How Great Recruiters Get Great Recruiter Equity

Tom S. is an outstanding recruiter. More than 80% of all the candidates he sends to managers get offers. Although he has been at his company for five years, the first two years he was in operations as a quality engineer. Seeking a career change, he moved into recruiting when one of his peers in operations suggested he had a natural ability to pick good people to work on the line. Tom had frequently been the one who interviewed candidates and made hiring recommendations that were usually respected. His company has a good internal promotion process, and he was able to make a move into recruiting as a sourcer back in the heyday of Internet recruiting. His engineering background, familiarity with computers and the Internet, and his motivation led the hiring manager at that time 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 great 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. He was even making placements in areas outside of his own engineering expertise. Managers were comfortable and trusting of the people he sent their way. Why do some recruiters ó those like Tom ó 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 that impress the hiring manager so much that they make an offer to one of them? There are four traits that Tom exhibits that are critical to have if you want to be like Tom. Together, they add up to trust and to the creation of a type of equity or personal capital that is valuable and effective. When you don’t have it, you can be unsuccessful even when you have the same candidates and present them to the same manager as someone like Tom. It is very similar to the kind of prestige and equity that CPAs, doctors, lawyers, or some other professionals have. It is built through education, certification, age, experience, and relationship. And it is the most powerful kind of equity there it. In Tom’s case he, first of all, understood the business his firm was in and had real knowledge of what the hiring managers wanted and needed ó 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. Secondly, he 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 as well. While most of us cannot be technical experts in the areas we recruit for, we can spend the time to become well-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 a while we will be part of their team. Tom extended his equity in operations 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 and was someone who could be trusted. This is the highest form of personal equity you can acquire, but it takes work and time to develop. Thirdly, he had learned how to source 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 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. Finally, Tom was able to speak to candidates in their language. He had great credibility with them because he was an engineer too. I have known many excellent recruiters who were just as successful as Tom but who did not have an engineering background (or whatever background would have been useful in their recruiting). What they did was to take the time to develop a deep understanding of the environment they were working in. They knew what pressures and goals managers faced and they found candidates who could help the managers overcome the pressures or achieve the goals. They could make those pressures look like exciting challenges to a candidate, and they could infuse enthusiasm in the hiring managers. Tom had acquired a high amount of what I call personal equity ó a worth that is above and beyond what might be expected of someone with such a limited amount of actual working experience as a recruiter. Some of us gather this equity by simply working in the same environment for a while; others can get it by building relationships; and some through education. But for most of us it is a combination of all of these. 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.

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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


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