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Why Being a Farmer (and Not a Hunter) Will Make You a More Successful Recruiter

Date Posted: March 15, 2017

Why Being a Farmer (  and Not a Hunter) Will Make You a More successful Recruiter

by Lou Adler

I recently spoke with a VP of talent at one of the world’s largest firms. She told me that on a recent evaluation of more than 200 recruiters, those with domain expertise made more placements per month with stronger candidates. Domain expertise means the person was an accountant, engineer, store manager, sales rep, etc., before he/she started recruiting for these people

I also spoke to a number of staffing firm owners who said their best recruiters were all subject matter experts in niche areas. This allowed them to develop deep networks of strong talent that were nurtured and expanded over time. Then as positions became available, they could quickly tap into these networks to find great people who were open to exploring career moves. Recruiting in this way is like farming – understanding the crop of jobs and candidates, nurturing and building relationships, and eventually placing candidates successfully.

My own experience as a recruiter is similar, but with a huge “aha” moment.

When I started as a recruiter, I had a 10-year background in engineering, manufacturing, cost analysis, logistics and financial planning. For the first five years of my recruiting career I placed people in jobs I knew in these fields. I became a very successful recruiter very quickly using this approach.

However, after five years things turned sour.

I started to get bigger and bigger search assignments for jobs I was not familiar with. When taking these assignments with the hiring manager, it was clear to both of us I did not understand the job.

It was worse when I talked with candidates. I could not convince them of the career opportunity nor could I get any good referrals. And when I assessed them I was evaluating too many generic factors rather than the person’s ability to do the actual work required in the actual environment. As a result of this I had to present too many candidates to get a person hired and the quality of those who were hired wasn’t as high as when I was recruiting people for jobs I knew. I had transformed into a hunter, and it wasn’t working.

It was a clear lack of specific job knowledge that was the core problem. After much trial-and-error, the solution turned out to be a scripted approach for defining the job as a series of critical performance objectives. For example, it’s better to say, “Lead a team of senior accountants overhauling the international reporting system within 12 months,” rather than “Must have a Big 4 CPA with 10+ years of international reporting experience and strong supervisory and systems skills with a “can do” attitude.”

Once I understood the job this way, my confidence improved as well as the quality of candidates I was sourcing, recruiting and placing. Pretty soon I was back on track requiring only 3-4 candidates to get a person hired and most of the time it only took a few weeks to source them.

Like the recent conversations with talent leaders and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with recruiters around the world over the years, I believe that knowledge of the job can be your competitive advantage and transform you from a “hunter” to a successful “farmer” recruiter. Here are the 5 steps that are crucial:

  1. Know the job

If you haven’t been doing the work you’re hiring a person for you’d better know the job, the hiring manager, the hiring team and the company culture.

  1. Become SWK – Someone Worth Knowing

Gatekeepers don’t get referrals nor can they gain the trust and openness with both hiring managers and candidates. Both are essential when placing passive candidates. Being a specialist is critical. This is how you gain a reputation in the industry as a person handling the best jobs and placing the best candidates.

  1. Be a farmer, not a hunter

Once a hot prospect agrees to engage in a conversation it takes hours spread over weeks (sometimes months) to get the person hired. This requires a nurturing process long before the hot prospect even agreed to engage in a serious conversation.

  1. Plant seeds

The probability that your open job is a perfect fit for the person being pursued is remote for a variety of reasons. However, the probability is high that the person being pursued knows someone who is a great fit. Getting these great referrals is what recruiting is all about.

  1. Reap what you sow

As long as you keep your network alive with strong talent you’ll be able to tap into it to find people who are ready to move for the right opportunity.

There is no reason a recruiter who follows the above principles can’t present 3-4 strong prospects for any open job within 3-4 weeks. If you’re falling short on these critical two metrics, I suggest you rethink your entire approach to recruiting. This does not mean becoming more efficient doing what you’re now doing. It means becoming better. And you’ll know you’re getting better when 50% of the candidates you present to your hiring manager are highly referred.