The Great Eight: How to Identify, Select and Hire Great Recruiters

In my article entitled The Next Great Weapon in the War for Talent, I contended that all the technology, job boards, and recruiting software in the world will never replace or generate the kind of results a great recruiter can deliver. In other words, the next great weapon in the war for talent is the skilled and artful recruiter.

I do not challenge the notion that technology may make important recruiting initiatives less cumbersome. Activities like name generation and sourcing are made a bit easier thanks to the Internet and other technological advancements. But really great recruiting results can only happen because of the hard work and effort of skilled and artful recruiters who can make the right calls, develop centers of influence, build relationships, interact with prospects and candidates, understand the opportunity gap in a candidate’s current situation, determine the decision-making criteria a candidate will use to make a change, work with a candidate to help them land a better opportunity, and navigate the delicate offer, negotiation, counteroffer, and notice-giving minefield. All that’s just a highlight the things great recruiters do well.

Many articles, discussion groups, and blogs all around the recruiting landscape extol the advantages of hiring sales and marketing types as recruiters. I couldn’t agree more. While it is true that recruiting is fundamentally a sales and marketing role, simply stating this obvious fact really misses the deeper behaviors and skills that must exist in a recruiter in order to generate better results and higher performance. Hiring a candidate with proven and verifiable results from a sales and marketing background does not necessarily mean you have hired the next great recruiter. So what should you look for in a recruiter? What critical behaviors and skills should you identify and then hire for? How will you know the talent can be coached and developed? How can you more accurately predict how well they will perform in the future? In my years of experience working as a recruiter (both third party and corporate) on teams with some very high-performing recruiting talent and having to hire and lead recruiting teams myself (including the very talented award-winning team I currently lead at FirstMerit) I have discovered eight key skill and behavioral competencies that exist in great recruiters. Not so creatively I call them “The Great Eight.”

These eight key recruiting skills and behaviors must be part of your identification, selection, and hiring strategy if you want to hire great recruiters. If you aren’t in a position to lead and hire recruiters, these eight key factors should be areas where you strive to develop and improve in your daily recruiting behavior. (Or they may send a message that you are in the wrong profession.) Though I have performed some analysis on these behaviors in my recruiting teams and tied them to performance outcomes, The Great Eight are derived from my experience in working with great recruiters as well as hiring and leading high performing recruiting teams. I do not claim these eight items are the end-all be-all for hiring great recruiters. I do, however,believe the following Great Eight skills and behaviors apply to both third-party and corporate recruiters.

1. Interaction: The ideal recruiter is able to communicate with others in a warm and helpful manner while building credibility and rapport. I have raged on an on about the importance of relationships in recruiting. Talent relationship management (TRM) is another critical function of a great recruiter. In order to truly be successful, a recruiter must possess this interaction skill or behavior. I have yet to meet a great recruiter who wasn’t exceptional at building rapport quickly during a sourcing or direct call situation. When contacting a talent prospect or candidate for the first time, you have a few limited moments during which you must establish credibility and, at the very least, a surface-level rapport. Once the talent prospect or candidate gets engaged with you, it becomes your responsibility as the recruiter to further strengthen your credibility and deepen the relationship. Great recruiters get this. They work hard at carefully scripting their calls to very deliberately gain instant credibility and lay the groundwork for a firm relationship. This is primarily done by focusing more on the talent prospect or candidate than talking about actual opportunities.

2. Spoken communication: The ideal recruiter is able to present information clearly through the spoken word. He or she listens well and influences others through oral presentation in either positive or negative circumstances. Listening well. It is a dying art in the recruiting world. As we will see in a minute in a discussion on insight and needs analysis, too many recruiters spend way too much time talking and not listening. With all the focus on scripting, overcoming objections, or getting a client or candidate’s attention, many recruiters neglect this critical skill. Tone of voice, verbal cues, and word choice all provide valuable insight into what a candidate’s values are and what pain they might be experiencing in their current position. Prospects and candidates give up so much information about these important variables through these kinds of cues, but few recruiters are savvy enough to pick up on them. Though this skill and behavior is called spoken communication, the importance of decision influencing should go without saying. The focal point for me is listening.

