5+1 Best Practices of Top-performing Recruiters

In more 10 years in the staffing industry in various operational, managerial, and corporate roles and in different countries, I have interviewed, coached, and trained hundreds of recruitment consultants from all over the world. Though local differences must be taken into consideration, the characteristics that make you a top performer in Salt Lake City also work in Singapore or in Paris. Based on what I saw, heard, and learned, here is my quintessential list of the 5+1 habits that make a top-performer in any economic cycle or market:

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  1. Work close to the money: we work in an environment where priorities can change many times during the day. One call from a customer saying the job is filled or one email giving us a new job order can change how we spend our time from one second to the other. “Close to the money” is probably the best indicator that will tell you if you are currently working on a) the right things and b) in the right order. Ask yourself constantly “What am I doing right now and will this action get me a bonus?” Think in a binary way: when the answer is “yes,” this means “yes”; “no” is “no”; and “maybe, not sure” — is “no.”
  2. Stick to the knitting: Focus on your core jobs and core markets. It is here that you can make a difference, have the expertise you need to succeed, and the most credibility with your client and candidate. Don’t lose focus as it will most probably not work out: in my career, I have placed approximately 350 candidates into a new job but whenever I accepted a non-core job (“well, this is not really my expertise but I can try that as you are such a good customer”), I failed.
  3. Look for a) similarities and b) inconsistencies: Some candidates are lying to us. The “safety net” I use is what I call the “Lieutnant Columbo technique”: in one episode, Columbo says “I always ask the same questions — but I often get different answers.” Make this technique yours by asking the same question again throughout the process. If the answers are different (often on the last salary or the reasons for leaving), this can mean that the candidate is not telling the truth.
  4. Create a sense of urgency: time kills all deals. It will always work against us. I see too many recruiters who are reluctant to set deadlines to their clients. Yet: we are paid to deliver a result. Always go for a close. Explain why (“Mary, my candidate is very committed, but there are other jobs around. We do not want to lose her, do we?”). Whatever date your client suggests, shorten the process. When your client says “I can see your candidate Friday PM,” answer “Great, and what about Thursday AM?” If your client suggests “I will have a look at the resumes and call you back,”respond “Good, thanks. When will we talk again? If you don’t call me by the end of this week, I will call you.”
  5. Control your business or your business will control you: Surprises are a good thing for a kid’s birthday party — and they are nasty in our business. You must be the one who drives the process, the client, and the candidate. You should be the one calling up the candidate to fix interviews, ask feedback — and make the job offer. Did you ever pay $10,000 – $50,000 or much more for a service? I did not, and yet this is what our clients pay. Do not ask your client “This is what I suggest. Is that OK for you?” You decide the process and not the client. Asking your client to confirm the process is as if you ordered a rib-eye steak for $70 and the chef came to your table to ask how to prepare it.
  1. Bonus best practice: Don’t overcomplicate the business: Peter Drucker says: “Successful leaders (and successful recruiters too) don’t ask “What do I want to do?’”They ask, “What needs to be done?’” Make this philosophy yours. Don’t ask too many questions but do what has to be done to get the dollar in: call and meet people in your core business and core market, talk to them, and ask what you can do for them and what they can do for you. Understand what makes them tick and how you can add value. Do it once. Do it again and again and again.

Jorg Stegemann is the CEO of Kennedy Executive Search & Consulting, one of the top 25 networks of independent executive search firms, with offices in Europe and the USA.

A headhunter and business writer, Jorg has 25 years of international work experience. Since 2001, he has successfully managed 350 in executive search and recruitment assignments and counseled hundreds of international clients and candidates.


13 Comments on “5+1 Best Practices of Top-performing Recruiters

  1. HI Jorg,

    it is a good article and I saw many similarities with my own philosophies. One comment i would make is that with regards ‘asking yourself will this action make me a bonus’ I would add ‘whilst operating within ethical guidelines and with a duty of care’ – one major criticism of recruiters is the cash 1st, client interest 2nd mentality.

    A consultant is hired to help improve a clients situation – if this is the focus and if it is done properly bonuses will follow.

  2. Andrew –

    Thanks for your important comment. Yes, I agree that all should be applied by respecting the highest professional ethics. Candidates and clients are our customers alike and must be treated with diginity and respect if we not only want to become top performers but remain there.


  3. Jorg,

    Thank you for this useful article. I will share it with my team in Central Asia. I would also like to add that recruiters, especially in Executive Search, must know the general trends of the market and develop good industry knowledge to be able to keep a conversation with clients, especially executives.

