A company's own high-level executives can be a great resource for recruiting, but banking companies generally use them too little, according to headhunter Bertram Schuster.

Many banks rely too heavily on human resources departments to make mid- and upper-level hires, says Mr. Schuster, a partner and executive vice president at the Chicago-based recruiter DHR International.

"Recruiting is the most important part of being a manager," he said in a recent interview. "It is extremely shortsighted to delegate or ignore that responsibility."

Senior executives should dedicate part of every workday to seeking talent for their companies, he said. Many senior managers say they are too busy to spend much time interviewing candidates or recruiting, Mr. Schuster said, but leaving it to junior executives reduces the chances of hiring the best possible person for a position.

Lower-level managers "are like gatekeepers, looking through a keyhole at the rest of the world," Mr. Schuster said. "They have a limited view."

Relying on human resources departments for upper-level recruiting also may result in selection of the most conservative job candidates, Mr. Schuster said. "These gatekeepers are risk-averse, because they are trying to second-guess management."

At banking companies and other major corporations, the human resources department typically is overseen by a vice president or executive vice president. A director of human resources -- or someone with a similar title -- reports to the head of the department, while a recruiting manager reports to the director.

The recruiting manager "is one of the youngest and most inexperienced, yet he or she is the one that screens candidates," Mr. Schuster said.

Richard A. Leweke, Golden State Bancorp's director of human resources, agreed that the best leads for job candidates tend to come from top executives. In the past two years the San Francisco-based thrift company has hired several new high-level executives from competing banks -- mostly, Mr. Leweke said, because of tips that came from chief executive officer Gerald Ford, president and chief operating officer Carl B. Webb, and retail chief Scott Kisting.

"I view the HR department as a partner with our other business units," Mr. Leweke said. "We are not separate and discrete."

Chief executives at acquisitive institutions, especially superregionals, are beginning to understand the importance of high-level participation in recruiting, said John C. Wilson, managing director of financial services at search firm Korn/Ferry International, San Francisco.

"Acquisitions are a form of recruiting, and through them a lot of CEOs have gained a healthy view of the fact that buying talent can really help their institutions," Mr. Wilson said.

In part because of the tight labor market, larger institutions have begun using a combination of executive search firms, human resources managers, and top executives to snare talent, Mr. Wilson said.

"With this kind of demand out there, you have to pull out all the stops and use all your resources," he said.

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