How Much is too Much For A Recruiter?

Most recruiters are used to the merry-go-round speeding up—each year we seem to hire more and more and the requisitions just keep coming in at an even faster speed. Nonetheless, that merry-go-round can only go so fast before it starts to fail. Steve Davis, Director of Human Resources at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire asked just how many open requisitions per recruiter is appropriate.

I thought about the word appropriate for a minute and then thought I should just answer how many open requisitions can a recruiter really handle before they become actually less effective. There are many recruiters who juggle up to 150 open requisitions at any given time—and juggle is the operative word, because no one can really handle that many open positions.

Ideally a recruiter is responsible for hiring for one or two of the healthcare job categories and not every type of position open in a certain unit or for a specific Vice President. Healthcare is broken down into seven categories—nursing, rehabilitation, allied health, professional, technicians, office and clerical and entry-level—and the most effective is if a recruiter is, say, only hiring nurses or rehabilitation professionals. Only very large systems have the luxury of having designated recruiters for each category, but almost all can minimally separate recruitment between the professional positions—nursing, rehabilitation, allied health and professional—from the entry-level—technicians, office and clerical and entry-level.

The biggest difference between professional and entry-level is the number of applications one must touch to make a hire and how long it takes to interview and screen. Professionals—jobs requiring a four-year degree or specific health sciences licensure simply take longer than entry-level—those positions generally requiring a high school diploma or GED.

Recruiters hiring for professional groups should have between 30 and 35 open positions at any one time and entry-level recruiters can handle from 60 to 65 open requisitions. More than that can make it near impossible for a recruiter to really focus on filling the positions with the best and right fit candidate. In fact, research shows that recruiters become less effective when managing too many open positions. It simply becomes too much if they are hiring ten new employees a week and getting in 12 new requisitions. Believing in making a difference can only go on for so long when you are not making any progress.

When recruiters are juggling too many open positions, they do not have the time to penetrate the passive candidates which very well may be the best possible—and sometimes only—hires. They also cannot really screen candidates, but rather turn over that professional duty to a hiring manager, who is not normally trained or prepared to interview like a professional recruiter is trained. That leaves the door open for legal and other long-term ramifications. Diversity programs are rarely really pursued when an HR Department is acting like a big Post Office and just pushing out all applications to hiring managers—since making any hire takes precedence over hiring appropriately or diversely.

Of course what do you do if you have hundreds of open positions and not enough recruiters to maintain that 35:1 or 65:1 ratio? Initially you can break up the open requisitions into groups that are more manageable. Focus on hiring the same type of positions such as physical therapists and physical therapy assistants or all ICU RNs. Whatever it take for a recruiter to become more focused on recruiting for actual positions is the first step. If a recruiter cannot tell you exactly, and immediately, what positions she/he is working on, they either have too many or they are not appropriately organized.

Another immediate step is to make sure that somehow all on-line applications are being reviewed. When a recruiter becomes overwhelmed, one of the first things they do is neglect applicants they cannot put faces to—or the on-line candidates. It is fact that thousands of applications are never reviewed from healthcare systems’ on-line process. Hire a stay-at-home mom who is a professional recruiter and computer literate to go over the applications, sort and screen them and then send on the good ones to the recruiter. An hourly at-home person is a bargain compared to lost applications.

It is also important to know factually why there are so many open positions. Is it due to growth and increased census or to poor retention? If it is due to growth, then justifying a new recruiter should be easy. But if it is due to poor retention, the answer is not in hiring more people, but in stemming the losses off the floor. It should not be the job of a good recruiter to keep filling positions if a hiring manager is running them out the door as quickly as a new body is delivered.

If recruiters are working with more than 35:1 for professional positions or 65:1 for non-professional positions, look at how much is being spent on agency, travelers, PRN or overtime and it is generally easy to justify additional recruitment hands. Make sure, too that recruiters have the appropriate administrative support. A professional recruiter should not be doing clerical work if you are paying them to be a professional.

It is all a delicate balance, but bottom line is to measure each recruiter and know they have the tools and the time to do their job adequately. No employee should be so overwhelmed all the time that they cannot focus, know exactly what they are working on and be accountable.

If you have a question related to healthcare recruiting you’d like me to answer on a future blog, send me an email at

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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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