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The Metrics That Really Matter in Recruiting (And the Ones You Can Ignore)

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In my early career, I was an engineer developing missile guidance systems. If there is one thing I learned that I took to recruiting, it is: you have to know how to accurately hit your target.

In recruiting, some people think reducing time to fill or cost per hire is the big target. But, these are tactical targets, not strategic ones. In reality, the target should be achieving some big strategic objective, like maximizing quality of hire. In fact, activity or efficiency metrics become counterproductive if they mask activity for progress.

For example, the other day I was at the Minneapolis Recruiter’s 50th anniversary event and a number of recruiters – agency and corporate – told me of their disdain for being measured on things that don’t matter. Their big complaints: dialing for job orders, interviews scheduled per month, applies to job postings, email response rates and calls per day to achieve some activity quota.

At the event, one recruiter leader asked me what metrics do matter. I told her those that are used to control a process that resulted in maximizing quality of hire and, when used properly, would also reduce costs to something reasonable, increase interviewing accuracy, ensure new hire job satisfaction and minimize time to fill.

I then went on to say that true feedback process control metrics are different than historical or accounting-like metrics. Knowing you hit a target after the fact is not the same as ensuring you will hit the target before you get there. Of course, you have to define the target first.

That’s why I suggest the use of a performance profile, aka success profile or impact profile, which defines the work as a series of performance objectives with a clear employee value proposition defining the long-term career opportunity. Given this strategic target, below are the metrics I suggested should be tracked.

Metrics you should track

1. Guerrilla marketing total response rate for direct sourced candidates

For any important search project, I recommend a “small batch” recruiting process that involves finding 6-8 highly referred candidates and 15-20 high quality direct sourced candidates. As part of this, hiring managers need to agree to conduct an exploratory interview with all passive candidates recommended.

Getting the referrals is a critical piece of this so this needs to be tracked. For the direct sourced candidates, it’s important to use a campaign marketing approach using multiple and various contact techniques to get at least 50% of these people to agree to an exploratory call.

2. The number of candidates who say yes to discussing the opportunity

Once on the phone, you need to track the number of people who say yes to your offer to consider an opportunity if it represented a true career move. Sadly, too many recruiters aren’t good at handling objections (e.g., “I’m not looking.”), start box checking or start selling the job if the candidate is somewhat interested.

3. The quality of candidates

If the people who agree to an exploratory call are not top people, they’re obviously not worth recruiting or getting referrals from. In this case, the recruiter needs to go back to his/her candidate development process and redesign it.

4. The percent of candidates who agree to go forward

The purpose of the exploratory call is to create the opportunity of a 30-40% non-monetary increase. This is the combination of a bigger job, more rapid growth, a mix of more satisfying work and a job with more impact. This takes great recruiting skills, strong interviewing skills and thorough job knowledge to pull it off.

5. Referred candidates per call

It’s important to get at least 2-3 strong referrals from every strong person who is not appropriate for the open job. Referrals are great since they’ll call you back and you won’t be calling anyone who’s not qualified. Given this, all that’s left is to recruit them using the 30-40% career opportunity pitch.

6. Interviews per hire

If a recruiter needs to present more than 3-4 candidates to get one person hired, something is wrong. Figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it is the purpose of these process control metrics. In this case it’s usually a sourcing mix problem: too many active candidates and not enough referrals and direct sourced passive candidates.

Some metrics matter more than others. Historical metrics matter the least since they’re after the fact. Process control metrics are best as long as they’re available soon enough to make changes. However, feedback process control metrics that focus on the wrong target are the worst of all since being more efficient doing the wrong things ensures you’ll be masking activity for progress. That’s one way to waste a lot of time and still feel good about it.

For more recruiting tips, check out my Performance-Based Hiring class on