Good vs. Great: All Recruiters are Not Created Equal

What makes a good recruiter?  It’s not difficult to find a list of characteristics to answer that broad question.  Admittedly, I read many of those articles when I was preparing to interview as an Executive Recruiter.  They all rattle off the same qualities of being an attentive listener, target-driven, and an expert communicator.  Every salesperson has these qualities and salespeople are dime a dozen.  There is more to successful recruiting than negotiation skills, self-confidence, and the ability to multitask.  So, what separates the great from the rest?

The answers seem obvious, but recruiting is competitive.  It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now.  Good recruiters blindly reach out and pitch jobs to qualified candidates.  It’s a short-term perspective: sign the client, make the placement, and get out. On the flipside, great recruiters recognize the existing stigma that surrounds headhunters and decide to operate differently than the majority of their counterparts. By shifting focus to relationship building, great recruiters gain long-term focus and can develop lifelong partnerships starting with an introduction.  This isn’t the time to pitch a job, ask for a CV, or get compensation details.  The conversation should revolve around developing mutual rapport and cultivating trust.  Trust isn’t built in a single interaction!  It takes an investment of time.  It’s unique when a recruiter approaches someone with the intent of conversation rather than selling.  Encouragement and support are key components to a successful, mutually beneficial partnership.

You’ve established some camaraderie, so what now?  The partnership that you’ve created needs maintenance, and it comes from one place: communication. Communication can mean a few different things.  Obviously, you can reach out and discuss career opportunities since you probably have an idea of the candidate’s interests.  Another way to keep the conversation going is to adopt a consultative role.  Many times people want to know how to move into leadership from their current role.  Don’t be afraid to provide coaching and guidance.  Sometimes you have to steer someone away from a career decision because it doesn’t make sense for their long-term goals.  This means you have to do the best for others despite any personal impact.  There is no quicker way to lose hard-earned trust than to put your needs before those you are serving.  Remember, leave no loose ends and always be candid.

Recruiters navigate challenging and trying situations every day.  Timelines and circumstances change.  Conflicts of interest arise.  We deliver disappointing information frequently.  How do you handle being the bearer of bad news?  When these less-than-palatable situations arise, it’s important to empathize, be transparent, and be human.  You’ve worked hard to establish trust and develop an actual relationship so share a time when you’ve experienced a negative situation.  Conversely, we get to deliver life changing news!  We guide our candidates through life-changing and family-impacting employment decisions.  We counsel them in the midst of uncertainty and help them manage change.  What a responsibility!  It’s important that genuineness, vulnerability, and honesty serve as the foundation of our guidance.  We can connive and influence an outcome that is in our best interest. Or we provide recommendations that result in a “win-win” for all parties involved.  Be authentic. Be human. Be supportive. Be trustworthy. And, as a result – be successful.

Nothing I read prepared me for the hardest lesson in recruiting: people don’t like headhunters.  Whether I was speaking to candidates or clients, it was obvious they had been burned by a recruiter in the past.  It became evident that my listening and communication skills weren’t going to cut it.  Great recruiters have a long-term perspective on relationship building and strive to foster integrity, honesty, and authenticity in all of their daily interactions.


Great read and well said!

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