Sit Down and Listen Up — What the Best Recruiters Already Know That You Should Too

Feb 13, 2013

cat.jpgAs a recruiter, the way you communicate can make or break you. It can keep you employed and keep your candidates loyal to you.

I’m sure you have all heard the saying, “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” It’s wise to follow this advice, but the most successful recruiters need to know what to say and how to say it. Consequently, to be a truly effective oral communicator, it’s imperative to be a great listener. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on oral communication.

Knowing what to say and how to say it means you’re listening, asking questions, and prepared for questions, concerns, and/or objections.

The Importance of Effective Communication

Much information has been published about problems in the workplace. Ineffective communication is the biggest culprit. Communication in the workplace affects the entire company and can dictate success or failure. Let’s concentrate on communication between recruiters and candidates, and how that impacts their joint success or failure, and consequently, the company.

A great recruiter has mastered a number of basic skills, most of which contain an element of oral communication. True success doesn’t come without exceptional oral communication skills. Sure, you’ll place active candidates using poor communication skills, but the true success that comes from recruiting passive, high-level candidates totally depends on knowing what to say and how to say it. Recruiting is all about communication.

Recruiting 101: It’s Not About You

I always say that we were put on this earth with two ears and one mouth. This generally means we should be listening twice as much as speaking. So what does effective communication look, or sound, like?

Communication begins with your initial approach to a prospect. 

Is your first contact a phone call or email?

  1. If emailing, make sure your email doesn’t have any mistakes. Compose a brief but professional note that gives the reader the freedom to reply either way. Give them a reason to reply.
  2. If calling, know what you’re going to say if the prospect picks up the phone and be respectful of their time. Always ask if it’s a good time. Be clear and concise; don’t ramble. If leaving a voice mail, don’t forget to give them a reason to return your call. Do not leave a job pitch over voice mail unless (and only unless) the prospect is someone who has given you his or her permission to call. Good candidates get flooded with calls from recruiters. You need to give them a reason to want to talk to you. Through your delivery, you must show them that you’re different from the rest of the recruiters knocking on their door. How is your speaking cadence? Do you come across as confident? Are you saying “um” and/or “you know” every other word?

You have them on the phone. Now what?

Ask questions such as: What are your interests? What is your current situation? Are you open to outside opportunities? What opportunities would you like to explore? People love to talk about themselves. If you can engage them in a conversation about themselves, they will open up and begin to trust you.

Presenting the opportunity

If and when you determine your opportunity is a fit for their needs, you can present it. Remember to continue to ask questions. “Are you familiar with ABC Company?” If yes, ask what they think about the company. Here’s your chance to start handling objections or concerns. Sometimes, after giving you a list of things they want to hear about, candidates will say they’re not interested. It’s your responsibility to remind them of that agreement; e.g., “You said you wanted me to bring you a diet lemon Snapple and now you don’t want it? Did I misunderstand, or have you changed your mind?” It’s always better to throw yourself under the bus rather than be accusatory.

Prepare for the interview

Regardless of the candidate’s level, everyone can use some interview preparation. Let your candidate know what to expect. Ask if there are any areas where they could use your assistance. It is up to you to ensure their preparedness for the interview. Advise them that it is okay if they don’t want to move forward after the interview, but that you don’t want the company to turn them down. You want your candidates to have the decision making power.


Give them feedback about the interview within 24 hours of you getting it, even if what you hear is negative. If you hear back from the interviewer within 24 hours, put in a quick call or send an email. The point is to stay in communication. Too many recruiters take the easy way out by sending an email to the candidate when the company decides not to move forward with them. The candidate gave you their time in working with you. If you have to deliver bad news, you owe them the courtesy of a phone call. If there are next steps, be sure to communicate the “who, what, where, and when.”

Negotiating/Making an Offer — Know what the candidate needs to be able to accept an offer. Do not play a cat and mouse game. It takes time and money to generate an offer and you don’t want to waste it going back and forth. If the company isn’t willing to offer what the candidate needs, it’s okay to let the candidate know and move on. If you think there’s room on both sides to adjust the offer, do it. It’s better to negotiate than having to rewrite an offer letter. Some candidates want to collect as many offers as possible. Ask about other offers they are expecting and the timing. If you aren’t sure they will accept your offer, don’t generate one. It is perfectly fine to take the offer off the table and move to the No. 2 candidate in line.

And let us not forgot the most important element that ties together all effective communication . . .


Without active, intentional listening, you aren’t communicating effectively. If you don’t listen, you won’t know what to say or how to say it.

Recruiting success comes from establishing trust. By listening, engaging and building effective relationships, your clients companies and hiring managers will happily work with you, and your candidates will thank you for enriching their careers.

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