Attributes of Good Recruiters

by Rick Deare on May 9, 2010

This is a revised and updated version of a post I published on a popular recruiting blog in March 2008.  It’s still a work in progress and I’m planning to expand on it in the future.  I’m interested in your comments and suggestions.  Let me know what you think should be added, subracted or changed.

In No Particular Order, Good Recruiters Are:

Powerful Question Askers
Good recruiters ask the difficult questions.  They formulate questions that evoke meaningful answers.  They logically intuit follow-up questions to probe deeper and discover information valuable to making an accurate candidate assessment.  With whom did you initially collaborate to facilitate the development of Product X?  Whose counsel did you seek and what resources did you consult in the course of performing your due diligence regarding market viability?  Which product, design or idea most inspired the ideas you had concerning design refinements?  To whom did you first introduce the Product X idea?  Whose approval did you need, or what constituency did you need to develop in order to launch production?  What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced in the original production phase?  Give me a specific example of a challenge you faced head-on in the production phase.  How did you deal with it?  Which relationships were most strained?  How did you resolve or repair the relationship damage?  What ramifications did you face as a result of your decision to go to the CEO directly to discuss the management problems?  What was the outcome?  What would you have done differently?  What was most satisfying about the outcome?  What do you regret most?  Give me an example of a time when you failed to…

Reflective Listeners
Listening for understanding may be the greatest performance differentiator among recruiters.  Good recruiters listen carefully and confirm their understanding of answers, questions and comments.  By listening intently, they are able to intuit logical follow up questions.  They hear, understand and record accurate information without bias.  They draw logical implications and ask new or refined questions in order to clarify and gather deeper information.  Good recruiters also “hear” what is not being said.  They sense gaps.  They hear “between the lines”.  They are able to form an accurate and reliable candidate profile and clearly identify concerns needing further investigation.

Strong Communicators
Most communication with hiring managers and candidates happens by telephone and email.  Good recruiters speak clearly, fluidly and logically.  They write with good grammar, syntax and spelling.  An engaging and confident communication style inspires greater trust and confidence from hiring managers and candidates and helps keep all parts moving during the recruiting, selection and hiring process.

Enthusiasm begins with whole-heartedly adopting the company business, mission, culture and competitive strategy.  Good recruiters are adoptive believers and enthusiastic representatives of their company.  They are passionate and provocative envoys to marketplace talent.  As a valuable employment branding asset, enthusiastic recruiters can positively influence thousands of people over time.     

The Merriam-Webster definition of “evangelist” (Definition #3) is “an enthusiastic advocate”.  Any recruiter can post ads, key punch data, send email, screen against selection criteria, meet process requirements and move resumes.  Good recruiters are active multi-forum evangelists for the company they represent.  They embody the employment brand and add value as a primary point of connection to current applicants, candidates and prospective future employees.

Good communication skills are sometimes confused with the ability to persuade.  The ability to communicate doesn’t directly translate to the ability to “move” another person in conversation.  Good recruiters are active, enthusiastic evangelists capable of compelling and inspiring candidates.  They facilitate action with words. 

Terse, closed-minded curmudgeons don’t belong in corporate cubes with recruiter titles.  They may appear to be OK with the few candidates who directly hit the mark, but consider the damage they can do to the image of your company over time.  Not to mention the havoc they can wreak with hiring managers.  Good recruiters are personable and likable.  They’re open, friendly, inviting, communicative, polite, and professional.  Good recruiters build relationships and good will inside and outside the company.

Perspective is a critical aspect of communication with candidates.  Recruiters who are able to see and feel from the candidate’s and hiring manager’s perspective are going to be more successful than those who aren’t.  Empathy can be both an innate gift and a conscious discipline.  Good recruiters empathize as a matter of best practice behavior.  They develop meaningful dialogue and trust with everyone involved in the process.  They are better at bringing people together and creating win-win results because they understand each point of view.  Empathy is one of the characteristics of good recruiters that make them great organization builders.

