How to Hire a Great Recruiter

The most crucial step in developing a world-class corporate recruiting function is to attract and retain top recruiters. There are many types of recruiters in the world, but the best are aggressive recruiters with excellent research and selling skills. I call them “warrior” recruiters. If you owned a sports franchise, it would be easy to see and measure the impact that a great recruiter can have on the bottom line. For one top firm I calculated the impact on revenue of a single world-class recruiter to be over $20 million. In contrast, a poor recruiter can negatively impact your image as well as your revenue. If you want to hire the very best “warrior” recruiters here are some tips to follow:

  1. Recruiter referrals. There are no secret great recruiters. Because the best recruiters compete almost daily in head-to-head competition for top talent, great recruiters know who the other great recruiters are. Start by developing a recruiter referral system. Reward your recruiters for both identifying and referring the best. Develop a “who’s who” of recruiters database and use it to identify the recruiters that you will target for hiring during the next year or two.
  2. Top performer referrals. Your very best employees have already been identified by and recruited by the best recruiters. Ask your top performers which recruiters have been successful in getting them to return their calls and which ones made great sales pitches. Reward them for a making great recruiter referral.
  3. Steal them from top firms. The very best recruiters are seldom unemployed (for long). As a result, they must be “poached” away from competing firms. When you lose a candidate to a competitor, call them up and ask them the name of the winning recruiter. Ask the same question of all of your new hires in key positions. When you hire a recruiter from a competing firm ask them on the first day, “Who is your former firm’s top recruiter?” If you’re not sure where to start…Cisco recruiters are generally regarded as the best in the world.
  4. List servers and chat rooms. Many of the best recruiters can be found providing answers on the various recruiting sites on the web. Ask your recruiters who participate in these forums to identify those with the best “answers.” Start with the ER Forum. Consider posting one of your own toughest recruiting problems and see who responds with an excellent solution.
  5. Ask the experts. The leading authors, speakers and consultants in recruiting almost always known the top recruiters by name. Ask them who was good, who they mentor and who they learn from?
  6. Steal them from executive search. Executive search professionals generally have the aggressiveness and the results orientation you need. Unfortunately, the best are generally well paid, so it takes a good package to convince them to go the corporate route. However, because of the economic downturn, they may currently be looking for job security rather than just income.
  7. Convert them from sales. Let’s face it, recruiting is primarily sales. Many firms have had great success in converting salespeople into recruiters. Either target your own salespeople who are facing burnout or target your competitors’ salespeople who are looking for a career change, a stable income, or less travel.
  8. Convert contract recruiters. Economic conditions have forced many contractors to consider jobs with more security. Use your current contractors as a source and ask them to refer others who may be looking for a more “permanent” assignment.
  9. Search professional associations. Top recruiters generally join the EMA and/or other local recruiting associations (Seattle and Atlanta are particularly strong). Attend their meetings and ask for referrals. In particular, look at officers and speakers.
  10. Ask their references. Call the references of your best recruiters (and finalist for recruiting positions) and ask them “who else they know that is excellent at recruiting?”
  11. Cruise job fairs. Although most top recruiters loath going to job fairs, you occasionally get lucky there. Ask around and see who the other recruiters recommend.

Do not, however:

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  • Attempt to convert the administrative staff in the recruiting function into recruiters. They seldom have the mentality or the aggressiveness that the job requires. The same can also generally be said for most engineers and other technology professionals.
  • Attempt to convert HR professionals into recruiters. Most HR people can’t spell sales, and are risk-avoiders and “cooperators” rather than competitors. Recruiting and HR should not be related in any way.
  • Expect to find top recruiters putting their resumes on job boards. Top recruiters get jobs through relationships they have build, not by posting their resume.

