When You Need to Recruit for a Bad Manager…

Jessica Lee Hiring Managers, Jessica Lee, Leadership, Recruiting, Working With Recruiters

True story. The other week, I was hanging out with some third-party recruiter types when I heard one say that she was probably going to turn down a search assignment because in her words, “Their CEO? He’s a total a$#. I don’t think I could ever recruit someone to work for him in good conscience.” Nice. Real nice.

And it got me thinking. In the third-party recruiting biz, I guess you sometimes have that luxury. You don’t want to recruit for a bad manager (or even company)? Just say no! Why take on a search like that when it means you’re potentially having to put really great candidates you’ve recruited in harm’s way. Must be nice… but where I sit, on the corporate side, well, the reality is that you don’t have that luxury. I mean, try saying to your leadership tomorrow that you don’t want to recruit for one of the reqs on your plate because you don’t like the hiring manager. Good luck with that! (And truth be told, as a corporate recruiter, being embedded and closer to the action so to speak, you probably know the flaws – zits and all – of your hiring managers, more so than a third-party recruiter ever would.)

Now, you can be lucky, like me. I truly believe that I work for an organization with amazing leadership and great talent. But even I can admit that not all managers are rockstar people managers. You may have a fresh, brand new people manager with limited people management skills. Or, in some situations, you may have good people managers but only for a certain personality types or work styles. And in past lives, sure, I’ve had to recruit for some managers who I personally would never work for. I mean, think about how many bad managers you’ve personally worked for. Right? In that context, man, I’d have some big challenges to tackle. The manager who micro-managed to the point she might as well have told me what to wear to work every single day. And there was the manager who yelled, a lot.

Now, to be fair, being a manager is a tough gig. I totally get that. Even I don’t have much of a desire to do any people managing in the near term. I tried, and I am happy to not do that again anytime soon. But as a recruiter, especially in the corporate setting, you are gonna have to recruit for all types. So what’s a gal supposed to do when you know a manager might not be a great manager to the candidates you’re recruiting?

When I first started getting involved in the recruiting space, the mission then seemed to be to simply find the most talented folks possible. It was all about trying to find the A-players, selling them on my company and the gig, and closing the deal. All A-players, all day, every day. I was out to find the cream of the crop and nothing else. But there comes a time when you make the realization that B-players are sometimes necessary. The scenarios vary. But sometimes you need a B-player for a routine role where really, the biggest requirement is that the person simply show up everyday and do the job adequately, particularly if there’s limited upward mobility. Other times, you just need a B-player to work for and to work around a tricky manager. So while skills are important, fit is what it all boils down to. And that includes fit to the hiring manager.

Recruiters can’t just recruit though. It’s not enough to find a B-player or someone who will be able to figure out how to work with or work around their bad manager. Recruiters should be involved in people development too. So for the bad manager you might have to “unfortunately” recruit for? Figure out how to help that manager become a better manager and that will help you be a better recruiter in the long run.