Traits That Turn a Good Recruiter Into a Great Recruiter

As an owner of an IT staffing firm, I am always looking for good recruiters and have had the pleasure to work with some very skilled people over the years.

If I could somehow blend the better traits of all of them into one mythical person (RecruiterX), he or she would show the following skills:

Understands how to source. These days, many recruiters think their job is to be great at using fancy Boolean searches to find candidates on the Internet or shuffle resumes from other sources. RecruiterX is proficient with the Internet to avoid ignoring a possible source, but he or she also uses every other avenue possible to find good candidates.

RecruiterX has an applicant tracking system and uses it well; has created a network of good people to network with (our recruiters are tasked with developing a network of the most talented people within a given skillset, which we call their “50 best”); go to industry events; and know which companies have similar candidates.

Since RecruiterX recruits for many of the same skills over and over, knows a lot of people in the industry, and calls them regularly, their contacts are happy to help them find good candidates.

Avoids wasting their customers’ time. Many recruiters seem to think their job is to send resumes. Resumes don’t get hired: people do. RecruiterX knows how to qualify candidates extremely well and only submits candidates who are “dead on” for the role, or at least they believe them to be. They usually only submit two to four resumes for any given requirement. Their customers know they only submit good people and say “here’s a resume from RecruiterX; I better at least look at it.” His managers usually interview one-half or more of all the people they submit, and hire one-half or more of those.

Understands the industry and customer requirements much better than the average recruiter. While they don’t know how to code Java, RecruiterX has a very good grasp on his industry’s buzzwords and what they mean.

They know that Javascript and Java are not the same thing. A developer doing HTML and javascript is not going to fit a java/j2ee requirement and they don’t present candidates that aren’t a fit. Recruiters who do lose whatever credibility they had. They definitely understand the terminology of the industry and what each job function is.

Many average recruiters never get past simply looking for buzzwords to truly understand job functions. Their great candidate has plenty of the proper buzzwords but lack the actual background required. RecruiterX doesn’t waste his customers’ time and only submits qualified people.

Understands what it means to truly qualify a candidate. Average and beginning recruiters think making sure someone has a particular skill set defines qualifying a candidate. RecruiterX knows it goes way beyond that. RecruiterX always verifies that a candidate’s commute is acceptable (and is skeptical when a candidate says he will drive 75 miles every day to the job).

They’re a pro at getting salary information and requirements, determining the candidate’s true motivations and seriousness, and getting any and all information that will help or prevent him from being able to close a placement. RecruiterX is an expert at qualifying someone and rarely has surprises when their candidates get an offer (e.g., the candidate says, “Oops, I really meant $125,000, not the $100,000 I originally said, because it is just too far of a commute.”).

They admit that most failures to close an offer are a result of failing to truly qualify a candidate upfront. They don’t blame the candidate, the company, or something else when a placement falls apart. They don’t end up in situations where they’re trying to relocate a candidate who tells you they’ll move, only to find out after they turned down an offer that they have children in high school, have lived next door to their mother-in-law for the last 17 years, and have a spouse who is vice president of the local bank. In other words, they were never going to relocate no matter how hard you wished they would.

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Is an expert at salary negotiations. While this is a topic worthy of several articles, suffice it to say that RecruiterX knows how to uncover a candidate’s existing salary information, desires, and what it will really take to close the person on an offer. Although he or she earns $50,000 and will take $55,000, the candidate might also take $50,000 because the worker feels under-appreciated by the current boss.

Knows to pre-close the candidate at each step. Average recruiters believe 99% of the job is determining whether someone has a particular skillset. RecruiterX knows that it takes two to tango, and his job is to not only make sure a candidate is qualified, but to sell the opportunity and “pre-close” the candidate from the very first conversation to the last.

Without being pushy, he takes every opportunity to sell the position and verify that the candidate wants the opportunity at each step and that nothing has changed (“I know I said I wanted $70,000, but I really will only take $90,000.”). Average recruiters sell the candidate hard on the first conversation and rely upon faith that everything will still be okay in the end. They get a lot of surprises.

Maintains a laser focus. RecruiterX has the attitude, “I’ll quit when I die and not until.” When they get a requisition, they work it until they have filled the position, not until they’ve submitted one or two resumes that were kind-of-sort-of close and then wonder why more of their managers don’t respond to their resumes. They use every avenue possible to find hireable candidates and don’t do one-half of a search on 10 different assignments. They do 100% of a search even if they spend one-third of their time each day on three searches.

Displays high energy. RecruiterX is a high-energy person in both business and personal pursuits and does not tire as easily as others or avoid hard work. This person has a positive attitude and does not bring down others.

Shows a good work ethic. Ask an average recruiter what percentage of their time they are actually working, and they’ll probably tell you 50% to 80%. The true number is more than likely less than 50%. They are surfing the Internet, talking football, talking to their spouse on the phone, daydreaming about winning the lottery, and anything but recruiting.