Conclusion Remember, “a recruiter is just a salesperson with a crummy budget.” So when you’re trying to hire a great recruiter, look in places where aggressive people with great sales skills hang out. There are no college programs where you can major in recruiting, so it takes some creativity and innovation to find the best talent in recruiting. When recruiting recruiters follow the golden rule of recruiting… those with the best recruiters win! It’s really that simple. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



7 Comments on “How to Hire a Great Recruiter

  1. While I wholeheartedly agree with the majority of the article, there are a few items with which I have issue.

    First, I don’t think the conversion from sales is as seamless as is portrayed here. Who would argue that every sale is the same? Saying that there is no difference is like saying that just because somoeone sold shoes they can sell professional services to Fortune 100 clients. Won’t happen. I think there is a completely different feel to each role. This is definitely not to say that no one can change careers and be effective, but I think to lump all sales-oriented jobs together and claim that success in one begets success in another is misleading.

    Second, the idea that “recruiting and HR should not be related in any way” baffles me. Recruiting is inextricably linked to HR as a key operational part of any successful company’s effective HR infrastructure. Maybe the point that HR people don’t, on average, make effective recruiters, is the intended conclusion here? As an HR professional, I would expect the author to steer clear of generalizations of this nature.

    Third, I think anyone interested in expanding their options will post their resume anywhere people will see it. Indeed, I think the Internet is a boon to the passive job seeker in any capacity. I would dismiss anyone who claims to know everyone worth knowing in their market and beyond as an arrogant ignoramus. These are the types I would avoid in the market, not the ones who have fallen victim to an unexpected downsizing, as we were advised to do in a previous column.

    Let me reiterate, that these are only three points I wanted to raise in an otherwise very relevant and informative article.

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  2. I personally agree with most of the suggestions and comments made by the author; however, the following quoted statement was pretty bold, and I have major issues with it:

    “Do Not Expect to find top recruiters putting their resumes on job boards. Top recruiters get jobs through relationships they have built, not by posting their resume.”

    Perhaps the author has some credible data to back up his statement, but one must consider our current economy before making a decision to not use a job board to find a top recruiter. That might just be a bad decision, and perhaps way too general, as the economy hasn’t just forced “contractors” to find security, and/or stability. The phrase “Permanent employment” has definitely become an oxymoron! Workforce reduction and low demand impact Contractors as well as permanent Corporate Recruiters who are no less expendable.

    In a struggling economy or not, “Top Recruiters,” and more importantly “Smart” Recruiters will take advantage of any resource that might expose them to a good opportunity. We still have to eat, and while they’re a good thing to have, one can’t live strictly by the “relationships they’ve built!” An old wise tale says “A poor rat ain’t got but one hole.”

    Remember, …Good Recruiters are very competitive people, and considering the current economy, we can’t rely heavily on our relationships, as they’re feeling the crunch too!!

    Eric Nichols

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  3. I enjoyed the article, and like Andy, had some concerns with the broad generalizations. As a state government employee, I can attest that working in state government provides a different definition of recruiting that what is popularly practiced in the private sector.

    I, and others, consider myself a risk-taker; I look for new ways to attract applicants to our agency; pushed for and am currently working with ISS on a better designed web site with on-line application ability (few VA agencies have this feature) and tips for applicants; ask questions about what people do and mention our agency during those conversations; wrote a majority of VA’s Employee Recognition Manual, etc.

    I don’t want to be put in a position of selling something that I don’t believe in so I’ve never really considered myself a salesperson. I believe in presenting things realistically and positively. I’ve convinced a number of people to do something that they had no intention of doing; and convinced people to not do something that they adamantly wanted to do.

    As I’ve mentioned to employees when I’ve trained them on applying and interviewing for success, your interview is a sale – you’re selling your skills. Present them in the best light but don’t lie about what you have or don’t have. What may be the rub in using the word “sales,” is that often people may unconsciously assume something dishonest about the transaction will happen.

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  4. There can be some truth in everything. This forum is one that takes something generalized in an article and allows those generalizations to become more specific topics for discussion, not necessarily nit picking. That’s my intro.