3. Commitment to task: The ideal recruiter is able to start and persist with specific courses of action while exhibiting a high degree of self motivation and a sense of urgency. They are willing to commit to long hours of work and make personal sacrifice in order to reach goals. Great recruiters are motivated and driven to succeed by a fire that burns inside them rather than a fire that is lit under them. The drive and push that comes from being passionate about recruiting and finding great talent cannot be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Recruiters that have it require very few “pep talks” or motivation by any external factor. As the labor pool shrinks and the war for talent becomes more intense, the recruiters who possess this sense of commitment and the selfless drive to sacrifice in order to reach a goal will win and be deemed great. Great recruiters also see their most important positions as urgent. In many CEO and executive-level surveys, the chief complaint against HR as it relates to recruiting is the apparent lack of urgency when it comes to acquiring talent. Great recruiters know how to prioritize their work based on corporate business goals and strategies and then create a sense of urgency in the recruitment process in order to be more efficient and effective.

4. Insight and needs analysis: The ideal recruiter is able to 1) interpret verbal and non-verbal behavior, 2) develop accurate perception and understanding of the needs and values of others while using a systematic approach to gathering information, and 3) attempt to meet those needs through analysis and evaluation of alternative solutions. Maybe these could be two separate skills, but I couldn’t find a good word to rhyme with nine so I put them together for the sake of poetry (just kidding). Perhaps no where in the recruiting profession is this skill or behavior more important than in the profiling of talent. All too often, recruiters are too busy pitching a job rather than understanding the needs of the prospect. For example, I get this kind of call all the time: “Hey Michael, my name is Joey Recruitemall with ABC Executive Search (or ABC Company). I am currently working with a Fortune 100 company to identify a high-performing, results-oriented leader to take their global talent acquisition team to the next level. I understand you are a smart guy who leads a successful recruiting practice, and I think you would be a great fit for this opportunity. Would you be interested or do you know anyone who would be?” Don’t laugh, I actually got that call recently. I just changed the names to protect the innocent.

The used car salesman flattery garbage aside, this is an absolutely awful call from a desperate recruiter who is just trying to fill a job. High-performing passive talent will not leave their current situation unless they get a better opportunity and trust that you, the recruiter, have their best interests at the front of your agenda. Even active candidates are offended by recruiters who put filling a job ahead of the candidate’s needs. This means taking the time to be more interested in the talent than you are in filling a job. The only way to accomplish this is to make the effort to fully understand the talented prospects and candidates you talk to. If you’ve done your homework and gained a proper amount of competitive intelligence about the talent you are calling, you should know the person is talented, meaning you have some evidence that they are a high performer and that they posses special, often creative, mental or artistic gifts. Once that information has been gained, great recruiters use their intuition and engage in needs analysis — i.e., profiling — to find out who the talent is, what decision making criteria they will use to make a change, how they will decide if the opportunity is better, when they might be open to moving, who influences their decision, etc. Great recruiters get this information before even talking about a specific job or opportunity with a prospect or candidate. As a result, they fill more jobs with better talent for their company or bill more placements than their peers in third party. It’s all about properly profiling the talent.

Article Continues Below

5. Creativity: The ideal recruiter is able to develop unique and novel solutions to obstacles or challenges. He or she uses intuition and a new way of thinking to give birth to new ideas and presents information in a way that gets attention and holds others interest. Whether it is name generation, networking, or relationship management, great recruiters are quick to get out of normal thought patterns and traditional recruiting tactics. They are risk takers. They have the courage to keep trying new things. Using their previous experiences and intuition, they give birth to new ideas in the recruiting space and aren’t afraid to execute them. Great recruiters also know how to articulate their creativity and outside-the-box thinking in clear and exciting ways. When talking to a prospect or candidate, they know how to inspire candidates and hold their interest throughout the recruiting lifecycle.

