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Last week, I was doing a presentation for a prospective customer and the question came up: how can we hire a great recruiter? I’ve been thinking about this topic for nearly 15 years. I’ve been a recruiter. I’ve hired and trained dozens of recruiters (agency and corporate). Today, my company builds applicant tracking software for corporate recruiters. Recruiting is a hugely popular profession and everyone has their own ideas on what makes a great recruiter (most of which I tend to agree with). Over the years, I’ve developed my own formula for what makes a great recruiter, and since the economy has shown clear signs of improvement, our customers are hiring recruiters again. So, I’ve decided to share my insights on what makes a great recruiter.

My formula was cemented 10 years ago, when I was running a high-end, technical recruiting agency in Silicon Valley. I wanted to hire people based on their potential vs. their actual experience. I knew I could teach a talented, motivated person to be a recruiter. And, I was tired of guessing if people were going to be successful. So, I tapped an industrial psychologist to develop a selection methodology for choosing recruiters with the greatest likelihood to succeed. First, we had to figure what qualities to look for. This proved to be one of the most enlightening processes of my entire career. The psychologist’s team conducted a series of tests to distill the traits that made our top performers tick. We learned that in our environment (fast-paced, high volume and technical) self-confidence, flexibility, and the ability to stay focused were the top three traits that all of our best recruiters had in common.

  • Self-Confidence
  • Flexibility
  • Focus

Working with the psychologist proved invaluable.  Together, we developed an agenda for our interview teams to follow and each person on the team knew their role. We created interview score cards and mapped behavioral interview questions to each of the traits making our roundtable sessions efficient and decisive.  In a matter of weeks, we improved our interviewing techniques and consequently started hiring people that stayed longer and produced more.

The system and the science worked. I still firmly believe that self-confidence, flexibility, and focus are the top measurable qualities that best predict the potential success of a professional recruiter. But, there’s something that’s always nagged at me, something that makes a great recruiter that I’m not sure you can learn from an interview or even a test. I’ve been trying to put “this” into words for a couple of years and last week during the meeting it came to me.

The best recruiters that I’ve worked with can empathize with the behavior, intentions, attitudes, and feelings of their contacts.  They have the ability to identify, assess, manage and control their own emotions and to use this information to guide their actions. Top performers develop a finely tuned heuristic engine that’s constantly processing information to find an optimal solution. And finally, they have the ability to empathize, control their emotions and solve problems while being bombarded with massive amounts of information.

Hiring a great recruiter is as important as ever. As the economy continues to gain strength, talent will increasingly become harder to attract and hire.  Hiring a recruiter for their network or because they have been a recruiter for decades should take a backseat to looking for the person with the right traits. A great recruiter will have the self-confidence to become productive almost immediately, the flexibility to be successful in a dynamic environment, and the ability to focus on getting the job done at all costs. And while it may be hard to determine whether or not a recruiter has an evolved heuristics engine that ultimately may improve their performance, it is well within reason to assume that you can determine whether they are empathetic and possess a fair amount of self control. Remember, great people attract great people. You have every reason to take the time to hire a great recruiter.

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