How to Prove You're a Recruiter
My last post, You’re Not Really A Recruiter, seems to have hit something of a nerve – apparently, a lot of people out there feel the same way I do about those charlatans who fraudulently call themselves recruiters, even though they’ve got no experience, expertise or abilities beyond having somehow scored a job running a desk at some shitty staffing firm.
These so-called “recruiters” will, for the most part, wash out from the industry in a year or two, leaving nothing more than a black mark on the professional reputation for those of us who are in this because this is more than a job for us: it’s our lives’ work, our passion and our purpose.
When I put the original post together, I thought that there were two possible reactions – either the recruiting community would get behind the idea of actually working together for a change to turn the tide on this alarming trend by calling out these career con-artists, or the plea would fall on deaf ears, creating little more than pithy banter and maybe even attracting a few trolls.
So it goes when you write something you care about – and generally, as a rule, the more invested you are in a topic, the likelier it is to fall in the proverbial content forest without making a sound.
I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised that the former proved true, for a change. Turns out most of us actually care about our professional reputation and are acutely aware of the negative ramifications these so-called “recruiters” constantly create for all of us when it comes to the perceptions of our candidates, colleagues and clients. Which begs the question:
Where do we go from here?
Elevating Recruiting: Time To Put Up or Shut Up.
My friend Brenden Wright commented on the previous post with a fairly insightful, inspired question (I know, that’s rare for recruiters) that wasn’t the normal general “hey, totally agree!” kind of platitude that’s normally what passes for positive feedback on posts. He actually took the conversation a step further – and I’m glad he did. Here’s what he had to say:
“So now that we’ve ranted (feels good, right?), how does this group – all of whom I consider experts and look up to – change the course of things? How do we build up our profession instead of standing back, throwing rocks, and saying things like “back in my day, I’d take you young whipper-snappers behind the wood shed?” “You don’t deserve to carry my shoulder pads, son!” Feels good to say, but what does it change? We should be a force for good in the world and our profession. Just a thought.”
Talk about being right on the money – dude not only gets it, but he got me thinking. I write about recruiting because they say to write what you know, and there’s nothing I know better than the thing that provides me with both my profession and my purpose: improving people’s lives by improving their livelihoods. I’m no Pollyanna, either – I know what we do makes a real difference for real people, and to me, that’s as noble as callings come.
I’ve had many conversations with Brenden, and know that he feels the same way – which is why his point on this post didn’t surprise me, and, like usual, he was right. We spend a lot of time complaining about our industry or ranting about what’s broken with recruiting – the subject of an entire canon of content marketing and the first couple slides on every recruiting technology vendor’s sales deck.
So, since there’s a consensus among pretty much everyone out there that what we’re doing is broken, it’s time to advance the conversation and figure out what the hell, exactly, we’re going to do about it.
Getting With the Program: The Certainty of Certification
Ben Gotkin, another industry influencer who’s passionate about the profession, also weighed in with a comment that really got me thinking more seriously about the complete lack of standards, barriers of entry or operational consistency inherent to the industry. Ben puts it quite eloquently, in fact:
“The problem here is that our profession has no academic discipline and no well-defined standards. Anybody can be a recruiter and in a vacuum of enough educational opportunities, anyone can claim they are an expert and worthy to train others.”
Boom. Ben has identified a critical challenge that’s been written and discussed ad nauseum within the recruiting community – the fact that no one goes to college to become a recruiter. The fact that we all kind of ended up here existentially, and that we’re the default destination for liberal arts grads with nowhere else to go has even become something of an inside joke in our industry. Go to any trade show or recruiting event and ask the practitioners there how they ended up in recruiting. The stories are as infinite as the paths into the profession.
I know that there are a handful of postsecondary courses out there focused on general talent management topics, discussing the general methodology and mechanics involved in recruitment, which is a good start. Some of them even touch on ethics, which is even better – and necessary when discussing the implications of matching candidates with career opportunities.
But most of the training that goes on – and it’s sparse, to be sure – we take upon ourselves, finding new recruiters and training them in-house, which most of the time consists of maybe some sort of handbook or hands-on training. So, while we rant on this topic a lot, the fact is, we’re failing ourselves by deprioritizing skills training and professional development in lieu of productivity and placements. This short term focus might pay off for just-in-time hiring, but is a piss poor way to pipeline a profession.
