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Recruiting 101: A podcast with Jane Newell Brown (the transcript)

The recruiting environment is rapidly changing, and Jane Newell Brown, co-author of “The Professional Recruiter’s Handbook,” has her finger on the pulse. Jane joined us for a conversation on the evolving recruiting process, revealing tips for HR rookies and how companies can better support their recruiters.

We published the podcast -- part one and part two -- and now we’re making the full interview transcript available. Read the conversation below or download the full transcript for Jane’s tips on the future of recruiting and recommendations for those new to the profession.


Recruiting 101: A podcast with Jane Newell Brown

Seamless Workforce (SW): Joining us today is Jane Newell Brown, a leading management consultant for recruitment firms and her client base, and co-author of “The Professional Recruiter's Handbook: Delivering Excellence in Recruitment Practice.” Jane was kind enough to share a copy of The Professional Recruiter's Handbook with us and offered to discuss some of the main topics and recruiting strategies it presents. Thanks for speaking with us, Jane.

Jane Newell Brown (JNB): No problem. Looking forward to it.

SW: Before we discuss the recruiting industry and best practices, could you give listeners a brief synopsis of “The Professional Recruiter's Handbook”?

JNB: Sure. The essence of the book is to help people be better recruiters. And I think people particularly find it of interest when they're new to the industry and they don't know quite what the role is all about. But also perhaps if they've been in the job for a while and they need help to get back to basic practice, if you like. It covers everything from what you actually need to do in recruitment, what the process is and how you should follow it, and also what to say alongside. So there's some really practical tips in there, tools, and some case studies, which should help and inspire you to fill your job really well. It's aimed for both in-house recruiters and third-party agency recruiters, and covers all elements of the recruitment cycle as we see -- attracting candidates, managing those candidates through the process -- so even together with clients making that kind of magic, if you like, happen.

SW: And this is the second edition of the book, published three years after the first. How do you think recruiting has changed in the past three years?

JNB: Well, you know, I think what's interesting is it's changed again since the book has been written. There's usually a time lag between writing it, it coming out, and so on. And we are just seeing the fastest pace of change that I think we've ever seen in recruitment. I've been in the industry a very long time and I've never seen things move this fast. So much of that change has been around the more recent economic challenges we've had, which again are relatively unprecedented, but also around the technology. So there's been some external change about recession, the move from recruitment to be done predominantly externally, bringing it in-house, the rise of RPOs and MSPs, recruitment process outsourcing organizations, and, from a technological point of view, the use of internal contracting systems, along with the digital age that we're now in. And so, that they have driven capability and merging in recruitment means that, yeah, the pace of change is really fast.

SW: So you mentioned RPOs and MSPs. How would you say that the recruitment process outsourcing and managed staffing providers have affected the recruiting industry over the past few years?

JNB: I think they've revolutionized it in a way. I think they started by revolutionizing it and then I think corporate organizations went, “Well, you know, we could maybe do that as well.” So the big change was moving something into a centralized and I'd say professional process because recruitment suddenly became not something that was in the basement or bolted onto HR or done by HR in this bad time internally. In an organization it suddenly became something of a more strategic advantage because there was such a war for talent. And I think MSPs, RPOs saw the differences of spending fortunes on recruitment probably needlessly, weren't very organized about who they were spending their money with, and there was an opportunity to streamline that and enable organizations to have a better view and access to the talent that they needed. So I think it's had a huge change. Some thought it's good for corporates and for the providers of talent in the external market; yeah, it's made it more challenging.

SW: And technology, too, is transforming the recruiting industry. How has this technology, like social media, helped or hindered recruiting?

Jane: I think it depends from which perspective you're coming from, and the book has been very much looking at those perspectives, so looking at in-house and looking at agency third parties. And I think in-house would say this is very good news for them. The rise of technology, the capacity to reach people more easily, the availability of data has made it much easier to be more effective recruiting in-house without any external assistance than you would have been. And I think some agencies would also see it as really good, but only those who are staying ahead of that curve.

Others I think will probably be concerned, wondering where that distinct advantage comes in their markets if everybody can access the same data. It used to be that recruitment consultants’ database was an absolute USP, and the capacity to know where all of its candidates were and who they were was a real plus. Social media has completely turned that on its head, and everyone can pretty much see most people. What that leads to is, how do you attract those people and how do you get them onto your team? So I think technology is probably still in its infancy. However, we have already seen a massive shift.

