4 Traits That Separate a Great Recruiter From a Good One

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

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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.”

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


37 Comments on “4 Traits That Separate a Great Recruiter From a Good One

  1. Kevin,

    I would like to add one further point – good recruiters really understand the job that they are hiring. They can communicate the differentiating factors (your point 3), they can handle questions and come across as a credible advocate.


  2. Kevin I read this to say that Recruiters are salespeople, and HR is not (or has not been) a sales-oriented function.

    I wonder if any direct-hire HR has ever tried recruiting recruiters straight from the ranks of salespeople, either from within or without their organizations ?

    I know third-party firms tend to draw talent from anywhere they find it …..

  3. Kevin – nice read and good points. I think the one must have skill as you mentioned as well is great people skills with the ability to relate.

    @Martin – recruiting is sales, it has always been sales. No matter if in an agency or in corporate – one is selling the opportunity. Most recruiters don’t even realize they are doing sales, that is the funny part.

  4. Great points in all of the above.

    In addition, Recruiters are business people who demonstrate great competence in negotiation. From the time they start focusing their attention to the open position, discussing with hiring manager, selling the position to a prospective candidate – they started negotiating to make sure the targeted great prospect will allow representation to the Hiring Manager. The negotiation skills will not disappear until the candidate and the hiring manager have agreed with the right package. Great Recruiters broker the success of the hire. Kevin says, they are influencers. Real Recruiters know their business segment and market which accelerate ultimately their strong partnership with their client hiring manager.

    @Martin – Many HR professionals who are inexperienced in recruiting are terrified to take on recruiter’s hat. Few HR individuals who are interested in socializing with people have better abilities to take on recruiting responsibilities and have an open mindset to learn from the experience. There are many HR professionals who do not have business acumen like real recruiters have. Many pretends to have business acumen under the so called ‘hr business partner’ but when they start operating, they demonstrate the usual tactical knowledge and skills instead of demonstrating the competencies of strategic actions.

  5. Interesting article – if you review behavioral profiles of successful recruiters vs successful Human Resource professionals you will find one of the biggest areas they differ is on interpersonal – recruiters being much more social and extroverted (this is not a knock against HR professionals – and yes, some are very social and outgoing – just a common difference).

    I actually feel if recruiting is not a stand-alone division within a company that it would be more sensible for it to be grouped with the Marketing division. Think about the role and what the recruiting team is doing – especially with the changes in social media – messaging and communications is a major component of the profession.

  6. @David — I am still amazed by how many good recruiters I know who are introverts. Perhaps like many actors, they appreciate the chance to put on another persona for work.

    Under Marketing is an interesting idea — I tell my Marketing folks that we run more ads on most days than they do. When it’s all said and done, Recruiting is still a People function. As long as the Recruiting team is separate from most of the other functions of HR (a Talent Management function is perhaps a possible combo), we should be able to get things accomplished.

  7. Great post!! I especially agree with #3 — and to Andrew’s point I believe they have that same level of knowledge of the jobs and business functions as they do of the candidates and hiring managers/teams…

  8. GREAT article! It is amazing to my how many terrible recruiters are out there. I make a point to always follow-up with candidates, which would seem like recruiting 101, but it BLOWS my mind how many times I get a follow-up email saying I am the only one that has returned their email, call, etc…

  9. I liked this. I like the conciseness of it and the characteristics. Like most, I will make a blip addition, actually two which I have found distinctive:

    1. An innate, if not insatiable curiosity. A need to understand; the essence of a 4 year old that keeps wanting to know “why?” This serves in both position/organization analysis as well as candidate evaluation for fit.
    2. High analytical problem solving aptitude/ability. The variables are almost infinite between client/position/candidate. The analytical problem solving of one vs. another makes a considerable difference.



