Iterative Recruiting

When you make a transition from an individual contributor to a people manager, people might have told you how it’s an entirely new skillset to develop, that the job expectations are related but fundamentally different, and that it can be a trial by fire. There will be a period of learning and acclimation, and the feedback loops are long and subtle. Dealing with people is kinda like dealing with machines—except for all the human personality and emotion and psychological bits.

Bet they didn’t mention that you’ll eventually deal with the bombardment of low-quality recruiting spam—offering broad candidate pools in hopes of getting paid for their leads.

Of course, there will always be more people looking to be hired as opposed to doing the hiring, and there’s plenty of advice—some genuine, others of dubious quality—for job seekers. Hiring managers have comparatively fewer resources, and any suggestions have to be considered within the context of the surrounding team and company, which makes it hard to consolidate around a set of best practices. Into this void step third-party agencies, employing the same quantity-over-quality strategy in cold emails and cold calls1 that works for, well, spam.

That’s not to say that all recruiting vendors add no value. A recent thread on an engineering management Slack asked, perhaps a bit naïvely, why they’re getting the proverbial door slammed in their face even when presenting candidates that match 90% or more of the job description. Even when they get past the spam filters and engage with a hiring manager for a few minutes, they cannot get commitments to realize their candidate leads into the interview funnel.

The reality is that job descriptions (JDs) are clinical exercises in serializing a role that captures maybe 50%, 60% of what a hiring manager looks for in their candidates. The inaccuracy here spans both directions: there are aspects of the job that the manager wants which aren’t spelled out in the JD, and there are bullet points listed that can be flexed for the right candidate. Some of these discrepancies can be chalked up to implicit and unconscious biases. Additionally, some hiring managers don’t fully understand what they’re looking for and end up overloading a role to fill all the gaps2. There’s also the reality of the state of the job market, and adjusting demand in accordance to the available supply.

Good recruiters—ones that stay productive in-house, or well-regarded retained executive search firms—internalize this dynamic and play the long game. They go through a period of calibration and iteration with the recruiting pipeline, honing in on what the hiring manager is looking for, while adjusting requirements based on what they’re seeing in candidate pools. They can start accounting for multidimensional nuances in experience and personality and complementary skillsets that are nigh impossible to capture on a JD, to improve hit rates and save everybody time and effort by narrowing the funnel earlier in the process. That latter piece tends to be much more valuable than a discount on placement fees.

  1. I’ve started ignoring and blocking all phone calls because 80% of them are related to recruiting.

  2. My pet peeve is when a CEO is looking to upgrade their head of engineering—to both be a CTO-type technical lead and a VP-type management lead, and wants excellence in both areas.

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