SW: So the need for a reference book like “The Professional Recruiter's Handbook” clearly still exists. Why do you think there hasn't been a push for better education and training for recruiters, and how can companies better support their recruiters?

JNB: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I think it's an interesting question. And I think it's really sad that recruitment as a profession has not been better supported because, as a recruiter, clearly I'm passionate about the fact that it can transform an organization. Most organizations are driven by people and their intelligence and their ideas and the way they're using both of those. And recruiters bringing good people into a business can make it sink or swim, really.

However, I do think that recruitment has been very sales-driven and has had quite high turnover in staff. That sometimes drives organizations not to invest as fully in them as they might. But I think the down side of that is that the lack of training and development have kept recruitment out of the boardroom except when the board is panicking about where it's at with its recruitment and its delivery. And the recession has done some of that too, that any organization tends to cut. Recruitment is no different. I think there should be more development, and I think that a number of bodies that in the U.K. I can really speak for have been trying to drive a move toward increasing the education available on a broader scale.

So Henley Business School, for example, in conjunction with us, my co-author, in fact, tried to introduce an MBA. I think he's going ahead in some parts of the globe and is coming through in the U.K. still. So it's a really great initiative. I think there are other initiatives coming along, but not enough. And I would, for one, really champion the need for recruiters to develop more skills other than sales, like emotional intelligence. They need to understand the business landscape so they can be having really value-add conversations with the clients, the hiring managers, they can talk in business terms and not just in terms of recruitment practice or process.

SW: Throughout the book you walk readers through the entire recruiting cycle. What areas of that cycle do you think the typical rookie recruiter should spend the most time focusing on and why?

JNB: OK, well, I think that depends on what market they're working in. So I think for them it's important to understand what the supply and demand drivers in the recruitment market are, and therefore are candidates in short supply or are clients in short supply? And are there a lot of people looking for work, and therefore clients actually don't have so much of a drive to use recruiters and, where they do, what specific skills are they going to value? So that's the first thing is to understand where your market is. And I think that is one hallmark of a really good recruiter. He really gets to know their market very well and works in quite a small market space where they can become an expert.

So first of all, understand where you're at with your market and then, secondly, don't make the mistake of trying only to work in one of the areas because the best recruiters will be doing all of the things in the recruitment cycle all of the time. So they will be always meeting new great candidates and talking to them about their career and understanding what their needs are. They'll always be working closely and developing their client relationships and understanding how they can add value there and they won't suddenly get too focused on just one client or one candidate. They'll keep abreast of kind of activity in all of those areas. So I think there are two answers really. One is where is your sector at, and where are you going to be more valued. And secondly, once you know that, don't only focus in that one space. Keep everything moving and really watch your market and know where you are in terms of high demand because that's key.

SW: What do you think are some of the most common pitfalls that rookie recruiters experience and how could they overcome them?

JNB: Well, I think that might be one of them, actually, that they get too focused on one thing and then if that doesn't work or if things change, then they're stuck and they have to go right back to the beginning. In recruitment there's quite a lot of plates spinning and you let your plates drop at your peril, really. You have to keep them all moving. But I think one of the other pitfalls is to be working on things that aren't going to lead you anywhere. So, again, it kind of depends on whether you're working in-house or agency, but the same issues apply. In-house you can have a great line manager here you have a terrific relationship with. They ask you to keep your eye open for a particular level of talent, and you spend a lot of time trying to find that talent because you want to please them and get on really well with them and you bring them a short list, they do the interviews, and then we find out that actually they haven't got the hiring rec signed and there's no placement.

So you have some candidates who have had a not great brand experience, you've wasted your time, you've probably not delivered on your measurables that you're going to be tasked with and everybody is a bit unhappy, really. So that can happen in-house. And it happens just the same externally as well. So my message would always be really understand what -- who is serious in the hiring process, who is serious as to your candidates, and who is serious as to your clients. Who wants to work with you and will fund you at value or who is actually just never going to ring you back, not give you feedback on the interview, be really difficult to work with. It's called -- demanding to work with, it's called. But not caring is not so cool, and I would avoid the people who aren't serious about either moving jobs or hiring. And it's quite hard to work out. Even experienced recruiters struggle with that one, actually, because we all want to help people and we all want to be busy, and it's easy to be busy achieving not too much in recruitment.

