8 Skills Recruiters Should Have

When I attend career fairs, hiring conferences, recruiting events, or through conversations with prospective candidates, I keep learning that the wrong people are attending these events and working as recruiters. As I walked the room at a recent career fair, prior to the event starting, I sought to introduce myself to some of the other company representatives. I was surprised that many of them were unable to communicate at a level that would properly represent their company.

The behavior I witnessed at this event and many others is predictive of how these recruiters behave in the office and how they represent their company through other communication tools such as social media. Later as the candidates flowed into the fair to meet the companies, I witnessed these individuals sitting behind their tables, eating food, talking on cell phones, and displaying body language that suggested they didn’t want to be bothered.

Fortunately, I witnessed several individuals that did exhibit proper career fair behavior and strong recruiting traits. They were the ones that had long lines of candidates and also the ones whose companies are always recognized as recruiting industry leaders. The difference in success was clear.

We can all gain market intelligence by speaking with prospective candidates and finding out where they have applied, who they have interviewed with, and what their experiences have been like. Some of the experiences that I have heard are horrific, yet not surprising. So why do HR and recruiting leaders continually hire or put the wrong people into recruiting positions? I don’t get it.

Each year there are new tools, technologies, and platforms developed to help take “recruiting to the next level,” as the cliche goes. The problem is, all of these wonderful breakthroughs can be fruitless due to inadequate operator behavior. Moreover, if companies and organizations really want to eliminate or lower their agency recruiting spending, then start hiring similar profiles and not promoting an individual out of customer service or demoting someone from another department and sending them to recruit.

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Regardless of where your next recruiter comes from, I have developed some essential skills, traits, and qualities that successful recruiters should possess. Aside from the regular “good communication, ability to work hard, team player” skills that everyone wants — here are a few of the most important must haves:

  1. Strong sales skills — if you haven’t figured it out by now, recruiting is sales. If you disagree, you are in the wrong business. Not only do recruiters need to sell their clients (internal or external), but they need to sell candidates on opportunities and be able to articulate why company X is an employer of choice and why a particular opportunity is not just a great opportunity, but how it is the opportunity of a lifetime.
  2. Ability to cultivate and build relationships — anyone can pull a name out of a database and place a call. It’s another thing to actually cultivate and build relationships with the candidates we recruit. Perhaps knowing a little about what makes them tick, what their hobbies are, engaging in a conversation rather than just following a script, etc. Social media, smart phones, and other communication platforms have built bridges straight into our personal lives. By creating a more open, friendly, and communicative relationship with candidates, the candidate experience will increase, making the recruiter and company stand out professionally and as an employer of choice.
  3. Hunter’s mentality — there are so many ways to source for talent these days. There is an abundance of sites, networks, tools, and platforms all built in some fashion to make a recruiter’s life easier. But it is how each recruiter uses these tools that will make the difference. It all starts with the mentality of the individual. Recruiters are big-game hunters, and having the mindset to hunt and be relentless until the hunt is done is a priceless skill set. If a recruiter is going to sit at a desk, log in to Monster and keyword search all day — that is not the hunter mentality you want. You want someone who will use cold calling, social media, Boolean searches, networks, etc. in order to find the strongest and most-qualified individuals.
  4. Big-picture thinking — simply focusing on single searches each day is great, but having the ability to see how candidates can fit into an organization, the potential value they can bring, or even knowing where a superstar candidate could fit in, even if there is no immediate position available, is invaluable. Moreover, keeping an eye on future tools, technology, and best practices and knowing what is coming down the pipeline will keep your company well versed and competitive in a tough talent market.
  5. Strong follow-up skills — probably the #1 topic that irks me the most about recruiters – follow-up skills. How hard is it to return a call or an email — I will tell you that it is not hard at all nor does it take a severe amount of time to update a candidate, hiring manager, co-worker, etc. on events. I have heard all the horror stories of a recruiter (agency or corporate alike) calling someone frantically, building them up and setting them up to interview, only to never reach back out to the candidate again. All that does is breed negativity and it is not part of the relationship-building process what so ever.
  6. Listening — anyone else ever had the recruiter-talk-your-ear-off presentation about how great they are, the database they have access to, successful placements, etc.? Recruiters need to listen first and talk second. Recruiters must possess the uncanny ability to listen and take a proper job order. Too many recruiters run their traps to no end. It’s annoying.
  7. Consultative in nature — recruiting is a science and there are methods and processes. The majority of hiring managers need to be consulted on these procedures and processes in order to build long-term success and proper process flow. Good recruiters have the ability to advise and push back on their clients if need be. A good recruiter will act as a trusted advisor for their clients, and in return, clients will respect and act on given advice.
  8. Personable and approachable — how many times do candidates call or meet a recruiter at a career fair and they are nervous on the other line or on the other side of the table. I love taking an approach opposite that which a majority of other recruiters take. I answer my phone calls and return emails. People will call me and are surprised that I even answered my phone. They are even more surprised that I am in a good mood, ask them how they are doing, thank them for their call, and take one minute of my time to let them introduce themselves and follow up with me. My mother always told me that I could catch more bees with honey than I can with vinegar.

