Little-Known Ways To Become An Expert Recruiter

Well, I did not expect so many responses on my recent LinkedIn question but I certainly welcome it! The discussion is brewing right now as we speak and I figured I would take the time out to write a slightly-shorter article touching upon some of the core issues and hopefully sharing some tips for both recruiters, since the job seeker side can produce a whole string of advice columns on it’s own. First and foremost, I want all my recruiting friends to understand that I do not think the value of outsourced recruiting is not there but I do feel that there is a lack of professionalism and effectiveness in the field as a whole. I base this powerful statement on my personal experiences as both a job seeker and business owner, and on the experiences of my many clients and colleagues.

Now, for the sake of brevity, I can’t explore every possible angle here. Let me touch upon the assumptions and understandings that we should all have before moving on…

  • There is clearly a lack of honesty both on the behalf of job seekers and recruiters alike.
  • The typical workload for a recruiter these days is easily three to five times more than what it was a decade ago.
  • Recruiters do not have time for small talk so, if you are loquacious, you may find yourself being cut off often.
  • Job seekers that are driven solely by money will often not hesitate to break prioir obligations and jump ship.
  • At least 80% of job seekers embellish or lie on their resume in some manner.
  • Some job seekers are driven by money, others are not.
  • Because of the above items, job seekers and recruiters alike are very jaded and pessimistic, to say the least.
  • Recruiters come in many flavors, though many have dealt with the typical contingency recruiter for the most part.
  • No one is fundamentally evil, recruiters included.
  • Every field has good people and bad people; thus, good recruiters must exist!

For job seekers, the reality is that working with recruiters may not be a worthwhile investment of time if you do not keep your scope very specific, be honest about your abilities, and do as much leg work as possible to make the recruiter’s job easier. Companies love using recruiters because most of the cost can be absorbed by the candidates (they take a percentage of your salary without you even knowing). How payment is handled depends on the arrangement that has been set up but that is definitely the typical deal I’ve seen. As I mentioned in my article about lazy recruiting practice and how it puts job seekers at risk (or at least a major inconvenience), recruiters are, at heart, sales people so it’s all about the numbers to them, the bottomline matters more (typically) than helping people.

If you happen to be one of those recruiters that wants to be helpful and really drive value to both your prospects and clients alike, this article is for you. After all, what job seekers has to do is a lot more simple: represent yourself more accurately, learn how to interview effectively, tailor your resume to the specific opportunities, and be authentic, energetic, and deliberate in all your efforts (in a nutshell). What can you, as a third-party/outsourced recruiter do to really be seen in a good light? I’m glad you asked. Read on…

The #1 reason that recruiters fail is that they are asking all the wrong questions. If they do ask the right questions, they probably lead off with the wrong ones. First impressions still count, even if you feel you are doing others a favaor. That leads me to another major point. Relinquish the notion that you are doing candidates a favor by finding them work because, really, they are keeping you billable. Without quality candidates, there is no recruiting business.

I often use the metaphor of dating when considering building a business relationship. Most recruiters seem to settle for the equivalent one-night stand. They go around having “quickies” with their prospects until they find one that they actually want to play with more but, by then, they may come across the person that doesn’t trust them because of the reputation they built up. This metaphor really works because, all too often, we, as sales people, forget that we are servicing more than our direct customers – it’s not just about our needs. We also forget that a bad reputation can spread around quickly. Just like men are condemned as a whole when a few men run around being promiscuous, a recruiter that doesn’t spend time to actually get to know their prospects makes their entire company or industry look very unappealing.

For dating and recruiting alike to be worthwhile, you have to take a little extra time to get to know people. It’s all in the little things you do over the course of time. Yes, we are well aware that you have quotas, deadlines, and multiple projects at once but that is exactly why it helps when you put in the extra effort: you may not need to look further if you dig deeper and find that the quality people you seek are right under your nose.

Returning to the matter of asking the right questions, I am reminded of a quote from The Matrix. I won’t get into great detail but, if you really liked the films, you’ll remember Morpheus saying something to the extent of this (paraphrasing because I do not feel like looking up the exact quote right now):

Maybe it is not that you are finding the wrong answers but, rather, that you are asking the wrong questions.

Once again, art not only emulates life but it teaches us about life. This fictitious movie teaches a very real lesson. All too often, we get frustrated when we cannot find the answers we seek or, even worse, are lied to yet few of us stop to consider for a moment that maybe, just maybe, we are asking the wrong questions. Recruiters do this all the time.

