What It Takes To Be a Great Recruiter

Jul 10, 2002

Over the past few months, I’ve surveyed more than 30 staffing executives from top companies around the country, asking them to describe their biggest hiring concerns as the economy recovers. The problem that bothered them the most was that their recruiters didn’t know how to really recruit. Since it’s so easy now to find good candidates on the Internet, what it really takes to recruit a top candidate has become a lost art. With just a minor strengthening of the economy, the pipeline of hot candidates will quickly dry up, and companies will once again need to scramble to fill positions. To address this concern, let’s get back to basics. Over the next few articles, I’m going to talk about what it takes to be a great recruiter. To start with, here’s a list of essential recruiting performance objectives. I’ll start talking about the second one today, and cover it and the others throughout the summer. These are the things you need to do to be considered a great recruiter, whether you work inside or outside a company:

  1. Network only with top candidates. You can’t waste your time talking to average candidates. They won’t get hired, and they don’t hang around with or know top candidates. Everything you do must be designed around the idea that you will only talk to, network with, and present top candidates. You also must be able to get these top people to give you names of other top people who are not looking. This is the key to good recruiting. See my article on networking, The Best Way to Find Top People Is Still Networking, to get started on this one.
  2. Convince the best candidates to consider your job opening and start telling you about themselves within two minutes or less. You must be able to quickly convince a top candidate?? regardless of where they live, no matter what they earn, and regardless of their company or title?? to consider your opening. If you can’t do this, you’ll lose too many top candidates and a great source of referrals.
  3. Have hiring managers call you before they open the job requisition. You need to be involved at the beginning of every assignment. If you’re reacting to needs you’re just a vendor, not a trusted advisor. If you’re not a trusted advisor, your opinion is less valued.
  4. Know the real job better than your clients and your candidates. This is the only way can you act as a true intermediary. The biggest complaint hiring managers have about recruiters is their lack of understanding of the job. Top candidates voice similar concerns. Knowing the real job is a fundamental building block for all recruiters.
  5. Personally negotiate and close every tough offer. It’s easy to close a deal when you have plenty of money or plenty of top candidates and no competition. The best recruiters must be able to close offers when there are wide gaps in expectations, few top candidates, and existing hurdles like relocation, competitive opportunities, and counteroffers.
  6. Become a career counselor to your candidates. Your candidates need to see you as someone who has their best interests in mind. You need to be clearly able to show how the new opportunity is a definite step forward in the candidate’s career progression and personal growth. This is why it is your responsibility to know the job inside and out.
  7. Have better interview and assessment skills than your clients so you can coach them in making the correct decision. Most hiring managers will use faulty premises to make judgments about candidates. The best recruiters have the ability to coach and train their clients on how to accurately assess candidates. This way, you take responsibility for ensuring that the best candidates don’t get excluded for the wrong reasons. You can’t afford to look for more candidates when someone you’ve already presented perfectly fits the bill.
  8. Prep candidates to be able to present their true abilities to any interviewer. Since most hiring managers are pretty weak interviewers, and most candidates are pretty weak interviewees, it’s important to personally intervene. If you don’t prep candidates, they’ll be judged on their first impressions and interviewing skills, not on job competency and motivation. See my article, How to Prep a Candidate, to get started on this right away.

That’s all there is to learn in order to become a great headhunter. While I’ll get into more depth in my next article on the topic of quickly convincing a top candidate to consider any job, let me offer some quick advice. Good recruiters don’t sell jobs; they provide career opportunities to top candidates. They get top candidates to talk about themselves within minutes of first contact without ever needing to describe the job. Once you begin talking and selling, you’ve lost applicant control. Recruiters must be the one to decide if a candidate is a fit or not. They can’t allow a candidate to say yes or no, without all of the facts. If you leave it up to the candidate to opt in or out on superficial data, you’ll lose 50-75% of those candidates that could have been converted, and you also reduce your ability to gain referrals. The best candidates?? active or passive?? are very discriminating. They’ll try to make judgments about considering a job based on only a few criteria?? title, company, location, pay, and whether the recruiter calling them is competent or not. When you first call a top candidate cold, you need to accomplish three things: 1) delay the need for the candidate to make an instantaneous judgment; 2) put yourself in the position of determining if the candidate is qualified; and 3) present yourself as a professional. You do this by asking questions, not by selling the job. Instead, first introduce yourself and tell the candidate you’re responsible for filling a senior (or executive) level position for a major company. It’s okay to be vague. Then ask the candidate if he or she would be open to exploring a situation that’s clearly superior to their current position. If you do this right, 99% of the people you talk to will say yes. If you don’t get 99% yeses, you need to work on this part. This takes no more than one minute to present. Then say that you’d first like to ask a few general questions about their background and then you’ll give them a quick overview of the job. Then mention that after this exchange of information, you’ll jointly decide if it makes sense to consider this opportunity in more detail. Seventy-five percent of your candidates will agree to go forward on this basis alone. Then obtain a short profile to qualify the candidate. If the candidate balks by asking about location, pay or anything else, you’ll need some simple countermoves. I’ll get into more specifics on how to do this next time, but for now work on the basic opening introduction. Hiring top people takes exceptional recruiting skills at every step. The first step is getting their attention and keeping them involved. You can’t ever afford to lose a good candidate. Soon the economy will be recovering, and if you read this series of articles you’ll know exactly what it takes to recruit great people every time. In the second edition of my book, “Hire With Your Head,” coming out this September, I thank all those great candidates who went the extra mile. Using these tips, you’ll be able to thank them yourself.

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