An HR Leader’s Advice on Improving the Recruiter-Hiring Manager Relationship in 5 Simple Steps

March 14, 2019

Dawn Burke, a veteran HR leader and founder of Dawn Burke HR, is a huge fan of Colonel Sanders. And, somehow, she sees KFC holding the secret that allows recruiters to build stellar relationships with their hiring managers, which is a notoriously hard thing to do.

“What makes KFC chicken finger-licking good?” she asked the audience at Talent Connect 2018. “The eleven herbs and spices. Not nine. Not ten. But it’s that eleventh herb and spice that pushes it over the top.”

How is this relevant? Well, in order to make the recruiter-hiring manager relationship ‘finger licking good,’ Dawn says recruiters need to give a little something extra to their hiring managers. An eleventh spice, if you will.

“We have to change our value prop just ever so slightly,” she said. “We have to get out of the business of doing all the recruiting and instead start teaching the recruiting — being the mentor, being the teacher, being the subject matter expert.”

According to Dawn, this will defuse tension, lessen time constraints, and help recruiters make their hiring managers ‘finger-licking good’ by teaching them the tools and techniques of recruiting and then giving them more autonomy and control over the hiring process.

She then shared five steps to “pay it forward to the others so they can be finger-licking good”:

1. Ask this one crucial question at every intake meeting

Dawn said there is one question that will set the stage for productive relationships with every hiring manager: “What can the talent acquisition team do to make you successful in filling this job?”

Why is this question so important?

First, you’re sending a clear message that you want them to be successful. Second, Dawn said, “When they answer you, you now have a little bit of clarity on what your roles are going to be.”

It’s not enough to simply ask the question. Listen carefully to the answer. “When somebody says, ‘These are the things that I’d prefer you do,’” Dawn counseled, “it might be because they don’t know how to do them themselves. It might be they’re not comfortable doing it themselves. It might be they hate doing it and it’s not their strength.”

2. Swap control for trust

Dawn encouraged recruiters to dial back egos so they can be “trusted partners as opposed to megalomaniac controllers.”

Dawn said she makes a trust-versus-control chart to assess her relationship with a given hiring manager. “If you want to start giving up some control [over the hiring process],” she said, “you’ve got to trust the person whom you’re giving the control up to.”

Dawn’s chart has a trust scale on the horizontal axis that goes from 1 (no trust) to 4 (“trust that person with your life”). On the vertical axis, she plots control from 1 (all control surrendered) to 4 (“you are holding onto control like white on rice”). The ideal, Dawn said, is to surrender more and more control as you develop more and more trust.

She said that recruiters and hiring managers can develop trust by giving each other time, attention, and advocacy. “The more time you spend with somebody,” she said, “your hiring managers, your team, the more they’re going to trust you.” And vice-versa.

But Dawn warned against giving up all control without ever developing any trust. “If you do not trust the person,” she said, “and you’ve given up all your control, that means you’ve given up, you don’t care.”

3. You can’t control your hiring managers, but you can nudge them — with boundaries and metrics

“You can’t control a hiring manager’s time,” Dawn said, “but you can control your time.” And, she added, if you’ve developed a trusting relationship, your conversation could go like this: “Hey, VP of marketing, you know what? It’s been a week or two now since you’ve given me a reply on the candidates. . . . I’m going to have to deprioritize yours until you have the time to partner with me on this. I’m doing it really for your benefit because you’re going to lose your candidates.”

You can set your boundary.

“You can’t make your hiring manager comply with what you need,” she said. But, she added, recruiters can put some metrics in place — “not to punish them,” Dawn said — so that they can see what’s going to be evaluated and start thinking about how to get better in those areas. And in areas where a hiring manager is strong, she said, encourage them to become teachers of other hiring managers.

4. Become a teacher — and give feedback

Channeling her inner Barack Obama, Dawn noted, “No one has ever made it alone.” We’re all mentors, she said.

But being a teacher isn’t a hall pass. It comes with responsibilities. “Ultimately, you’ve got to give the feedback,” Dawn said. “You’ve got to coach. You’ve got to develop.”

Providing feedback — even when it is well-intended, thoughtful, and spot on — isn’t easy. “People,” Dawn said, “don’t necessarily want feedback. They want attention. Even the most introverted person wants attention. They want to be heard. They want your time. They want your advocacy.”

So give them your time. The more you give, the more trust you’ll develop and the more likely hiring managers and other members of your team will actually come to you asking for feedback.

Another way to get people comfortable asking for feedback is to ask them for it. “Imagine me going to the hiring manager,” she said, “and asking, ‘What did you think about that candidate I sent you? Did it work? What about those questions that I put on the video interviewing? How’d those go?’”

5. Set everyone up for success by teaching hiring managers — and their candidates — how to interview

Dawn encouraged the Talent Connect audience to teach hiring managers how to interview, how to negotiate salaries, and how to make successful hiring decisions. “But if you really want to be a star,” she said, “what you need to start doing is teaching your candidates how to interview. There’s nothing worse than losing a great candidate because they’re not a good interviewer.”

“A recruiter’s job is to make sure the two people fall in love — the candidate and the hiring manager,” says Sujay Maheshwari, a product mentor at Recruitring.

Direct your candidates to online videos and articles that will elevate their interview game. But also help them get ready for their specific interview. Tell them what you know about the open position and what type of questions to expect. If possible, recommend websites and blogs they should read to get ready.

“Teach them how to do it,” Dawn stressed. “Make them stars.”

Final thoughts

Dawn asked the audience to remember why they get up in the morning, why they don’t just hit the snooze button and roll back over.

“Think of your purpose,” she said. “Changing our value prop from being the doer to the teacher, the mentor, the subject matter expert, you’re going to impact so many people.”

You can, in short, become the eleventh herb and spice — and everyone will know you’re worth your salt.

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