Avid Networkers
Good recruiters are connectors and builders of professional networks.  Initiating acquaintances, making friends, building talent pipelines and constituencies, and creating person-to-person contact infrastructure are the natural inclinations of a first rate recruiter.  They join professional associations and maintain regular involvement.  They consistently connect with relevant people via social networks and exploit the vast web-based networking channels.  Good recruiters build networks that result in the discovery of “hidden talent” and passive candidates.

Relationship Managers
Good recruiters establish effective working relationships with both hiring managers and candidates.  Creating strong working relationships involves understanding needs, grasping values and selection criteria, managing expectations, following up, maintaining open communication and delivering results on a timely basis.  Good recruiters earn the trust of hiring managers and candidates by being thorough, diligent, accurate, valuable, direct, honest, persistent, and timely.   

Good recruiters are quickly and accurately responsive to the needs of hiring managers and candidates meeting selection criteria.  They recognize urgency and respond appropriately.  Good recruiters are priority focused and service oriented.  They make the extra effort to meet urgency with a productive response; even when it’s inconvenient.

Fast and Accurate
Modern recruiting is about speed AND accuracy.  One without the other is no good.  It’s not easy to be both.  Good recruiters are both.  We’re not going to head down the time-to-fill path here because that would evoke questions related to how speed is measured.  The point here is that good recruiters are working as quickly as possible to acquire the right talent before the competition does.  Good recruiters figure out how to work within an optimal range of speed and accuracy.

Under any economic/employment scenario, top talent is scarce.  Acquiring top talent is a competitive venture.  Good recruiters deploy their knowledge, skill, attitude, personality, communication and speed of process to woo and hire right-fit candidates before the competition does.  Their strong sense of urgency and timeliness creates a competitive advantage for their company.  

Smart, Creative, and Quick Thinking
Good recruiters are smart people with the ability to think creatively on the fly.  Recruiters are frequently hit with challenging questions and must be able to respond intelligently in real time.  Good recruiters continually build their professional knowledge banks and study their profession.  They learn from situations and develop intuitive capabilities that help them quickly, accurately and professionally answer situational challenges.

Sourcing Experts
Many corporate recruiters don’t have time to dedicate to effective sourcing.  But, good recruiters should be experts in sourcing with full knowledgeable of and competence with effective sourcing methods.  If they don’t have the time themselves, corporate recruiters should enlist internal or external sourcing support.  Rather than dive right into the experimental flavor-of-the-day sourcing trends, good recruiters architect a complete sourcing strategy and direct the sourcing effort.  They leverage the most effective tools to maximize candidate quality and quantity. 

Computer Literate and Tech Savvy
Proficiency with the Microsoft Office suite of tools including Outlook, Word and Excel are basics needed in nearly every recruiting environment.  Document creation, email maintenance, communications management, and other basic functional computer skills are proficiencies every good recruiter will have.  It may seem trite to mention but fast keyboarding skills are essential.  Good recruiters have the ability to have a phone conversation through a headset while typing at the speed of talk.  Adapting to new Applicant Tracking Systems [ATS] and Recruiting Management Systems [RMS] requires fast learning and intuition based on acquired computer skills.  Working with paperless electronic processes and technology based interoperability is a working standard.  Good recruiters make fewer trips to the department printer and leverage technology [process software] to maximize production.

Internet/Social Media Savvy
Good recruiters have always been good at creating and maintaining relevant business networks.  In the so-called Web 2.0 era, a lot of networking activity has moved from happy hours to desktops.  LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are a few of the many social networking sites that have become potential fields to harvest for recruiters.  These have also become significant productivity threats.  Recruiters don’t have time during working hours to fiddle with every new social media application or build their Twitter count.  Good recruiters leverage tools to maximize their own productivity.  They know how to use the tools to their greatest advantage without getting sucked into consuming streams of time wasting information, announcements, articles, comments, etc. during working hours. 

