Candidate – Recruiter Relationships: Overrated?

What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates as a recruiter?

I want you to really think about that question before proceeding. In this post, there will be more questions raised than answers provided. Please take a moment to ensure that you have your thinking cap on and that your mind is open

Who Defines Value?

From the candidate’s perspective, what do you think the real value provided by a recruiter is? There are countless recruiting articles and blog posts (such as this one referencing Guanxi) that will tell you that the relationship is more important than the transaction itself. But for the majority of candidates, is it? Really?

I’m a little bit of a Lean freak. One of the core principles of Lean philosophy is Value – every activity in a business should be scrutinized for how it adds value to the final product or service provided to the customer. A lot of activities previously thought to be essential in a business turn out to be non-value adding when evaluated from the perspective of the customer.

There’s the key – “when evaluated from the perspective of the customer.” It’s one thing for people in the recruiting profession to talk about the value of relationships – but it’s ultimately the customer who defines value.

Imagine this scenario: Recruiter A (“John”) has been developing a professional relationship with a “passive” candidate (“Brett”) for the past year, but John has never been able to find precisely the right opportunity for Brett to make a move. Recruiter B (“Jenny”) finds an old version of Brett’s resume and calls him with an opportunity that happens to very closely align with exactly what Brett has been looking for. Within 1 week, Brett interviews for Jenny’s opening, receives and accepts an offer. 

From Brett’s perspective – which recruiter provided more value?  

How Do You Define a “Relationship” With a Candidate?

I think that “relationship” is one of the most overrused words in recruiting – it’s slung around with reckless abandon, yet it is rarely defined or explained.

And I can see why. The definition of “relationship” in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary isn’t very helpful: “the state of being related or interrelated, the realtion connecting or binding participants in a relationship, a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings.” Umm…okay.

However, the the definition of “relation” (the root of “relationship”) is more helpful: “an aspect or quality (as resemblance) that connects two or more things or parts as being or belonging or working together or as being of the same kind; the state of being mutually or reciprocally interested (as in social or commercial matters)”

And there it is. To paraphrase – a connection built by working together in mutual interest.

In this sense, a relationship between a recruiter and a candidate can be defined as a connection built as a result of them working together towards the common goal of the candidate making the next step in their career.

How do you define a “relationship” with a candidate?

Relationships – How Many and How Deep?

For a recruiter to ever hope of assisting candidates with making the next step in their career, certainly they will have to get to know each candidate to at the very least assess their current situation, understand the candidate’s motivators, and learn specifically about what the candidate would ideally like to be doing.

But in order to qualify as a “relationship,” exactly how deep does the interaction between a recruiter and a candidate have to go? 

In his “The Death of Sourcing” post on RecruitingBlogs, John Sumser explained his belief that “Next generation recruiting is about relating intimately, not about mutual discovery. It’s about fidelity and long term value exchange, not one night stands.”

In response Paul Davenport commented, “By the numbers: 1 hire requires approx. 10 interviews (phone and full face-to-face). 10 interviews require 40 profiles (resume, candidate profile completed by Recruiter). 40 profiles require 100 solid “hits” (candidate generation through passive and active search). A typical Recruiter carries 20-25 Reqs at any given time and they are rarely all for the same exact description. However, let’s assume for our purposes these req’s are identical. 20 req’s times 40 profiles = 800 profiles…people YOU claim are interested in long-term “fidelity”. Let’s make this easier by cutting everything in half. You still claim that success can only come with intimate, professional relationships with over 400 people. In the ever-changing real world, skills, priorities and hiring targets are constantly moving. How many people do you honestly think a professional can have a true intimate and long-term professional relationship?”

While the numbers and ratios are debatable, Paul raises an excellent point – any recruiter who is responsible for 20 or more positions per month (let alone at one time) will be required to contact a large number of candidates every month in an effort to find and hire the right people.

Some points to ponder:

  • Is a recruiter expected to develop intimate and long term relationships with every great candidate they come into contact with? Is that realistic or even possible?
  • How many “deep and lasting” candidate relationships do you think can any given recruiter hope to effectively maintain? 
  • Do relationships between recruiters and candidates necessarily have to be “intimate and long term?” 
  • Do you think that candidates are actually looking for “deep and lasting” relationships with recruiters? 
  • Exactly how “deep” does a relationship between a recruiter and a candidate have to be in order to provide value to the candidate? 
  • Ultimately, what do candidates want from recruiters? 

“Transactional” Recruiting

I’ve read many recruiting articles that take the position that “relationship recruiting” is superior to the lowly “transactional recruiting.” That certainly sounds good (it probably feels good to say as well), but I have yet to see those concepts clearly defined. 

Hitting up the dictionary again, “transaction” can be defined as “a communicative action or activity involving two parties or things that reciprocally affect or influence each other; something transacted, an act, process, or instance of transacting.”

Transact” is defined as “to carry to completion, to carry on the operation or management of.” 

Hmm…action or activity whereby two parties reciprocally affect and influence each other – nothing intrinsically evil there, in my opinion. What do you think? Is there anything wrong with carrying the relationship to “completion” (a hire, perhaps?) and carrying on the management of the recruiter-candidate relationship?

How effective or productive would a recruiter be if they only focused on building relationships and never sought to achieve hires (transactions) – helping candidates take the next step in their careers? Isn’t that what recruiters do? 

Final Thoughts

If a recruiter happens to find and call a candidate with the right opportunity at the right time, yet hasn’t developed a deep and long term relationship or value exchange with them, are they a bad recruiter? Is the recruiter providing any less value to the candidate? Would the candidate care?

Do all candidates need a new best friend, or another recruiter to have a relationship with?

