Recruiting Is A Business Function–Treat It Like One

Recruiters are often treated like record keepers and administrators. This former Netflix exec says that’s a huge (and costly) mistake.

Recruiting Is A Business Function–Treat It Like One
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I was at a start-up the other day talking to their head of people, and she told me that they were planning an off-site to talk about how her team could be more effective in getting new employees up and running in their jobs. She asked me, “Should I invite the recruiters to the off-site?” She seriously didn’t know whether or not the people whose specific job it was to assist in hiring new staff should be invited to the meeting about onboarding new staff.


The sad truth is, most companies treat recruitment as a separate, non-business, even non-HR function. And many young companies outsource it or have only people who are record keepers, ticket takers, administrators, and agenda fillers inside. At Netflix, our strategy evolved to creating a high-quality internal recruiting firm–a substantial investment, but one for which I was able to make an irrefutable business case. By eliminating outside headhunter fees, we saved bundles of money over time.

I also made it totally clear to the recruiting team that they were considered vital contributors to building the business. As a result, hiring managers really began to treat the HR team as their business partners. Every company should do the same. Here’s why.

Related: What Would An HR Department That Works For Employees Look Like? 

Recruiters Serves Customers, Not Hiring Managers

At Netflix I’d often remind myself, “We are a service organization, but it’s not spelled “S-E-R-V-A-N-T.” We weren’t in service to the hiring managers; we were in service to the customers of Netflix. Our recruiters had to know the customers’ needs and desires as well as the product managers’ and marketers’. They also had to have the same level of understanding and feel a deep connection to creating the product.

A great example of where our recruiters played a key part in building Netflix was when we wanted to get into the games business. We had to negotiate deals for every gaming device. We got the Xbox first and then wanted to get on the Nintendo Wii, which was another leap towards a completely different business for us. The development cycles for hardware devices were many years long, and we were an internet company used to pushing new code every couple of weeks. When we finally got the good news that we had made a deal with Nintendo, I asked the head of the team developing for Wii, “So, have we got anybody here who knows anything about Nintendo hardware?” We didn’t. When I asked him how much time we had to get our Wii products developed, he told me about eight months. If we didn’t make that deadline, we would have to wait two years before we could get on the Wii.

I went to my office and immediately called Bethany Brodsky–one of our best technical recruiters, and told her, “Stop what you’re doing and come in here right now. We have to brainstorm how we’re going to create a Wii team.” Fast-forward eight months, and we were having a big party celebrating our launch on the Wii. Bethany was standing next to me. I saw she was misty-eyed and asked her if anything was wrong. She said, “No, I built that team! I helped ship the Wii today!” When the team was asked to say a few words, they said, “Thanks to Bethany Brodsky, because without her we wouldn’t be here today!”


That was exactly how I wanted our recruiters to feel about their contribution to the business and what I wanted all managers to feel about the value of our recruiters.

Related: Former Recruiters Reveal The Industry’s Dark Secrets That Can Cost You Job Offers

Hold Hiring Managers Accountable

One day, I overheard one of my best recruiters express her frustration on working with a new executive. She said,. “He doesn’t return my calls. He doesn’t return my emails. I send him résumés and he doesn’t respond. I’m so frustrated, because we really need to build him a great team. I feel like I’m letting the company down.”

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord

I walked up to her and said, “I think you need to work with someone else. I’ll take care of this.” Then I sent him an email telling him that I had reassigned his recruiter. Within minutes he was at my desk fuming, “What the hell?” So I asked him, “Is it true that she set up two meetings with you and you canceled?” He snapped back, “I’m a busy guy, you know. I’m doing the work of ten people.”

So I asked, “Is it true that she sent you a number of qualified candidates and you didn’t respond? Look, just so you know, it’s your job to build to the team, not hers. By the way, there are three other people who are delighted that she’s not spending time on you. She’s amazing. She’s a great partner. She can really make this work for you. But if you don’t need her, that’s cool.”

It infuriates me when I hear hiring managers dismiss the value of good HR people. Usually when I would ask managers why they weren’t engaging with recruiters more, they’d say, “Well, you know, they’re not that smart and they don’t really understand what’s going on in my business or how the technology works.”


My response was, “Well then start expecting and demanding that they do!” And hire people who are smart. If you hire smart people and insist that they be businesspeople, and you include them in running the business, then they’ll act like businesspeople. Trust me, I’ve done it.

This article is adapted from Powerful: Building A Culture Of Freedom And Responsibility, by Patty McCord. It is reprinted with permission from Silicon Guild.