As anyone who’s been in this business of ours long enough already knows, recruiting success doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, if you’re going for quick wins and instant gratification, brother, you’ve chosen the wrong line of work entirely.
The fact is that actually making it in recruiting can take years, and while anyone might have some initial success when they enter the industry, staying on top and replicating that success search after search, year after year, for an entire career, is never a matter of innate skill, extrinsic factors or even dumb luck. Sure, these factors might work in your favor once in a while, but really successful recruiters established those stellar track records by, put simply, working their asses off.
Big picture recruiting success really only happens after countless cold calling, constant networking, continuous consensus, and putting in the time to build the right kind of relationships with the right kind of candidates, clients and colleagues.
The recruiting relationships that lead to filling reqs, the kinds that drive positive word of mouth, personal referrals, professional respect and interpersonal rapport aren’t transactional or temporal.
The most successful recruiting relationships develop over a period of years, and maintaining these (and your recruiting reputation) takes a constant effort and conscious commitment, because the thing about meaningful relationships is, they only work when you’re willing to put in the work – and disappear the moment you start taking them for granted or stop realizing just how important reciprocity really is.
You’ve got to always be willing to give anything if you ever want to get anything of actual value in return. Which is why I thought it might make sense to write this post to share some of the lessons, good and bad, I’ve learned about what it takes to be a successful recruiter after having spent so much time in this business. The first lesson is that if you want to succeed, you can never really stop learning.
Life Lessons Learned From A Life in Recruiting.
Now, I’ve already learned quite a bit in my two decades or so ensconced in the talent trenches, and like any recruiter, I’ve made some really good decisions along the way – and some really, really piss poor ones. But it wasn’t until this year that I had that light bulb really go off in my head. I had finally arrived, after a lot of introspection and a ton of experience, what I truly believe to be the true formula for recruiting success.
I think after years recruiting for other companies, actually launching my own likely provided the impetus for realizing what it really takes to be a world class talent practitioner and hiring partner. Sure, I’d made more placements than I care to count, but even after 20 or so years following the familiar pattern of sourcing, screening, selecting, of opening reqs and closing offers, I look back at those hundreds of hires with a bit of embarrassment.
The reason I’m slightly ashamed at this long list of candidates I’ve closed, and realize that there are a large percentage of them – more than I’d care to admit, actually – that I have no recollection of whatsoever.
I mean, I don’t even remember hiring them, much less their names, their professional backgrounds or their personal stories. I knew them, and used these to build affinity, trust and a successful offer to close ratio, but my memories of these people – who at some point trusted me enough to trust me with their careers. Most of those career stories, I’m sure, are still being written by the candidates I’ve placed at one time or another. But hell if I could pick many of them out of a line up.
Who’s to blame for this lapse in memory, the depersonalization of those people who I at some time took the time to actually get to know on a personal basis, the fact that my successful candidates at some point have become essentially ciphers and that once powerful relationships have long since lapsed, inevitably and irrevocably, with the passing of time?
Am I, the recruiter, the one who’s at fault? Can corporate structure or company processes be blamed?
I wish I knew, but all I know is that my memory increasingly disserves me – no matter what the root cause of my professional amnesia might be, this phenomenon has become a part of my recruiting reality. And I suspect I’m not the only one, either.
I do suspect, in part, that much has to do with the manifold metrics inexorably intertwined with any corporate recruiting function, meaning that it’s easy to get lost in spreadsheet hell or become too focused on making your numbers to realize what these numbers actually add up to. And no recruiter should ever completely forget, as many of us are wont to do most days, WHY we’re even in this business to begin with.
Time to fill, source of hire, candidate response rate, cost per hire and all the other stuff that provide some modicum of method to the recruiting madness and the foundational structure for most staffing strategies are all, at the end of the day, completely irrelevant. When all is said and done, truly, no one gives a rat’s ass about whether or not you beat some benchmark or outperformed on some business-related baseline.
