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Recruiter in ChiefWhy recruiting is a part of every executive’s job

Successful leaders know how to surround themselves with the best people. It makes sense, then, that the best leaders are the best recruiters. An added benefit is that leaders who personally invest time in recruiting set a standard for everyone in their organization to follow. The end result is an organization that can out-think and out-execute its competition because it has strong talent at every level.

In the early 2000s I was invited to speak at a lunch meeting at the Engineers’ Club of St. Louis in the Central West End (a beautiful part of town if you ever have the good fortune to visit the home of the Cardinals). Of the 100 people in the room, 99 were professional engineers between the ages of 25 to 35 (what a client of mine once described as “seasoned youth”). In other words, this was happy hunting grounds for anyone looking to recruit engineers.

As I stood on the stage, surveying the crowd, off to my left someone caught my eye. He was in his mid-fifties, polished, professional, well dressed, and quietly holding court at his table of 8. I thought to myself, “Who in the world is this guy?” It was clear that his peers were not in the room – he was the only senior executive in the place. He should have felt out of place, but he looked quite comfortable and seemed well accepted by those at his table.

Now I am nothing if not curious. So after my presentation, I made sure to make my way over and introduce myself. On the East Coast I might have walked up and asked him point blank what he was doing in this room full of people half his age. But this was the Midwest, and I wanted to be mindful of local manners so I introduced myself politely, and he introduced himself as John, the president of an engineering firm. I then ventured something like: “John, what’s the value that you receive from participating in these monthly meetings?”

To my surprise,  John didn’t follow the Midwestern playbook but cut straight to the chase. He looked me in the eye and said, without missing a beat, “Eric, it’s very simple. I am recruiter-in-chief for my business.”

I met John just this once, well over 10 years ago, but I quote him all the time. That phrase, “recruiter-in-chief,” struck me then, and after years of experience I am more convinced than ever that leaders who build strong teams with vibrant cultures know to embrace their role as recruiter-in-chief.

Next Actions

So what does it look like to be recruiter-in-chief for your business?

1. You set the recruiting pace. If the CEO of a business is actively involved in recruiting, then senior leaders and managers will take recruiting seriously. But if the executive team takes the view that recruiting is beneath them and something that is exclusively “HR’s job,” I guarantee you that few managers are going to invest time and effort in finding talent. If you want people to take something seriously, you have to take it seriously yourself. And that’s the primary reason you should be recruiter-in-chief.

2. You develop relationships. You’re a leader, not a used-car salesman. Please note that John was not glad-handing, passing out business cards, or making an open sales pitch about his company to people in the room. In fact, just the opposite. He showed up each month, participated in the leadership of the group, provided his business as a sponsor and meeting place, and was a well-known quantity in the group.

If I had asked John, “Who are the most talented 10 engineers in the room?” do you think he would have known the answer? Likely, yes. When he needed a talented engineer for his business, he would naturally be able to talk to this elite group about the role and determine if any of them were interested or could recommend someone who would be.

Furthermore, when one of these 10 engineers started thinking about looking for a new role, does it seem likely that she would approach John for career advice? Again, yes. He had positioned himself to know who the top talent was and to be able to talk to those people about jobs when the timing was right.

3. You make recruiting “our responsibility,” not just your responsibility. Hold your direct reports accountable for their recruiting results. Don’t carry all the responsibility for recruiting on your shoulders. Set the expectation that every leader in the business will spend time recruiting, preferably in their areas of responsibility.

4. Be a specialist, not a generalist. Pick one or two types of talent critical for your business and focus personally on finding and hiring more of those people. Your own recruiting efforts will be more effective as a result and will fit more realistically into your weekly schedule.

5. Your professional recruiters are an extension of, not a replacement for, your own recruiting efforts. Recruiting is an HR function, and internal and external recruiters are mission critical to your business. The bigger your enterprise, the more unrealistic it is to think that you and your line executives alone can find enough talented people to keep your business growing. But if you are a senior executive who is personally engaged in recruiting, then you bring powerful leverage to the recruiting efforts of HR and external recruiting firms.

Think about the advantage our friend John had, working in conjunction with HR to find and hire great talent, compared to an executive who spends no time recruiting. An executive like John knows what the best young engineers are looking for in a career, he knows what their levers are, and he knows the kinds of companies where they work. With knowledge like this, an executive like John can effectively partner with HR or outside firms and recruit the very best.


The Takeaway

  • Being recruiter-in-chief requires a time investment, but it’s worth it: the most successful executives are those who surround themselves with the best people. By investing some of your own time in recruiting you are better able to surround yourself with the best people.
  • Your involvement in recruiting allows you to set the recruiting pace for other leaders in your business.
  • Executives who resist the recruiter-in-chief concept view recruiting as “HR’s job.”
  • Executives who embrace the concept get more leverage and better results out of the internal and external recruiters they do use.
  • So embrace the role of recruiter-in-chief – you will move the needle in making your entire organization better at finding and hiring top talent.

What do you think? Leave a comment!