Recruiting Recruiters Who Recruit

When I first went into sales, analog was king, digital referred to fingers, DOS was “does” spelled wrong, and Bill Gates couldn’t get a date. Since then (after the discovery of electricity) the basic principles of sales have not changed: “Selling is still a personal thing.” The tools may have changed, and in some case improved, but the skills required?? the important skills?? have remained the same. My old mentor taught me one of the basics differences between people who just work in sales and people who are sales professionals. There are “order takers” and there are “sales generators.” The order takers process business that was coming in anyway. Sales generators make the deals that would not have happened without their ability to create interest. The average company could maintain a significant percentage of its sales without a sales force for a predictable period of time. Company reputation, advertisements in industry trades and publications, repeat business, corporate website traffic, trade shows and other activities that do not require a “personal sales contact” can sustain a business?? for a time. But the percentage of new clients would begin to fall, as would the percentage of repeat business and the size and frequency of sales from the dwindling existing client base. No amount of investment in message dissemination and branding could change that simple reality. Even today in our age of cyber information, the more critical the sale, the more important it is to the buyer that there be a human in the process. And that human better know how to sell. Because there are a lot of companies out there, and some of them do know how to sell. So what does sales have to do with recruiting? (You aren’t serious, are you?) Internal or external, full-time or consultant, recruiting is all about selling. Your product is opportunity, your potential buyer is every person qualified to perform better than anyone else available, and your competition is every company in the world that might also hire that same person. You are not even limited by the term “available.” Available is a state of mind, not a physical reality (I recruit, therefore I am). Hiring the wrong recruiter is like making an error in your checkbook: it’s a mistake that affects every entry to follow. If you follow that line of logic, an organization that is not satisfying the line management’s need for quality hiring may well be failing due to its own inability to hire effectively for itself. Do you hire recruiters who can recruit? Read any good position descriptions for recruiting professionals lately? The preferred candidate will have previous experience recruiting “Senior Left Nostril Inhalers” for the “Breathable Air Industry” using “Shot In The Dark” or “Anybody’s Guess” tracking software and “Everybody’s Favorite Monopoly” office automation tools. The preferred candidate will also enjoy fetching coffee for the real HR professionals in benefits and compensation. The candidate should hold hiring managers in awe and have no ideas or input of their own. Non-knuckle draggers who chew with their mouth closed are preferred. The increased reliance on technology within the recruiting profession has placed less emphasis on the people skills of potential recruiter candidates and greater emphasis on the “cut and paste, objective skill matching” school of recruiting. In essence, we place the greatest emphasis on those skills that are relatively easy to teach and ignore the skills that often are the most critical and, consequently, the most difficult and most risky to attempt to train. The problem is further compounded by the fact that, in many companies, seeking internal recruiters with small or non-existent recruiting departments, the position description, selection process, screening, interviewing, and final hiring process is usually conducted by non-recruiters. Even in larger companies, the employment group’s input is often secondary to that of the HR organization and the hiring managers who the prospective recruiter will support (whatever happened to “set a thief to catch a thief”?? not all cliches are inaccurate). After all, hiring managers usually seek in a recruiter someone more like themselves, manageable from their perspective of what is needed in a good recruiting program. Human resources seeks someone like themselves, not a “typical recruiter.” But if someone like “themselves” could recruit effectively, why would they be seeking a recruiter? When I was hiring a plumber for our kitchen remodeling project, plumbing being something I have little knowledge of, I did not use prescreening requirements for an electrician, something about which I know quite a lot. That’s a good way to end up with a toilet that turns on the porch lights. All recruitment hiring, to some extent, has a “three Ws” component:

  • Who did you recruit?
  • What were the tools you used?
  • Where was the industry segment you recruited within?

But these should be the questions you ask of the candidates you have screened into the process, not the screening questions you use to keep candidates out. We don’t bother to screen potential candidates based on what kind of phone they used in their last job. Have you ever asked a candidate for a professional job, “Are you familiar with copier technology, toner replacement, paper refilling and the like?” Have you ever asked a potential candidate with ten years business experience, “Have you mastered fax technology?” Why not? Because we all accept these tools as everyday, commonplace, anybody-with-an opposable-thumb-can-master, “no-brainers.” So why is it that we all are so worried about recruiting candidates ability to acquire everyday job skills represented by the “three Ws”? Maybe because the non-recruiters in the recruiting process don’t realize that to an experienced, seasoned, and accomplished recruiter, those areas of great concern to them are no-brainers to us. So what is the menu, formula, or recipe to use when seeking a recruiter for your organization before you worry about the three Ws? To my way of thinking?? long before I worry about “trainable skills”?? these are the critical skill components I want in place:

