What it takes to be a great recruiter in today's highly competitive world
Over the past 30 years, I've worked with thousands of managers,
executives, and recruiters. While many things have changed involving
recruiting over these years, a few things have stayed the same.
Here's my short list of the best things I've learned about
recruiting, sourcing, and hiring top talent that seem as true today
as they did when I first started as a recruiter.
To hire a great person, you need a great job, a great
company, or a great manager. If you have two of these,
you're pretty much guaranteed to consistently hire the best talent
without much effort.
It's never about the money. As long as your
compensation is competitive, all you need to attract a great
person is a great job that offers some stretch, short-term growth,
and long-term opportunity. Of course, you need someone to
personally make the case that it's about the opportunity, not the
money. Usually, this is a recruiter, but hiring managers or senior
executives can do this, too.
It most cases, it takes a great recruiter to recruit
great talent. This is especially true if it's not obvious
you have a great job or a great company or a great manager, or if
there's some core problem with the job. These are things like
relocation, excessive competition, marginal compensation, or a bad
Top people won't work with unprofessional
recruiters. By "work" I mean take their advice and
counsel and refer other top performers. An unprofessional
recruiter is someone who doesn't know the job they're
representing, doesn't personally know the hiring manager, and
doesn't have deep industry knowledge (e.g., compensation trends,
competition, business conditions). You need to be a professional
recruiter to overcome objections, have a constant source of
high-quality, referred passive candidates, and to negotiate and
close offers based on growth and opportunity instead of
Make the candidate earn the job. Recruiting isn't selling.
It's a process of using the interview and screening process to
understand the candidate's motivating needs and to find gaps and
voids in the candidate's background that your job fulfills. Done
properly, the candidate will attempt to convince you why he or
she is qualified. Here's
an article that describes how to create this opportunity gap.
Good recruiting is getting the candidate to sell you, not you selling the
candidate. This is not too difficult if you understand real job
needs and can position your opportunity as offering more
stretch, challenge, and growth.
Consumer-based advertising works. Good people
who are fully-employed in reasonable jobs sometimes get
frustrated, de-motivated, or itchy for something new. Under these
times, they'll begin to look for a new job casually, selectively,
and cautiously. This starts by first networking with friends and
associates, then with former associates. Sometimes they'll look
online, first at Google, then at some specialty or niche sites,
and then at the career sites of a few well-known companies.
Well-positioned and compelling advertising that can be found by
people looking this way can snare a few top performers.
Advertising that can't be found that's boring and filled with
disqualifiers is a waste of money. You can't use Wal-Mart
advertising techniques to source Tiffany customers.
Don't make cold calls, especially to unqualified
candidates. If you're recruiting passive candidates, 75%
of your calls must be to highly-qualified people who have been
personally referred to you. Not only will they call you back, but
you also know they're qualified. This alone will increase your
productivity by more than 100%. Then you need to always get 2-3
highly qualified referrals from each of these people to develop a
deep and growing network of talent. Networking and getting
referrals is the key to successfully finding top-quality passive
candidates. Cold calling random names should be limited to 25% of
your direct sourcing efforts.
Don't take no for an answer. Good candidates,
even those who apply to ads, start asking questions as soon as the
recruiter calls. Based on what they hear, they make quick "no"
decisions based on superficial information like compensation,
location, title, and company. Recruiters need to overcome these
easy dismissals with strong rebuttals and disarming techniques.
The key here is to persist and not take no for an answer until the
candidate has enough information to make an accurate no or yes
decision. Even better: Only ask yes questions like "would you be
open to discuss a new situation for a few minutes if the long-term
opportunity was superior to anything you're now considering?"
Maintain applicant control. From this moment
forward, you need to banish the excuse "the candidate wasn't
interested in pursuing the opportunity" from your permitted
reasons for losing a person. Recruiters should be determining if
they're interested in the candidate, not the other way around.
This is the essence of applicant control.
To pull it off, you must be confident, understand real job needs,
quickly demonstrate your market and recruiting expertise, ask only
yes questions, don't take no for an answer, and have rebuttals for
every question the candidate asks.
Quickly re-position the job as an opportunity move,
not one based on compensation. As part of the applicant
control process, you'll need to suggest during the opening call
that the decision to investigate your job opening should be based
more on the short-term stretch and the long-growth opportunity,
rather than the compensation. Quickly go on to say that as long as
the compensation is competitive, faster growth will lead to
dramatic future increases in compensation. This is how you excite
top people with multiple opportunities to seriously evaluate what
you have to offer. Of course, you'll need to deliver on the
promise if you ultimately expect to hire these people.
Stop using traditional job descriptions for recruiting
and sourcing. There is too much subjectivity in the
selection process when managers and interviewers assess a
candidate on something other than competency and motivation to
perform the real job. The root cause of this problem is the lack
of understanding of the real job. The real job is what the person
needs to accomplish to be considered successful. When everyone
involved in the hiring decision (managers, interviewing team
members, recruiters, and candidates) understands real job needs,
fewer candidates are seen, more offers are accepted, and fewer
hiring mistakes are made. Recruiters must get hiring managers to
stop relying on traditional skills-based job descriptions to
screen, source, and assess candidates and get them to focus on
what the person must do to be successful.
Seek constant improvement by tracking your
performance. For 20 years as a full-time recruiter, three
sendouts per hire was my target for unique positions. Since I was
always fee-based and provided a long guarantee, candidate quality
had to be high. Over the years, I had to change my recruiting and
sourcing techniques to maintain this target in the face of greater
competition, in-house recruiters, more online tools, and tougher
assignments. The lesson learned: To get better, select a
performance target that puts you in the top 10-15% of all
recruiters. Then, break this down into sub-targets like phone
calls made per month, ad response rates, job board performance,
number of referrals per call, and interviews scheduled per month.
Start improving and tracking these until you achieve your
hires-per-month goal. To maintain this target, track your activity
per week and immediately jump on anything that's headed south. For
example, if you notice an increase in sendouts-per-hire or a
decline in response to an ad that historically worked well, figure
out the cause and make the necessary changes. Monitoring your
performance this way forces you to stay current. If you're not
aggressively improving your recruiting skills in a world of
increasing change, you're paving a sure-fire road to
Some things change and some things don't. Knowing the difference
is the key to keeping your edge as a world-class recruiter. While
nothing stated above is a new idea or is earth-shaking, collectively
they do represent what it takes to be a great recruiter in today's
highly competitive world where the demand for talent greatly exceeds
the supply. I don't suspect that 10 or 20 years from now this list
will be any different. However, I can guarantee how recruiters
accomplish these tasks will change. That's why implementing a
program of continuous improvement is so important.