There will be people reading this that say they don’t have the time to return calls or emails, that they can’t talk to everyone at a career fair, that their clients are too tough to work with — and to me they are all excuses. No one is perfect. I have probably missed an email or call in my time; however, we can all make a better effort to be better recruiters.

The next time you are reviewing your analytics and you see a high time-to-fill number or whatever data is important to you — put the brakes on and see if what you really need to do is recalibrate your recruiting team and get the right people on board first.

Morgan Hoogvelt currently serves as director, global talent acquisition for ESAB, a leading engineering company. Drawing on his expertise in human capital strategy, executive search, RPO, essential hiring practices, candidate sourcing, Internet recruiting, and social networking, he provides organizations targeted, best-of-class solutions, and employment branding strategies that help his clients meet the challenges of recruiting, technology, and retaining and rewarding top talent. He is also passionate about delivering excellent customer service and building positive, productive relationships. He can be contacted at morgan.hoogvelt@esab.com


51 Comments on “8 Skills Recruiters Should Have

  1. Good list….When you live through your “EGO” you don’t “care” about others, you care for yourself… Best recruiter’s I ever come across are “GO GIVERS”, because, it is not about them.

  2. Thanks, Morgan. I would retitle this:
    8 Skills Contingency Recruiters Should Have
    Some of these (Hunter’s mentality, Big-picture thinking) apply less in a corporate or contract settings, particularly large/bureaucratic organizations. An additional skill necessary to individuals in any but the smallest or most production-oriented environments is to be an effective office politician. Finally, as recruiting moves from “Widget Recruiting” to “Solutions Recruiting,” recruiters should learn how best the given work can be done(as opposed to just who can best fill a particular job) and how to act as an onsite project manager liaising between the client and remote, virtual resources.



  3. Negative Keith, totally disagree with you.

    While I appreciate your comment, these are skills ALL recruiters should have. Yes, there is red tape and politics in any organization (some more than others) but the hunters mentality and big picture thinking are applicable in any company and in any industry and if you can’t find that environment as a recruiter, then leave and go some where that you can do these things and grow your career as a recruiter.

    It is a matter of HR leaders recognizing it and implementing the people who have these talents. The problem with your suggested title is that there is too much division between corporate and contingent recruiting. Multiple companies have already recognized how a contingent recruiting model can be brought in house and ran effectively.

  4. Glad we can agree to disagree, Morgan.

    I have been in a number of large organizations where the goal is to look for people, but not hire them. Furthermore, any consideration of the “bigger picture” beyond the requirements of filling the current req. list was discouraged. The places where these things did not occur were not really going crazy to get me onboard- a crappy job usually beats no job at all, and I commend and applaud those who have often have multiple jobs options- I am one who hustles hard to get my work.