SW: Yeah, that's great advice. One development that you note in the book is that the search for talent has gone global. How has this impacted the skills and strategies that today's recruiters need to be successful?

JNB: I think it's probably the same challenges that organizations whose brands have gone global have faced, in that they have to create brands which appeal to a global market but with some localization of different elements. That the people who are in the marketing teams need to understand different variants of different markets and what appeals to different people. So I think it's a bit about understanding what that global platform looks like -- that cultures are different, what practices are different and clearly the need for languages is greater than it's ever been before. I guess what I see it as is what I would call the kind of old-school search consultants who were always working at a global level because they were drawing talent, CEO talent, C-suite-level talent from a very broad base globally. So those skills that they have had to have, have had to kind of move down the food chain, if you like, so that most generally recruiters, certainly global corporations, need to be able to work across international boundaries, as do some suppliers. But most suppliers are staying country-specific at this point, apart from other senior levels. So I think it has had an impact, but probably not as dramatic as we would like to think. Not yet, anyway. Could all change.

SW: So what technologies or trends do you see shaping the future of recruiting in the next few years?

JNB: I think that one of the things that we will see is a more data-driven approach. And I have for some long while really thought that we could be applying more marketing techniques into our recruitment to try to get it a little bit more scientifically oriented. So supermarketing, for example, is massively data-driven and has a huge level of predictive analytics going on within it. I'm sure that through my loyalty card, my supermarket knows when I'm next visiting, how much I'm going to spend, what I'm going to buy, and what it should put just by the front door when I come in that I might pick up. And we don't do any of that in recruitment, really. Some of the bigger organizations, the Procter & Gambles of this world, do have some more sophisticated assessment technologies which allow them to predict success of some of their applicants that they use globally. But they are way ahead of most organizational curves.

So the first thing I think that will happen is people will start using more data to assess what sort of people do well in their businesses, and they'll then extend that out to looking at populations and finding the sorts of people who they think will be successful and then working out how to attract them using social media and all kinds of other platforms. So I think that's probably the next big thing. There is so much data out there. You have to harness it. And that will be a challenge, actually harnessing that level of data without getting distracted and muddled by it. Another thing that will make a mass of difference to recruitment is mobile technology. So more and more people are applying for jobs over their mobile phones. Organizations need to be mobile-enabled with all of their career sites and everything that they're using to create their employer brand, and agencies likewise. So more and more automation, more and more of that will be mobile and predictive analytics, I think, is going to be huge. But at the same time, we don't know how much those people skills will entirely go away because organizations and brands, they still will need to really strongly connect with people. So I've offered a bit of a working brief on how that's going to work. But we'll see. It's going to be a really interesting aspect, that is for sure.

SW: I can see why you say that the recruiting has changed drastically even since the second edition of the book!

JNB: Yeah. I'd like to have a third edition coming out next week to you, and I'll be writing more about this stuff which I've got and heard about since. But having said all that, that really is kind of looking down the road. Day to day, even so now for recruiters, having a great relationship with your hiring manager, understanding what they want, being clear that this is what they can have, and going out to find it and bringing those people across to the conversation are still critical things for recruiters to do. The data driven there is going to be helping, I think, almost in a different space from the day-to-day role of the recruiter. But the good recruitment organizations will be thinking about this and really helping drive that capability into their client bases.

SW: Sure. And using their basic fundamentals as they're doing it and engaging the technologies.

JNB: Yeah.

SW: Well, it's all very interesting. Any final thoughts on recruiting that you'd like to leave our listeners with?

JNB: I suppose. You know, I still can't get away from this idea that people skills will never go away and however much we automate everything that we're going to be doing, we still connect with each other at a very human level, and I can't really see that changing. We might be connecting with an employer brand rather than an individual recruiter, but actually we still end up working with people and therefore I don't see how we're ever going to replace that. So I think that good people skills will stay at the forefront, actually not just in recruitment but everything in business. Most other things you can kind of pick up along the way. But if I were at school now I would be focusing on my interpersonal skills and my emotional intelligence because that's not going anywhere. That would be my view, anyway.

SW: Great advice. We've been talking with Jane Newell Brown about her book, “The Professional Recruiter's Handbook.” It's now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and for the Kindle, Nook, or iPad. Thanks again for your time today, Jane.

JNB: No, my pleasure, it's been great. Thank you.

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