Why the Old Recruiting Skills Are Dead, and Four Essential New Ones

There has never been a more challenging time to be a corporate recruiter. Hiring managers are very demanding and expect fast, personalized service by knowledgeable recruiters. Given the current unemployment rate and the perceived availability of talent, they may be unrealistic in what they expect. Nonetheless, they are the primary customer and need to be provided service at a high level. Candidates, too, are not what they used to be. The talented and highly in-demand candidates also want to be given fast, personalized service by an ethical and in-the-know recruiter.

All of this means that the skills that once defined a successful corporate recruiter are not sufficient. Indeed, those skills may even be detrimental to success.

A corporate recruiter has always had a different skill set than a recruiter working in an agency or as an independent. While agency recruiters have focused on building relationships (often in deep, vertical job families), on tapping into new sources of candidates, and on assessing candidates against a variety of criteria, the corporate recruiter has evolved three very different set of competencies over the years.

The first is the ability to facilitate hiring. These recruiters are adept at dealing with the corporate bureaucracy and legal issues. They are formidable navigators of the corporate landscape. They know every hill and valley, every bomb and sinkhole. These skills are unique to a particular company and do not transfer well. Recruiters with these competencies are most likely to have worked for the same firm for many years. Every bureaucracy has created people with these types of skills and could not function without them. The internal knowledge they have, and their ability to get things done in systems resistant to getting things done, makes them valuable, but only in that system. While this may seem as if it is practical and useful, the skills usually fail completely to help the recruiter navigate a talent-constrained marketplace, find the rare candidates, or convince them to work for the organization.

The second common skill is that of resume scanner. I recently ran into a situation where the recruiter had searched LinkedIn and other sources and had compiled a large set of resumes generally related to the open positions that a hiring manager was hoping to fill. The recruiter then forwarded them to the hiring manager with a note saying that in an effort to be proactive she was asking him to narrow the pile down to a short list of candidates the hiring manager might be interested in. The hiring manager responded negatively to this, to her surprise.

He felt that she should have enough knowledge of the position and his requirements to do that screening herself. He felt that she was passing her job off to him — an overworked engineer making critical products for the company. She lost credibility and any ability to influence this manager who now looks at her as a clerk. A very dangerous place to be in this competitive and challenging economy.

The third skill is that of receptionist, light screener, and tour guide. They may even take a resume and call a candidate to ask a few questions. Their focus is to be “nice” and make a good impression while determining, based on some predetermined ideas of fit or suitability, who should be invited in for interviews with the hiring manager. Those so chosen are met by the recruiter, given a tour of the building or facility, and perhaps even taken for a coffee or lunch. They become of the liaison or interface between the company, the hiring manager, and the candidate.

None of these three roles are value-adding. They do not actively look for good candidates or even know where to look for the best candidates. They do not aggressively ferret out what competencies and skills the best performers have – indeed they don’t even know who the best performers are. They do not offer alternative screening or assessment for a hiring manager nor are they very helpful in closing. They put together standard offers based on what they have offered other people with similar backgrounds and experience.

So what does a modern recruiter need to have for skills?

Today’s successful recruiter is a different breed. She needs to be good at four things:

Skill #1: They can find rare talent.

These recruiters are experts at using the Internet, Facebook, LinkedIn, job boards, and whatever else it takes to find the best people in a particular job family. They spend inordinate amounts of time talking, reading, networking, and learning about the areas they are responsible for and the people who are considered the best in the field. They develop referral networks and attraction strategies to draw in the good people and then connect those people to hiring managers as directly as they can.

By having access to talented people and by building knowledge they gain credibility and add value well above their cost.

Article Continues Below

Skill #2: They build relationships.

Important and close to the top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to build relationships with these talented people and with hiring managers. This is what all great recruiters do. Every executive search guru is really a guru at building and maintaining relationships. Recruiters within organizations need to get out of the organization and get to know people at all levels and professions who might be useful to their firm. They need to use technology to help create the initial relationship, and then they need to leverage that by talking on the phone, sending frequent emails, having breakfast or lunch with possible candidates, and by always asking one candidate to recommend a few more.

