So, What DOES Make a Good Recruiter….?

Great insights from Simon Lewis of Only Marketing Jobs, from his LinkedIn poll asking what the most important trait is in a successful recruiter. It got me thinking. The headline is really, that the recruiter thinks sales matters less than most other traits, most specifically relationships. 


OK, let’s deal with the first thing. Nobody wants to look bad on LinkedIn. Do recruiters like to openly admit that they are primarily sales people? No. They don’t. This will sway the results towards low votes for sales, and high votes for the more aesthetically pleasing `relationships` option. 

The other options were Passion, Industry Knowledge and Hard Work. Given that building business relationships depends on some form of the other options of sales, marketing and relationship building at any rate – I feel it’s somewhere in these 3, where the real answer lies. 

It got me thinking about who are the best recruiters I have known and managed over the years. 3 options come to mind as real life case studies:

Case Study 1: The Animal. 

This man really was an animal. He operated at 180mph. Loud, brash and cocky. He was a Sales Team Manager previously. Everything about him excuded sales. But then so did 3 other people in the team, but he made more income then the 3 of them combined month after month. So, we can exclude sales straight away as the being X-factor. It was more than that. He needed no managing for performance, only managing for cross-team brutality!! If he had 30 seconds free before a due call, he used it – he called someone. He arranged interviews at pace, inspired clients to work with him, created high level success ratios – and they kept coming back. He was an inspiration to watch. Passion? Bundles. Industry knowledge…? Irrelevant to him. Hard Work? You bet – never idle. Relationships? Well, that came from the other stuff.

Case Study 2: The Accumulator. 

Great recruiters don’t have 4 amazing months a year that blow periodical records. They have at least 10 per year. This person nailed Commercial recruitment with consistent billing figures month, after month, after month. There were no `down periods`, just astute commitment, and results focus. She knew her market, and where the placements could be made. Volume was never a problem, there was methodology and she forged relationships that lasted. On top of that, she was gritty and determined – ever wanting to be the winner, and prove doubters. Sales? Well of course, initially… Relationships? Well of course, subsequently. Passion? Not so sure… determination, yes! Industry/Market knowledge? – very much so. Hard Work? Without doubt. 

Case Study 3: The Go-To Man. 

I am proud to say this chap was my first ever recruit. I was a 24 year old raw Manager building a new office. He was a 54 year old ex-pub landlord, with some sales and driving experience. We opened a driving recruitment desk which he operated. He made us oodles of money. No nonsense, no flannel. He went to see people, and made realistic promises, and delivered. He knew his stuff, had a hold of his market and the candidates within it, and delivered. He played for the team. He made no mistakes, he was a rock. Sales? Not really. Relationships? Again, that came naturally. Passion? No, it was a job to him. Industry knowledge? Yes, bundles and was recognised so.  Hard Work? Yes. Apart from the 25 cigarette breaks per day, he was dedicated and efficient. 

So what do we learn from these? 

Certainly that it takes all sorts. I cannot tell you how different these 3 people are, in their style, personality and approach. 

The first angle I take is Trust. Trust comes from a number of factors, that in part include the 5 categories mentioned in the poll. It’s about being authentic, responsive, proactive and effective. Those 3 would never use words like `blag`, `nick`, `wing it`, or any other words used by recruiters I hear too often. They deliver consultancy and results, and are trusted to continue to deliver consultancy and results. 

The second angle I take is Drive. Ha, not a pun on the 3rd case!! The 3 people concerned were figures driven, they were results driven, and they were driven by the need to satisfy and win. They understood short and long term needs, and applied both. It’s like passion, but its focussed, end-game-centric passion. For here, also read determination, I suggest. Winners. That’s the key. 

The third for me, is Connectivity. Yep, I’ve gone all social media on you. But the 3 examples concerned relate in my mind to periods in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s. They didn’t have LinkedIn and Twitter then, but they knew their candidate market place, and their client market place. They knew how to make the two engage, and on multiple occasions. They felt it necessary to know all the people they needed know in their zone, and try and know them well. It made for better effective matching. 

The final one I want to offer, is Capability. No, I’m not kidding. In an industry which targets losing 50% of it’s staff each year, and where often 80% of recruiters operate under set targets – there is a huge capability gap in the recruitment industry. Great recruiters have to have the capabilty to recognise business position, industry focus, understand roles and their purpose and relationships within a company, be able to impartially recognise the great and relevant talent from both written and face to face evidence, be hard enoigh to say no to the ones that don’t match, and give the client the best options, the best advice, the best market assessment, the best negotiation support, and the most dependable and effective hire based on short and long term potential. Give that responsibility to a 19 year old who did cold-calling within a call centre for a year? 

Great recruiters are often just the right people, at the right time, in the right place. But these factors, to me, nail it. Within them all, there is sales, relationships, passion, industry knowledge and hard work. But I have seen and managed passionate, hard-working sales people who know their industry inside out and had relationships within it, but they didn’t make great recruiters. It just wasn’t the right job for them. 

I welcome people’s thoughts from within recruitment, and outside – what they see as the important traits of a recruiter. It’s a fascinating discussion, full of red herrings and truities. Decyphering the right ones is the challenge. 


5 thoughts on “So, What DOES Make a Good Recruiter….?

  1. Mitch – thanks for the comment, however I disagree. What they did is make things happen. Doing & Capability beats Sales 10-fold. Sales method in varying forms helps in all that – but it needs way more. Many sales people offer lots and deliver nothing. Good recruiting is having something of value to sell, and delivering and beyond. Sales as a communication method is part of the process, not the reason.

  2. Steve,

    That’s a great post!

    I’ve been in recruitment for 5 years and I couldn’t agree more with most of your points.

    Especially regarding ‘blagging’ and ‘winging’ it. Unfortunately, there are too many Recruiters with that mentality in the industry (although this does work in the favour of genuine Recruiters who deliver).

    It’s strange – recruitment is a sales job but I don’t necessarily think all good Salespeople will succeed at it (again I think that was your point) as there are other atrributes required.


  3. Hi Bobby, thanks for the comments – and glad you appreciated the article.
    Yep, I agree – recruitment is so much more than sales – yet it is so often bagged that way. It creates the wrong perception about what should be an acutely professional service.

    Here’s a couple of observations on that from the archives…

    Oh and good shout about blagging… I will be writing about that shortly following overheard conversations yesterday…

  4. I look forward to the post about blagging!

    I think recruitment is bagged as sales in London/UK especially within the competitive and saturated markets (i.t./finance/banking etc) as there are simply too many agencies for the demand. I have worked in finance & banking recruitment but now specialise within the recycling sector which is more niche and there are far less competitors which means I actually get to ‘consult’ and have no need to be ‘cut-throat’ or ‘sell’ (in the traditional sense of the word).

    From what I have heard (although I’m not sure if this is true), the perception of recruitment on the continent and in other parts of the world is different to the UK. I think this is a by-product of the London job market and the thousands of agencies that exist. Just my opinion though!

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