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  • Sales. The person may not have ever held a professional sales position, but when you read their cover letter, review their resume, or talk to them on the phone, they are ON and they are SELLING. If you think selling means high pressure, fast talking, or “pushy in a plaid suit,” you don’t know sales. A sales professional has a total mission and measured steps in that mission to achieve his or her goal. If a candidate is “off” and “not selling” with you, what are they going to do with your prospective employers? (Oh, you aren’t sure if you’re in the market? Okay, whatever.”)
  • Likeability. Send this recruiter candidate to meet with five different personality types in your organization, and at least four out of five like the candidate, and the fifth is no less than neutral. Your recruiter has to have developed what I call “controlled schizophrenia” or the ability to alter their projection of self to match the moment. In interviewing your potential candidate pool they will have to speak with all kinds of people. Personality clashes with the recruiting staff are not a good reason to lose candidates. Of course, it is understood that there is a difference between “getting along” and “putting up” with rude or unprofessional candidates. The former is part of the job. The latter is not.
  • Intelligence. A bright recruiter can continue to learn and evolve as your company grows and changes to meet new products, services, or industry demands. If you hire based solely on a candidate’s ability to parrot your current buzzword dictionary, how do you know they can learn the new technologies and new challenges that lay ahead? (“Last week I couldn’t say ‘Bio-Tech Recruiter.’ Now I ‘are’ one.”) Always hire based on potential and not on “status quo.” Knowing how to memorize data is one thing, using it effectively to achieve goals is another?? and better.
  • Presence. You know they are in the room. The recruiter candidate’s bearing and manner is professional and you notice them. It’s the old “shined shoes, clean nails” approach to good first impressions. Even if your industry is “blue jeans and sneakers,” they should be clean sneakers (if the jeans have holes in them, they should be stylish holes that cost extra).
  • Energy. This person sits still only under threat of termination and through the use of heavy restraints. Good recruiters have to be able to keep many objects in the air at all times. Sometimes meticulous organization is no substitute for being able to squeeze a couple of dozen extra events into the average day.
  • Worldliness. This recruiter candidate is well spoken on numerous topics and comfortable in all environments. Whether it’s “champagne cocktails on the veranda” or “long neck buds in a sports bar” (in Boston, that’s “Spats Bah”), the professional recruiter can engage and be comfortable in any circumstance and appear knowledgeable on a vast range of topics.
  • Extraversion. The recruiter candidate is not afraid to leave the office and meet people. As a matter of fact, they prefer it. A good recruiter is a joiner and an instigator. Rule of thumb: At a networking event, the real recruiter is the one who says “Hello” to old friends AFTER he or she has “worked the room,” meeting strangers and gathering a new batch of business cards. The only variation is if that current friend or peer is talking to a group of people they don’t know. Then the real opportunist in them approaches that friend as the excuse to join in. Recruiting Rule #147: “If you always sit with friends and current peers at networking diners, then you are not networking?? you are just having dinner.”
  • Fearlessness. HR professionals and hiring managers are not the recruiting experts. To be effective, the recruiting professional must be willing to stand up for best practices based on experience as well as trial and error. A willingness to listen to input and consider the opinions of others is the hallmark of the true professional. But when given bad advice or outdated suggestions, the good recruiter will speak up. They are, after all, the “duty expert” on all matters pertaining to recruiting.
  • Confidence. A recruiter must believe in themselves and the mastery of their craft. I often find that really great recruiters make fantastic poker players. They have played the game often enough to know the odds, develop an understanding of their strengths and limitations, and know how bad it feels to lose and how great it feels to win.

You may have noticed a something about the above list. Most of these skills require meeting people and knowing people. The only person who can recruit a great recruiter is another great recruiter. If you have none in your organization who qualifies as such, seek outside assistance. Hiring the right recruiter is the first step in hiring the right employees for the rest of the company, and vice versa. The recruiter you choose should not “look like” your hiring managers, your human resources department, or your selection of automation tools. You already have all of that; now you are looking for a recruiter. It is the person who makes the position, not the other way around. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey ( is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services ( and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE,, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


1 Comment on “Recruiting Recruiters Who Recruit

  1. Ken this was a GREAT article and your description of ?must haves? in a good recruiter seems to fit myself and other excellent recruiters I know to a tee. The article also seemed to help me put many of my personality quirks into perspective, those parts of my personality, which seem to be what have made me excel in the recruiting craft over the years. I am glad to know there is a name for recruiting disease or ?controlled schizophrenia? too, as I certainly feel that way at times.

    I also had to send this on to some of my men friends who are doing there best to understand me too. I?m just a proud product of my profession.

    DOC?I will forward your check for the shrink work soon, I am cured!!!

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