    HR (and other) leaders recognize that exceptional competency unless in perfect alignment with a superior’s goals is a threat to that superior- who wants a subordinate stirring things up, questioning the status quo? No, better to have them keep their heads down, mouths shut except when parroting the company line, and giving 110% to provide their superiors exactly what the superiors want the way they want it. In a fight- connections beat competence almost any day of the week.


  5. @Keith, I hear your points and well taken. I guess lucky for me I have never been in that type of environment. Thanks for sharing.

    @Brian, you are 100% – the best are Go Givers hands down.

    @Carol – thanks!

  6. I agree that it is important for a recruiter to have the ability to cultivate and build relationships. As a job seeker, I open up more to a recruiter when he or she is interested in who I am and what I want for my career instead of just how my past work experiences and qualifications fit the position. It makes me feel more comfortable talking to a recruiter who works in the same company as one of my connections does. It is an instant connection and conversation piece.

    As a fresh college graduate, I am more comfortable talking to companies that my friends are working for because I know there is already a support network there for me. Additionally, I already have some degree of knowledge about the company. This is how I feel as a Gen Y job seeker.

    To read more about Gen Y job seeker go to: http://employers.identified.com/blog/bid/69143/Facebook-The-Future-of-Recruiting-Younger-Generations

  7. @Dorothy – Great comment, I have been waiting for a perspective like yours in a forum like this for years!!!!! You just proved that relationships are important. I always found that as well in my interviews and through feedback that some recruiters are so impersonal.

    Which I do not get since asking someone to change their career is so personal…go figure.

  8. Great article!

    Would actually extend the “hunting” to being alert when a client says ” this is a line of business we’d like to enter into at some point” (without a definitive time line even) because out of those casual remarks do come some great placement opportunities. Keeping that in mind and that finding a candidate and going back to the client with someone who can probably make that wish a business reality is exciting, to say the least!

  9. Morgan,

    As someone who has worked extensively on both the agency and corporate sides of recruiting, I agree wholeheartedly that both kinds of recruiters require strong hunting/sales skills. I am not sure why these two types of recruiting are considered so different. A good recruiter on either side of the fence needs to be able to listen to both the client and the candidates(yes internal hiring managers are clients in corporate recruiting too), gather a detailed job and department profile, and source the best candidates and sell them on why this opportunity is the best for them.

    There are certainly corporate recruiters who are afraid to ask difficult questions and push the candidate or managers a bit, but the best recruiters on either side can do these things and more!

  10. Interesting evaluation of the obvious areas that should be expected, yet are often neglected. A particularly mortifying experience I remember was when I was working in HR and attended a large (prominent job board sponsored) career fair to lend an extra hand to our recruiters.

    When I arrived I was shocked and embarrassed to find that they had done absolutely nothing to prepare for the event. They showed up empty handed, with no information about the company, current open positions or anything useful at all.

    It was pathetic! They acted as if it was no big deal and blamed it on never having done this before. Really? And, despite that being their justification, it apparently hadn’t occurred to them to do a bit of research to figure out the basics in advance!

    I’ve also observed some of the sloppy behavior you described such as people looking bored, not engaging with people passing by and eating and talking on the phone while staffing their booths at various events that I’ve attended. Even though these events can be exhausting, you are there to make an impression get people interested in your company, not kick back and slack off.

    There are far too many people in the profession that are completely oblivious to proper candidate interaction and effective interviewing skills. Over the course of my career, I’ve been interviewed by people who had no idea how to define/describe the job and therefore no ability to properly assess qualifications.

    I’ve had people interview in a purely robotic fashion where it was evident that they lacked critical thinking skills to comprehend the level of experience required and whether a person met those needs. For example asking an initial scripted question and not listening to the comprehensive response to hear that I already filled in the information that they asked for in their subsequent “and then what happened” questions.