Hell, just last Friday at the #TruNY event held at the Kaplan Education headquarters in New York City, Matt Charney was leading a track on “talent ecosystems” (whatever the hell that means) and started off with what should be a simple question to answer: “What is a recruiter?” I sat off to the side and waited for the plethora of possible responses to be posited. But I was shocked that no one had any definitive answer, or even good idea, on even the most basic definition related to this profession.
The silence was deafening once Matt started drilling down, and spoke volumes to me that the combination of veteran and rookie recruiters present couldn’t come up with an answer.
How can we call ourselves a profession if we can’t even define what we do?
My question, and one I’d like to pose to anyone reading this post, is pretty straightforward. Why do we not have a governing body that’s responsible for professional accreditation and certification?
What’s keeping us from setting up some sort of standard body of knowledge and pathway into the profession? Is it fear? Apathy? Ignorance? Whatever the reason, it’s asinine, silly and pretty stupid, really.
Moving Recruiting Forward: The Future of Our Future
Think about it. You’ve got to get a license to drive a car, sell a house, practice law, teach SCUBA diving or even get a permit to go fishing. Seems there’s not a lot you can do without a license, but recruiting remains on that short list of stuff that requires nothing more than simply deciding you’re a recruiter.
The closest equivalent in our industry is the PHR or SPHR certification offered by HRCI (or whatever the hell the new SHRM equivalent is), but these make talent acquisition take a backseat to general HR (the boring stuff like comp or ER), and really position recruiting almost as an after thought.
I recall an interview a few years back when I was asked if I had an SPHR – which was confusing, considering it was for a recruiting gig. When I asked why, exactly, that was relevant, they explained that they wanted someone who had some kind of certification or accreditation and that was the closest thing they could find for recruiting.
I laughed and explained that an SPHR qualifies you to be a recruiter about as much as having one of those BS LinkedIn certified recruiter certificates they give out, which was not the answer, it seems, they were looking for. I didn’t get the job – I’m sure it went to some HR lady who is pretty up to date on worker classification types and employment law, but probably has no idea how to build a Boolean string or conduct an effective prescreen. It’s not that I’m bitter, it’s that I’m bemused.
I did some digging into other certifications. I looked at AIRS, but their programs are pretty general and more focused on sourcing than bigger picture professional competencies or even ethics. Plus, let’s face it, they’re owned by ADP now, and if you’ve ever used VirtualEdge, you know this is not exactly a company that has contemporary recruiting as a core competency.
And, of course, there’s the litany of trainers that have their own programs and classes, but these differ drastically in quality and content, an inevitability in an industry lacking any modicum of standards. Sadly, there is no one certification to rule them all, resulting in a conspicuous absence of consistent approaches, professional behaviors and associated values.
I spent last week talking to some of those industry influencers who actually, you know, influence the profession, and for the first time, I’m pretty optimistic that we’re capable of creating this governing body ourselves – or at least, a feasible plan of action that’s able to elevate our profession and define recruiting standards. This wouldn’t replace or eliminate the need for the litany of training programs already out there – instead, it’d augment and inform their content and desired outcomes.
You still get to go to events and conferences and talk shop with some of the smartest people in the business. You still get to listen and learn from the people getting it right and take away ideas from the companies putting best practices into action. Sharing what works with each other is a vital part of our industry, and the informal dialogue that takes place online and offline shouldn’t be tossed out, because there’s infinite value in information sharing and supporting professional peers.
Adding Method to the Madness
Instead, we need to do what most other professions have long since adopted, which is a non-profit industry association dedicated to developing standards and practices governing recruiting, establishing a baseline for the profession and those practitioners who have chosen this avocation.
Something we could all agree to uphold and police as peers – something to make sure every one of us is operating under the same rules of engagement (and ethical standards).
Think of it kind of like a CPA in accounting. Now, not every accountant is a CPA, nor does everyone in accounting have a formal background or degree in this field. But those who do pursue the CPA designation do so to show that they have met a certain standard of training and have accepted the associated responsibilities and accountabilities set by the AICPA as basic requirements for the accounting profession. It’s not easy getting licensed, but it’s a commitment to professional excellence, integrity and continuous education – not to mention, something that can be revoked when industry standards are violated, which is a pretty powerful motivation for abiding by best practices.