None of this stuff we care about so much really matters – what does matter in recruiting is the fact that we’re dealing with people, and they can’t be succinctly summed up or reduced to a number or a set of performance metrics. Sure, it’s nice to have some statistical validation that you’re performing, but if you lose sight of the fact that you’re growing organizations by helping them find and develop the talent they need to succeed, then you fail.
Because what really matters – all that matters – in recruiting can’t be captured in a dashboard nor transformed into big data nor leveraged as part of predictive analytics. And that’s the people we touch every day, on every search, in ways more profound than we might ever realize.
The ROI of those interpersonal relationships is one that no reporting package could ever truly capture, no matter how hard HR Technology companies seem to be working to convince all of us otherwise. Hey, if math came naturally to most recruiters, there’s a hell of a good chance we wouldn’t have found ourselves in recruiting at all.’
The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Recruiters.
But I’m glad I found recruiting, because in finding candidates, I’ve also found some of myself I never knew was there – and compassion has become one of my passions, because empathy and emotional intelligence are what make recruiters great. These personal traits also largely define our professional success – it’s just we’re so busy complexifying everything in our industry, it’s easy to ignore the basics.
Here are five simple, straightforward strategies for recruiting success – at least in my personal experience- that none of us should ever forget if we want to do well by doing what’s right for our candidates, customers and colleagues.
1. A Little Personal Touch Goes A Long Way.
One thing I’d gotten away from as my career progressed – at least until I went to the dark side of third party recruiting after years spent in house – was actually getting to know the candidates I was placing just as well, if not better, than the jobs I was placing them in.
I was too busy constantly trying to meet the demands of the business to remember what business really demands – and the simple fact is that any company is nothing but a legal entity on paper without its employees, and no matter what your end product may be, every business must be in the people business (to some degree).
The story of any product is the story of people, and it’s getting to know that story from the candidates I’m working with that, at the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I think is the most fun, most rewarding part of recruiting. Seriously, I love that process whereby a resume transforms from a piece of paper into a real person with a real story that far transcends any cover letter or objective statement.
And most of them are actually pretty cool, once you get to know them a little. It’s too bad so few recruiters place a premium on this, because this is what recruiting is all about.
Now that I’m in agency recruiting, I’m acutely aware that if I place 10-15 candidates in a year, I’m kicking some serious ass. Search is all about quality, not quantity – the latter result can be achieved by simply pushing out a job posting, most of the time – and the low volume of candidates I need for the much tougher, albeit much lighter, req load I’m juggling means I have the luxury of getting to know every candidate I represent.
There’s no calling them and dropping off the face of the earth after a perfunctory phone screen anymore; instead, I know I need them worse than they need me, and take the time to take detailed notes about all that stuff that isn’t on their resume – their STORIES – but that’s just as important, if not more so, in determining whether they’re a fit or not.
And if they’re not, well, that’s cool, too. Not every candidate deserves a great big bear hug. In fact, most of them just hang up the phone on me after berating me for calling them about a job, or, more frequently, I hang up the phone thinking to myself, “Dude, there’s no way I can go to bat for you after hearing some of the shit you just said.”
But for the candidates who are worth it, who you absolutely NEED to get to know, are the ones who might not be right for your role today, but who, with a little personal touch and a brief conversation, can turn into some of the best connections any recruiter has in their network. Almost always, candidates you’ve passed on but taken the time to get to know won’t hold hiring decisions against you, but if you treated them right, will do almost anything to return the favor.
Because with the personal touch, it’s never all about business. And really, it never should be.
2. People Talk. It’s Up To You To Listen.
I no longer have the luxury of saying that personal brand doesn’t matter to my recruiting success, because, well, it does. I am running my own show, and the only employer brand I can speak for as a third party recruiter is my own. I’m no longer calling on behalf of Rosetta Stone, eBay or Dell; I’m calling on behalf of myself, and by extension, the clients I represent.