Just like dating, if you ask the wrong questions, you may turn off your prospects. There are some things you just don’t ask on the first recruit-prospect encounter. Time is of the essence, we know this, so why not ask better questions that are neither intrusive nor too open-ended? There are definitely more bad questions that can be asked than good questions so let’s look at some of the keepers that can be used during initial screening:

  • Why are you looking now?
  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?
  • Describe your perfect job.
  • Describe a time in your career where you felt the most fulfilled.
  • Describe a time in your career where you felt the least fulfilled.
  • What is the single thing you will not negotiate on? What do you consider negotiable?
  • What things in your life make you the most passionate/excited?

Some of these questions are more open-ended than others but at least they are not loaded questions that could possibly come off as some sort of trap or trick to your prospects. You want to show your candidates that you are interested in their career goals. You’ll be surprised how much information you get from these things and, since there is no fear of becoming less attractive as a candidate, there will be more honesty here than on the technical qualifications.

Now for a real break-through thought: getting the match on technical skills should be secondary to “softer match-up’s”. I find, more times than not, that a client will budge on technical requirements but they absolutely will not negotiate on key considerations such as personality fit, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and the like. Technical skills can be learned and, for the right person, can be picked up quickly but you can’t change someone’s core values with training unless you have lots and lots of time to reprogram them. That is why figuring out what drives a candidate and how their principles align with that of your client makes all the difference.

As I alluded to in my sample questions, you really want to find out what a candidate finds negotiable and what they do not. If you can get a prospect to open up about what really excites them in a job, you can find out if you need to go any further with the interviewing process, which saves you and your prospect lots of time. Those driven by money are the first to jump onto a “better” opportunity and burn their bridges, which is one of the big reasons recruiters are frustrated and don’t spend time with anyone that shows potential red-flag qualities.

I’ve found, time and again, that most people find value in things beyond monetary compensation, especially since salaries are not as competitive as they were in the 90’s (at least in some fields, such as Customer Service and Information Technology, both of which are seeing growth trends on the international/overseas outsourcing side of the business). People are driven more by growth potential, company stability, training opportunities, and, most importantly, appreciation. People like to feel like they are needed, secure, and important. That is basic human nature but why is it that so many recruiters lose sight of this? Simple: they get caught-up with sales figures and tactics, all but dismissing the people aspect of their work. Really, customer service skills are critical for any sales effort; as such, determining the real needs of both your clients and prospects will help you make the right matches for everyone.

Empowering your prospects is of the utmost importance. This can be done by combining positive reinforcement, industry insight, active feedback, resume tips, and other techniques. By practicing an open door policy, you can make it easier for prospects to be honest with you and they’ll be more inclined to help you in your search efforts. Ultimately, what you want to do as an effective recruiter is become a success coach, motivator, and advocate all at once. Remember: job seekers usually feel pretty alone in their efforts so they may need a little wooing and inspiration before they can truly open up. You’ll find that these little things can make the business relationship that much more fulfilling for everyone.

I already can see some recruiters out there grinding their teeth. “That is all nice but it takes too much”, you may say. I feel your pain but, when you consider that most candidates seem unqualified, you have to really wonder: are the quality candidates disappearing or am I just not looking the right way? It’s easy to dismiss a prospect because of poor resume formatting, spotty employment, lack of certifications, and other small details but there may be a greater story. Every time I’ve interviewed an opportunity seeker beyond the typical “tech-out” line of questions, I found that there was almost always a good reason for why the candidate had, for lack of a better phrase, bad luck.

I like to look at qualifying process as a way to build up a road map for the prospect. Once you have the beginning and current pieces in place, you can see if the piece you are offering fits in. It’s easy to make assumptions but it may be better to just ask. Some candidates will still lie, others will come forward with the truth. Whether the particular position is a good match for the prospect or not, when you build that strong relationship, you have a source of referrals. All of us could use more leads as business professionals so recruiters should definitely look to build up the image of being helpers rather than users, true facilitators instead of mere conduits.

