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5 Essential Recruiter Skills

by
Kevin Wheeler
Feb 9, 2005

The skills that once defined a corporate recruiter are not sufficient. Indeed, those skills are actually detrimental to success today. A corporate recruiter has always had a different skill set from a recruiter working in an agency or as an independent. While agency recruiters have focused on building relationships, tapping into new sources of candidates, and assessing candidates against a variety of criteria, the corporate recruiter has evolved three very different set of competencies over the years. The first is the ability to deal with the corporate bureaucracy, hiring managers, and legal issues. Many recruiters have focused on these areas and are formidable navigators of the corporate landscape. They know every hill and valley; every bomb and sinkhole. They make hiring happen because of these skills. But these skills are often unique to a particular company and do not transfer well. Recruiters with these competencies are most likely to have worked for the same firm for many years. Every bureaucracy has created people with these types of skills and would not function without them. The internal knowledge they have, and their ability to get things done in systems resistant to getting things done, make them valuable only IN that system. These recruiters, though, are not adding anything to profit nor are they helping find and hire scarce talent. The second common skill is that of resume scanner and gatekeeper. These recruiters can consume piles of resumes in no time at all, scanning and sorting them into piles according to hiring manager, position, or past experience. They then schedule telephone interviews and forward the resumes of those they thought worthy on to the hiring manager. But these same recruiters often have vague criteria for screening and are frequently inconsistent in how they ask questions. They act as human applicant tracking systems, offering the advantage or being much less expensive to buy and maintain. These recruiters are only human, however; they have limited memories, often have faulty scanning systems, and don’t always make good judgments. The third skill is that of receptionist, light screener, and tour guide. These recruiters will occasionally take a resume and call a candidate to ask a few questions. Their focus is to be “nice” and make a good impression, while determining, based on some predetermined ideas of fit or suitability, whom should be invited in for interviews with the hiring manager. Those so chosen are met by the recruiter, given a tour of the building or facility, and perhaps even taken for a coffee or lunch. The recruiters in this position becomes the liaison between the company, the hiring manager, and the candidate. None of these three roles are value adding. Recruiters in these roles do not actively look for good candidates or even know where to look if they need to. Sourcing to them means posting jobs on a job board, which is why job boards are so popular yet return so little in quality. These recruiters do not aggressively ferret out which competencies and skills the best performers have ó indeed, they don’t even know who the best performers are. They rarely interview candidates in depth or probe into the actual accomplishments or skills that a candidate might have. They do not offer alternative screening or assessment for a hiring manager nor are they very helpful in closing. They put together standard offers based on what they have offered other people with similar backgrounds and experience. So what does a modern corporate recruiter need to possess for skills in contrast? Today’s successful recruiter is a different breed. She needs to be good at the following five things. 1. They can build relationships. Most important and on top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to find great people and build relationships with them. This is what all great recruiters do. EVERY executive search guru is really a guru at building and maintaining relationships. Recruiters within organizations need to get out of the organization and get to know people at all levels and professions that might be useful to their firm. They need to utilize technology to help create the initial relationship, and then they need to leverage that by talking on the phone, sending frequent emails, having breakfast or lunch with possible candidates, and by always asking one candidate to recommend a few more. Those who possess this skill set are good at knowing who the best performers are, because they also have good relationships with the hiring managers and other workers who can tell them. They assess why those people are the best and then try to find more with the same skills. 2. They know the market. The competent recruiter is able to tell the hiring manager what the employment market looks like, what the supply of talent for a particular job is likely to be in her area, and how difficult it will be to find and close on candidates. This knowledge has to be data-driven and can only be collected by vast reading, lots of discussion, the intelligent use of surveys and other data tools, and being aware. As a part of this, the recruiter also has to know how the market for the product or service the company they work for is moving. Are competitors laying people off, which might open a fresh source of trained candidates for their firm? Is the market they are in growing, shrinking, or flat? This kind of information, combined with the ability to build relationships, can make an ineffective recruiting function very powerful. The market knowledge allows them to focus their relationship building on the candidates who are scarce and valuable, and to spend less time on the commonly available candidates. 3. They understand technology. Technology already dominates recruiting. Applicant tracking systems, HRIS systems, email, job boards, blogs, social networks, and recruiting websites are all part of the technology equation. If a recruiter is not technically agile and informed, she cannot be successful in the long run. Great recruiters dominate technology and learn how to make it do what they want. 4. They can show their value. Competent recruiters use metrics to put together business arguments for solutions they suggest, for programs they want to initiate, or for the systems they want to buy. They use facts, numbers, and results to get what they want. They have a core set of metrics that show how they have added value, raised quality, improved profits, or saved money. Ideally they show where programs should be expanded and where they should be shrunk or ended. 5. They can sell and close candidates. In the end, a recruiter is as good as the number of candidates that she can close. To do this, she needs to be good at selling candidates and hiring managers. She needs to know how to overcome objections and turn negatives into positives. They need to offer solutions, work out compromises, negotiate and in the end, make the hire happen. This will become an increasingly important skill as we move back into candidate shortage. When there are two jobs for every person with skill, the recruiter who can sell the best and close the fastest will be the winner.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Cheri Wilcox-Puig