  10. additional traits:
    1. Relentless pursuit of excellence – never settling, exhaustive efforts at all times on behalf of the client to find the best of the best.
    2. Intuition / Perception – great matchmakers. The best recruiters use their instincts and past business experience / success to make the long term match. They look for “fit” and impact.
    3. Well researched – great recruiters do their homework / exhaustive reference checking to minimize any blind spots or potential surprises.
    4. quick start – gets off the block quickly. Establishes credibility with hiring authority from the start.
    5. Pays attention / Listen well. A must.

    And – I agree with Don above – insatiable curiosity and highly analytical / problem solver..

  11. Being a simple human is the most important virtue of a class recruiter. Having empathy for the candidates, being honest and proactive, responsive and last but not least taking keen interest in helping candidates achieve their career goals is what every recruiter should strive for. This is what separates top recruiter from rest of the crowd

  12. Good article, but there are some pieces that I don’t completely agree with. This quote for one, “I like people and want to help them do what they want to do.”

    I am a practice manager at one of the top recruiting firms in the New York area voted on by Crain’s Business Journal and when I am looking to hire someone for my team and they say that they love helping people that’s when I start digging deeper. As a recruiter, if you like the job to HELP people, you will then become emotionally involved and in our line of work, you can’t. YOU need to have the ability to understand and listen to people, NOT you want to HELP people even though helping people is a great byproduct of what we do but it can not be the reason your doing this… Motivated by being the best, success and $$$ are the best recruiters b/c they will do whatever it takes to HELP people.. Major difference.

  13. Great article. One more tidbit… I always remember that my position recruiting can change peoples lives. A good hire gets the candidate a great opportunity; gets the manager a great employee; gets the company what it needs to maintain or grow. As a recruiter, if you have the ability to look out for the best interests of all three parties, you are indeed one of the best.

  14. THE most important trait that is missing here is managing the hiring manager. When I train (“Making good recruiters into great recruiters”) I spend a good deal of time on the need to manage the manager. More than 50% of failures are on the hiring managers. They need to:
    1. Have expectations outlined – time, cost, and their participation – they are the ones who do the actual hiring.
    2. Clarity on the job description. What role, what skill set, what will you take, what would be a deal broker. This is a “contractual” agreement between the recruiter and hiring manager. If clarity is lacking, then the search will fail.
    3. Availability. This is part of the “contractual” agreement. The manager must avail him/herself to the process. He/she must sell the position, express a vision, and obtain enough information to move onto the process.
    4. Make the decision, in a timely fashion.

    It is nice, and I guess cool today to go through Facebook, Tweeter, etc. but the basics of managing the process, managing the candidate, and managing the hiring manager is the simple basis of being a great recruiter.

  15. Hi everyone,
    Need some help
    I recently joined a software company as a HR Specialist and i need to do the recruitment for them
    The question is
    How to hire in a most cost efficient and fast way.
    They have only 8 people in the office and i need to get 100 more in 7 months

    What should be my first steps
    Yours Sincerely

  16. Hello Enginiu,
    If you will provide me with an email address I will send you a PowerPoint presentation on our “Project Recruiting” program. This is a unique program that eliminates the need for “traditional recruiting fees” and still offers a guarantee.
    With Warm Regards
    Ralph Schirmer
    KNK Recruiting
    Phone 513-420-0053

  17. I really resonated with this article. I initially left HR to go into recruiting because I wanted a more sales and marketing role.

    However, one skill set that I brought to recruiting from my HR days as a compensation analyst is strong analytical skills which I find to be tremendously valuable.

    I think another strong attribute that separates good from great is business acumen. This is true within HR as well.

    Intrigued by @David’s idea of recruiting being under marketing. I’ve often thought that if I ever went inside, I’d team up with the marketing group to accomplish my recruiting objectives.

    Also, agree with @Andy. As much as helping people is a great benefit of our job, this is not the focus. We are helping organizations to build great teams. But it is fantastic that in doing so, we get to help some individuals along the way. But I never forget who the real client is — even in the midst of trying to negotiate a higher salary for the candidate.