The most important thing to remember here is that creating a trust relationship takes time. If you show a genuine interest in the success of your prospects, the rest usually falls into place naturally. Rather than jump the gun and make quick assumptions, hear what they have to say and don’t forget the basics. I find that recruiters today cut corners, barely checking the cover letters, references, and other data that is readily-available. These are all things that can be used to identify trends and the most consistent details in your prospect’s background. Again, these things take time but don’t look at it as just placing people but, rather, grooming your best advocates and cultivating referral networks.

On a final note, one of the biggest complaints that recruiters always share with the public is that they are frustrated because applicants lie so much and are generally unreliable. It can be argued either way whether this is the cause or the effect of prior conditions but I can say this much: if recruiters make themselves more approachable and encourage “straight talk”, then their prospects will be more inclined to share how they really feel. This can make everyone’s life much easier.

The big mistake recruiters tend to make is holding onto the notion that being professional means being stuffy and off-standish. True professionalism lies the pride you take in your work and how meticulous you are in delivering your services. When I worked heavily with recruiters years back as a job seeker, I could always tell which recruiters were just blowing smoke and which were not. The moment I picked up on any bad communication habits, I already knew what to be ready for. Surely, one cannot allow such assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies but it helps to be able to read people and match their tone.

I consider myself a pretty good judge of character so I can always tell when a recruiter really wants to help people or is just looking to make sales. It’s often very obvious but we ignore it because hopes and desires blind us. Some of the best recruiters out there say it themselves: interview the interviewers. In all their zeal, recruiters can easily lose track of the things that really matter. It’s as simple as remembering when you were a job seeker. What things annoyed you when being interviewed? Which recruiters did you gravitate towards? When recruiters can be honest with themselves, they can finally start being honest with their candidates. It all comes around full circle: focus on the principles that make for good customer service and public relations. Don’t let the pressures of meeting quotas, deadlines, and increasingly impossible client expectations make you lose site of the fact that your prospects are also customers, though to a lesser degree. They are the core of your business; scare them away and you have nothing.

Business is a wonderful thing. All we need sometimes is a different way to approach the same issue, a fresh perspective, and the problems turn into opportunities. As the relationships between recruiters and candidates deteriorate, it is important for everyone that would honestly tout the title “talent scout” to take these extra steps. I always say that, in business, the real stars try to make a friend every day. When you show you genuinely care about others, they can care about you and, by extension, help you. Of course, this all takes a concerted effort so lazy, sneaky sales people much rather use strong-arm tactics or try to trick their prospects to give up important information, such as the name of decision makers in other companies. It’s a shame really but, fortunately, there are a few select professionals out there looking to change this and educate their peers. Hopefully, we can return to the brighter days we had only a decade ago. I’m not saying recruiters should try to be HR professionals but those skills definitely help with sales.

If you, as recruiters, take these extra steps to assure the happiness of both your candidates and clients alike, you can have people walking out of your office do one of these…

Happy Business Man - YAY!

4 thoughts on “Little-Known Ways To Become An Expert Recruiter

  1. I think part of the problem is that candidates don’t know what they want. When you ask them “Why are you looking now?” and “Where do you see yourself X years from now?” most people can’t tell you. Ultimately it is the individual’s peace of mind that matters, but who is going to tell a recruiter or an HR manager that they are looking because their present job is disturbing their peace of mind ?

    Personally, as a potential candidate, I am still trying to figure that out. That is why I tell recruiters I am not looking right now, at least not yet.

  2. I just stumbled across this today. I’m a recruiter, going on about 4 years now, mostly working in the SAP space, and relationship building is absolutely vital to survival in a very narrow skill space. There may be thousands of SAP consultants looking at any given time, but it’s a small world amongst them. Burning bridges with any one of them will ultimately kill your career. Luckily, I have bosses that recognize the need for the more consultative approach, so although I have my quotas like anyone else, they are reasonable and allow me to avoid skipping over the important “little” things, like following up with current interviewees and even just returning calls and emails in general.

    Your article couldn’t be more accurate, I can’t say I disagree with a word. Bravo, not only for writing this but for composing it in a very “readable” manner.

  3. I particularly liked your point sabout referrals. They are a great way to get more business and yet no one seems to use them that much. I recently got a DVD that had a great section on referrals but the entire DVD was on prospecting and had some really unique ideas I had never seen before.

    It discusses ways to get appointments and sales without any prospecting. I had never seen this idea before. It works for business and consumer prospecting. I got the DVD and we are very happy with it. If you are looking for a really unique idea in not prospecting, take a look at

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