Some of the more generic certifications, obviously, can get you more money or higher margins when pitching potential clients or interviewing with prospective employers. As a rule, people with certifications, even BS ones like AIRS, get paid more than those without them – and since recruiters like money, as a general rule, this should be a sufficient motivation for at least starting to think about approaching this venture and establishing a professional body.
Here’s what I’m thinking this new association might look like:
Training Courses Don’t Disappear. Existing programs like AIRS, TSI, SPHR, CDR and the like would remain the same, and possibly, count as credits towards the actual certification process in the specific areas they’re designed to address.
Setting Up Standards: The most important role of this body would be establishing a code of moral and ethical standards that recruiters applying for certification would need to abide by, like a Hippocratic oath for hiring. This would be reinforced by having a mechanism to report potential violations as well as mechanisms for auditing members to ensure compliance – and recognize those going above and beyond the basic ethical expectations.
Standard Operating Procedures: The body would create a set of general guidelines outlining acceptable practices, defining responsibilities and outcomes, and creating specific coursework and certification around both candidate experience and client service.
Codify Best Practices: Define what the best practices really are in our industry, how those should be measured and what candidates, hiring managers and employers should expect anyone with this accreditation to know and operationalize. These would be published as part of the public record to create accountability and transparency.
Create Consequences: For the first time, recruiters would be held responsible for their actions by outlining consequences associated with violating the code of conduct, including license revocation or refusal to renew if direct evidence or verified violations exist.
I know that these are fairly basic, broad strokes that should be pretty obvious, but I think these basics are things that we should all be able to agree on before augmenting out with other topics and information. Even the biggest ideas have to start small, right? The end goal, though, is that if someone says, “I’m a professional recruiter,” there’s finally some meaning behind that statement, and an actual litmus test for what being a recruiter really means.
Come Together, Right Now: A Recruiting Call to Action
In addition to elevating our profession, such a group could also be the lobbying force the recruitment industry definitely needs, because the issues that matter most to us barely register as a blip on SHRM’s legislative radar – in fact, the largest lobbying body in the industry tends to champion additional compliance and regulations, because added complexity and layers ostensibly help elevate the relative importance of the HR function.
But some of these efforts, like OFCCP, aversely impact recruiters, setting up unnecessary regulations and hiring barriers that serve as constraints for both clients and candidates, and, in the age of online recruiting, are both unnecessary and easy enough to circumnavigate to render them more or less ineffective.
While repealing or redefining the complex set of rules and regulations governing hiring would probably be impossible, at least recruiters would finally have a voice – and advance notice – before we’re forced to implement and abide by these rules every day on every search.
The landscape of employment law is constantly changing, and most of those currently being considered are going to restrict recruiters even more than they already are. This sucks, but if we don’t govern ourselves, you should be damn well certain someone else will.
If recruiters don’t have anyone advocating on their behalf, if we can’t present a set of standards that show that we’re more than sleazy salesmen or paper pushers, than we can finally become more than an afterthought. We have the most important function in business, if talent truly is “our greatest asset” (and that’s one cliche that’s actually true), than a great recruiting functino is the greatest asset any company can have, not as the liability we’re too often perceived to be.
So, that’s my call to action. And I really hope some of you are ready to answer it. If you’re not, I’d love to know why, because this is pretty much a no-brainer. Now, normally I invite light hearted ribbing, dissention and trolling, but in this case, I’m looking for honest feedback and anyone who’s interested in helping those of us already committed to this crucial cause.
Please, share this with your networks and share your thoughts, because the time to start this change is finally here, and there’s no better time to stop talking and start doing than right now. Because we’ve been waiting long enough.
About the Author: Derek Zeller draws from over 16 years in the recruiting industry. The last 11 years he has been involved with federal government recruiting specializing within the cleared Intel space under OFCCP compliancy. Currently, he is a Senior Sourcing Recruiter at Microsoft via Search Wizards.
He has experience with both third party agency and in-house recruiting for multiple disciplines and technologies. Using out-of-the-box tactics and strategies to identify and engage talent, he has had significant experience in building referral and social media programs, the implementation of Applicant Tracking Systems, technology evaluation, and the development of sourcing, employment branding, military and college recruiting strategies.
You can read his thoughts on RecruitingDaily.com or Recruitingblogs.com or his own site Derdiver.com. Derek currently lives in the DC area.