When you’re a recruiter, you’re always only as good as your last placement. You’re constantly sourcing, screening and submitting enough viable candidates to ensure your pipeline can fill whatever reqs you happen to be working on.

Of course, candidates are really only half of the equation. Recruiting, really, is a delicate balancing act between those candidates and the clients you’re finding them for.

Recruiting requires the ability to think on your feet, quickly read a person and identify their bottom line values while evaluating where they’d make the best match – or, more often, moving quickly if you determine they’re simply not a fit, for some reason or another.

There’s no exact science, algorithm or mathematical formula for determining the optimal alignment between candidates, companies and culture; recruiting is highly situational and inherently subjective.

But there are a few best practices for figuring out how to make fit happen – and increase your efficiency and efficacy when it comes to attracting and converting top talent.

Here are a few of the unwritten rules of the recruiting road to point you in the right direction.

The Come Up: How To Build A Killer Recruiter Brand.

First, it’s important to remember that the best recruiters are also excellent at both marketing and branding. After all, if no candidates know about the opportunities that come across your desk or the positions you’re working to fill, recruiting is really hard. Generating interest and even excitement about these roles, however, requires a fundamental understanding of how to build buzz through recruitment marketing while building brand, which is one of the most essential elements for recruiting success.

Employer branding remains more important than ever, but just as important is the concept of your own recruiting brand. These essential elements of awesome talent acquisition go hand in hand, but are distinct concepts that shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

See, just like it’s important for companies to position themselves and their culture as an employer of choice to candidates, ever recruiter should similarly have a recognizable personal brand – one that’s built on credibility, trust and, most importantly, integrity.

By having a strong recruiter brand, top talent will often come to you – and in this business, your reputation always precedes you. If you have a strong brand, your job will become infinitely easier, generating goodwill, good leads, and great referrals without an inordinate amount of extra work.

A good recruiter can be just as hard to find as any hard to find candidate out there – and the best recruiters are the ones who actively manage their own brands as well as their companies.

Case in point: from 2007-2011, I quite literally pounded the pavement for candidates and sales leads, fighting for business at a time where there wasn’t a whole lot of hiring to be had. I knew that there were always dozens of recruiters fighting for the same business as I was – and ultimately, the same candidates, too.

I realized that winning both rested almost exclusively on recruiting brand equity, and I’ve spent every day since trying to build mine while actively building my clients’ employer brands, too.

Being the intermediary isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that if you’re successful, recruiting sure can be. In fact, since 2011 (when hiring finally picked back up), I haven’t had to continually pound the phones or dial for dollars daily since. The work I put in up front to building my recruiter brand has generated enough inbound referrals that all I have to do is deliver as promised.

And that implicit promise that I’ll deliver for both candidates and clients in the future is based entirely on the successful placements I’ve made in the past, period. That, my friends, is why brand matters so much when it comes to recruiting and hiring. With a hot recruiter brand, you never have to make a cold call – and word of mouth marketing speaks louder than any sales call ever could.

When you’re developing your own brand, remember that the point of this public persona is to drive candidates to choose you in pretty much the same way companies attract consumers. If you’re trustworthy, passionate about the business of hiring and have a proven track record of helping people and companies produce results without screwing anyone over in the process, you’re as good as golden. This personal brand building is even more important when you work for a company or employer brand that people might not be as familiar with.

After all, people don’t work for companies, as they say – they work with people. That’s why a strong recruiter brand can almost always compensate for a weak (or non-existent) employer brand. I love Jeremy Goldman’s observations on what people and corporations have in common when it comes to building brands:

“Just like household name brands, you have characteristics that define you; ways that you think of yourself and ways that others think of you. Effective personal branding isn’t about putting on a show or figuring out how to do as little work as possible while getting the most financial reward. That’s not something that I believe in. Life’s just too short to not be focused on building the best possible version of yourself.”

Can I get an amen?

Play On, Player: The 5 Unwritten Recruiting Rules Every Talent Pro Should Know.


Look. It’s no secret that in recruiting, reputation is everything. If you’re just starting out in your career, remember that building the right kind of reputation takes a whole lot of work, but starting off your career with a bad reputation takes no work at all.

If you’re a backstabber, if you can’t be trusted, if you half ass your way through your reqs and are more interested in making a placement than finding a fit, then these elements will define your brand.

Given the reputation of most recruiters, obviously it’s not very hard to build this kind of brand – but changing minds and perceptions after the fact can be close to impossible.

