Why the Old Recruiting Skills Are Dead, and Four Essential New Ones

Sep 22, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

There has never been a more challenging time to be a corporate recruiter. Hiring managers are very demanding and expect fast, personalized service by knowledgeable recruiters. Given the current unemployment rate and the perceived availability of talent, they may be unrealistic in what they expect. Nonetheless, they are the primary customer and need to be provided service at a high level. Candidates, too, are not what they used to be. The talented and highly in-demand candidates also want to be given fast, personalized service by an ethical and in-the-know recruiter.

All of this means that the skills that once defined a successful corporate recruiter are not sufficient. Indeed, those skills may even be detrimental to success.

A corporate recruiter has always had a different skill set than a recruiter working in an agency or as an independent. While agency recruiters have focused on building relationships (often in deep, vertical job families), on tapping into new sources of candidates, and on 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 facilitate hiring. These recruiters are adept at dealing with the corporate bureaucracy and legal issues. They are formidable navigators of the corporate landscape. They know every hill and valley, every bomb and sinkhole. These skills are 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 could not function without them. The internal knowledge they have, and their ability to get things done in systems resistant to getting things done, makes them valuable, but only in that system. While this may seem as if it is practical and useful, the skills usually fail completely to help the recruiter navigate a talent-constrained marketplace, find the rare candidates, or convince them to work for the organization.

The second common skill is that of resume scanner. I recently ran into a situation where the recruiter had searched LinkedIn and other sources and had compiled a large set of resumes generally related to the open positions that a hiring manager was hoping to fill. The recruiter then forwarded them to the hiring manager with a note saying that in an effort to be proactive she was asking him to narrow the pile down to a short list of candidates the hiring manager might be interested in. The hiring manager responded negatively to this, to her surprise.

He felt that she should have enough knowledge of the position and his requirements to do that screening herself. He felt that she was passing her job off to him — an overworked engineer making critical products for the company. She lost credibility and any ability to influence this manager who now looks at her as a clerk. A very dangerous place to be in this competitive and challenging economy.

The third skill is that of receptionist, light screener, and tour guide. They may even 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, who 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. They become of the liaison or interface between the company, the hiring manager, and the candidate.

None of these three roles are value-adding. They do not actively look for good candidates or even know where to look for the best candidates. They do not aggressively ferret out what competencies and skills the best performers have – indeed they don’t even know who the best performers are. 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 recruiter need to have for skills?

Today’s successful recruiter is a different breed. She needs to be good at four things:

Skill #1: They can find rare talent.

These recruiters are experts at using the Internet, Facebook, LinkedIn, job boards, and whatever else it takes to find the best people in a particular job family. They spend inordinate amounts of time talking, reading, networking, and learning about the areas they are responsible for and the people who are considered the best in the field. They develop referral networks and attraction strategies to draw in the good people and then connect those people to hiring managers as directly as they can.

By having access to talented people and by building knowledge they gain credibility and add value well above their cost.

Skill #2: They build relationships.

Important and close to the top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to build relationships with these talented people and with hiring managers. 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 who might be useful to their firm. They need to use 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.

Skill #3: They understand technology.

Technology already dominates recruiting. Applicant tracking systems, HRMS systems, email, job boards, blogs, social networks, and recruiting web sites are all part of the technology equation. If the recruiter is not technically agile and informed, she cannot be successful in the long run. Great recruiters dominate the technology and learn how to make it do what they want.

Skills #4: 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.

All of these skills are about relationship, networking, collaborating, and selling. The administrative and back-end skills of the 20th century are not very valuable given the ATS’s and other tools that take care (or should take care) of the tactical and administrative side of things. The differentiators for today’s recruiting are these skills alone.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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