Those who possess this skill set are good at knowing who the best performers are, because they also have good relationships with the hiring managers and other workers who can tell them. They assess why those people are the best and then try to find more with the same skills.

Skill #3: They understand technology.

Technology already dominates recruiting. Applicant tracking systems, HRMS systems, email, job boards, blogs, social networks, and recruiting web sites are all part of the technology equation. If the recruiter is not technically agile and informed, she cannot be successful in the long run. Great recruiters dominate the technology and learn how to make it do what they want.

Skills #4: They can sell and close candidates.

In the end, a recruiter is as good as the number of candidates that she can close. To do this, she needs to be good at selling candidates and hiring managers. She needs to know how to overcome objections and turn negatives into positives. They need to offer solutions, work out compromises, negotiate, and in the end, make the hire happen.

All of these skills are about relationship, networking, collaborating, and selling. The administrative and back-end skills of the 20th century are not very valuable given the ATS’s and other tools that take care (or should take care) of the tactical and administrative side of things. The differentiators for today’s recruiting are these skills alone.

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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


21 Comments on “Why the Old Recruiting Skills Are Dead, and Four Essential New Ones

  1. Interesting article. All of the skills listed are what good third-party recruiters bring to the table. Great companies that need to hire the best talent (not just the easiest to find and hire) realize the value of this and know that the ROI is quick and justified.

  2. Great article, and great comment Ken Goldman (Not sure why Kevin chose “There has never been a more challenging time to be a corporate recruiter.”)It is this way for ALL recruiter’s/firms. etc..

    #4) “They can sell and close candidates.” This is the KEY in a sustained dynamic career in recruiting… Technology is awesome, however it can be a “crutch” for some, and the results are typically below average…

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  3. I am a corporate recruiter and agree with the gist of this article. However – I think that the idea that agency recruiters are the only recruiters that have any skills at finding rare talent is a little off. Certainly there are many corporate recruiters that only follow the script outlined in the article, but there are a growing number of us who possess all of these skills. When you combine all of the traits/skills listed in the article – when you have a recruiter that really gets the space, works intimately with the hiring managers, understands the group and the role and knows exactly where to look for the candidates and exactly what to look for, and then knows exactly what to say to engage interest, and has the authority and influence to navigate/negotiate the corporate hierarchy – you get a true business partnership which is very rewarding for all involved – recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates. Many corporate recruiters have a long way to go, but the function is evolving. The core skill sets described in this article can just as easily be possessed by corporate recruiters as agency recruiters – the real differentiator is passion for what you do.

  4. @Laura Gardner – “The idea that agency recruiters are the only recruiters that have the skills at finding rare talent is a little off”

    I couldn’t agree more. I call out to TPR’s (and will give a TPR a job order when marketed to, when I have a challenging position to fill (ie: Big4 CPA w/ 3-5 yrs exp) and there are very few who actually know what I’m talking about when it comes down to skill set, audit exp, technical skills needed and what it will take to impress my hiring manager.

    In actuality, VERY FEW have a “developed referral network and attraction strategy to draw in the good people and then connect those people to hiring managers as directly as they can.

    After taking my job order, MOST I never hear from again… The rest throw paper at me.

    I would bet the reality is there are more Corporate Recruiters actually doing what this article suggests then TPR’s are doing. My experience with the majority of the agency recruiters (18 – 20 incoming marketing calls per day come thru my office) is a 23 year old recent college grad dialing for dollars.

    The number of agency recruiters who can really help me when the need arises are actually very, very few.

    Articles like this only provide a place for TPR’s to pound their chest in the comment section.

  5. Recruiting, Building relationships at the end of the day is crucial to the growth of the company. It is the track rate at which the applicant is being considered which makes the right hiring decisions for the company.

    Recruitment softwares like an ATS from TargetRecruit ensures that the company gets the best ROI from the talent.It helps in prescreening and populating the candidates in various sections which leaves the recruiters only with the best talent whom they can consider for in the hiring process.

    In the end, Recruiting is about finding the best Talent, where you get it from also matters for which we can be of help.