    Though people with sales experience have competencies that are fundamental to executive search, I would contend that the type of selling they have been doing needs to be examined further. Product vs. Services sales are very very different. I would never (given norms) take a pharmaceutical sales person and think that they would necessarily make a good search person. Nor would I take and have a retail sales person either. Why? Think about how they generate “sales”. In the retail world, someone else with maketing and other things, driven customers to them. They are purely a facilitator. Look at their compensation, this should tell you that they are not “creating”. Pharmeceuticals? This is a bit different, because it requires more initiative and personality, but more than not, is a shmooze sale. I will buy you lunch, golf balls, trips, etc. Listen to my information etc… Either the drug is good and it does it’s job or it doesn’t.

    Executive search is a consultative and facilitative sales process. Selling opportunities to candidates is easier than selling the use of the service to new clients, espeicially retained search. Without belaboring this further, sales people that are analytical, can withstand rejection, and deal with high volumes of interactions are good foundational possibilities. As with any position you have to get deep into the dynamics.

    Next thought/point. HR and Recruiting and their relationship relative to sales and marketing. Dr. S is correct that given the choice, recruiting should be more closely alligned with sales and marketing than HR. Though it is an HR function, HR, in general is a processing department. Processing people, compensation, benefits and informaiton. I greatly value those HR leaders that bring more innovation and OD perspective, but that isn’t the core of HR, the mechanics are. Recruiting is selling and marketing, PERIOD. Being cognizant of the HR issues and such is important and there has to be the tie. But for purposes of understanding recruitment and who recruiters should be and interact with? It should be in the sales and marketing function.

    Third, the concept of passive candidates using the internet to find their next job. Doesn’t putting a resume on the internet an ACTIVE thing? Passive candidate has gotten so blurred by internet recruitment advocates, trying to make it more than it is. The internet is an advertizing medium. It gives you an expanded ability to reach a broader geography, a much greater message/content capability, and it can last a lot longer at a lower cost than print advertising. But it is still advertising. Meaning that it requires someone to take action to find it. Thus, ACTIVE job seekers. I know there are exceptions, but I have grown so tired of the self propogation of internet recruiters feeling this is the answer to a higher quality of candidates for openings. Again, stop to think and understand the dynamics.

    Also, as a last point. IT recruitment with the internet is different than all other types of individuals. I just had to make that distinction, no one else seems to.

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  5. The article was very well written with some very helpful hints.

    I do disagree with some of the information.

    1. To assume that every excellent recruiter will be working can be an over assumption. The best recruiters can actually be unemployed because they are so good they are no longer needed.

    2. Very good recruiters may post their resume on the web in an effort to attract more business because of the fact that they are so good they work themselves out of positions.

    3. One method to start a search for a recruiter could be to search for a job on the web. Search for a job you need to fill other than the recruiter position. Now examine all the recruiters who have posted those open positions. A very good recruiter can be recognized by the way they posted the positions they are looking to fill. A very good recruiter will post positions very well so that they can direct the candidate to the posting prior to getting into a deep conversation with the candidate. precious time is saved when potential candidates understand the position prior to interviews.

    The very best recruiters are not clones of each other. The very best can appear to be very different. The very best as stated in the article are those who can show very positive results from their work.

    Having an extremely high number of hires does not always measure the success of a recruiter, especially if those hires either take the company into a downfall or they are gone before making any positive impact for an organization.

    How have the recruiters hires effected the companies they were hired for? This might be a key question when interviewing a recruiter and talking with their references.

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  6. Dan,

    I enjoyed reading your message.

    I see you points re: sales (your views echo my own), recruiting and HR, and the Internet. My problem with the article, while it may inspire discussion, was that it draws what I feel are inaccurate, bold lines. Ours is not always a black and white business. And when a community leader such as Dr S suggest that all sales jobs are the same, one should NEVER hire any recruiter with a resume on the Internet, or that has been laid off, or that has background in HR, I think he does a disservice to people who are looking to him for advice.


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