Purposeful recruitment (2015)

A sense of place, value and intrinsic motivation engendered by purpose

Purposeful recruitment (2015)
Photo by Jamie Street / Unsplash

We’re often reminded of how we fail candidates. Our customers can be frustrated by the organisational processes or technologies we have to navigate. Our credibility is often challenged. Yes, there are good and bad operators; it’s just that we tend to hear a lot about the bad. If perception is reality, building our brand might appear a Sisyphean task. So why do we persist in this industry?


I like my job. I could use superlatives to emote or hyperbolise this but might dilute the simple profundity of that statement. I like it—I feel very lucky to be able to say that. I love doing purposeful work. Purpose transcends tasks and job functions. There is a sense of place, value and intrinsic motivation engendered by purpose. I’ve found that resonance in company culture and also business leaders. I suspect other career recruiters have too.

Why else would you stick to job with a reputation like this?

Recruiters' reputation

Recruitment is hard. It’s not like shovelling rocks but it’s challenging. People are your product and people are imperfect—recruiters certainly are. On day one, I was told the most important skill of a recruiter is emotional resilience: anything can happen in this game; you will not please everyone; and you will not be thanked often. Senior recruiters are under no illusions. At its best, recruitment can enable great business performance by connecting game-changing talent with transformational opportunity. It’s arguably an art and/or a science. In any case, facilitating great potential is our nirvana.

Not only is this healthy for our engagement and career longevity; an organisational culture of purpose is good for business growth. A Deloitte survey reported that 91% of respondents who said their company had a strong sense of purpose also noted a strong history of financial performance.

There is a clear connection between a sense of purpose that delivers positive impacts for all stakeholders and sustained business success. Furthermore, leaders need to articulate a culture of purpose–and, equally important, serve as a visible, consistent example of those behaviors. That’s a terrific blueprint for any organization that wants to become and remain exceptional.

Recruitment is marketing: we position organisational purpose as a unique selling point. Purpose is the currency in a talent market expecting meaningfulness from work; not work dubiously balanced with life but work as a great part of life. We own conversations around the employer brand, articulating the alignment of company and candidate values; selling purpose and (hopefully) in turn feeling purpose.

What purpose is not

To explore what this might mean to other recruiters, I invited my network to share their favourite story of a life-affirming recruitment “moment” that reminded them of their purpose; when it had been a truly great day at work. Maybe this aligned with company strategy; maybe it was entirely personal.

Perhaps predictably, crowdsourcing positive stories about recruitment on social media encouraged some criticism with messages from people about negative candidate experiences or other HR frustrations. Woe betide recruiters celebrating the profession! While I certainly didn’t expect commentary on the nobility of recruitment, I was optimistic about receiving some real feedback from my peers. Still, some couldn't resist joking about fat commission payments.

No recruiters wrote to me describing monetary reward or egoistic power as sources of genuine purpose.

Purpose is about sharing success

The major theme from the respondents was altruism—a mechanism of psychological reward that can make us authentically happy at work (which is also good for business). The stories could be broken into three categories:

  • Creating something bigger and better through true collaboration with our clients; building business capability and winning teams

  • Influencing great outcomes for others without need of recognition; exercising an integrity and quality ethic to do the right thing when no one’s looking

  • Having a meaningful impact not just on candidates but their families; being someone’s champion and facilitating better circumstances for them beyond employment

Some might baulk at the above but I was inspired. One submission really captured the essence of this. Hopefully, it’s one that’s familiar to us as professionals.

Many moons ago, I was heavily involved in an internal recruitment decision to place a high potential employee into a much bigger role. It’s often harder for internal candidates to pass muster as they come with more known attributes and quirks; whereas, let’s face it, external candidates have a higher chance of bluffing and fluffing theirs! Sure we took a chance (‘go with your gut’) but we also had robust talent data on performance and potential to aid our decision (‘go with your head’). That guy is now CEO of a top 50 NZX company and is probably completely oblivious to the role I played in supporting his career.

Purpose is not to turn up to work every day and claim an attendance fee (hat tip: Alex Howieson). The difference between good and great recruiters may be technical and functional skills. However, in my network at least, enduring success seems to derive from a clarity of purpose that’s generative, shared and intrinsically rewarding.

How do you define and connect with purpose as a recruiter? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Originally published here.