Recruiting is a strange profession. It’s one of those jobs that you “fall into” but rarely ever think about doing when you are a student. In fact, in an informal survey I took recently of nine corporate recruiters, one had been an actress prior to starting as a recruiter, three had been business people with degrees in finance or management, two had been engineers, one had been a teacher, one had been a small business owner, and one had been a consultant for a major consultancy. Not even one of them had begun their career as a recruiter.
As far as I know, no university offers a degree in recruiting — the closest thing is a degree in human resources. No one gets tested, certified, or licensed to be a recruiter. In short, it’s a professional almost anyone can get into, but few can do well. Those who do excel combine a love for the hunt with keen interpersonal skills, good salesmanship, and an ability to use technology well. Recruiters a decade or so ago often acted as a pair of extra hands for a hiring manager. They placed ads in newspapers, screened incoming resumes, and even conducted most interviews. The work they did was largely administrative. They tried to act as if they were human applicant tracking systems, but didn’t always really understand the jobs well enough to make good judgments. Their existence was based on an assumption that plenty of qualified applicants would send in resumes, and when this didn’t happen, they turned to outside agencies or posted everything on job boards in the hope that someone would be there. They had little to no skill in sourcing or in helping the hiring manager think strategically about the position. They really couldn’t help the manager define competencies for a position or where people who had them could be found.
Today’s competitive marketplace, scarcer talent pool, and global marketplace have changed what it takes to be a successful recruiter. Recruiters today are strategic players in keeping their organizations competitive by finding the best possible talent. Here are the five most critical of these new skills:
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- Relationship builder. Most important and on top of the pyramid of skills is the ability to find great people and build relationships with them. 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 that might be useful to their firms. They need to utilize 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 employees who can tell them. They assess why those people are the best and then try to find more with the same skills.
- Labor marketplace guru. The competent recruiter is able to explain the labor market to the hiring manager. She can quantify the supply of talent for a particular job in her area and how difficult it will be to find and close on candidates. She knows the internal employee skill base and whether there are current employees who can meet the managers’ needs. This knowledge has to be data-driven and can only be collected by vast reading, lots of discussion, the intelligent use of surveys and other data tools, and by being aware. As a part of this, the recruiter also has to know how the market for the product or service the company they work for is moving. Are competitors laying people off? This might open a fresh source of trained candidates for their firm. Is the market they are in growing, shrinking, or flat? This kind of information, combined with the ability to build relationships, can make an ineffective recruiting function very powerful. The market knowledge allows them to focus their relationship building on the candidates who are scare and valuable and to spend less time on the commonly available candidates.
- Recruiting and communication technology maven. Technology already dominates recruiting. Applicant tracking systems, HRMS systems, email, job boards, the Internet, and recruiting websites are all part of the technology equation. If the recruiter is not technically agile and informed, she cannot be successful in the long run. Every day decisions have to be made about technology or because of technology. Only those who can understand it can make it work for them or for their firm. And, by wisely choosing and using technology, these recruiters gain an edge over everyone who doesn’t. Recruiters need to experiment, try using tools outside their comfort zone, and challenge their own ideas and beliefs about technology and recruiting. Most recruiting will have (already has) a technology base which will continue to grow.
- Businessperson. Competent recruiters use metrics to put together business arguments for solutions they suggest, for programs they want to initiate, or for the systems they want to buy. They have a core set of metrics that show how they have added value, raised quality, improved profits, or saved money. Ideally they show where programs should be expanded and where they should be shrunk or ended. They use data and make quantitative arguments for new projects and investments.
- Salesperson. They also need to be good at selling candidates and hiring managers. They need to anticipate objections and they need to understand how to overcome them or turn them into positives. They need to offer solutions, work out compromises, negotiate, and in the end, make the hire happen.
By putting these five skills together, the recruiter is able to act as a strategic advisor to management about talent rather than an extra pair of hands. This is what makes recruiting today so appealing and exciting.