Skilled in Recruiting Process
Recruiting is saturated with important but time consuming administrative tasks.  A good recruiter is able to organize their own work pattern and automate redundant tasks in order to maximize efficiency.   Good recruiters understand the workflow and process necessary to drive results through the full recruiting, selection and hiring cycle.  In environments where elements of the process and workflow such as sourcing are assigned to other team specialists, a good recruiter masters the parts of the process they are responsible for while developing a seamless, collaborative effort with others involved.  Good recruiters are always looking for ways to maximize speed and efficiency by refining or changes processes and creating more productive working relationships with others.

Schooled in Best Practices
Good recruiters master best practices and have amassed the skills necessary to draw the straightest, least distracted lines to outcomes.  Best practices provide a disciplined [but not rigid] procedural path.  By employing best practice disciplines, a good recruiter doesn’t get caught up in decision making redundancies that involve having to “reinvent the wheel” as circumstances vary.  By maintaining a flexible but disciplined approached based on predetermined best practices, a good recruiter has the advantage of less productivity obstacles, better and faster results and higher satisfaction for those they serve.

Time Managers
Lots of unpredictable things happen in recruiting every day: the urgent call from a hiring manager, the candidate with a last minute question, the meeting called by a business unit.  Time management in a corporate recruiting context doesn’t involve pretending to have control over time.  It is really about priority and task management.  Establishing priorities and consistently working the most important things first is basic “time management” survival.  A recruiter’s work life doesn’t leave a lot of room for idle time.  Good recruiters are disciplined in their work effort.  They use their time wisely and keep focused on the tasks needing to be completed. 

Data Managers
Data handling is one of the leading causes of time pressure for recruiters.  Any discussion regarding efficiency has to include the handling of enormous piles of information hitting the recruiter’s desktop.  Good recruiters quickly discern important information from time consuming trivia.  Important = prioritize for action.  Trivial = delete.  Good recruiters know how and when to use the delete button, how to unsubscribe from unproductive information channels and how to gain control of information flow.

Strategic Assets
As broader strategic assets to the business units they serve and the human resources/recruiting leadership they report to, good recruiters are valuable advisors.  They provide clear front-line information and contribute to making the changes necessary to meet new challenges.  Good recruiters amass broad knowledge within their company and industry.  They are current.  They understand trends.  They transcend a 9-5 functional role and act as true management assets.

Detail Orientated
In a position that requires a constant flow of large amounts of information, a good recruiter maintains focus on the important detail.  It is critical for a recruiter to detect and record information accurately.  They understand the information and process it accurately with the detail required.

Memory advantaged
A super-strength memory of candidate names, circumstances and finer details can make for better communication, better candidate relationships, less mistakes and a better overall process.  Good recruiters seem to have the advantage of a good memory.  Maybe it’s really that they ask better questions, listen intently, are genuinely interested in what they learn and retain it.  Either way, information retention is a clear advantage.  Information overload is the enemy of total recall.  In the information age, it may be that good data collection, maintenance and storage of information is the only reliable “memory”.   

High Energy
High energy translates to strength of continued effort.  Demands, deadlines, obstacles, heavy task loads, twists, turns and changes place a high demand on the energy of a recruiter.  Positive attitude and strong self-motivation fuel high energy.  High energy work efforts produce consistent results because they afford less time to complaint tailspins and break-fix despondence.  Good recruiters meet requirements in stride and consistently dedicate their full energy to producing strong results against challenging circumstances. 

Good recruiters are, generally speaking, strong individuals with a positive outlook.  They meet challenges head on.  They overcome difficult obstacles.  They play to win positive outcomes.  They wake up the next morning ready to do more.  A strong positive attitude is at the root of energy, friendliness, confidence and success drive.  The recruiter with a penchant for “water cooler” complaint outbursts is not likely to make it very far.

Adaptable, Flexible and Change Minded
Recruiters are involved with a function of an organization likely to experience constant, rapid changes.  Hiring demands surge.  Hiring freezes follow.  This business unit is priority today.  That business unit takes priority tomorrow.  A rigid, inflexible recruiter with resistance to change is simply not qualified to be a recruiter.  Change happens hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly.  Change always happens.  Good recruiters accept this and excel in rapidly changing conditions.  They embrace change and meet challenges head-on.

