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Recruiting and HR: Friends or Frienemies?

Recruiting and HR: Friends or Frienemies?Wikipedia defines frienemies as “either an enemy disguised as a friend or a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival.”   Think about it: In your experience, are recruiting and HR enemies disguised as friends, rivals, or true business partners?

Over the years, I have witnessed many organizations in which HR and recruiting are indeed frienemies. In other words, the relationship on paper is good, but there is an undercurrent of something you can’t quite put your finger on. I’ve often wondered, “Was that a dig just now?” as someone offered a comment that could have really been either a compliment or a jab.

Let’s examine the differences between friends and frienemies in more detail:


  • Protect one another’s interests
  • Respect each other’s differences
  • Value one another’s contributions
  • Support and reinforce the efforts of the other
  • Respectfully disagree
  • Encourage direct communication


  • Shift the focus off the other person’s accomplishments
  • Devalue the other person’s function
  • Downplay the other person’s contributions
  • Undermine the other person’s efforts
  • Circumvent direct communications and favor gossip or tattle-tailing
  • Plague new ideas with negativity

Frienemies in action

I’ve listened in on many meetings where one party talked about what was wrong with the new hires recruiting had brought on, or a manager mentioned that HR was not responding to some need. Such is the life of “frienemies,” as they just can’t help themselves.  They sabotage you and secretly (or maybe not so secretly) enjoy it.

I’ve also witnessed many organizations where these two parties work powerfully in tandem. High levels of accountability and consistency are hallmarks of this type of environment, so it’s no surprise that these organizations happen to be the highest performing ones.

The potential for conflict between HR and recruiting is high, even though they often share a reporting structure. This is due in part to fundamental differences between the two groups:

  1. Each focuses on different skill sets.
  2. Often they are blended into the same hierarchy, typically under an HR umbrella, implying that greater value belongs to HR.
  3. HR may have more authority than recruiting.
  4. Recruiting is typically more operations-focused.
  5. HR is about administration and compliance.
  6. Recruiting is about selling an employment value proposition and company culture.

Most of the time, someone who is really good at HR rarely favors recruiting, and vice versa. This is because recruiting is more sales oriented, where HR is more administration oriented — and these are completely different skill sets.  There is no good or bad; they are just different.

I will confess that I have my own biases. I started out strictly dedicated to talent acquisition. I would have made a terrible HR generalist. The thought of having to handle compensation and benefits was enough to send me into the fetal position in a corner. And here’s the key: You don’t want me doing that work — it’s not what I’m best at. The value I bring to an organization is in selling their employment value proposition to the market and figuring out who should work for them.

How can HR and recruiting work better together?

Organizations that are most effective understand and value the differences between HR and recruiting.  They don’t elevate one and cripple the other; they work in partnership. What does that look like in real life?

  • At an organizational level, this means that how we bring people into an organization matches how we evaluate their performance over time. It means that the promises we make on the front end are fulfilled post-hire. Both departments have to work together to ensure a consistent process and experience, from the first time we speak with a potential candidate through the last day of employment.
  • Day to day, it boils down to how a recruiter and an HR generalist each does his or her job. When a recruiter is hiring a new employee, he or she thinks about the fit for the long haul. The recruiter doesn’t set unrealistic expectations for an employee that creates employee relation problems later. The recruiter thinks it all the way through and supports the efforts that happen after the offer is accepted.
  • From an HR perspective, the generalist coaches the manager to separate management and hiring issues. They don’t allow the recruiter to be surprised by sudden staff changes or a change in the urgency of the need. They sound a warning when the manager is about to make a decision without involving the recruiting department that impacts how talent is brought on board.

Both functions working together can be a powerful engine to move an organization toward their performance goals. Being frienemies is a handicap, and undermines both efforts. It can unknowingly encourage operations to dismiss or even ignore all of recruiting and HR’s efforts.

It’s a choice you must also make. Have you chosen to be  “frienemies” with your recruiting or HR colleague — or true business partners?

Guest Contributor: Jennifer Way

About Guest Contributor: Jennifer Way

Jennifer Way is a human capital management consultant with more than fifteen years of global recruiting experience. She specializes in serving high volume recruiting environments with innovative solutions that address three areas: executive/strategic recruiting, recruiting process, and recruiting technologies.


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