Become a Great Recruiter

Why do some recruiters seem to find it easy to make placements and get hiring managers to accept the candidates they send? How do they do it? What special skills or qualities characterize the recruiter who can present two to three candidates who impress the hiring manager so much that they make an offer to one of them?

For example, Dave M. is an outstanding recruiter. Most candidates he sends to managers get offers. His candidates like him and his managers respect him.

What’s unusual is that Dave has been in this company for only slightly more than two years and has been a recruiter for less than one year.

The first two years he was in operations as a quality engineer, but toward the end of the second year, he sought a career change. He really liked people, and many of his peers had told him that he had a natural ability to pick good people to work on the line. He had frequently been the one who interviewed candidates and made hiring recommendations that usually turned out well.

His company has a good internal promotion process and he was able to make a move into recruiting as a researcher. His engineering background, familiarity with computers and the Internet, and his motivation led the recruiting director to make him an offer.

He went to several classes in Internet sourcing and he took a class in behavioral interviewing. Right off he was finding decent candidates who responded to him and who, with a little coaching, made good impressions during their interviews.

Many of the other recruiters were a bit envious of his skill and suspicious of how he could be so good with so little experience. Maybe he just had an “in” with the engineering staff because he had once worked there.

But he was even making placements in areas outside of engineering and managers from different areas felt comfortable and trusting of the people he sent their way.

The Four Traits

Simply put, Dave had four critical traits that add up to trust and to the creation of trust and respect. This is your “equity” or personal capital. When you don’t have it, everyone assumes the worst and requires you to go out of your way to show a candidate’s quality.

It is very similar to the kind of prestige and trust that CPAs, doctors, lawyers, or some other professionals have. It is built through education, certification, age, experience, and relationship. Because there are no certifications for recruiters, and the barriers to becoming a recruiter are not very high, it is the most powerful tool a recruiter can have.

The First Trait: Intimate Business Knowledge

Dave understood the business his firm was in and had real knowledge of what the hiring managers wanted and needed, even if they couldn’t articulate or define it very well.

Because he had “been there” and had the responsibility to work with many new engineers, he had a good mental map of the skills, competencies, and experience levels that would be appropriate for most of the positions in operations.

If you don’t have Dave’s background you can still gain this expertise by showing interest in the work your hiring managers do, by spending time working with them (perhaps even doing a mini-internship) to show that you grasp the essentials of their output and needs.

Talk to “star” performers to figure out what they have that makes them successful, read annual reports, talk to people who know the organization’s strategy, and keep yourself fully informed about changing business and technology conditions. You have to be able to have an intelligent and informed conversation about the products, business, and issues that your hiring managers face.

The Second Trait: Relationship with the Hiring Managers

Second, Dave had developed relationships with the hiring managers in the operations area. They trusted him because he was “one of them” and had been part of their team, involved with their decisions, and motivated by the same goals. He was an insider and that gave him a powerful ability to be trusted and have the candidates he presented trusted.

While most of us cannot be technical experts in the areas we recruit for, we can spend the time to become acquainted with the hiring managers. We can sit in on their staff meetings and we can be with them when they grapple with tough decisions.

Sure, we may have to invite ourselves on occasion, but after awhile, we will be part of their team. Dave extended his skill at this to other parts of the company because of his reputation and the word-of-mouth communications that take place in every community and organization.

He was “branded” as a good guy, someone who understood the needs of hard-working managers. This is the highest form of personal equity you can acquire, but it takes work and time to develop.

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The Third Trait: Focus on the Right Candidates

Third, he had learned how to source and focus on the right candidates. He didn’t spend time screening candidates who were long shots or poor fits. He used his knowledge about where the kinds of people he was after tended to be found and went there to find them.

He knew, for example, that the engineering hiring managers in the company liked people with an automotive background or at least with an interest in cars. That became a key screening criterion, not the only one for sure, but an important one. He asked candidates about cars and assessed their interest and skills in working on cars.

There were numerous other traits and characteristics that tended to be influential in getting hiring managers interested in a candidate and he leveraged that knowledge. He relied heavily on his network of engineers in other companies to recommend people, and he used the Internet.

