How to Avoid Getting Stuck in the HR Pit

recruiting recruitment staffing Jul 18, 2023

When you deal with clients, they commonly want you to interface with HR  (HR includes Talent Acquisition).  Having a good relationship with your client's HR contacts is helpful. The danger is when HR wants all your communication to go through them. It's tough to fill your searches successfully when that's the case. It's like being stuck in a pit that lacks food and water. How do you thrive in that environment? 

Below are the problems with working through HR without interacting and developing relationships with hiring managers:

  • HR lacks a deep understanding of the position since they are not the hiring manager (HM). The fact that they "spoke to the hiring manager" does not overcome this obstacle. 
  • In many cases, the similarity between a  job description and the position you're trying to fill is purely coincidental. Without the ability to speak directly to the HM, you're attempting to hit a target you can't see.
  • A search is a living, breathing thing that morphs over time. And the HM is often unclear or unrealistic about what they are looking for when the search is initiated. If you can't directly speak with the HM to establish clarity and influence the specs and comp, you must rely on guesses and assumptions to fill the position.
  • When a key HR contact leaves your client, you may lack the critical HM relationships to maintain a strong standing in the account. The new, incoming HR contacts often have their own recruiting firm relationships and may not wish to work with you. HMs can usually dictate which recruiting firms they want to work with. If you have strong HM relationships in the account, you can weather more "change storms." 
  • HR is rarely the final decision-maker on important issues, so if you're only interacting with them, you're cut off from influencing the people who are critical to your success.

Let's review some common scenarios where recruiters get trapped in HR pits, along with preventive measures to keep you in control.


Getting initial approval to work with the company

When you speak to an HM, and they say, "you need to talk to HR," you don't always know whether they are simply getting rid of you or if they actually do require approval from HR as part of the process.

If the HM truly wants to work with you and HR approval is part of the process (but not the main determinant), then talking to HR makes sense. If the HM doesn't want to work with you and is simply using HR as a "putoff," then trying to get in through HR is usually a waste of time. In this case, you must first build a relationship with the HM to work with the company. 

Below is an effective process to determine whether or not the HM truly wants to work with you and whether or not working with the company requires HR's approval.

  1. Ask the HM, "Do you have authorization to choose which recruiters to work with, or do you need HR's approval?"  This question professionally challenges the hiring manager's ego since if they actually can make the decision themselves; they usually won't want to say they need approval. How they answer this question gives you a decent sense of the authenticity of HR approval.
  2. If the HM says HR approval is required, ask for an email intro to HR.  If they send an intro to HR saying that they'd like to work with you, then you have confirmation of their desire. Say to the HM, "It works best for the HM to send an email to introduce me to HR. This way, they're clear that you want to work with me. Since recruiters often say they were referred by an HM even if they weren't, HR is likely to be skeptical without your intro." 
  3. Offer to send them a sample intro email that they can modify. For example. "I know you're very busy. Would you like me to send you a sample email about who we are and that you'd like to work with me to hire _____(your specialty)?" It's ideal to control the content of your messaging since HMs are busy and may send messages that are not clearly written to explain who you are.


Working with the HM once the HR approves working with you

As mentioned above, the ability to HM during the job intake is critical to your success. Getting feedback on submittals and debriefing the HM after candidate interviews is also vital since it allows you to adjust your understanding of the position and give important information to the HM.

For example, suppose you consistently receive negative feedback from candidates on the comp range. Your best option is to present this data to the HM to potentially influence them to increase the comp to make the job more fillable.  Filling positions without this direct interaction with the HM is more about luck and volume than skill.


Below is an effective framework to maximize the odds that HR will allow you to work directly with the HM:

  1. Ask HR:  "If I had an idea that would save time and effort for both you and the HM, would you be open to hearing about it?"  (they'll usually say "sure")
  2. Ask HR: "How often have you experienced recruiters submitting candidates who don't fit? And "How often have the hiring managers interviewed  candidates who should have been screened better?" (They will usually agree these problems are common)
  3. Say: "We want to do much better than this.  I have an idea that consistently helps our clients prevent the problems that frustrate HR and the HMs. We find there are two key ways to avoid these problems.
  1. We study the JD very carefully and then have a dialog with the HM about technical questions that allow us to clarify what you're looking for. You are welcome to join the call, or I can summarize the call with you afterward. How does that sound?"
  2. After candidates interview with the HM, if they are not the right fit, we speak directly with the HM to understand exactly where we are off in our recruiting process. This way, we can quickly adjust our understanding of the position to get you the right people. We'll be glad to share this information with you as well."

"With the process I described, we can save you and the HM a lot of time, effort, and frustration while filling your jobs faster. Tell me your thoughts on using this approach?"

If HR still objects to you interacting with the HM, ask what they're concerned about and what you could do to ease their concerns. Don't assume that you know what their uneasiness is about or that none of their concerns are legitimate. If you authentically understand and address their concerns, you have a greater chance of getting their buy-in.


Reality Check

If you work through HR without HM interaction, you play a game with a low probability of success. The most successful recruiting firms don't agree to these unfavorable terms. If you decide to discontinue working with a client due to their "no HM contact rules" (almost always the wisest choice), below is an effective approach to leave the door open for the future: 

"We're committed to working with you in a way that allows us to deliver great results consistently. Since we cannot interact directly with the HMs, we cannot meet this commitment with you. Let's hold off on working together for now. If, in the future, we're allowed to interact directly with the HMs, we'd love to re-engage. How does that sound?"

In summary, If you're in the recruiting business, you likely face pressure to work through HR instead of the HMs on some of your searches. Navigating this dilemma will determine whether you get stuck in the HR Pit. Becoming a skilled navigator is a critical business development strategy for recruiting firms. And since scaling a recruiting firm relies on filling a substantial percentage of jobs, it's wise to become skilled and graceful at HR pit exits and avoidance.

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