    Best regards,
    David Mashuri
    Principal, Head of Central Asia
    Pedersen & Partners

  4. David –

    Thanks for your comments and happy you like my posting.

    Ere.net will be a rich source for your staff. You will also find more on my blog MyJobThoughts.com. Please have a look and the category “You are a recruiter” and don’t miss my favorite and fits-all-sizes posting “Management tips from James Bond 007” on p…


  5. David –

    Thanks for your comments and happy you like my posting.

    Ere.net will be a rich source for your staff. You will also find more on my blog MyJobThoughts.com. Please have a look and the category “You are a recruiter” and don’t miss my favorite and fits-all-sizes posting “Management tips from James Bond 007” on page 2…


  6. Thank you, Jorg. If I may supplement this with

    Rule 001 Once you have their money, you never give it back.
    Rule 002 The best deal is the one that brings the most money.
    Rule 003 Never spend more for information than you have to.
    Rule 006 Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
    Rule 007 Keep your ears open.
    Rule 008 Small print leads to large risk.
    Rule 009 Opportunity plus instinct equals money.
    Rule 010 Greed is eternal.
    Rule 011 Even if it’s free, you can always buy it cheaper.
    Rule 012 Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
    Rule 013 Anything worth doing is worth doing twice.
    Rule 014 Keep your family close, keep your money closer.
    Rule 016 A deal is a deal (until a better one comes along).
    Rule 017 A contract is a contract is a contract – but only between Recruiters.
    Rule 018 A Recruiter without clients is no Recruiter at all.
    Rule 019 Satisfaction is not guaranteed.
    Rule 020 Only give money to people you know you can steal from.
    Rule 021 Never place friendship before money.
    Rule 022 A wise Recruiter can hear money in the wind.
    Rule 024 Money can’t buy happiness, but you can sure have a blast renting it.
    Rule 025 There’s always a way out.
    Rule 026 As the customers go, so goes the wise Recruiter.
    Rule 027 There’s nothing more dangerous than an honest businessman.
    Rule 028 Whisper your way to success.
    Rule 029 What’s in it for me?
    Rule 031 Never make fun of a Recruiter’s mother. (Insult something s/he cares about, instead.)
    Rule 033 It never hurts to suck up to the boss.
    Rule 034 War is good for business.
    Rule 035 Peace is good for business.
    Rule 037 If it’s free, take it and worry about hidden costs later.
    Rule 039 Friendship is temporary; money is forever.
    Rule 041 Money is its own reward.
    Rule 042 What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too.
    Rule 044 Never confuse wisdom with luck.
    Rule 045 Ambition knows no family.
    Rule 046 Make your sourcing business easy to find.
    Rule 047 Don’t trust someone wearing a better suit than your own.
    Rule 048 The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.
    Rule 049 Everything is worth something to somebody.
    Rule 050 Gratitude can bring on generosity.
    Rule 051 Reward anyone who adds to your money so they will continue to do so.
    Rule 052 Never ask when you can take.
    Rule 057 Good customers are as rare as money; treasure them.
    Rule 058 There is no substitute for success.
    Rule 059 Free advice is seldom cheap.
    Rule 060 Keep your lies consistent.
    Rule 062 The riskier the search, the greater the money.
    Rule 065 Win or lose, there’s always beer.
    Rule 068 Money will get you anything.
    Rule 069 Recruiters are not responsible for the stupidity of other people.
    Rule 072 Never trust your customers.
    Rule 073 If it gets you money, sell your own mother.
    Rule 075 Home is where the heart is, but the stars are made of money.
    Rule 076 Every once in a while, declare peace. “It confuses the hell out of your enemies.”
    Rule 077 It’s better to swallow your pride than to lose your money.
    Rule 078 When the going gets tough, the tough change the Code.
    Rule 079 Beware of the Nerd’s greed for knowledge.
    Rule 082 The more questionable the results, the higher the price.
    Rule 084 A friend is not a friend if s/he asks for a discount.
    Rule 085 Never let the competition know what you’re thinking.
    Rule 087 A friend in need means three times the money.
    Rule 089 Ask not what your money can do for you, ask what you can do for your money.
    Rule 092 There are many paths to money.
    Rule 093 Act without delay! The sharp knife cuts quickly.
    Rule 095 Expand or die.
    Rule 096 For every Rule, there is an equal and opposite Rule (except when there’s not).
    Rule 097 Enough… is never enough.
    Rule 098 Everyone has their price.