With his knowledge and sourcing skills, he was almost always able to present candidates within a day or so of getting an opening. Again, developing and fine-tuning sourcing skills is one of top few skills you will need to be successful.

A good sourcer is a great networker, someone who spends enough time with hiring managers to really know what they need and want in a successful employee.

The Fourth Trait: Sell Both the Candidate and the Hiring Manager

Finally, Dave was able to speak to candidates in their language and assess them against the criteria he knew would really count to the hiring manager. He was able to take the complex soup of corporate culture, hiring manager personality, technical skill needs, and candidate desire and sell both parties on success.

What he did (and you can do) was take the time to develop deep understanding of the environment. He knew what pressures and goals managers faced, then found candidates who could help the managers overcome the pressures or achieve the goals.

Good recruiters can make those pressures look like exciting challenges to a candidate and infuse enthusiasm for the candidate’s abilities in the hiring managers.

Personal equity is what sets you aside and exceeds what might be expected. No one gains trust or equity without a track record of results and without working at building relationships.

I know recruiters who have been in an organization for a long time and still lack credibility. It makes their job harder and they rarely go home feeling satisfied or respected.

It takes hard work to build up your equity. It is not something won in a day or a month or often even in a year. It takes determination, study, knowledge, and practice. But the payback is huge.

Those recruiters who have strong reputations within their company are always sought after and are successful. They make hires with seeming ease, and they do what all masters of anything do: they make the complex look simple.

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, 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


12 Comments on “Become a Great Recruiter

  1. AESC recently did a survey with clients regarding what they thought was important attributes of the exectuive search companies.

    We really need to heed these comments, especially when one considers the requirements are becomming more focused on privacy, knowledge and understanding of culture and of course knowledge of the industry

    The clients want more from their executive search firms, and they are speaking loud and clear. Time indeed will tell what will come from this, but based upon comparitive predictions from leaders in this industry, I venture to say that we will see recruiting becoming more profession; as Search Firms will gain more accountability for their work, they will invest more time in education, specialize more, and clients will be able to count on more professionalism and ethics

    Client Survey Results
    ?What is Important from an Executive Search Firm??

    Also see Who is the Next Generation of
    Executive Search?
    A look at AESC member search consultants under 40
    What is interesting in this survey – the younger recruiters would like to see more professionalism, more regulation, and a not so easy bar to entry to this industry

  2. Kevin touches on several of the key points of what makes a Great Recruiter. As I interviewed the great, the good and the phenomenal for my recent book, Big Biller, much of what Kevin says was echoed by them. Big Billers by my definition are those 400 or so recruiters world wide who bill in excess of one million dollars per year. In addition to Kevin?s well taken points and the assumption of a good job order, a great candidate and an established process the defining factor that came though interview after interview was recruiting to the truly great is an internal process, not one determined by external forces alone.

    The qualities each Big Biller shared were:

    1 – Attitude
    2 – Discipline
    3 – Focus
    4 – Commitment
    5 – Control

    The other truth that was clear is Big Billers keep their eyes on the metrics of calls, sendouts and the many other measurements and transactions we use to monitor performance or productivity but they universally feel great recruiting is a first and foremost a relationship driven business.


  3. Kevin,

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I strongly believe there is a difference between average recruiters and ‘great recruiters’.

    In my opinion, ‘Recruiters’ fill positions and in the process make a MESS of the work environment. There focus is NOT on relationship, building credibility, hiring for the right fit, respect for candidates and hiring managers, true knowledge of the job needs or building solid networks….Average recruiters may hear the latest recruitment buzz word,run after it, and miss the point of what this career is all about.

    You have demonstrated in your article what a great recruiter is. In my opinion, this individual is a true professional with an objective to hire right the first time. They take the time to understand real job needs; build relationships and credibility with the hiring managers, candidates AND sources as well as they focus on making sure the hiring process is fair and consistent. Ultimately they focus on quality and not quantity. Thank you for highlighting the difference between greatness and average.