6. Tolerance of ambiguity: The ideal recruiter is able to withhold actions or speech when important information is absent or lacking. He or she can deal with unresolved situations as well as frequent changes, delays, or unexpected events. Let’s face it, things change very rapidly in the field of recruiting. Client hiring managers change their mind, candidates change their mind, expectations change, job requirements change and even candidates decision-making criteria can sometimes changes. But great recruiters are flexible and capable of changing with the business, the economy, the labor market, or any other changes that might occur. Often, recruiters get limited information and have to resist the urge to react and make a decision in absence of this information. Great recruiters don’t get lured into presenting candidates to client hiring managers before they have the right information for a send out. They don’t present the position to a talented passive prospect until the expectations are clearly defined and the success profile is complete.

7. Reading the system: The ideal recruiter is able to recognize and use information about an organization’s culture and its key players to accomplish legitimate organizational goals. He or she possesses a healthy awareness of the importance of timing, politics, and organizational process in managing change. Every company is different. The systems and politics that exist within each require a knowledgeable and savvy recruiter to navigate what can be a treacherous labyrinth of confusion. Candidates can be sucked into an organization’s little nuances, quirks, and structure and never be heard from or seen again. Great recruiters know these difficulties exist and know how to navigate through them with great skill and effectiveness. They know when to put their foot down, when to back off, how to push something through, and when to grease the skids to make it seem seamless. Keeping the corporate goals and business objectives in mind throughout the recruiting process, great recruiters mesh all of these things for the benefit of the talent and the company.

8. Tenacity: The ideal recruiter is dedicated to customers, client hiring managers, prospects. and candidates. He or she is willing to maintain long-term relationships, to take commitments seriously, and to follow through on promises. A commitment to the people that matter most and a desire to do everything it takes to meet the needs of those people separates the great recruiters from the merely good. Great recruiters act more like a career coach or consultant to the candidate and as a subject matter expert with the client hiring manager. They extend themselves past the boundary where average recruiters stop. They meet passive candidates on their terms and under conditions that are optimal for the candidate rather than what is convenient for them. This sometimes means doing the things that are less than glamorous, but these kinds of actions can be the difference maker in these critical relationships. I have talked much about relationships and the ability to maintain them for long periods of time. The best in the recruiting profession do that and more. They know that every interaction could lead to a talent referral, a new networking source, or center of influence. Great recruiters exhibit a dogged pursuit of excellence with candidates and clients that is reflected in their recruiting results.

My Great Eight sets the bar high for excellence in recruiting. Using these key skills and behaviors to identify and select your next recruiter will give you an advantage over many in the recruiting industry. Trying to model these behaviors in your own daily recruiting activity will separate you from your peers. But failing to do either will only make you less valuable to your corporation or clients, and ultimately lead you into recruiting mediocrity — if not recruiting obscurity.

Michael Homula has over 10 years of high performing recruiting and recruiting leadership experience in third party as well as corporate recruiting.


3 Comments on “The Great Eight: How to Identify, Select and Hire Great Recruiters

  1. Keep preaching it Mr. Homula! Love it 🙂

    How about you take those 8 + 1 (early adopter who leverages technology to streamline, simplify, automate, and provide more passive direct sourced candidates) = IDEAL ‘recruiter’ type.


  2. Great Article. And how refreshing to see that there is no mention of a ‘great recruiter’ having to lie or ruse to obtain candidates.

  3. Carl, I agree.
    This was a very good article. I like the fact that the 8 things you focused on are things that I consider basic recruiter traits.

    Sometimes will all the technological advances, and trends, it is easy to forget that usually the recruiters that never forget the basics are the ones that are the most effective.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *