What a Lot of Recruiters Get Wrong When Networking

September 17, 2014

recruiter networking mistakes

Recruiting is at its essence a relationship-building business. One of the most critical things you can do is to learn how to network in order to tap into new and emerging talent, says Heather Townsend, author of the Financial Times Guide to Business Networking. However, a lot of recruiters get it wrong, because they haven’t figured out the best strategies for networking effectively.

As a business consultant to recruiters and author, Townsend has developed a framework for improving networking skills. Here’s what she thinks recruiters often get wrong when networking:

1. Being too much of a generalist

“When talking to people, I find that many recruiters make it very gray when asked about what they do, because they’re not ready to commit to one particular niche or industry,” says Townsend. “But actually you've got to be very brave,” Townsend states. “You've got to nail your colors to the mast and really go all out about what is your sweet spot, because you’ll get far better results networking if you're more specific about the sector.”

A headhunter who develops a specific niche of focus is going to be able to make deeper connections when networking, explains Townsend, because each new connection they make has a bigger potential payoff. “It’s a lot easier to become a big fish in a small pond,” she explains, “than it is to become a big fish in a big pond.”

2. Believing that “more means more”

There is actually an optimum number when it comes to developing a reliable network of people who you can go to for favors, says Townsend. The military came up with the number 150, known as Dunbar’s number, when figuring out how large a military unit should be. “It’s very difficult to be close to more than 150 people,” says Townsend. “If you try to be all things to all people you spread yourself too thin.”

It’s fine to have a lot of contacts, especially on social media, she says, but when it comes to developing reliable and trusted relationships that you can have as “go-to” sources for speaking to regularly, most people max out at 150.

This is a challenge that recruiters face, explains Townsend, because they’ve got to make sure those 150 people who are in their circle are A-level contacts —individuals that are going to be helpful when it comes to networking.

 3. Asking for a favor before giving something first

Recruiting is about providing extraordinary client service, so it has to be your second nature to give first before asking someone to help you.

“All those clichés are true when it comes to recruiting,” Townsend explains, “You need to pay it forward. If you meet somebody for coffee, you're paying for the coffee. You want every experience that somebody has with you to feel clean and to feel beneficial.”

It’s really essential for recruiters to learn to make everyone feel special, because the nature of their job relies on establishing relationships with people.

4. Putting people on the spot with direct questions  

“One of the worst things you can do when you’re trying to ask someone for access to their contacts is to say, ‘Who do you know?’” says Townsend. “The human brain likes to brainstorm in order to problem solve. It doesn’t like direct questions like that,” she explains.

When you wanted to elicit favors from someone it’s better to engage people in helping you solve a problem, by saying “Can I pick your brain? I’ve got this problem, I’m trying to find someone who fits this position.’” If you stick to more open-ended problem-solving questions, you’re much more likely to get a positive response.

5. Advertising vacancies, rather than offering helpful tips

A lot of recruiters use their status updates quite poorly. “They have the habit of posting their job vacancies, and that’s it.” If all you do is say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a vacancy,’ you're only going to really touch the 10% of people that are looking at that point in time, Townsend says. “Whereas the real value from a recruiter is their ability to get to the 75% candidates who are passive.”

How do you reach those passive candidates? “By creating content that is helpful to them,” she says. “Are you sharing tips on how to progress your career? Or posting helpful information about the industry you specialize in? What are you doing to make people interested in you?”

The candidate engagement model has changed, says Townsend, and her clients who are most successful at growing their business are the ones who are truly invested in producing high-quality content.

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