Recruiter Cara Schaeffer shares the common challenges recruiters face when working with hiring managers—and tips to overcome them.

Recruiters and hiring managers exist in a partnership—one cannot succeed without the other. During my tenure as a recruiter across various industries including consumer packaged goods, technology, media, and advertising, I’ve learned firsthand what this relationship entails and how to overcome the common challenges that arise due to mistrust, biases, or flaws in the recruitment process.

Hiring managers and recruiters are essential to a company’s success, but even more vital is mutual respect for both your partner’s subject matter expertise and their skill in identifying the best talent for the team, as well as a joint willingness to tackle the work.

The Recruiter and Hiring Manager Relationship

While recruiters and hiring managers share a common goal—find the best talent for an open position—they hold different responsibilities. Hiring managers typically work on the team with the open position and will likely act as the new hire’s supervisor. When a spot opens on their team, a hiring manager opens the search process by creating a job description with a comprehensive list of the duties and needs to share with recruiters. The hiring manager also reviews applications, interviews strong candidates, and has the final say in who is hired.

Recruiters source talent for open positions throughout the company. Based on information the hiring manager provides, they research candidates, network, and act as a candidate’s first point of contact during the recruitment and hiring process, building strong relationships along the way.

Hiring managers and recruiters need to understand one another’s expertise so they can work together to identify and hire top talent. From the hiring manager’s perspective, their relationship with the recruiter is founded upon:

  • Telling the recruiter precisely what the team does and what the role entails.

  • Providing insight into the current team’s makeup, including skill sets and any noticeable gaps.

  • Funneling information about the position, the needs, and the team as a whole to the recruiter.

The recruiter, meanwhile, views their role in the relationship as:

  • Sharing and acting on expertise in finding talent.

  • Developing a strategy to identify talent who fit the role, the team, and the company.

  • Searching for candidates with the necessary skills.

  • Using behavioral-based questioning to find someone who will add to company culture, uplift the team, and fill gaps in skills, personalities, or experiences.

When the hiring manager and the recruiter work in concert it’s magical—but it can take awhile to find that magic. When Gem surveyed talent acquisition professionals at larger organizations (1,000-plus full-time employees) on their biggest hiring challenges in 2023, “lack of hiring manager involvement” was listed in the top 10 with 17% of the total responses. One frustrated respondent who selected the “Other” option at the bottom of the survey even wrote “Hiring managers doing whatever they want” as their biggest challenge for 2023.

With that in mind, let’s look at some common challenges recruiters face when working with hiring managers and the strategies to overcome them.

Challenge: The Hiring Manager Is MIA

One challenge many recruiters face is a hiring manager who puts the recruitment process on the back burner as soon as it begins. After writing a job description and passing it on, some hiring managers wash their hands of the whole process, expecting the recruiters to work in a vacuum rather than providing the level of partnership needed to bring in the best talent.

In a previous role, I encountered a hiring manager who lacked commitment to the recruiting process. They regularly missed our weekly meetings and wouldn’t consistently review the applicants I sent their way. Another hiring manager ghosted me completely. Despite making it clear during our kickoff meeting that I was about to start screening and submitting candidates for review and would need timely feedback, the hiring manager stopped responding to my Slack messages and emails.

Stalled communications between a recruiter and a hiring manager are unacceptable in a competitive market. According to Bullhorn’s 2022 Talent Trends Report, 66% of candidates say they have “given up on a promising opportunity because it took too long.” For a recruiter who has spent considerable time and effort searching for an ideal candidate, losing the candidate because the hiring manager fails to respond sets the stage for frustration, mistrust, and a deteriorating relationship.

Strategy: Hit the Pause Button and Reset Expectations

If a hiring manager isn’t putting in equal effort, it’s time to hit the pause button. Make it known that if they cannot commit to the recruitment process, you, as the recruiter, will then have to put the search on hold. Once a recruiter begins talking to candidates, the company’s reputation is staked on the ensuing interactions they have with all company representatives. Bullhorn’s research found that hired talent is 102% more likely to report a bad experience if a recruiter did not respond to questions in a reasonable time frame. To prevent this scenario, there needs to be a concerted and consistent effort to attend to the candidate throughout the interview process.

Statistics from Bullhorn explain some factors that cause talent to report a bad experience with a company.

When hiring managers stall the process, it sullies the company in the eyes of the candidate before they’ve even had a chance to learn about the role and the team—and increases the risk that other candidates will hear about the poor experience.

When I approached the hiring manager who had stopped replying to me, I clarified that until this partnership became a priority, I would halt my search for talent for their team. I asked the manager to let me know when they had time to focus on the search. That conversation needed to happen for the manager to realize they had to put time and care into the process. It resulted in the hiring manager clearing a day each week to focus primarily on candidate review, and, in some cases, to also help with sourcing talent through networks they belonged to that I didn't have access to previously.

Restating my expectations resulted in a much better relationship, which led to a better experience for the candidates I brought in.

Challenge: The Hiring Manager Doesn’t Trust the Recruiter’s Expertise

Some hiring managers may not trust a person they see as an outsider. Since recruiters work in different areas of the company (within their own department or sometimes as part of HR), you might encounter a hiring manager who wonders how a recruiter who isn’t on their team can know what they need in a candidate.

The hiring manager must understand that you are, in fact, on the same team because you’re committed to the same goal: identifying and hiring top talent for your company. You are the expert at sourcing talent, but they are the expert when it comes to shaping and organizing the team. Let them know you’ll do everything you can to soak up the knowledge they share with you.

