Hiring the Best Recruiters: An Executive Briefing

Let’s cut right to the chase: the compilation of intelligence from many of those on the vanguard of human capital acquisition indicates that the war for talent is upon us in a very big way. For organizations that are serious about their future, the words “hire the best” has morphed from the status of mantra to organizational objective to strategic imperative ó and done so at breakneck speed. This realization is great, but the difference between knowing and doing is the difference between those organizations that will dominate, those that will struggle, and those that will vanish. Furthermore, if we are to hire the best candidates, it stands to reason that we must hire the best recruiters to get the job done. With this in mind, the question becomes simple: What characteristics, attributes and skills are required to make a successful recruiter? Today’s recruiter has a very different look and feel from the recruiter of five or even two years ago. The job is more demanding, the skills required much broader, and the stakes a great deal higher. The days of just sending resumes to hiring managers and hoping for the best are over. Today’s recruiters need to be, at a minimum:

  • Business-oriented thinkers who can sell
  • In possession of great people skills
  • Comfortable with emerging technology
  • In possession of the personality and style to form long-term relationships
  • Consultants to those to whom they can be of service (which is very different from being “at their service,” as is so often pointed out by Jeremy Eskenazi, Managing Principal of Riviera Advisors)
  • Individuals who understand the art of the deal
  • Individuals who have a real problem with the word “no”

If you see the logic in hiring the best recruiters to create the best possible organization, and building a recruiting team is your responsibility, I urge you to consider the following eight ideas before you hire your next recruiter.

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  1. Hire recruiters with a sales mentality. This cannot be emphasized enough. Recruiters are not administrative people, and they are not HR people. Recruiters are in the business of sales as much as your organization’s sales team. They deal with complex career and emotional issues on a daily basis, and they need all of the sales skills they can muster to assess each situation, make intelligent decisions, and close the deal. Look for those recruiters who have sales experience, and use their customers as references. Ask the reference specifically why they bought from that person.
  2. Look for persistence. I can go on endlessly about persistence, but I will sum it up in a great story. Harvey McKay, president of McKay Envelope and bestselling author, once asked a potential salesperson when they would finally give up on calling a prospect. The candidate replied, “It depends on which one of us died first.” I will leave it to you to guess if Mr. McKay hired this candidate.
  3. Look for enthusiasm. According to Alan Weiss, Ph.D. and founder of Summit Consulting, “Enthusiasm is the number one attribute of a successful salesperson.” He is right. Product knowledge, which used to trump all else, is now seen as something that can be taught. Quite frankly, it’s about time, because it is hard to sell if you have no enthusiasm for the product. Think about the candidate you just interviewed for a recruiter position. Are you enthusiastic about bringing them back to meet the team? If not, why not? How much enthusiasm do you think that recruiter will generate with the candidates with whom they will be dealing?
  4. Hire recruiters who can pick up the phone and recruit. Gone are the days of just looking at those candidates that come to you. For many reasons, there will be times that you have to go to them. (Please see John Sullivan’s article entitled The Best Recruiting Strategy Is the ‘We Find You’ Approach.) If a recruiter can’t pick up the phone and say, “Hello, my name is John Chase. I have a fascinating situation I am working on; do you have a moment?” ó then you need to find another recruiter. Sooner or later, that skill will be called into action. Want a great tool that will help? Go into the other room and have the candidate recruit you over the phone. It is a wonderful acid test. It also got me my first recruiting job.
  5. Hire recruiters who are technology savvy. Technology plays an increasingly important role in the life of a recruiter. Everything from the all important AIRS certification to the latest in applicant tracking systems requires a bit of a technology head. Want recruiters who can take advantage of the “cybersleuthing” work that is being addressed by Shally Steckerl on sourcing? (See Electronic Recruiting 101, 2005 Edition.) If so, you will need to find candidates who embrace technology in order to make this happen. Ask the candidate how they use the net to locate candidates and take it from there.
  6. Hire a business person. Recruiters must understand business as well as recruiting. There are budgets to fret over, sourcing options from which to choose, and candidates to close without giving away the farm. All of this combined with the need to provide metrics and benchmark best practices means that a business head is a better head.
  7. Hire those who understand the role of an internal consultant. Building organizations and changing candidates’ lives by moving them from one organization to another is no easy task. Locked between what are often the unrealistic demands of both candidates as well as hiring managers on a host of different issues can be tricky. The ability to sidestep politics, deal with bloated egos and be a true consultant to both parties is a major plus. Ask the candidate what the consultative role means to them and how it has helped them to be successful in the past.
  8. Look for an understanding of the art of the deal. Recruiting is about many things, but in the end it is about closing the deal. You either make the hire or you don’t. Look for recruiters who know how to listen in order to get to the real issues, recruiters who know when to talk, when to push, and when to hold. Behavioral interviewing will be very helpful in ferreting out examples (or lack thereof) of how one has used an understanding of the art of the deal to make things happen.

Hiring the right people to create great organizations is the first step in maximizing your chances of being successful at the management level. Naturally, all recruiters will not be carbon copies, and there will be different strengths and weaknesses with which to deal. (Hint: Never obsess over people’s weaknesses; instead focus on utilizing their strengths.) If at all possible, mix in a few hard-core agency recruiters to create balance and a real sense of urgency. Remember, the candidates your organization hires will shape its future, and the recruiters you hire will shape your career. There is no place today for mediocre recruiters because there is no place today for mediocre companies.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net

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