    The worst is being interviewed for a professional level position by someone who acts as if they are hiring for an entry level role and they ask ridiculous no-brainer questions that make you slap your forehead over their lack of sophistication and intellectual capacity to know their audience. Or, being subjected to round after round of “tell me about yourself” questions and “why did you leave this job, that job, etc.” after you’ve already covered those topics the first few times. Why can’t people share notes and move things along to a more advanced/in-depth interview or maybe even do a panel so everyone hears answers to those initial questions instead of wasting time with repetition?

    One time an interviewer (peer to position applied to) asked a question, which I answered thoroughly. Then there was second question, followed by a third – that aside from a very slight semantic interpretation – was identical to the first question. It caught my attention and I thought maybe they simply lost track of their place on the questions, so I asked for clarification.

    Instead of recognizing the absurd similarity and redundancy, the interviewer proceeded to outline (in a very dumbed-down way) the necessity to gauge this particular skill set since it was a big part of the job – as if there was nothing at all between the questions that sounded exactly like déjà vu!

    Ironically, had that person had just a hint of savvy they would have realized it was obvious that that skill set existed in abundance based on everything said up to that point along with only a cursory glimpse of my resume which earned me an interview in the first place. I don’t mind having to prove my knowledge with tangible examples, but repeating the same concept to someone who doesn’t even “get it” is pointless and insulting.

  11. @ Kelly:
    Very relevant and true. The worst offenders are often the young and inexperienced recruiters hired by many “employers of choice” to reflect their useful cultures. As they used to say about AT&T when it was a monopoly: “We don’t care because we don’t have to.”

    Happy Friday,


  12. I think being a team player is one of the most important skills you can have. You need to be flexible and open to helping team mates out with projects or searches they are doing. I’ve seen too many recruiters with the “agency” mindset come over to the corp side and not do well. The me me me mindset doesn’t translate well and I know because I had that mindset. A strong team is much more powerful that 1 individual. Just sayin.

  13. The article on recruiting skills is comprehensive, but I would like to elaborate on another skill set that is critical.
    As a seasoned corporate and agency recruiter and manager of recruiting teams, the ability to understand inherent requirements for the role and how someone may fit into the culture of an organization is paramount. Not every “body” is a good fit regardless of the technical skills that one may possess. A good recruiter understands these nuances.

  14. Dear, In countries like India these techniques are hardly follow by most of the Recruitment companies. As they require quantity than the quality. Last year i have joined a company bigger than my current company Pragmatic N HR Services but i left within 7 days. They are following very old techniques which requires mass mailing, less cold call, no social techniques,etc. The level of recruiters was quiet low. They are doing their business by just job portal search and job postings and they were doing well. Company is moving very fast. However i’m quiet unfit in their criteria in fact they were not fitted in my criteria.
    I’m agree with your techniques but these are quiet improper in Indian scenario because here relationship doesn’t matter only result matters. Who cares that my 98 out of 100 candidates are not selected and not recall are regret mailed by us.

    Om Singh
    Pragmatic N HR Services

  15. You are right on the money Morgan! It is about building relationships. Candidates buy you as the recruiter the face of the company. If your company doesn’t have good relationship building recruiters working for them it will hurt your success. I believe a lot of companies believe recruiters are an expense that they wish they didn’t have to deal with them. If you are good at what you do you will have a long career in recruiting and you will find the companies that value good recruiting skills.

