Human Resources is a misunderstood and frequently underappreciated business line. HR is a balancing act between being an employee advocate and a strategic business partner. Most of us rarely see how many hats HR professional wear.
A common misconception is that HR and recruitment are the same function. I’ve worked as both a recruitment specialist and a HR professional. I’ve experienced several job interviews where employers not only confuse both functions but expect them to require the same skills. So what exactly is the difference between these two roles?
Where a recruiter’s skillset is sales-like (from persuading candidates and writing compelling job descriptions to building a brand that attracts talent) a traditional career in HR is quite the opposite. HR covers employment law, contracts, policies, compensation and benefits, learning and development, performance management, organisational design and, increasingly, coaching. You’ll notice very little overlap in those experiences with someone who’s built their career in recruitment, especially in an agency.
Ellen Donnelly, in an article for Sifted.eu, sums it up well. In my experience, good recruiters need to be great at sales. Don’t believe me? Consider a recruiter’s main key performance indicator: Placements.
In the case of agency recruitment, the more candidates a recruiter successfully “places”, the more commission he or she earns. How does one maximise placements? Simple. First, ensure a constant stream of job openings. This is secured by prospecting potential clients willing to pay the recruiter’s fee (the demand). Second, build a good pipeline of candidates looking for jobs in the industries your clients are in (the supply). Match both together, get them to agree to terms and you have yourself a placement and by extension, a commission fee.
In the case of an internal recruiter, the process is similar to agency recruitment. The big difference is prospecting for clients. When recruiting internally, your clients are already within your grasp. An example might be line-managers needing additional or replacement resources. However just because there is no prospecting to do, does not mean selling is not involved. An internal recruiter’s KPIs are still very much Placements. Their key function is to fill internal job openings. To do this, they will need to use salesmanship to attract top tier candidates (the supply) who are usually already employed and convince the line-managers that the candidates are the right fit for their team or department (the demand). Although they don’t usually receive commission, internal recruiters are paid a higher base salary and often get to have far better sounding job titles, like “Talent Acquisition Specialist”.
So, what about sourcing, identifying and interviewing the right candidates, I hear you ask. Surely these super powers are in fact the most important skills in a recruiter’s tool-set? The honest answer is that they use to be but not anymore. I can begin by pointing out how most recruiters do their job despite very basic knowledge of the technicalities of the roles they are recruiting for or the clien’s corporate context. The recruiter gets his parameters based on just one or two rushed phone calls with the client. Secondly, most recruiters can leverage A.I. powered tools and extensive pre-populated candidate pools like LinkedIn to find the perfect (skills based) match efficiently. Software exists to sift through mountains of CVs to triage them by placement probability odds. Most of the large recruitment agencies have created cost efficient “sourcing centres” in different time zones. There, “sourcers” find matching CVs for recruiters while they sleep. The reality is, technology and economies of scale have made finding the right candidate a secondary concern for most recruiters. Furthermore, the client’s HR department is still where the buck stops in terms of determining whether a candidate is truly a good fit.
Let’s contrast what we have learned above with HR. To simplify, if Human Resources was an attraction park, recruitment would be one of the many rides. HR is setup to help design organisations and manage their human capital. Before HR tasks an internal or agency recruiter to find the right people, they must first help management define who the right people are. To do this, both the company’s commercial goals and internal capabilities must be assessed. This will help define the people, the structure and the corporate culture required to leverage the company’s key capabilities to achieve its targets.
The above exercise might lead to the conclusion that, based on the company’s key capabilities and objectives, the wrong structure, company culture or people are already in place. Or worst yet, that all the organisational design elements are already in place, but the company lacks key capabilities to leverage them. In either scenario, modern HR departments are designed and tasked to help re-align these organisational components. Any one of these components are extremely complex to put in place and even harder to change. They require careful planning and inter-departmental support.
Looking beyond organisational design, HR is tasked with keeping the momentum of success going. This might involve talent retention in an increasingly competitive job seekers market (i.e the current AI and Machine Learning candidate pool). This alone entails a cacophony of sub disciplines such as employee benefits and incentives. Here again, HR is depended on to turn companies into a desired brand name amongst the top tier talent they so desperately need. When looking at talent retention, we must also acknowledge that it’s not just about incentivising people to stay but helping them develop as well. The cornerstone of any corporate strategy that aims to avoid stagnation, is training and talent development. HR will be relied on to identify key capabilities that are already in place, that are needed, and mapping out the logistics of developing them in-house.
Of course, HR is not limited to only the strategic side of human capital management. There is also the compliance and the logistics of managing talented and divers workforces. More so than ever, labour laws around the globe are ushering us into an era of strict regulations designed to increase job security and enable us to work safely and with dignity. HR takes the lead by ensuring companies employ people lawfully and ethically. When you consider the international nature of so many markets, and factor in the need for companies to now scale globally often very quickly, one can quickly begin to understand the legal and logistical complexities of employing a multi-cultural workforce in multiple countries, each with their own complex labour laws, collective agreements, payroll particularities and cultural best practices.
I only hopped to cover a small fraction of the many facets of what HR is today. But hopefully enough to instil in you a deeper understanding of what the terms “Human Resources” and “Recruitment” really mean. More importantly, I’ve hopefully helped dispel the myth that HR is just about making the office lame.