Recruiter: Specialist and General Practitioner

Last summer my wife and I enjoyed some quality vacation time in Nashville. It was great to travel somewhere not for business (even though my laptop was a constant companion at the hotel) and we did get to spend some time with another couple, my brother-in-law and his wife. They were also escaping work for a bit of recreation and sightseeing. We had a great time in spite of the gazillion-degree heat wave. The heat was memorable because I remember trudging across Andrew Jackson’s plantation with sweat and what seemed like my entire life force oozing from every pore. I mentioned jokingly to my wife that it was good that her brother was a doctor in case I collapsed from the heat and she commented, “He would probably be able to help you better if you were pregnant.” I knew that his specialty was OB/GYN but after all he WAS a doctor, had been to med school at one point in his life, and all of my wife’s siblings seem to have inherited their parents smart gene.

How many times do we forget that we all are able to fill multiple roles even if we have chosen to specialize in one particular area? I remember early lessons in life when I was told to believe the old wives’ tale that there were people who were “jack of all trades, master of none.” There may be some foundation of truth in that myth, but most intelligent, thinking human beings are not that single minded. The truth is that we sometimes make conscious choices based on our wants, needs and abilities. Sometimes serendipity just hands it to us, but memory of things once learned never really gets buried so deeply in memory that it couldn’t be recovered almost instinctively. This is especially true when a career is evolutionary in nature because every new development forces a recollection of past accomplishments.

My personal career path has suited me well. I have worked in all areas of human resources getting my hands dirty with daily mundane stuff that I feel has given me a great foundation for what I do now. I went as far as allowing the forces that decide on things-that-are-supposedly-important to grill me on my knowledge in order to become SPHR and GPHR certified, but that generalist stuff is not what I want to do. I am a specialist. When I wake up in the morning I am thinking like a recruiter. I also am aware of the fact that my path is not necessarily the only path to being a good generalist because some people start in a specialty area and grow from there. Show me a corporate recruiter who doesn’t have at least a peripheral knowledge of compensation, training, communication, and employee relations and I will show you a recruiter who is going to lose a lot of arguments.

A recruiter who is practicing her craft by choice has basic skills in more areas than just recruiting. Recruiters probably have a better knowledge of the current climate for hiring than most complex surveys can provide. They have a sixth sense for fair compensation and have seen the power of the market drive both business and candidate decisions. By definition, most good recruiters are great communicators and know how to fill black holes even if sometimes they are powerless to do so. These are the experts with both company knowledge and external market awareness. I would trust their advice and counsel on most things related to HR even though I would mainly trust them to advise me on things related to talent selection and hiring.

One critical aspect of selecting candidates for a position is that we want people who have a track record of solving problems, posses the ability to add innovation through their insight and experience, and have the potential to move beyond immediate needs. Looking within our own complexity as an example, the answer we are seeking may not be with today’s specialist candidate, but the entire curriculum vitae and the general ability to do the job. It is picking the low fruit to select from the “what have you done lately” category rather than looking beyond the top bullet on the resume. If I am looking for a specialist there may be no other choice, but if I want a generalist I need to look deeper. Using my recently acquired “Nashville knowledge” I could probably hire a banjo player to get by on any other stringed instrument, but not just any guitar picker can play the banjo.

A great topic for further discussion would be the specialization within the recruiting discipline. Not now… stay tuned. I have an opinion on just about everything.