  16. Dear Morgan, always interesting to see what fellow recruiters are thinking.
    I recently developed a workshop for starting grads to inform them on corporate recruitment. Part of this workshop is my idea about the 21st century recruiter profile:
    – Marketing communication savvy
    – Excellent online networking
    – Community expert
    – Ambassador
    – Engaging trust agent
    – Service orientation
    – Team player
    – Social Media savvy
    – Search Systems savvy
    – Creative, open to try
    – Long term focus

    In this workshop outline you can learn more about the vision behind this list: http://www.slideshare.net/alhoupart/so-you-want-to-become-a-corporate-recruiter-final.
    In this workshop additional information on recruitment in the next decades. Building Talent Relations is the central theme: http://www.slideshare.net/alhoupart/recruitment-for-the-next-decades-talent-relationship-management
    Looking forward for your feedback
    Alexander Crépin
    The Netherlands
    Happy to link via Linkedin

  17. Great article. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    That is the value I want to bring to my clients from my team, and they expect that level of professionalism and expertise. We are the experts in recruiting, and my clients value that. We have to both be creative and think out of the box to hire the best of the best, yet, tactical to fill the positions at hand. It is a delicate balance that we, in recruiting, must handle daily.

    Again, nice article Morgan.

  18. Thanks Morgan. I am sure our customers will find this useful – will share!

    An example is the recruiter who dealt with me. He was extremely friendly, stayed in contact and seemed genuinely interested and invested. I have recommended a number of successful candidates to him – his approach paid off!


  19. Great article, Morgan! I agree on all fronts. Another piece of advice I’d add for recruiters is to remove the blinders. During the initial screening process, too many recruiters focus solely on one position, and don’t recognize candidates that might be beneficial for future orders…you can’t be blinded by the urgency of an open position that a great candidate slips through the cracks. This is such a crucial mistake for recruiters that I actually covered it on my blog: http://pastfive.typepad.com/pastfive/2012/05/advice-for-recruiters-remove-the-blinders.html

    1. Hi Tom, great point and part of knowing your ‘network’ and client and in ‘seeing the big picture’. Thanks for sharing!

  20. @Tom – right on, blinders are bad. That is where I mention “big picture thinking”. Having the ability to see a resume and have a position in your back pocket is priceless. Getting your hands on good people regardless of the skill set you are searching for then being able to present them to managers is a huge value.

    @Louis – great to hear there are others like this and that the relationship has paid off.

    @Jeff – thanks for the kind words and glad to hear you live by these traits. It sure does pay off.

  21. What I find confusing is employers requiring a bachelor degree for recruiting positions. A proven track record of #1 through #8 would be more important. Your thoughts?

  22. AMEN, Morgan! I believe these reasons are why I’m good at my job – i care about the candidates, I care about the business, i care about the experience.

    And yes this is definitely for ALL recruiters – there are way too many corporate recruiters who don’t have this mentality and then companies wonder why it’s so hard to fill their open positions.

    Two things I would add for the person hiring a great recruiter:

    * Make sure the recruiter is given the resources they need! I went without access to any databases for the first 9 months in my last jobs which – even though I am a strong tech recruiter on other resources & found great candidates and kept time-to-fill at 35 days – definitely reduced the number of prospects I was able to reach out to. Ensure they know their budget so they can decide what they need to find great people.

    * In corporate recruiting, the recruiter has got to be a strategic partner, just as HR is. HR is not a substitute or representative of recruiting. Your recruiter needs to understand the business, and not just from hearsay – they should be talking to your leaders, and empowered as an advisor and trusted partner.

    * Make sure your recruiter does understand HR. Too many people say ‘Recruiting is Sales’ and that it’s not related to HR. It’s both. The relationship should not completely end at the time the offer letter is signed – a good recruiter will facilitate the relationship with HR and the new employee. Remember, the recruiter should be an ally to the candidate they hire, and this is a great way to increase the accessibility to and trust in your HR team.

