Good recruiting is good marketing

imo-blogAll top people have a disproportionately high impact on the culture you are creating — so as you recruit, you are actually creating the culture as well as looking for people who fit the culture. Leadership expert Tom Cox provides a lesson on how to recruit effectively.

Share this article!


Of the CEO’s four major responsibilities — culture, budget, strategy, and building the senior team — I believe the hardest and most important is building the team.

Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice” among others, agrees.  To best prepare for an uncertain future, recruit the greatest team you can. “We have nearly 7,000 years of combined corporate history in our research database,” Collins said in a recent interview.  “The single most important leadership skill, above all others, is the ability to make exceptional people decisions and put them in the right seats.”

Mark Horstman said, “the single most important thing great managers do is hire well.”

And as Steve Bell describes in the Shingo Prize-winning book “Lean IT: Enabling and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation,” some business processes are best pursued in partnership with key specialty partners.  One crucial process area where partnering makes a lot of sense is recruiting.

The CEO’s four deliverables are deeply intertwined.  Change your strategy, and you’ll need different skills on your senior team — so you would recruit different people.  All top people have a disproportionately high impact on the culture you are creating — so as you recruit, you are actually creating the culture as well as looking for people who fit the culture.  And your top finance person needs to be able to support your capital allocation and budget plan — so for the CFO role in particular, the act of recruiting will impact all four areas.

I had the good fortune to pick the brain of master recruiter Wendy Kent of Kent Employment Solutions. Wendy has been recruiting in the same city for over 20 years, has built a vast network of contacts, and enjoys long term success based on deep relationships and trust with both firms and candidates.

How to Partner on Recruiting

First ask, how often do I perform this task?  If you’re hiring 20 baristas a day, then you should have a very robust internal barista-hiring process.  By contrast, you shouldn’t be sourcing, vetting, and recruiting senior managers very frequently — certainly not frequently enough to have it as an internal strength.

Recruiting is not an extension of HR. Recruiting is an extension of marketing. Recruiters are marketing your firm to the pool of potential employees, and also creating an impression on other people who are touched by the recruiting effort.

Good recruiters will:
Help people feel a desire to work for you
Match people with the right personality to the right role
Understand who will be a good cultural fit

For example, New Seasons’ recruiters work with the grocery chain’s marketing department to get potential candidates excited about working there.

I did that the wrong way myself recently when helping a client recruit. I placed an ad for an entry level position, got 85 responses, and just assumed every one of them was excited about working for my client.  I did no marketing — nothing to sell those candidates on the virtues of the hiring firm.  I invited all 85 to take the next step in the recruiting process — and only five did so.  (They were great candidates — but were there other, even better, candidates whom I lost?  I’ll never know.)

If you find lots of attrition between recruiting steps, you may lack good marketing during recruiting.

Finding the Right Recruiter

The quality of the recruiter can vary enormously — and if you want “A” talent you need an “A” recruiter.  Be picky:

Look for a successful track record through referrals from friends and people they have placed into jobs
How many companies have they worked for?
How long have they been with a company?
Look for someone who has worked in your market — that makes a huge difference
Research them through Linked-In and through their references
Good recruiters should have lists of people always looking for new jobs in their market with better compensation

What and How to Pay
Recruiter compensation can vary widely.  Common arrangements are commission and retainer.

When paying a recruiter on commission, be sure to:

Base it on the success of the placement
Be prepared to pay up front
Sometimes you can negotiate to pay a portion up front, then the rest after they find a candidate

Budget 20-30% of the annual salary of the new hire

How to Hire
Lots of folks are using the “Contract to hire” approach — offer someone a 90 day contract, and then let them go if they aren’t a good fit, and offer them a permanent position if they are a good fit.

However, the 90-day contracts are only good for recruiting the unemployed.  Already-employed candidates are not going to leave a firm job for a 90-day contract.

90-day contracts are appropriate for entry level positions, and for employers without a good vision of what their company needs.

Cultural Fit

Always meet with the recruiters pick to make sure they meet the cultural needs of the company. Ask them to describe their own culture to see that they understand it and are a good fit.  Have the recruiter spend time with your firm so they can assess your culture.


After the hire, the recruiter should guarantee the hire or replace them for free if they do not work out.


There is a time and a place when a recruiter is needed.  Not all companies will need a recruiter.  It is based on the frequency and regularity with which you do your hiring.

(Listen to the complete interview here.)

Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust.