In a Digital World, Agency Recruiters Have to Be More Social

In-House HR and Recruiting Agencies Have to Reach Out to Keep Up

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To keep up in a digital world, agency recruiters have to get around.

In an era in which job postings at agencies include everything from Scrum Masters to digital technologists, PHP developers to technical architects, it's no small feat for recruiters to stay up to speed. And with digital talent at a premium, recruiters, who often represent a candidate's first interaction with a company, must be able to talk the talk (even if they can't walk the walk).

"Human resources [execs] are marketers for the agency. Just like an account person, you have to understand our clients' business and manage the brand appropriately," said Eric Bacolas, chief talent officer at 360i. "[That first interaction] can make a huge difference in where they decide to go."

Indeed, internal and external recruiters say they're expanding their networks, attending events like Social Media Week, approaching interviews in different ways and chatting up digitally savvy colleagues and industry experts. All in an attempt to understand the changes taking place in the digital space and to ensure they're able to find the best candidates.

"As we continue to become more specialized in so many different disciplines, we absolutely need to get a deeper understanding," said Tim Cecere, chief talent officer and director-human resources at GroupM. "Just as technology and advertising have become more social, HR people have also become more social within their companies, walking around, talking to department heads and practitioners, getting a more intimate understanding of what they do."

After all, even most people familiar with the agency business would have to Google "Scrum Master" to learn that , according to Wikipedia, it is a person who protects the development team from interference and keeps it focused on the tasks at hand.

Hunter Gilmore, who founded the Hunting Lodge, an advertising recruitment firm, says he's not afraid to pick up the phone to ask a question or admit he doesn't know something. He also attends a variety of conferences and "boot camps," in addition to participating in informal recruiter roundtables where he gleans information about new developments in the industry from peers.

"We're not going to get respect from candidates or clients if we don't know what we're talking about," Mr. Gilmore said. "Just because I haven't done it, doesn't mean I can't be educated about it. That's just laziness."

Likewise, Mr. Cecere says he's found success navigating interviews with tech-savvy candidates by focusing on the business problem the candidate is expected to solve and the competitive advantage different tools or technologies provide. "To me, that 's the first stage in understanding technology," he said. "But if it's [a technology or tool] only three people in the free world know, we'll talk about the business problem and then I'm happy to pass them on to the department head to dig deeper."

Mr. Bacolas says he employs "technical interviews" where candidates work with hiring managers to perform simulations or handle mock assignments. The makeup of his human-resources team has also evolved to include experts from different fields. Mr. Bacolas now counts a former account manager, as well as a former media specialist, as part of his team.

"There are great advantages," Mr. Bacolas said. "Hopefully, they come with a network of like-minded people. And they talk the talk in exactly the same way as the people doing the job."

Those types of specialists are becoming the norm, recruiters say, as searches become more customized and it becomes necessary to vet candidates' technical expertise. "More than ever, specialization in the recruitment industry is valued and valuable," explained Pat Mastandrea, partner at The Cheyenne Group. "There are still a lot of people out there who are generalists, but those people are having a harder time dealing with the new world dynamic."

June Blocklin, co-founder of Juel Consulting, echoed that sentiment. "It's all about your network. If your network is a legacy network, if you're not tapped into what's new and next, you won't be able to recruit," she said. "You don't necessarily have to be a practitioner, but you have to understand what the person is supposed to do and what the dynamics are that will make them successful."

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