Let me tell you, when it comes to representing my own business, turns out it not only matters, but I really do give a shit about what people think. I know every single person I interact with or encounter at work will walk away with an experience, and it’s up to me to make it a good one, because they’re going to tell someone they know, and word of mouth travels fast.
My business is built on reputation, and reputation is built on ensuring a kick butt experience working with me whether or not they work out as a candidate. Recruiters, you’re constantly being evaluated, too – and people will inevitably share their experiences with their professional and personal networks, meaning that you better be damn well sure that you do what you can to exceed what they expect out of a recruiting relationship.
The more people talk – and they do, incessantly – the more exposure you get, good or bad. What I’ve experienced in the past few months is that, without really trying, people have started coming to me with business instead of my having to go out and find it simply because I took the time to go that extra step or did something special that other recruiters don’t do. Even if that’s something as simple as giving them timely feedback or respecting their time.
3. Sweat the Small Stuff.
When you’re making a big ticket purchase like a car or a house, chances are you do enough research to know what you want or have some idea of the parameters you’re looking for in your purchasing decision.
There are the things that are nice to have, and there’s the stuff you absolutely can’t live without. The rest, really, is matching those requirements to what’s out there on the market. Candidates, obviously, are no different.
Recruiters really need to listen to what they want, what they need and what’s driving their career-related decisions if you want to help make sure that you’re doing what’s right for them as people, and by extension, what’s right for the companies you’re recruiting for. A little listening will go further than you probably ever imagined.
Ask tough questions, dig deep and be willing to take “no” for an answer when it’s the right answer, and you’ll almost guarantee yourself recruiting success. But if you just ask them the same asinine questions or probe no further into what they want than making sure they meet the qualifications and may be interested in your role, you’re eroding what can be a significant edge over your recruiting competition by simply caring enough about someone to get to know them beyond how well they match any given job spec.
You don’t have to close a candidate to open a door.
4. Accentuate the Positive.
There’s a ton of negativity in recruiting, and there’s no need for it. Really, it’s just a lot of energy and time wasted on stuff that doesn’t add value or matter to anything remotely related to recruiting.
If you’re a recruiter, there are likely a ton of people already competing for your attention – it’s a professional hazard, and every candidate or client thinks they’re the priority (meaning you have to treat them as such, even if it’s not exactly the truth).
With everyone fighting for your limited bandwidth, don’t waste your most valuable recruiting asset on people who bring you down, extract value without returning the favor, or who simply suck to work or interact with.
There are a ton of haters, and since haters gonna hate, make sure to stay away from them. It’ll be that much more satisfying when they see you shoot past them on your way to the top knowing that you got there without having to bring anyone down to get there.
5. You Are Building An Army.
People do business with people they like. People do business with people they trust. People will do business with people they sense will go above and beyond the call of duty to help them out in really any way, no matter how insignificant it might superficially seem.
This means if you don’t act like a total dick, and treat people like, well, people, your job as a recruiter is going to become infinitely easier, because the more you offer to help people, the more people will help you out without you having to ask. Amazing how that reciprocity thing works, right? But thing is, it always does.
These alliances that go into building an army willing to go to battle for you aren’t forged overnight, which is why the only way to win the war for talent is by doing what’s right, and doing so again and again.
Anyone can do the right thing once in a while, but it takes years of consistently being a good person doing good for people that makes the best recruiters stand out and build a reputation as someone worth working with (and fighting for).
Do what’s right and don’t’ get lost in the corporate bullshit that turns recruiting from dealing with people to dealing with politics, and don’t get so caught up in red tape that you’re not able to put the people who matter most first. Be different, be daring, and be yourself.
Because at the end of the day, that’s really the only thing you’ll carry with you consistently throughout the course of your career. Trust me.
About the Author: Will Thompson the Founder & President of Bulls Eye Recruiting, a recruiting agency that focuses on recruiting sales, marketing and IT professionals for organization.
He has been in recruiting for 20 years and has worked for organizations such as Rosetta Stone, Dell, eBay, & Rainmaker Systems.