The Proactive Recruiting Myth

If there is one thing that I hear more from hiring managers and executives, especially executives!, it is why can’t recruiting, as a function, be more proactive!  Both groups look at it like an economic lesson – supply and demand – like recruiting is an assembly line.  In ‘their’ world they have expected needs, and to meet those needs they will need product, so they schedule that much product to be produced and ready for delivery on the date needed.  Simple.  What is wrong with recruiting!? That’s what we want!


Being proactive in recruiting and having a pipeline of candidates ready to go and start working isn’t simple.  You’re dealing with two parallel moving time lines – the candidates and the organizations need of that talent – it’s highly complex.  Whenever I hear about an organization that is ‘proactively’ recruiting it makes me smile – because they probably really aren’t proactively recruiting, they’re probably actually recruiting for needs they know they’ll have in the future – which is reactive, since they already know of the need.  Proactive recruiting is preparing for a need you don’t know of yet, but expect will happen.  Those are two different things.  One you have money for, one you don’t.

If you truly want your Recruiting department to do proactive recruiting, you have to be willing to ‘over-hire’ the amount of staff you actually need.  Some companies are actually willing to do this, and fund this.  But stop and think for a minute the message that sends to your organization.  You’re hiring replacements for people who haven’t left, so you’re assuming we are going to leave, crap I don’t want to be the person who gets let go, I better go out and find something!  You get people to think about leaving by being proactive.  ‘Proactive’ recruiting in this sense might actually cause higher turnover (I actually know this from experience when a highly successful organization I worked with thought this would be a brilliant idea – it wasn’t).

Now, some of you HR/Talent Pros reading this will say – but wait, what if your proactively recruiting for growth! Again – that’s not proactive, that’s reactive. If you know you’re growing, you would be hiring those folks for spots you plan on having in the future – this doesn’t cause your workforce to freak out and think they might be replaced – these people are being hired for growth.

The problem is very few HR/Talent Pros are willing to tell their hiring managers and executives the truth about Proactive Hiring.  We can do it – but – it will cost money and it might cause some folks to leave that we don’t want to leave!  Now, you can combat this – but that takes strong leaders willing to have great performance and developmental discussions with their team. There is a false assumptions by hiring managers and leaders that recruiting can somehow magically pipeline great talent for a long time.  Some organizations that a brand that can do this – but 97% don’t!  Google can pipeline candidates for months, years – folks are willing to wait in cue to get on board.  Walmart can’t. Nike can.  Bank of America can’t.

What can you do?  Share reality.  Explain why, what they want is difficult and costs a ton of money.  Then give them some other solutions, that are most cost effective.  Ways to lower turnover, ways to develop talent and ways to onboard talent faster. Also, start changing their vocabulary – Proactive – in their vernacular is the wrong word!

4 thoughts on “The Proactive Recruiting Myth

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  2. Hm. Maybe I should change the title of my upcoming webinar…because I think you are correct.
    Somehow changing Proactive to Reactive just doesn’t sound as sexy. On another note, we posted a blog on what we call the One-Up theory which is what you describe as true Proactive recruiting. We’ve had some feedback on it and we can see that it likely works in some industries better then others. Take a look.

  3. Well done. Here are some thoughts and phrases I use to convey to my chain of command and internal customers; those who ask me why we don’t already have a pipeline of talent. 1) Quality talent is a highly-perishable specialty item. If you don’t have a need for it when it becomes ripe, it will either find another consumer or rot on the vine. 2) We always have the pipeline stocked and ready to go; we just weren’t willing (ready?) to make a move. 3) There is no such thing as a talent pipeline. 4) Talented people don’t sit around waiting for us to call; they’re out making it happen.

    In economics, there’s a term called “double coincidence of wants.” That’s when two separate parties need what the other party has at the exact moment that they encounter one another…also known as “closing a requisition.”

  4. I loved this post and I’m in agreement. My opinion is that excellent communication on the part of everyone involved is key to making this work. One thing you did not mention, applicant perception, is a key factor as well. If the candidates are not fully informed of the intent in opening your position I mean. Take a typically hard-to-fill position for example where there are few candidates actually meeting the requirements. If the applicants feel as if they wasted their time pursuing an opportunity that was not really “open”, it can definitely cause a poor reputation regarding your hiring process. Bring social media in to this equation and it could be a recipe for disaster.

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