    Thank you for a great article – few ERE articles about recruiting talent actually make me whoop in agreement. As someone who’s been an HR Generalist, Agency Recruiter, Corporate Recruiter, and now Recruiting Consultant, I agree with all of this 🙂

  23. @Bobbie – While I agree with you – through survey results I have seen firsthand, the ideal profile for a recruiter starts with a college degree. I don’t think a degree necessarily makes one stronger or better, I think people establish a certain profile of success and then stick to it. Can you be successful without a degree? Of course, but if requirements are requirements – then there is not a whole lot one can do. If this is blocking you from a career opportunity either one, earn a degree or search for an employer with an open mind who can see the value you bring and that is not stuck on the degree piece.

    @Aimee – Amen to you and thank you for your thoughts and kind words. I agree with you wholeheartedly on HR/Recruiting being a strategic partner. You are right on with everything you said.

  24. I think Kenny Rogers said it best:

    “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
    Know when to walk away and know when to run.
    You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
    There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”



  25. This article is very helpful not only for those recruiter but to the job seekers as well. There are many job seekers that are considering staffing agencies like naperville staffing companies to find their ideal job and position. It is important to know some skills of a good recruiter so they would identify whether the agency they will be working with, have consultants that has good credibility because if they are you will have a greater chance to get hired in a reputable company.

  26. I agree with everything stated in the article, but do take issue with a comment in #5. Follow up IS a struggle, for agency and especially for us corporate recruiters. Consider the sheer volume of applications, employee referrals, and our own sourcing efforts, and we have a challenge. Now add team/touch base/intake/staff meetings, actually conducting interviews, dealing with scheduling and travel (a headache on a good day), the special projects recruiters have because, truly, no one solely recruits, and the ever-changing priorities of our organization, hiring partners, and own department. Follow up does, indeed, become a challenge.

    Please note I am not saying follow up is not important: It IS. But to blithely ask ‘how hard can it be?’ means that, perhaps, the author doesn’t have strong ‘big picture’ skills, either.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and for calling the ‘author’ out. Fortunately for me (the author), I have worked on both the external search side and also have led talent acquisition for 3 large and multi-billion dollar companies so I clearly know from first hand experience the challenges that are in front of Corporate Recruiters on a daily basis. Take the advice how you want it, doing these tasks will make you stand out from your peers; that is if you care about self performance. Follow up is a very possible task to accomplish.

  27. what are the desirable characteristics for recruiting the sales persons?

    plz give me ans. of this ques.

  28. when you need all these skills from a recruiters, why are they not getting paid equally to a technical member? do you what is the market value of a recruiter in India? that shits 🙁 You should expect according to how much you pay them, not more than that.. (no offense)

    1. Tough question to answer and I don’t know the going rates for recruiters in India, but here in the US recruiters can be compensated well.

  29. You are not “in the wrong business” if you don’t think recruiting is sales, that’s condescending and frankly inaccurate unless you’re one of those snaky agency recruiters that tries to sell regurgitated candidates to every employer telling them they’re “perfect” when they’ve got no clue about fit.

    Recruiting is a hybrid business role – part marketing, part business development, part strategic partnerships, part community relations, part PR, and of course part human resources – but it is NOT sales. You cannot sell to every person that you meet that it’s a “chance of a lifetime” because this job is about finding mutual fits – not just getting anyone you can to apply. It’s offensive when recruiters act like they know more than their applicants about fit – it’s about both sides figuring out if it’s a mutually beneficial potential relationship, and getting to know what people are looking for. Not everyone, no matter how much they fit ‘on paper’ is going to be a fit for your company, nor should they be. Your job is to market the company and the opportunity, and through outreach, you’ll build relationships, some of which will turn into hires, some who’ll become part of your network, some who you’ll not see again. But if you approach it as a “big game hunter” (an *incredibly* offensive, violent metaphor to many people) rather than as a matchmaker, a relationship builder, and a business partner, you’re setting yourself up to be the negative stereotype of a “typical recruiter who only cares about their numbers”.

    1. Sales does not only pertain to ‘snaky’ people. Perhaps you have never met any, but there are good and honest sales people out there who act with integrity. I see through your post you are offended by almost every word, so I will be on my way.

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