  6. While this article is an interesting read based on some observations… There are some areas of the article that are general assumptions not realistic to everyone in either the agency role and the Corporate role.
    If a recruiter is a true recruiter, someone who does not rely on the corporate brand to bring talent to them and has to source for the majoarity of the talent they identify and present to the hiring managers; they can operate in any environment where they have an expertise in a given industry.
    Building networks is key to a successful recruiter whether it is a corporate recruiter or an agency recruiter. When that network is depleted or no longer producing the talent needed, that recruiter is obsolete.
    One has to be ever evolving to maintain success as a recruiter. Understanding technology, utilizing it appropriately, looking for the next big tool before everyone else, mastering that tool, adjust to market conditions, sellling/influencing both the client and candidate, and always looking to add value and maintaining credibility. That is the ideal recruiter and could operate in both the corporate and agency environments!

  7. The article isn’t about whether TPRs or Corporate Recruiters are better. It’s about new skills they should be using. It’s on point in that regard.

    I would add that it’s as important to have the courage and organizational support to not get caught up in paper-pushing and administrivia. No recruiter wants to do it, but hiring managers have long too easily been able to point out these as reasons why a recruiter isn’t effective or supporting them the way they’d like.

    These new skills have to be the accepted way of doing business or the old habits will reappear quickly.

  8. Thanks for all the input; each of you have shared a bit of wisdom. After 30+ yrs in the industry and having enjoyed successful relationships with clients, I can with experience tell you that to be a good/great recruiter takes many things but bottom line it takes results. Recruiting tools have changed over the years and it’s necessary to keep up or get lost in the shuffle; and it’s even more important to stay on top of your niche and be the expert. We can’t be all things to any one company especially if you are a solo TPR, but can be successful pursuing a niche and knowing who’s who and the companies that seek such talent.
    One thing most new recruiters don’t know or understand is that recruiting not only requires that you are good at client relations, but good at sourcing, coaching candidates, closing the sale on both sides – its a sales position and we are in the position to influence both the client and the candidate.
    I can also sympathize with Stephen regarding TPR’s as I’ve worked with many of them on split networks and when I’m sent resumes that don’t fit by many of my trading partners I wonder how they do with their clients.
    Building relationships, knowing your niche, developing good negotiating skills, being “on target” with clients and coaching candidates along with keeping up with the tools can be challenging, but very rewarding in the end. It takes time and does not come over night. Happy recruiting!

  9. @Kevin: Thank you for your article. As usual, I agree with some points and not others.

    As I have stated before, recruiting activities which aren’t worth paying someone $100k or more/yr inside the company (or on contract) or 30% of the annual salary (outside the company) like to do (such as #2 and 4) should be no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated, or outsourced (sent away) at a cost of $11/hr or less. This includes most of #1- Finding rare talent. If you can’t find it with an excellent phone/internet sourcer for $11/hr, pay someone like Maureen, Shally, Irina, or Glenn to find it for you.

    I disagree with you re: Skill #3: They understand technology. Instead of having overly-complicated non-intuitive ATSs sold by salespeople to sr. execs who don’t have to use them, ATSs (and hiring procedures) should be designed around the people who actually do the recruiting work. Rule of thumb:
    If it takes more than about half an hour for a person of average intelligence and ability to learn how to use your ATS (or understand your hiring procedures), it’s too damn complicated. (This is also known as the “Tiffany Test”.)

    Finally, one skill that was not mentioned is that of Recruiting Project Manager: A person who acts as an onsite liaison between the client (which can be internal) and the outsourced recruiting resources.

    Once again, thank you again for a stimulating article.



  10. As in the past, reading Kevin Wheeler’s articles are always interesting and this one is no exception. However, I was taken by surprise that he outlined the fours skills necessary for the corporate recruiter to survive. What have they been doing all these years? I always thought that those four skills for the past decade were fundamental to the process regardless of being an agency or corporate recruiter, apparently not. If what Wheeler implies were true, then filling their ranks from the agency side would enhance their recruiting efforts strategically.

