7 of the Biggest Problems Recruiters Face (And How to Overcome Them)

March 9, 2020

Image of Matt Damon in the movie "The Martian"

My goal was to find the biggest challenges facing recruiters.

My first instinct was to go to a bar recruiters frequent and see what they were commiserating about. With that, I discovered two things: 1) there aren’t a lot of recruiting-focused bars out there, and 2) when you go up to a person at a bar and ask them what their biggest problems are, rarely do they mention anything related to work.

So, I had to find the online equivalent to a recruiters’ bar, where talent acquisition professionals vent over coffee and laptops instead of martinis and peanuts. That brought me to Quora, where I found multiple threads full of recruiters discussing the challenges they face every day. 

With their answers in hand, I combed through LinkedIn research and expert advice to find some best practices for overcoming those obstacles. Without further ado, here are seven of the biggest challenges recruiters face, according to recruiters themselves — and how to solve them. 

1. There’s too much noise in the market, making it hard to grab candidates’ attention 

The problem, as explained on Quora by Ambra Benjamin, global leadership recruiting leader at Facebook

"In my opinion, the greatest obstacle for recruiters is connecting with candidates through the noise of all the other 2,000 recruiters trying to reach out to the same candidates."

One solution:

Build a strong employer brand that makes great candidates chase your company, rather than the other way around. 

There are lots of ways to build your brand on any budget, from sharing the stories of real employees on social media to creating stand-out LinkedIn Career Pages. The goal is to show candidates how your company can help them find purpose and grow their careers. That way, if they do some research after you reach out or they click through a link you’ve sent them, they’ll get a sense of what makes your company unique — encouraging them to respond. 


Related: How This Fast-Growing Company Built an Employer Brand That Attracts the Right Candidates


Another option is to build a great employee referral program. Nothing cuts through the noise faster than a friend telling you about a new position. If you discover that someone at your company is connected with a candidate you’re interested in, you can also ask them to reach out on your behalf, increasing the likelihood of a response.

2. Great candidates are often fielding multiple offers at once

The problem, as explained on Quora by Stuart Liroff, VP of talent acquisition at Academia.edu:

"My biggest problem is that nearly all candidates are actively pursuing multiple opportunities… Where I used to be able to work pretty much 1:1 with passive candidates, I no longer have that luxury."

One solution:

Make the interview a great experience. When a candidate is deciding between multiple offers, the interview is often the deciding factor, with 65% of candidates saying that a bad interview experience makes them lose interest in the job

There are a few ways to ensure a great interview experience for the candidate. LinkedIn research shows that the number one thing candidates want to learn during interviews is the responsibilities of the role, so be sure to provide details and answer all their questions. 

They also want to find out how they’ll fit in with the team, so it’s worth carving out time for them to meet the people they’d be working with every day. That includes talking to the hiring manager that might soon be their boss. If you can arrange some face time with senior leadership, even if it’s just a handshake and hello, that can also leave a lasting impression. 

After the interview, it’s vital to keep candidates in the loop to prevent them from growing frustrated and accepting another offer. Provide a clear timeline for when they should expect to hear from you, and provide regular updates to let them know you haven’t forgotten about them. If you do decide to offer them the job, they’ll have nothing but good feelings toward your company, increasing the chances that they’ll accept.

3. There’s a shortage of talent with the skills your company needs

The problem, as explained on Quora by Angela Liu, senior manager of talent delivery at CompuGain:

"Biggest problem: Skilled labor shortage… The shortage is most likely going to continue and manifest itself even more painfully in the years to come.”

One solution:

Use data to find the best places to recruit. Tools like LinkedIn Talent Insights can help you determine where to focus your recruiting efforts by showing you areas where there is short supply and lots of competition for talent — and more importantly, places where supply exceeds demand.

For example, if you were looking for recent college grads with engineering skills, you might discover that the West Coast has the highest density of this talent. With this information, you can make strategic recommendations to your leaders, like enticing candidates to relocate or even developing a remote work program.

You can also work with hiring managers and your company’s learning and development (L&D) team to figure out which skills can be taught internally. This will allow you to expand your talent pool by considering candidates who don’t match all the criteria of your ideal hire, but who have a high aptitude and thirst for learning. For example, you may have someone working in-house with a background in journalism who, with the right training and mentorship, could take on a new role in content marketing.

4. Testing candidates’ skills accurately and fairly can be tricky

The problem, as explained on Quora by Eric Scott, product and project manager at HappyFunCorp:

“My number one all-time biggest challenge — figuring out how to test and interview candidates to determine if they can actually do the job before we hire them.”

One solution:

Use an online skills assessment tool. There are a variety of options out there that can help you test everything from a candidate’s technical abilities to their soft skills, workplace behavior, and fit. These assessments make it easy to compare candidates objectively, helping you mitigate any bias that might enter into your hiring process.