    Is Kevin Wheeler out of touch with reality or just fond of bashing corporate recruiters?
    Having spent 20 years in the recruiting industry,I learned the business at the agency level for 5 years before going out on my own in private contingency practice. I most recently have been offered invitations to work on site as a contract recruiter for some of my largest clients,with the agreement that I would return to my original practice when the positions are filled. I think this is a high endorsement of my skills as a recruiter. I don’t know who he has bumped heads with, but I can tell you that many of us are here to produce the same results as the agency recruiter,namely find,recruit and hire good people. We are not political animals, ‘human applicant tracking systems’ or corporate whores trying to make ‘nice’ with everyone we meet.

  2. Daniel Parrillo

    This is a response to Cheryl’s response…

    Yes Cheryl, experienced recruiters like ourselves can be a real asset within a corporate organization… but you must admit (just like some agency recruiters give staffing firms a bad name) – there are corporate recruiters out there that really don’t know what they’re doing…

    I was working with a recruiter for an ASIC, DSP chip manufacturer for the telcom industry… the recruiter had NOT idea what the company even did. This internal recruiter had no idea what she was reviewing – but was making inital decisions on whether to pass the resume on to the hiring management or not…

    That’s the kind of person who gives the internal recruiters a bad name.

    Thanks for letting me share.
    Danny!

    Daniel Parrillo
    President – Sr. Technical Recruiter
    Strategi LLC
    Phone #: 415-695-1600
    E-mail: dparrillo@strategi.biz

  3. Steven Levy

    Danny-

    We miss your two cents…

    There are in-house recruiters and out-house recruiters – uh, TPRs – who populate our landscape. Both groups have people who are card carrying members of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Clubs. But Kevin being out of touch? Sorry Cheryl, I know Kevin and he’s not out of touch. The simple fact is that the areas mentioned by Wheeler are those that every recruiter needs to work on every day.

    If you want to make a competency building exercise of it, there are five competencies noted by Wheeler and five days in a weeks. That means that every recruiter has 25 opportunities for improvement each week. That could mean a call to ‘an annoying manager’ just to say hello, reading a website about search engines, etc.

    View the big five not as a burden but as 25 chances to improve each week. That’s not too much to ask for…

  4. Jim Replogle

    Wow…..constructive suggestions and no thin skinned “Linkedin” wanna bes pouting after a discussion. Cheri, you are the ideal profile….You have a background where you HAD to be thinking outside of the box. high energy, and with little structured support….I would believe that Kevin was not envisioning “you” with those statements….I personally tend to say there is not a difference in the agency v. corporate debate….but is skewed in my case and many others because you bring the mind set that you have to do everything and done in an efficient manner….Corporate recruiters were a pinch blurry eyed when I made switch because of my urgency and comfort in “pushing” the hiring managers and also the custom recruiting of passive candidates…..

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