RecruiterX actually works 75% of the time while knowing an occasional break is healthy. He or she may miss a few days a year for an illness or a personal day, but the boss knows the recruiter is a producer, has created a great relationship, and is generally very reliable.

Acts honestly. Let’s face it: some in our industry have helped give us a used-car salesman image. RecruiterX is honest and does not misrepresent a company to a candidate nor a candidate to a company. That’s just not good business. He or she does not steal candidates from clients or lie about salary information/rates, and maintains high ethics no matter what. RecruiterX refuses to work for an organization that bends ethics.

None of these traits should come as a surprise to a successful recruiter. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us should recognize we have some of these traits some of the time versus all of these traits all of the time. If you know any RecruiterX types, please send them my way.

Brian Whitfield has owned two IT staffing firms over the last 14 years after beginning his career as a computer programmer. He sold his first firm during the previous boom and still works a desk in addition to managing his company.


9 Comments on “Traits That Turn a Good Recruiter Into a Great Recruiter

  1. This article was well thought out and a good read. I would love to see a follow-up article on how you train good recruiters to become great recruiters. It is our responsibilty as managers to mentor and guide ‘junior recruiters’ into becoming Great Recruiters…Good Recruiters can’t become Great Recruiters without our guidance. Nice job!

  2. A good article, but I have one small bone to pick, if you will. You are really describing knowledge, skills, and behaviors rather than traits. Much of what you have described can be learned or developed. In the field of personnel selection, traits are generally considered to be enduring characteristics not readily modifiable. Think of intelligence or extroversion as examples of traits that we might evaluate in a hiring context, but that would not be trainable to any significant degree.

  3. Excellent article Brian and I think you touch on a number of good points and present them well but I’m left wondering about the definition of a Great Recruiter. Is a great recruiter measured on number of placements, cash in, tenure, client satisfaction or what?

    It sounds to me your describing a the fit to an organizational model rather one than one of performance. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing dozens of Big Billers (perm recruiters billing in excess of $ 1 million per year) for my new book, Big Billers, and have found 5 traits they all share. All of them have mastered the basics of a great candidate + a great job order = a placement and most dominate their niche, but what I heard was you can train for competence but traits like attitude come from within.

    The five traits they all shared are:

    1 – Attitude
    2 – Focus
    3 – Discipline
    4 – Control
    5 – Commitment

    Keep the good ideas and thoughts coming Brian and thanks for sharing with us.


  4. I have one more trait you can add to the ‘greatness’ list:


    Thanks …

    Now back to work …

  5. I believe that this article was well written. When articles like this are posted, you will always find in some cases mixed reaction. This is due to the fact, especially in this article, Recruiters reviewing this, or others will tend to compare themselves to it.

    Recruiting is a state of the Art..Either you got the ‘Recruiters Blood’ or you do not. I tend to look at Recruiters in different levels
    Jr. Recruiter, needs usually a cover letter to understand
    Paper pushes..Never really gives thought to looking into the resume..Only volumne
    ‘Wanta Bes’ – Walking around with the Business card and mis using the title for others
    Passionate and Dedicated Recruiters (which I felt was discussed in the article)
    I feel that a dedicated and passionate Recruiter is able to get into the mind of the candidate, build a raphor with a candidate, understand the needs of the candidate. It is much more than the candidate. It can be a whole family involved or friends, especially in the Relocating end.
    Understanding a candidate who may be have stayed at the company for many years and came in as a College Grad, afraid to spread their wings.
    Understanding the client, what the needs are, what is the client like.
    I have been Recruiting a long time and truely believe one must have a raphor. If I can get a laugh out of a client or candidate, than I know I am there with them.
    I am proud of my profession and after 25+ years in High Tech with two major Companies I have been able to gain the credibility I have worked so hard for. Working with Design Research Engineers is totally different than working with Construction and Facilities, totally different cultures.
    I believe another step is to truely understand your client, not just the skills but, the type of person he or she may be. I have always, in meeting with the client have stated somewhere in the conversation ‘Tell me why I should work for you’ They get a kick out of that statement but, in reality, you are the one who is responsible for getting the candidate.
    Also, another key is understanding not only the Culture of the group you are working for, but also that of the client, what he or she feels comfortable in. An example of this is if a candidate has been working for a ‘Relationship Oriented Company’ and then goes to work for a ‘ Results Orientated Company’ that would be a total Cultural shock for both parties. So, every nook and craney needs to be checked.

    The person who stated ‘Chat rooms’ can take time out of our work. Well, I disagree. If you can learn from these articles and do something about it for yourself, than you have learned something new. What is the saying ‘Learn one new thing a day’,

  6. Hi Brain,

    It was a great article which explains about the recruiters day to day working practices and highlights the drawbacks of a good recruiter also explains how one can become a great recruiter.

    Thought provoking article.


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