  11. Nice breakdown, Kevin! I really like how each of your points have overlapping themes that all relate to each other in some way. This translates to a couple things for me: get technical or get out, and use technology to enhance every aspect of finding rare talent (point #1) through job boards and social media/networking sites. Instead of just posting and hoping for the best, recruiters should tie in all of your points by using technology to track the success of their recruiting efforts. With real-time metrics recruiters can more efficiently allocate their efforts based on what works where. In terms of relationship building, I think it’s especially important for recruiters to implant the allure of the brand and position in the minds of candidates in an effort to keep them coming back even if they can’t apply now or didn’t get the job the first time. I recently talked about this approach at http://bit.ly/cAtZyM.



  12. Mr. Dolinich is “mostly” right about the 23 year olds with great computer skills and who are “linked” to so many others. But who do they really KNOW? Listen:Somebody is taking those 18 marketing phone calls per day, and job orders are being given by HR “when marketed to” and some of that paper sometimes sticks and an invoice sent. If that was not happening, then big shops would not be hiring these kids by the truckload. I think I’ll just wait until you call me for recruiting help. I refuse to be marketing caller #19.

  13. Not surpisingly there are trade offs between agency and corporate.Having done both I know. The transactional nature of the TPR means they need a niche to build relationships in their field. While the corporate must develop the HM’s learning curve to what exists outside the organizationn and report back. Both can learn skills from each other.

  14. Since this atricle was focused on the “corporate recruiter” the one thing that was not addressed is the TIME issue. Corporate recruiters, unfortunately do not have the luxury of being able to recruit the time in their roles. They are also required to attend the time wasting meetings, do reports (that are seldom read), and be tuned in to the corporate politics that arise whenever you get more than 3 people with different ideas.

    I think that management believes that corporate recruiters should be technically competent in all areas of the corporation and that is a daunting task. They need to know IT, Engineering, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Safety, etc. etc. – Almost impossible to be equally proficient in all these area. Let alone be able to find and identify that rare talent in all those areas.

    To be successful the corporate recruiter needs to build relationships as stated in #2. But some of those relationships should also include the TPR who specializes in the area(s) where the corporate recruiters proficiency is lacking. To address Stephen’s comment – he is not developing a relationship if he is taking the marketing calls and giving in to the 18-20 instead of working with the “very very few” that can actually perform for him.

    Jim “just my $0.02” Sullivan

  15. Kevin,
    nice job getting people to get engaged in the topic. Bottom line is that recruiters need to be creative, tenacious and customer focused to both the job seeker and the hiring manager!
    Randi Casey, Director Talent Acquisition, PSEG, NJ

  16. @Stephen Dolinich Thanks for the kudos and – I did say IF.

    And no I don’t believe you have the TIME to do that and then train them in your process, your company culture, et al. To get the best from a TPR they need to be knowledgeable about you, your company, the industry, the function of the position within your structure, etc. etc. But of course you know that which is why you (and most of the best corp HR out there have developed relationships with the best in their fields.

  17. I was happy to read this comment from Bobby Davis: “One thing most new recruiters don’t know or understand is that recruiting not only requires that you are good at client relations, but good at sourcing, coaching candidates, closing the sale on both sides – its a sales position and we are in the position to influence both the client and the candidate.” Having been in the business for over 20 years, I know that the skills to succeed as a TPR are numerous and far outnumber being able to find “talent” by knowing how to network online or browse candidate databases on job boards and present resumes to your hiring authority. So much of the “recruiting” literature or tips I read has so little to do with my idea of real “recruiting” which is what I still define as finding the talent my client wants/needs and recruiting it from a position where it is happily working. Most of those candidates come from research and cold calls and many have never even seen a job board. They don’t know their current situation is lacking anything and need to be sold on the opportunity… and often the client needs to be sold on why they should hire this particular candidate, or that they even need the help. And yes, so much of this job is SALES on both sides. We make it happen, and when it works, it’s a blast!

    I guess this article just provided another place for a former TPR to beat her chest in the comment section like Stephen Dolinich predicted… lol

Leave a Comment

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