Students of Business and Economic Conditions
Before all else a recruiter needs to have a complete and sophisticated understanding of the business they’re recruiting for.  Good recruiters also understand competitive business models and the differentiators that will appeal to candidates.  Knowledge of general economic conditions and trends contribute to helping candidates asses industry and company choices.  A good recruiter is genuinely interest in the industry domain they’re involved with and the key competitive companies in the space.  They can pick up on changing conditions as well as strengths and weaknesses of other companies in the industry that may affect candidate choices.

Continual Learners
Good recruiters keep informed of company product and service introductions, global business initiatives and growth strategies.  They read relevant trade journals and keep in step with industry news and trends.  Good recruiters invest themselves in their own professional learning.  They actively explore new recruiting tools and stay well read on sourcing, recruiting and hiring.


There is little disagreement among executives in America’s top organizations that talent is the “killer app” of future success and competitive standing.  Talent in any given field is finite, scarce, and in constant high demand despite economic conditions.  Talent is unlikely to be “interested and available”.  Talent is usually employed, performing well and has no reason to consider making a change.  Talent is difficult and expensive to acquire. 


Talent eludes most corporate recruiting efforts because there aren’t established means for recruiters to interface with marketplace talent outside of the job board/career site (“act now or the opportunity is gone”) job posting based staffing system.  They’re out there, and they’re likely to stay out there until they’re identified and compelled to make a change.  That is, unless they jump out to explore career options.




Best Possible Talent VS. Best Available Applicants


Talent Pipeline Development (TPD) refers to the collective efforts and assets associated with proactively identifying, attracting, compelling and hiring marketplace talent.  Organizations vested in TPD have made a strategic decision to recruit and hire the best possible talent from the universal talent pool.  This stands in contrast to settling for the best available applicants, the majority of whom are obtained through job postings. 


Any existing “talent pool” refers to the talent “out there” in the full collective sense, not by “who” shows up (job posting respondents).  TPD reaches out there to “hidden” talent- those not responding to job postings, not visiting cleverly crafted career sites and not intending to make a change any time soon.


Note: As I continue to touch conceptually on the TPD topic, I want to make it clear that the best possible talent and the best available applicant can be the same individual.  There is no reason whatsoever why an individual considered part of a targeted talent collective couldn’t or wouldn’t be an active job seeker.  In some cases an organization (Google as one example) has such a powerful business or employer brand, that a significant part of the related talent pool will actively seek employment with that organization.  With an understanding that there are plenty of exceptions, the broader rule we work with in recruiting is that the great majority of true talent (as defined in Part 2) is “hidden” and unlikely to be reached by an organization’s power of attraction or by posting jobs.


“Staffing” AND Recruiting


In Human Resources terms, most corporate recruiting departments are viewed strictly as corporate staffing functions.  The objective of staffing is to support the business by filling critical job openings.  In most organizations HR manages the staffing function and is expected to maintain a high level of service to the business while exercising control of the time and cost expended to fill those jobs.


Corporate recruiters carry the front-line responsibility of executing on staffing requirements.  Most are so busy handling job board/career site driven applicants and facilitating cumbersome process that the thought of deep core mining of non job board sourcing/recruiting channels is almost inconceivable. 


In attempt to break out of the confines of the job posting driven staffing cycle, many companies have hired recruiters (often referred to as “sourcers” or “sourcing specialists”) to focus on proactive talent search.  The reality is that many sourcing specialists end up playing a support role limited to reviewing mounds of resumes and screening job posting respondents. 


Every organization needs both an efficient staffing and recruiting capability.  It’s critical to staff job openings with qualified candidates (applicants) AND find, attract, compel and hire top industry talent. Staffing should be working with who “shows up”, and get those reqs filled. Recruiting should be focused on attracting and compelling who’s out there and have a direct influence on who “shows up”.


A Dedicated Talent Pipeline Development Effort


A different model is needed to break out of the job posting based staffing system.  A long range talent acquisition strategy dependent on job board/career site posting and resume searches is going to have a disastrous effect on the future talent base of any organization.  Job postings simply cannot net the needed number of talent hires required to accomplish growth initiatives.  Developing and exploiting effective sourcing channels for reaching “hidden” talent will be critical to success.


