This Is the Key Difference Between Good and Great Recruiters

December 22, 2020

Photograph of two ice cream cones

In a recent study, we compared the performance of the best executive recruiters to their corporate, RPO, and agency counterparts. The results are in and here’s the short list of what makes a great recruiter and what they do differently:

  • More high-touch, career-advisory role when dealing with candidates
  • More trusted, have strong job knowledge, and are more persuasive with hiring managers so they don’t need to present as many candidates
  • Recognize talent and have strong interviewing skills
  • More persistent, so they engage with more top prospects, get more referrals, and close deals more frequently
  • Specialists, have deeper networks and can build the target list quickly
  • Better negotiators, so they focus more on career growth than compensation when discussing opportunities
  • Their subject matter expertise creates a relationship with hiring managers and prospects that goes beyond the current opening

Collectively, this is how they deliver stronger candidates for the toughest roles more quickly and with fewer offers being rejected or countered.

From what I’ve seen having worked with thousands of recruiters over the years, just about any recruiter can learn what’s required to achieve this level of proficiency given the opportunity. But lack of opportunity to learn the advanced skills is a huge roadblock, mostly due to the size of their workload. A key to what makes a great recruiter is not working more than six to eight assignments at any one time. They may even work on less assignments than that, but they fill the jobs more quickly with stronger people. While it’s a big hurdle to overcome for most corporate recruiters, I suggest to those who want to learn what’s involved in recruiting this way to work on just one important search project with a strong hiring manager.

Here’s how to get started:

Make the shift to one search project at a time

A prerequisite for this process is a strong bond of trust between the recruiter and hiring manager. Achieving this requires a true understanding of the real job requirements, the ability to quickly present strong candidates, and excellent interviewing skills. Collectively, this is how you persuade hiring managers to not exclude strong candidates for the wrong reasons. The most successful recruiters never need to present more than three to four candidates to make one strong hire.

This same level of trust needs to be developed with candidates by shifting to a career advisory role, rather than the transactional pushing the job approach. Underlying this model involves a discovery process we call “career gap analysis,” comparing the prospect’s current job and career trajectory to what the new position offers. Persistence is a part of this starting with the “No NOs!” rule: Not letting candidates say no to your offer until they have a full understanding of the career potential of your job.

None of this can happen, though, unless you rethink your job descriptions. Replace traditional skills- and experience-laden job descriptions with performance profiles defining the open job as five to six performance objectives clarifying job expectations. This performance-qualified approach for defining the job expands the talent pool to more diverse, high potential, and non-traditional candidates who would more naturally see the job as a compelling career move.

From a sourcing standpoint, you don’t need a lot of prospects at the top of the funnel to be successful, as long as they’re all prequalified. That’s why we refer to it as a “small batch, high touch” process.

Putting the short list together doesn’t require any advanced Boolean. Instead, search for 15 to 20 prospects who meet this criteria:

  1. They’re performance qualified (meaning they can do the work defined in the performance profile).
  2. They possess the Achiever Pattern (terms that indicate they’re in the top half or top third of their peer group, and therefore likely to be viewed positively by the hiring manager) and based on their title, company size, and years of experience, the person would quickly see the career potential of your opportunity. This case study lesson describes how to use LinkedIn Recruiter to build this “small batch.”

Of course, since the target group is small, recruiters need to be able to connect with everyone on the list and engage them in a career conversation. That’s why the “No NOs!” technique must be mastered. This is the “high touch” part. Spending more time with fewer top tier people at the top the funnel is how you improve quality of hire and time to fill at the bottom of the funnel.

Crossing the gap from good to great recruiting starts by being proactive, and the perfect time to start is on your next search project.

*Images by Yannis Papanastasopoulos and JC Bonassin on Unsplash

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