It’s nice to have a relationship with your doctor, but if they don’t ever actually help you when you need them, how good of a doctor are they? Would you look down upon your doctor for being “transactional” if they spent most of their time helping you when you needed them? 

What is the ultimate value you provide to candidates as a recruiter?

  • I don’t think relationships are understated until maintaining them puts a recruiter at their bandwidth and as a result their pipeline starts to suffer. Recruiting is a juggling act sometimes, and anyone who can juggle knows; that it’s important to keep all the balls in the air an equal amount of time.

  • Very interesting post. In the past, I have interacted (as a client) with more than a few recruiters and find the term ‘relationship’ to be somewhat laughable. IMHO, recruiters connect candidates with jobs, jobs are now transactions and recruiters facilitate those transactions. Having a relationship, to me, is more than “let’s look at this oppo I have” or “I am looking for X, do you know anyone”. These seem to be the two times that recruiters contact me, they have something and want to consider me in placement, or they don’t have someone and want to tap my network. Given these main two contact points, I don’t know where the ‘relationship’ comes in. Factor in the fact that, in the last few years, companies (and, hence, recruiters) have been looking for ‘exact fit’ candidates and you have a sector that, while it has potential for relationships, practically, I haven’t see them.

  • Excellent post Glen.

    It’s great when you already know the passive candidate you’re calling but a long-term relationship is not required in my experience. What’s required is the ability to engage these candidates professionally, establish credibility, and begin a dialogue about opportunities.

    Many passive candidates we engage on new searches are evaluating the “fit” of the role…not whether or not they’ve known us for the last 10 years.

  • The value that I provide a candidate is a trusted advisor. I help a candidate go through a very stressful and life changing process and have to help them look and way the positive and negative aspects about a job opportunity. As a recruiter you need to know how to build and establish trust very quickly and that in turns builds the rrlationship. Some candidates do not wait the relationsip to be long term where others do.

  • As always, you make some very valid points Glen. For me, the difference between being a relationship oriented Recruiter versus transaction oriented is in the long term goal. For me, my goal is to develop business opportunities by getting client companies to engage me to fill key leadership roles. So the “relationships” that I develop with talented candidates along the way may either result in an opportunity to place them with one of my clients – or if not, when they do land I want to be the Recruiter that they call to help them fill needs at their new company. While I may not be the Recruiter who was part of the successful “transaction” that resulted in their new role, I may well be the one that they turn to for the ongoing business relationship. If one of my “relationships” lands a new role – through their own efforts or through another Recruiter, I’m happy for them and stay in touch. Because I’m interested in the ongoing transactions that are the product of our relationship versus only one to place them.

    I do agree that the term “relationship” is over-used and it’s impossible to have in-depth relationships with multiple candidates, but I do think it’s important to realize that the relationship oriented approach does provide benefits (for both parties potentially) – especially in retained search.

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  • Scott Boren

    I think relationships are important. Talented people in every market should have one or two recruiters they talk to from time to time. A really good recruiter should be able to offer some level of advice on the market for which they recruit. Another “value” to the candidate.

    That being said, the bottom line is if any recruiter gets a candidate involved with a job change that is aligned with the candidate’s goals, a long term relationship would not matter to them.

  • Boolean Black Belt

    @Zac, @Will, @Steven, @Chernee, @Jennifer, @Scott – thank you very much for your comments!

    There is no doubt that relationships are extremely important in recruiting. However, as a few of you pointed out – a deep and long lasting relationship is not required or necessary to provide value to a candidate, nor do I think most candidates are actually looking to develop “relationships” with recruiters.

    I believe it is a worthwhile effort to look at recruiting from the candidate’s perspective. After all, as the customers of recruiting services, only candidates can truly define the value that recruiters provide.

  • Very interesting take on “relationship recruiting” vs transactional. I think this is where the art and science meet. The numbers don’t lie. Transactional recruiting can and should create more placements. However, this assumes that we have everything we need from the client and are playing on equal ground with the competition. This is where I think relationships can make all the difference. I would be hard pressed to believe that volume submittals on a req that is not clearly defined can be overcome by matching more candidates to the job. If you are shooting for A, but the client wants B, then all the ammo in the world won’t land the kill. Developing relationships with candidates is a critical piece to developing market inteligence and gaining an edge on the competition. It also leads to referals which leads to more candidates and a larger network. Do you need to be friends for life? Nope, but you do need to recognize and offer a mutually beneficial relationship that leverages both the candidate and agency’s wisdom to strategically go after a volume of opportunities in the market.

    In today’s extremely competitive market, a relationship can lead to better client inteligence; ie candidates will call you about possible matches and new opportunities they receive from your competitors, often at your client, before you call them. I also believe that if you cultivate the right relationships, the referral network is of more value as great candidates recommend their great colleagues and friends.

    The value of client inteligence can often outweigh the value of a high volume of candidates as well. Let’s face it. Our job descriptions don’t always tell us what the client is looking for. A well connected candidate can give us the inside track or manager connection we’ve been looking for to give us a competitive advantage. All things are rarely equal and knowing more about the client may be the difference between the right match and a high submit to start ratio.

  • Very relevant post!
    I too believe in the “value” concept and share similar thoughts as you.

    will follow your blog regularly!

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  • Костян Шум

    In my 15 years in the IT field I developed friendship with only one recruiter and he got me one of the jobs. Many recruiters do not try to maintain any contact with candidates if they do not see the potential value in you at specific moment which I understand. But they do ask me to provide referrals for them even if I do not know them personally. There is one recruitment agency that calls me once a year and asks me to come to the same office to meet a new recruiter that got hired.