The Painful Dilemma of a Recruiter Recruiting Recruiters

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 Recruiter Role Model

Recruiter Role Model?

“Above all, do no harm.”—Hippocratic oath sworn by physicians

Citing a modest uptick in the economy and the expected retirement of many baby-boomer professionals, a very recent Wall Street Journal article, “Firms Enlist More Recruiters” (by Joe Light, December 19, 2010), reports that demand for recruiters is projected to significantly increase through May 2011.

One survey, by CLC Recruiting and mentioned in the WSJ article, found that 50% of companies plan to expand their recruitment staff numbers by May, as opposed to only 6% last year. Correlatively, planned cutbacks are anticipated to shrink from 25% to 19% over the same period.

This planned expansion in hiring—good news for recruiters, yes? Well, that depends. If you are a recruiter on the supply side, hoping to be recruited, it probably is—but only “probably”. The snag is that other job-seeking/job-changing recruiters just like you are reading this or the WSJ piece and are now resolved to update and fine-tune their resumes. If their response is disproportionate to the reviving demand, some of them are going to be disappointed and possibly more frustrated than they were before the “good news”.

But what if you are on the corporate demand side of the recruitment equation, i.e., you are someone in, for example, an HR department, tasked with the occasional job of recruiting recruiters?

Not everyone who recruits wears a “recruiter” sweatshirt; nonetheless  when that’s  (part of) their job, these staff—as I did in Tokyo when I recruited for a Japanese educational corporation—are going to be interviewing applicants who specialize in doing precisely that. That could create almost as much of a professional conflict of interest for them as it can for pro, full-time recruiters: If a recruiter hires a recruiter who is better than he or she is, then, as a minimum, unfavorable performance and skill comparisons are likely. Worst case scenario: replacement by the newly hired competitor, if it doesn’t stop at shifts in supervisor/colleague perceptions; diminished responsibilities,  lost authority or opportunities; promotion pass-overs, etc.

The tongue-in-cheek, quirky and brilliant California-based Journal of Irreproducible Results( years ago ran an article that presented an editor’s dilemma: similar to this one: Hire an additional editor who is worse than you, and your reputation suffers; hire one better than you, and your job may suffer or be lost, since you will look bad by comparison, instead of, as in the former case, by association.

The same logic applies to the looming recruitment expansion scenario and encapsulates the two horns of the dilemma faced by recruiters interviewing applicant bulls eager to rampage through the shop.

Of course, it is the same scary dilemma that applies whenever anyone is interviewing anyone who could do the job better or worse.

This is not at all hypothetical, as many of you will know from personal experience. On one occasion, when I applied for two different positions at a university college—one in the philosophy department to teach critical thinking, the second in the Japanese department to teach Japanese, I was told by the chairperson of the philosophy department that I wouldn’t be hired, and only because I would be in direct competition with her by having the same area of expertise. She was very nice about it, and kindly offered to write a very strong letter of recommendation for me, for the same job anywhere else I might apply—anywhere but there.

So what is an anxious recruiter to do, about to face a gathering swarm of job-hungry recruiters set to impale him on one of the horns of this dilemma?

One strategy is to try your best to remain cool and “self-confident”. However, this does NOT mean, as so many assume, believing that you “can do anything you set your mind to”. That’s nonsense. The essence of self-confidence is being sure you have the unerring ability to choose the right battleground for yourself—to choose the right pond at the right time when a bigger ocean and its bigger fish seem too risky to be in and around, respectively.

In this instance and in practical terms this means taking a close look at your current pond and battleground, viz., your office, and deciding whether there is room in the tank for another shark or in an expanded shark pack for both of you. If the answer is yes, there will be no problem in hiring a recruiter who is better than you are. But what if the answer is “no”?

Immanuel Kant, “the-greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number” Jeremy Bentham and maybe Buddha would probably advise that you do the right thing and let the chips, dominoes and resumes fall where they may: Hire the recruiter who is best for the company, not the best for your own job security.

Why is that? Presumably that’s because your legal/moral contract with your firm is for you to do your best for them and/or for the universe. Alternatively and at the very least, like a physician taking the Hippocratic oath, to “above all, do no harm”, you are obliged, Hippocrates would urge, to follow suit.

From this perspective, the challenge for you will be to follow, consult or negotiate with your conscience—or as a last resort, to trick and bamboozle it into agreeing that “there’s no harm” in not hiring the best.

One such self-serving conscience-neutralizing gambit is to imagine that if you hire an inferior, you will personally “mentor” the rookie all the way up to speed and beyond, citing, perhaps, the “tabula rasa”—blank slate—receptiveness and malleability of a greener recruit who can be molded to fit into your office. Nice try.

Then there’s the “Reality Therapy”, “natural consequences” approach: You hire the best, knowing full well that this will precipitate your replacement or a drop in your pecking-order rank.

You then update your resume and pass (when you cannot resolve) the moral dilemma onto the recruiter who will be interviewing you for your next job….

…..and possibly his.

By Michael Moffa