our best people and some of the best recruiters you’ll meet, like on the agency side, the ones with the most placements, the one with the best submission to placement ratio, meaning it takes them the least amount of submissions to get a placement, have the absolute worst numbers when it comes to like raw screens and raw submissions. Because they don’t need to talk to that many people. Like it’s-

Yup. But there are so many, if you know how to source, and you know how to listen to people’s story, and understand like actually hear them and how they can be a fit for the job and how you can actually sell them into it, you know, with whoever you’re working with.

Like that’s not something you can do if you’re like still in the mode of checking all the boxes and everything else. Yeah. Easily the most powerful tool in your arsenal, as a recruiter. Some takeaways.

Look, just stop thinking about like the limiting factors. Whether it’s present with a potential piece of business or, you know, for our corporate recruiters, like why a candidate “isn’t a fit” and spoiler, this may be a future topic, because we can expand on that. Like start thinking about the opportunities.

What are your opportunities to work together? How do you figure out those opportunities? Well, you spend about 15% to 20% of your calls talking as opposed to 85% or 80%. Shut up, for one goddamn second. Another takeaway, it’s, you have to know when to go off script, not because you’re winging it, because you know when it’s sending you in the wrong direction.

Listen to the folks in your org, whether you’re internal, whether you’re an agency, that know how to do the solution piece well, that know how to kind of find creative ways to make hires happen. You’ll be surprised at how effective osmosis learning is. We can’t solve anything if we’re not listening close enough to understand the real opportunities that exist in any conversation.

Yeah. Just a little off topic, but if a candidate’s not a fit, just tell them early. Like, there’s no sense in dragging things along just to be polite. Yeah. You’re dragging them along to pump up your submission numbers, which are meaningless at the end of the day. Yeah. Your stupid vanity metric. We are short on clock, so that’s a wrap for the week. Thanks for tuning in the 10 minute talent rant part of the talent insight series, which is always available for replay on talentinsights.hirewell.com as well as YouTube, Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon. Jeff, thanks again, as always. Everyone out there, we’ll see you soon.



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