    Rule 099 Trust is the biggest liability of all.
    Rule 100 If they take your first offer, you either asked too little or offered too much.
    Rule 101 The only value of a collectible is what you can get somebody else to pay for it.
    Rule 102 Nature decays, but money lasts forever.
    Rule 103 Sleep can interfere with sourcing.
    Rule 104 Faith moves mountains… (of candidates).
    Rule 105 Don’t trust anyone who trusts you.
    Rule 106 There is no honor in poverty.
    Rule 107 A warranty is valid only if they can find you.
    Rule 109 Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack.
    Rule 111 Treat people in your debt like family, exploit them [ruthlessly].
    Rule 115 The best contract always has a lot of fine print.
    Rule 116 There’s always a catch.
    Rule 117 Everything is for sale, including friendship.
    Rule 119 Never judge a customer by the size of his/her wallet (…sometimes good things come in small packages).
    Rule 121 Everything is for sale, including friendship.
    Rule 123 Even a blind man can recognize the glow of money.
    Rule 125 You can’t make a deal if you’re dead.
    Rule 126 Count it.
    Rule 127 Stay neutral in conflict so that you can sell supplies to both sides.
    Rule 135 Never trust a beneficiary.
    Rule 141 Only fools pay retail.
    Rule 142 There’s no such thing as an unfair advantage.
    Rule 143 Risk is part of the game… play it for all it’s worth.
    Rule 144 There’s nothing wrong with charity…as long as it winds up in your pocket.
    Rule 146 Necessity, n. The mother of invention. Money is the father.
    Rule 152 A lie is a way to tell the truth to someone who doesn’t know.
    Rule 153 Sell the sizzle, not the steak.
    Rule 162 Even in the worst of times, someone turns a profit.
    Rule 169 Competition and fair play are mutually exclusive.
    Rule 171 Blood is thicker than water, and money is thicker than both.
    Rule 172 Chances aren’t what they used to be.
    Rule 177 Know your enemies… but do business with them always.
    Rule 181 Not even dishonesty can tarnish the shine of money.
    Rule 188 A fool and his money is the best customer.
    Rule 189 Let others keep their reputation. You keep their money.
    Rule 190 Hear all, trust nothing.
    Rule 191 A Recruiter waits to bid until his opponents have exhausted themselves.
    Rule 192 Never cheat a client… unless you’re sure you can get away with it.
    Rule 194 It’s always good business to know about new customers before they walk in your door.
    Rule 200 If you’re going to have to endure, make yourself comfortable.
    Rule 202 The justification of profit is profit.
    Rule 204 It takes a Recruiter to cheat a Recruiter.
    Rule 208 Sometimes the only thing more dangerous than a question is an answer.
    Rule 211 Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success… don’t hesitate to step on them.
    Rule 214 Never begin a business negotiation on an empty stomach.
    Rule 216 Never gamble with a sociopath.
    Rule 217 You can’t free a fish from water.
    Rule 218 Always know what you’re buying.
    Rule 219 Possession is 11/10 of the law.
    Rule 223 Beware the Recruiter who doesn’t make time for paperwork.
    Rule 229 Money lasts longer than lust.
    Rule 231 There’s a sucker born every minute; be sure you’re the first to find each one.
    Rule 236 You can’t buy fate.
    Rule 239 Never be afraid to mislabel a product.
    Rule 241 Never trust a hardworking employee.
    Rule 242 More is good… all is better.
    Rule 253 Alcohol is the lubricant of choice for a customer’s stuck purse.
    Rule 255 A Lexus is a luxury… a smart accountant, a necessity.
    Rule 256 Accountants do not play the game; they only keep the score.
    Rule 260 Life’s not fair. How else would you make placements?
    Rule 261 A wealthy person can afford anything except a conscience.
    Rule 262 A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
    Rule 263 Never allow doubt to tarnish your lust for money.
    Rule 265 The customer is always right, (…until you get their cash).
    Rule 266 When in doubt, lie.
    Rule 267 If you believe it, they believe it.
    Rule 270 In business deals, a good attorney can be almost as important as a calculator.
    Rule 277 Anything worth fighting for is worth hiding from.
    Rule 284 Deep down, everyone’s a Recruiter.
    Rule 285 No good deed ever goes unpunished.
    Rule 286 When Keith leaves recruiting, it’s all over. (Keith made this rule up)
    Rule 299 Whenever you exploit someone, it never hurts to thank them. That way, it’s easier to exploit them the next time.
    The Unwritten Rule When no appropriate Rule applies, make one up!




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