In contrast to the traditional staffing function, TPD represents a way to execute a powerful talent market based recruiting effort.  TPD reaches talent where they are with more options than “act now” on “this job”.  TPD recognizes that the total core of talent can’t be hired today, but it can be identified, talked to, attracted and compelled.  Talent can be looped in and hired tomorrow.


A talent pipeline development initiative tends to fall outside traditional thinking with regard to staffing constructs and cost models.  Implementing a TPD effort involves more than redeploying recruiters and resources.  In most cases, it requires a significant investment involving the addition of specialized recruiters, systems, processes and tools.  Because TPD involves a longer recruiting cycle, the return-on-investment is delayed.  The objectives of TPD and staffing are essentially the same, but executed differently.  Ultimately, TPD is intended to be a significant contributor to both time and cost control; with the added benefit of creating an easily accessed, just-in-time inventory of the best in the business.


Refer back to Part 2 for a look at some of what needs to be considered to launch a TPD initiative.


When is the best time to create a talent pipeline?



“Right now”, “Yesterday”, “Last year”, “A decade ago.”  All are probably good answers to the “when” question.  Wrong answers may include: “When the economy picks up”, “When our hiring freezes thaw”, “When our pool of job-seeker applicants diminishes”. 


Even in a weakening economy, HR managers and business leaders report that finding top talent is a grave concern.  Increasing unemployment is contributing to an even greater deluge of resumes into the ATS and onto recruiter desktops.  Certainly, some talent surfaces in the masses of applicants, but the percentages aren’t there and the dramatic increase in job applicants isn’t helping the building of the talent base in most organizations.  More applicants and resumes (many more of the wrong applicants and resumes) create an immense workload for recruiters and constrict the effort to acquire top talent.


Another reason now is the right time to establish a talent pipeline generation effort is that some recruiters on staff may have some recruiting “downtime” right now.  In the face of downsizing or hiring freezes, now is the time to begin the process of creating a stream of top talent for future needs.  Now is the time to begin putting talent inventory on the shelves, stocking for future needs.


 The Future is Talent Pipeline Development


If talent is the basis of organizational performance then companies that implement and maintain a world-class TPD capability will win the competition for talent as the talent pool diminishes.  Talent pipelining ensures the continuity of excellence, preserves competitive advantage and supports future growth intentions.  Pipelining ensures that top performers replace under-performers.  TPD ensures the emergence of a talent powered organization. 


In the past, for one reason or another, most organizations haven’t invested in discovering and creating relationships with the talent base extant in their own domains.  Maybe the complexity of setting up such a capability seemed insurmountable, or maybe the perceived costs seemed unbearable.  Maybe the concept of recruiting as a courtship endeavor was just too weird. 


A lot has changed.  Executives in top organizations are familiar with many highly publicized success stories of proactive talent acquisition.  They believe talent is the competitive differentiator and the basis of growth outcomes.  They see that there is a difference between best possible talent and best qualified applicant.  They understand that talent needs to be courted.


The proliferation of web-based technologies and tools has made it possible and less costly for internal recruiters to identify and communicate with “hidden” talent.  Establishing a TPD capability isn’t easy, but with the model, the right people, the right systems, processes, technologies and tools, it’s quite doable.  Once implemented, a TPD capability is a powerful recruiting platform that can have a tremendous long term impact on the development of a talent-based organization.


Over time, TPD aligns Human Resources more closely to business leadership and brings highly visible value to the business.  The future heroes in the human resources and talent acquisition profession will be the courageous proponents and skillful implementers of TPD.


Note:  This post concludes a 3 part series touching conceptually on the subject of Talent Pipeline Development.  As I mentioned in Part 1, much more than causually written blog postings are needed to fully explore the topic.  Because I believe some of the most skilled and knowledgeable contract recruiters and recruiting consultants will be involved in the implementation and maintenance of TPD capabilities for top companies, I’ll continue to touch on the TPD subject in future postings.


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