4 Traits That Separate a Great Recruiter From a Good One

Mar 22, 2011

IBM employee collaborating and sharingRecruiting is unfortunately often a way station in a career. It is one stop on the way to becoming an HR executive or to moving on to other things. There are often very limited opportunities for advancement as a recruiter within most organizations, which further limits the number of people who choose to dedicate themselves to doing it well. Success also requires abilities that are not necessarily the strengths of those who choose traditional human resources as a career. I have found that many of the most successful recruiters had no intention of working for or in HR. They were interested in sales, marketing, communications, or similar areas and found themselves accidently being asked to do recruiting.

If you take the time to talk to recruiters who have garnered a reputation for success, you will discover that they share a few traits in common.

It is these common interests, inclinations, or skills that differentiate them from all the others. It would be useful to look for these traits whenever you are trying to find more recruiters or to identify those most likely to add the most value.

These recruiters are not real people. They are composite people that I made up from some of the best I have seen and worked with.

Trait 1: Great at networking because they have a strong interest in people

I know this sounds trite, but it is true. Every great recruiter has a need to be around and with people. They like to meet new people and seek out opportunities to do that even when they are not recruiting.

Bill Warren is a great example. He began recruiting when he was just 23 and a new college hire. The college team asked him to help out on campus and he immediately put the network he had developed in his fraternity and social activities to work. As he worked in a technical industry, he put together an on-campus special interest group sponsored by his company. They sent engineers to talk and demonstrate uses for their products in applied situations. With the blessing of his boss, he was able to spend several weeks each semester in campus building the reputation of his firm and their research. Recruiting was easy after the first year and remains that way today. Bill, meanwhile at 28, has become a full-time recruiter, where he is quickly becoming a star. When you ask him why he is successful, he just says: “I like people and want to help them do what they want to do.”

His networking skills are massive both in person and online. He cultivates relationships and understands that all solid relationships are built on quid pro quo: doing something for someone who, in turn, does something for you. It is this give and take that makes for success, and he is willing to share his career advice, mentoring skills, and technical expertise. In return he gets the loyalty and commitment of many candidates.

Trait 2: Marketing and influencing skills

Sue Smith is ranked as the top recruiter in her retail organization. Hiring volume is aggressive and needs are changing all the time. Turnover is often high and seasonal hiring presents many challenges. She has to recruit contingent as well as full-time staff, and is involved in lots of internal politics.

Yet, Sue is able to ride these waves and still make progress. While she is a good networker, where she really shines is in influencing and selling. Sue aims to get candidates interested in the work, project, and hiring manager by identifying and communicating their positive aspects, pointing out challenges when appropriate, and generating excitement. She presents well-vetted candidates to the hiring manager whom she has “presold.” Through Facebook, email, and phone calls, she uses her networks as marketing channels and targets them for specific functions and sometimes even for specific hiring managers.

Trait 3: Personalizing and leveraging uniqueness

They transcend brand by personalizing each hire and each hiring manager. Each of these recruiters has found the power and importance of personalization. Rather than rely on a generic recruiting brand, they instead brand every job and manager as unique. They know how to steer the right candidates to the right managers because they have deep knowledge of the needs and capabilities of each through their networking skills and ability to influence. While each takes a different approach, there is lots of overlap and commonality between them. They can push and pull candidates and managers toward a mutually desirable end.

Trait 4: They use technology; they are not consumed by it

Neither of these recruiters is a technology nerd. They use what works for them and whatever they can understand. They make sure both candidates and hiring managers also understand and are willing to use the tools.

Bill does this by creating special interest groups that can be either virtual or face-to-face. He lets candidates and managers gravitate toward those that match their interests and abilities. He has leveraged more technology than Sue because his primary candidates are dispersed and distant, but he is not a “techno freak” in any way.

Sue uses technology to enable communication. She has the amazing ability to implement a technology seamlessly by starting out small, experimenting with a few candidates and hiring managers, and growing it slowly when it works. She probably spends no more than one or two days a month where technology is her focus.

Great recruiters are focused on getting results, but what is more important to them is that both the hiring manger and the candidate feel that they have had a real exchange of information and that both are comfortable with the decision. I am amazed that their candidates have few regrets about accepting a job and the short-term turnover is remarkably small. Hiring managers, too, are content and pleased with their hires.

The recruiting process is not about individual recruiters, though. It is about making good matches in a seamless and efficient way. Great recruiters figure out how to do this while appearing almost in the background. The greatest praise you can get is when the hiring manger says, “Wow! Did I make a great hire last week.”

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