  4. Kevin’s article (‘Become a Great Recruiter)’ merely states the obvious. Most recruiters are aware of these 4 traits like water is a liquid, sky is blue, or the world is round. But believe or not, there is a fifth trait. A trait that is so effective and yet often regarded for only the corporate recruiter. It?s called, ?Just Say No?.

    Try standing in front of a mirror and practice saying ?No?. Once you master the trait of ?No?, practice it on the hiring managers that don?t give feedback, or pushback on interviews, and the indecisive. The power of no, can be used until you gain knowledge of the business unit or develop a better working relationship. For example, ?No, I will not recruit for your open position, until we discuss the type of work or person needed for the role.? Every great recruiter always said ?No? until they achieved success. No. It?s the fifth trait. Learn it and you are on your way to becoming a great recruiter.

  5. just curious, Frank, did you read my webpage and see what I do for a living.

    Is it a misnomer in this industry to think that hvac recruiters ONLY recruit for techs? I don’t actually recruit for techs – actually less than 1 percent of my work will include install or technicians.. and only for preferred clients and high level top security scenarios.

    See Frank, in this industry there are these Big businesses – heavy construction in high rises, hospitals, governmet facilities and such like, that deal with Large Aspects of Chillers, centrifugals and such like, well these projects demand specialized Knowledge… Sales, Professional engineering, project management, estimation, management.. No cross over from industry to industry will work.. Knowledge of the mechanical or Building Automation/energy systems is indeed necessary.

    That Frank is what I deal with.. High level, specialized positions in the industry..

    I hope that eleviates the confusion.

  6. Michael: I loved reading your comments! Just Say NO! It made a lot of sense!

    Have you ever seen a chaotic operation? I am referring to an absolutely Crazy operation: people walking off the job, high turnover, revolving doors, disgruntled employees, horrible managers, bad numbers, name blaming, poor attendance, low morale, finger pointing…Drama!

    I believe that the beginning process of turning a bad culture around is to hire right the first (simple concept). Recruiters play a huge role in helping an organization be successful. The more that I grow and develop in this profession, I am learning that it takes skills to deal with the many personalities and demands of hiring managers. I believe saying NO in the right way is critical. – If not it is easy to get burned out in this profession. The hiring managers will cause the unknowing recruiter to create the revolving door by rushing to hire and then blame the recruiter/staffing for operational failures.

    The staffing process has to be controlled and there must be a strong focus when searching for the right people. It is imperative to get to the core of talent/skills or target market that fit the job: the hiring manager should know but, if they don?t, the recruiter has to work with the manager to figure it out (a recruiter who has been promoted from within an organization, especially from operations has the inside knowledge- this may make life easier).

    We are not talking about rocket science here. I believe a fundamentally important aspect of the hiring process is learning to effectively deal with people: establishing trust, credibility, relationships, respect and partnership.

  7. Karen – There is a significant difference between true ‘Executive Search’ which we at IRES do take on although on a lesser level than other staffing = and conventional contingency staffing.

    Something tells me not too many HVAC technicians qualify as ‘Executives’. I consider an executive
    to be CEO (main company who reports to board), President (Main company or division), Any of the ‘C’ positions, i.e. COO, CIO, CFO, etc. Or executive to Vice President levels.

    These are the project levels we only accept with significant upfront retainer as the work, planning, procedure, time expenditure, focus, staff resources, hotel meetings, etc. consists of a different process.

    Keep that in mind when referencing AESC.

  8. Thanks Heidi. I might add that some hiring managers don’t know exactly what they want. Throw in a culture that caters to whatever the hiring manager desires (most argue that is a good culture), but that is the moment where recruiters pick the burden and then often fail. You are right, I am learning the staffing process has to be controlled and the only way is to partner with hiring managers.

  9. Great article! Yes – most recruiters know these rules, but few actually take the time to practice them.

    I suppose it’s all about building relationships – relationships with your HR Managers, relationships with your Candidates. Once you’ve done that, matching them becomes easy!

  10. I enjoyed your article Kevin. I am new to the private sector having come from military recruiting into direct hire. Mahalo Nui Loa

  11. Hi Kevin,

    It’s a good artice and pretty useful for every sales or recruiter.

    Do keep sending the forum excellent articles like this.

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