Talent Acquisition – Recruiting ‘Through the Looking Glass’


Alice running“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

– The Red Queen to Alice in “Through the Looking Glass” – Lewis Carroll

Talent acquisition is different from the other activities an HR organization manages – as is the pace of execution, and the people who execute it well. Too frequently, HR organizations don’t understand and value the difference. The result is that in many HR groups, recruiters feel like ‘step children’. The best ones move on.

In an era of increasing competition and critical skill shortages, it is imperative that organizations recognize and nurture recruiting excellence.

While dedicated recruiters are not usually placed in generalist roles, it’s more common to assign a generalist to a recruiting role. Sometimes it works. More often, both time-to-hire and frustration increase.

In fact, within the talent acquisition process itself, there are distinctly different behavioral requirements – one of the many reasons that recruiters (like most other specialists) will perform well in one or two areas but are stretched to manage the entire process. Consider sourcing, selection and process improvement:


The true ‘hunters’ of the recruiting world, the best sourcers love the ‘thrill of the chase’ – finding that elusive talent and dragging it in. They are tactical, energetic, focused and have a sense of urgency that is almost tangible. The best of the best are also extroverts who develop good relationships, can pickup a phone and get immediate referrals. They usually have good memories for names and skills. [They’re often the ones whose mental database everyone else envies when the system crashes.]

NOTE: Good ‘hunters’ are worth their weight in gold and they love incentives. Reward them for delivering. [After all, you would pay a search firm many times the typical corporate recruiter salary for the same work.] When it comes to your most critical core competency – talent acquisition – critical thinking about building in-house capabilities vs outsourcing to a third party deserves a top spot on your priority list.

Interviewing and selection

With rare exception, people who are A-players in the interviewing and selection process are not the best ‘sourcers’. Their skills and behavioral attributes are typically different. Whereas sourcing is a numbers game that requires resourcefulness and aggressive networking, assessment is objective, analytical and often intuitive.

Process Design and Reengineering – building the architecture:

There’s a lot of frustration in HR land because the HR team hasn’t been able to design or reengineer the recruiting and hiring process. But when one talks with HR leadership, the reasons are obvious. Even when existing talent has process design capabilities, building long term process takes a backseat when every available finger is plugging a hole in the dike.

`But it’s no use now,’ thought poor Alice, `to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make ONE respectable person!’

– Alice in Through the Looking Glass

In most organizations, the recruiting team is under-resourced and fortunate if they can keep their heads above the rising tide of recruiting requisitions. Any time left is spent moving hiring managers in the general direction of a decision before all the talent in the pipeline gives up and moves on. This is a fulltime job in some organizations.

And – the issue that would seem to be obvious to people who are in the business of assessing skills is this:

The best person to run the train is rarely the best one to build the track.

Likewise, the skills to analyze and design a good process are radically different from the skills needed to manage tactical implementation. Even the best recruiters may not have the capabilities, knowledge or interest to build the necessary infrastructure – systems, processes, tools and training – to support long term talent acquisition. Creating the expectation that the recruiting team can develop strategy and infrastructure usually results in systemic frustration.

Frequently, recruiting tactics are hard-wired into the HR organization. At the bottom of too many stretching cycle times is a recruiting team pounding the same job boards week after week.

“If information were truly power, librarians would rule the world.”

The enormous amount of unqualified data available on the internet has contributed more to extended hiring cycle times, increased hiring costs, and dulled creativity, than most other factors.

Too often, a reactive recruiting process starts in the middle – with an empty chair.

When a tactic is deployed without a deep understanding of the target, deliverables and market, it has at best a 50-50 chance of getting the desired result. Even if it is the right tactic, there is typically little or no residual value. The next time talent is needed, the recruiting team is back at square one, dependent on a limited set of tactics.

If the goal is to “get somewhere”, you can either “run at least twice as fast as that” or you can begin by building the track [a business model to support consistent execution]:

  • Link the talent acquisition process to organizational strategy and deliverables
  • Develop sourcing channels, methods & tools, and infrastructure
  • Select the right talent to execute each element of the talent process & reward them in relationship to their value to the organization.

Otherwise, like Alice, you’ll do “all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

© copyright 2009-2013. Marilou Myrick, The Stage/ Masters Among Us, Inc. All rights reserved.

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© copyright 2014  Marilou Myrick, The Stage®/ Masters Among Us, Inc. All rights reserved.

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