You can also start assessing candidates’ skills from the moment they hit apply by adding screening questions and Skill Assessments to your job postings on LinkedIn. These features can augment your instincts about candidates, helping you quickly and confidently decide who to move on to the next stage.

Of course, one of the best ways to ensure accuracy is to use multiple tests throughout the hiring process. This will give you more data to consider when making your final decision. At Shell, for example, the recruiting team is highly focused on soft skills, which are notoriously difficult to assess. To gather rigorous evidence that a candidate possesses the skills Shell is looking for, the team uses a variety of techniques, including asking the person to give a presentation and getting them to complete a work style self-assessment. Since they’re not putting all their eggs in one basket, there’s less chance of a false positive derailing the entire process. 

5. Hiring managers are too picky with what they want

The problem, as explained on Quora by Nicholas Meyler, president of the executive search firm Wingate Dunross:

“I think that the hardest problem recruiters face is dealing with clients who don't understand that search is a collaborative process… Especially in very technical fields, some hiring managers tend to have the opinion that it isn't worth their time to share information or feedback with recruiters (‘because they won't understand’). This is a major problem, because without that feedback, results will necessarily be nil.”

One solution:

Have two-way conversations with your hiring managers. A study by Bersin and Deloitte found that the single biggest factor contributing to recruiter performance is their relationships with their hiring managers. And the key to building stronger relationships is having more productive conversations. 

Use intake meetings as an opportunity to set appropriate expectations and gather all the information you need to attract the right candidates. Don’t be afraid to probe the hiring manager about the job requirements to make sure they’re actually requirements and not just things the hiring manager would like to see. Bringing data to the table can also help you show them what’s realistic and what isn’t, allowing them to adjust their expectations accordingly. 

You can also consider rating hiring managers on things like responsiveness and interviewing skills — then offering to coach them for next time. At LinkedIn, for example, the Product team uses an interviewer scorecard to spot its top interviewers and identify opportunities to coach those who might be struggling. By taking steps like these, you can turn the relationship into a collaborative, strategic partnership, instead of one built on giving and receiving orders. 

6. Recruiters sometimes lack the technical knowledge needed to answer candidates’ questions

The problem, as explained on Quora by Prashant Bhattacharya, program manager of leadership hiring at Capgemini:

“Understanding the technical job specs and explaining it to the passive candidates [is a challenge]… When we are trying to sell to passive candidates for niche tech jobs, we don't have answers to all their queries. So it becomes very tricky to excite them further.”

One solution: 

Speak to someone in the know. Unless you’re a specialist recruiter, you’re unlikely to know everything about every role that you hire for — but that doesn’t mean that no one at your company possesses this knowledge. 

Before you start engaging with candidates, consider sitting down with the hiring manager and getting a crash course on the topic at hand. Ask them what questions candidates are likely to have about the role and clarify any terminology that you’re unfamiliar with. If you explain how this will help you attract higher-quality candidates, the hiring manager may even be willing to create a helpful cheat sheet that you can turn to if you get stuck. 

7. There aren’t enough hours in the day 

The problem, as explained on Quora by Celia Stangarone, operations specialist at RiseSmart

“I could come into work and have hundreds of emails. Not even exaggerating. On average, 200 people apply to a posted job so if I have 10 of them, that could be 2,000 resumes/emails/applications I need to go through.” 

One solution: 

Block off time on your calendar for important but time-consuming tasks. This can help you resist the urge to multitask, which will ultimately make you less productive. By designating a specific hour for reviewing resumes, for example, you can get through the pile faster, since you’ll be able to get in the zone without constantly shifting gears. 

Replying to emails is another task that can eat into your day if you’re not careful. Consider checking your email at the top of every hour, rather than getting distracted by and replying to every message as it comes in. Turn off your notifications to resist the temptation to check in, but let people know how they can reach you if the matter is urgent. 

Another option is to invest in a more powerful applicant tracking system (ATS). The right system can help you improve candidate experience, boost your recruiting team’s productivity, and cut down on tedious administrative tasks. 

For example, with LinkedIn Talent Hub, your team can source, manage, and hire candidates in a single platform. That helps diminish all that toggling between dozens of tabs and struggling to import data from disjointed systems. Your team will also have more visibility into what their colleagues are doing, making it easier to collaborate both with your talent acquisition team and the hiring managers.

Final thoughts: Common problems often lead to creative solutions

Recruiting can be challenging. But by learning from the experiences of others in your field, you’ll see that you’re far from alone in any of the challenges that you’re facing. And since someone has almost certainly experienced the same problem before you — trust me, I read a lot of similar Quora posts while researching this — there’s likely a creative solution already out there. 

That’s why it never hurts to ask for help and advice, either online, through your personal networks, at a conference or event, or at that mythical recruiter’s bar should I ever decide to open it. There are lots of great resources available to you (including this blog!) that can help you do your job even better. You just have to know where to find them.

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*Image from The Martian