  18. Hi Eugene,

    If you are looking for skilled personnel, your firm has far too few people to interview the people you need to hire so you can have them interview the people you need to hire. Her’s why:

    Typically a good interview/to hire ratio is 3/1 or 5/1, so 1/3 or 1/5 of the people interviewed are hired. Let’s say you have an efficient, tight interview process; 3 interviewers each at 40 min/interview, for a total of 2 hrs/interview. So, to hire 1 person would take (3×2=)6 to (5×2=)10 hours of F2F interview time. That doesn’t include the sourcing, candidate development, recruiting phone interview, debriefing time. So to hire 100 people would require 600-1000 hrs of F2F interview time. Divide this by 7 mos and you get 86-143 hrs/month or ~4-7 hrs of interviewing every workday for the next 7 mos, and that’s if things are done extremely efficiently, which they rarely are. A decent contract recruiter (which since you’re ramping up and then plateauing, is probably the best/most cost effective option) hires 1 skilled person/week. (That can go up somewhat if the positions are “cookie cutter”). So, to do this would require around 3 dedicated CRs, a dedicated contract sourcer (probably virtual)and a dedicated scheduler coordinator (also virtual).

    In summary, I suggest you “push back” with the hiring managers/ execs and show them these figures to get a more realistic and conservative hiring plan. I think a conservative figure of “loaded” costs of $2,000- $2,500/hire gives a cost of $200,000-$250,000 to do this. (It’s probably more, though.)


    Keith keithsrj@sbcglobal.net, 415.672.7326

  19. Dear Ralph Schirmer
    Thx for your support.
    @Keith Halperin thx for giving such a realistic view on this matter

    Kind Regards
    Eugeniu Topolschi,eugeniu.topolschi@gmail.com,373.7935.8667

  20. I was looking for some interesting articles to provide my new hires about recruiting. These new hires are brand new to the industry and I was thinking that other recruiter perspectives may be of value to them so that they know how hard and how rewarding a career recruiting can be and the differentiators on what makes good recruiters and why.
    Then I read your article about the 4 traits that separate a great recruiter from a good one.
    I have to tell you, it is the absolute worst piece of propaganda I have ever read.
    “It starts by stating that Recruiting is unfortunately often a way station in a career. It is a one stop on the ray to becoming an HR executive or moving to other things”. Then goes on to state that there are limited opportunities for advancement, yada yada yada….
    My question to you is , have you ever worked as a recruiter??
    Do you realize that HR an Recruiting are two entirely separate things?
    Having worked in the recruiting field for many many years, I can tell you for certain – there is not enough money for me to become a ho-hum HR executive. You have no idea what the differences are between great and good recruiters as you don’t know even the basic differences between HR and Recruiting.

  21. Sandra,

    Sorry you read this the way you did. I am a strong supporter of recruiters and was a recruiter and recruiting manager for more than 20 years.

    What the article was trying to say is that unfortunately many people regard recruiting as just a way stop on the way to an HR management position.

    Glad you decided to remain a recruiter.

  22. @Sandra: anyone who would be good at low-touch, low-value add recruiting activities as opposed to high-touch, high- value add activities should not go into it, or if they’re already in it, they should retrain for those high-touch, high-value add activities. Fundamentally, potential recruiters should learn those skills that pay $50+/hr, because the ones that don’t cost $11-/hr.


  23. This article made some good points. As an HR Generalist, one of my main roles is to recruit and retain employees. In many cases, depending on company size, etc, HR and recruiting go hand-in-hand. I’m always looking for ways to recruit the best candidates in a cost, time appropriate manner. Good read, thanks.

  24. Good read! Love these pointers.. only thing.. there is a spelling mistake (Sorry – it’s the attentive to detail in me…) “Great recruiters are focused on getting results, but what is more important to them is that both the hiring manger”

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