Strategy: Be Inquisitive and Scope Out the Position

Set the tone for all kickoff meetings with hiring managers: Begin by addressing your role as the recruiter, and make it clear that you want to learn all you can about the team structure, the open position, and the company’s needs. This will create a collaborative, supportive space in which to work.

Many recruiters request a detailed kickoff document from the hiring manager to source information about the open role. You can populate this document with questions to help you understand the role: What is a typical workday like? What is the growth path for the position? What does the hiring manager hope this person will bring to the team?

While some hiring managers may want to keep you at arm’s length, getting a firsthand view of the team’s daily work and culture is vital. Bullhorn asked job candidates for their opinion on the greatest value that recruiters could provide; while the top two answers were obvious (matching the candidate with the right job topped the list, followed by securing interviews), the third highest answer was “providing advice and expertise.” Hiring managers must engage with recruiters to give them the company insights and knowledge needed to supply the optimal candidate experience.

When recruiting for a role, I always request that I be included in team meetings. I want to speak the same language as the team when I talk to candidates—to do that, I have to fully understand the team they may join.

If I’m hiring for a position that already exists, I will ask the hiring manager if they can arrange a day for me to shadow an employee who works in the role. Spending a couple of hours with someone to grasp their role and responsibilities can lead to beneficial insights.

Whether or not a hiring manager comes in ready to partner with you or is a little uneasy, remain attentive and collaborative. Don’t be afraid to become a fly on the wall so you can become a mini-expert about the team.

Challenge: The Hiring Manager Has a Narrow Candidate Vision

An open mind is one of the most valuable assets a recruiter can bring to the hiring table. Too often, hiring managers get stuck in a narrow vision of the credentials necessary for a candidate to be successful on their team.

There are many biases that affect broader hiring efforts, age being one of them. Generation, a nonprofit organization founded by McKinsey & Company, discovered that hiring managers are more likely to prefer the applications, experience, and characteristics of candidates aged 35 to 44 compared to those over the age of 45. However, employers who hire candidates over the age of 45 found that 87% of these hires were either equal or better in overall performance than younger employees.

Attitudes around college degrees can also impact hiring. In a recent OneTen report, more than half of the 500 surveyed hiring managers said removing four-year degree requirements would positively impact their company’s hiring practices—yet only 31% have actually done so.

One hiring manager I encountered had a hardened vision of their ideal candidate: which university they attended, their degree, their previous employers, etc. At the outset, this hiring manager wouldn’t even consider candidates who hadn't attended an Ivy League school. The hiring manager’s strict rules narrowed the talent pool significantly and made it difficult to find diversity in talent.

Data from Generation about hiring managers’ age biases.

Strategy: Encourage a Step Back to See the Full Picture

I’ll be honest: There isn’t a simple fix here. Dealing with hiring managers who won’t entertain any variation on specific qualifications requires a careful approach. Your long-term goal is to shift perspectives.

As a partner, your role is to understand someone’s thoughts on a topic. It is your best way to figure out how to help them see a different, wider perspective.

When working with the narrow-minded hiring manager, I was able to make an example out of my own history to help them relax their requirements. While I am now a successful recruiter, I began my career as an assistant stylist in the fashion industry. I shared how my less-than-linear background gave me advantages and perspectives that ultimately diversified my recruiting expertise.

Career growth is a lattice, not a ladder. Bringing in people with different experiences and backgrounds offers the opportunity to grow your team’s capabilities. A broad talent pool is what employees have come to expect; a 2023 study by Pew Research found that 56% of employed adults think that increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at work is a good thing.

A quote reads, in part: “Career growth is a lattice, not a ladder.”

At Hook, we look to niche communities, job boards, and conferences such as Diverse Creatives and Women Who Design to find hires with diverse voices and perspectives in the design industry. It’s important to me that our recruiting process highlights individuals and their specific talents, instead of making them fit a predetermined list of qualifications.

I recommend highlighting these individuals, as well as the successes of other teams within your company, to a hiring manager to emphasize why thinking outside the box works. Maybe there’s a team excelling at its goals or delivering stellar results because it brought in candidates with different backgrounds who pushed team members to think and operate in new ways. Present that data to the hiring manager to indicate what can happen if you broaden the search.

Ultimately, it took the experience of hiring between 20 and 25 roles before I could convince the hiring manager to go beyond the rigid rules they set for their team. Once I had a proven track record, I was able to present a slate of candidates who did not have the qualifications or background this hiring manager typically looked for, and we wound up hiring someone with a completely different work history. That hire brought so much to the table that they were promoted within six months.

As a recruiter, it’s essential to challenge hiring managers’ preconceived notions about what the best talent must have on their résumé. Remember to remain open and respectful while challenging the status quo. In the long run, patience and persistence will get you there, and the diversity of talent you eventually bring in will prove the value of your strategy.

Leading the Charge

It’s important to remember that a recruiter’s success is a hiring manager’s success, and vice versa. You are part of the same business ecosystem. You both want to hire the right people to add to that ecosystem and strengthen your company’s mission, goals, and culture.

When you take the necessary steps to build and maintain a working partnership with a hiring manager, you’ll be in the best position to find, attract, and retain top talent. As recruiters, we have a lot of power: We see candidates before anyone else. Hiring managers depend on us, and everything works better when we can move forward without frustration or judgment. Don’t be shy—ask questions, share your thoughts, and stand up for your work. When you follow my advice, you’ll forge a fruitful relationship that will lead your company to ongoing success.