So if you want to build your recruiter brand the right way, remember that’s just a means to an end: our number one job as recruiters is to provide the maximum possible value for our candidates and our clients. Period.

Here are some ways you can best maximize that return on recruiting investment – and generate enough brand equity value to keep a step ahead of the recruiting competition when it comes to partnering with candidates and clients:

5. Recruiting and Robotics Don’t Mix.

Look, your candidates aren’t robots. Neither are your clients. That’s why personalization beats automation every day of the week. Anyone can copy and paste the same stale message to every candidate on a mailing list or in your database, but if you don’t take time to tailor your message to the unique wants, needs and aspirations of individual candidates, you’re treating talent like robots – which means you could easily be replaced by one. Nothing kills a recruiter brand faster than mass blasts and a spray and pray approach to “sourcing.”

No template on earth can speak to the unique experiences and particular expertise that makes a candidate a good fit for an open position, which is why you’ve got to appeal to candidates’ emotions and aspirations when recruiting – and that’s something no robot can successfully do. But the best recruiters know their candidates and connections beyond just superficial information like what’s on their professional profile or in their resume.

When you interact with candidates for the first time, the most important thing you can do is to establish what they want from their next job, not just selling them on why they should want yours. That means when the right position comes along, you’ve got more than a one-off submission; you’ve got a great fit who’s got a better chance of getting hired. Even if they don’t, the extra effort and time you took to personalize their experience and focus on fit will inevitably buoy your recruiter brand.

Word gets around, particularly when you can make a job search as painless as possible. Making finding a job not feel like a job is all our jobs – and if you take the time to fulfill this basic baseline, then you’re probably going to have a job (and a pretty killer book of business) for life.

4. Your Brand Is Only As Strong As Your Candidates’.

Since recruiters’ brands rely so heavily on the candidates we place, then it only makes sense that a big part of successful talent acquisition starts with helping job seekers brand themselves, too. This starts by getting to know what really makes them tick, and figuring out all the stuff that’s not on their resume that defines their unique personal and professional perspective.

Remember, when you submit a candidate to a client, you’re sending in more than a resume and a recommendation – you’re basically packaging a persona. Helping job seekers craft strong and compelling stories around their values, what they’ve done and where they’re going in their careers can make the difference between a closed req and a rejected resume.

Candidates have to be marketed to your clients, too – and the more consistent their social media and online presence can be with those clients’ mission, vision and values, the better off you’ll both be. Of course, many of the traits of top performers are universal, so just as important as selling a candidate is ensuring that you’re able to best represent who they are, what they’re looking for and why you think it’s a fit. When employer and job seeker brands align, culture fit happens.

And that’s really what we’re all looking for, right?

3. Transparency Is A Two Way Street.


If you expect candidates to be honest with you in terms of what they want from a job and what they’re looking for in an offer – and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not negotiable when negotiating an offer, then you’d better be prepared to provide that same level of transparency, too. Sometimes, this means telling people news they might not want to hear. Being a good recruiter means being the bearer of bad news sometimes.

And as much as we associate building brands with accentuating the positive, we all know that not every part of every job or company is always rainbows and butterflies. If there’s an issue, be as honest as possible as soon as possible.  Ultimately, candidates are going to find out the truth about your clients for themselves (and vice versa) – and your job is to make sure that happens before a hire happens. Honesty and trust are inexorably interwoven, and let’s be honest: most candidates recruiters work with will never receive an offer, statistically speaking.

But letting them know why they’re not a fit (or why they are, for that matter), providing them with feedback, tools and most importantly, giving them an honest assessment instead of a generic put-off not only can help make better informed decisions for both parties, but smarter, more successful hires, too.

2. Communication Is Key.

Similar to transparency, communication is critical to building your brand – and your business – the right way. When you stay engaged with candidates and clients, even if it’s just to tell them there’s no news, you’re doing everyone a favor. Hiring processes too often falls apart because of miscommunication (or lack thereof) between the recruiter, client and candidate – and there’s no sound worse to job seekers or employers than silence.

Making sure everyone is informed can not only help keep expectations reasonable and egos manageable, but is also one of the more critical parts of every recruiter’s responsibilities. It’s our job to make both sides of the table feel like they have as much information as possible as soon as possible, however possible. Since sometimes searches can stagnate, of course, it’s important to remember that effective communication should feel like a conversation, and information should flow both ways.

Make sure both candidates and clients know that you’re there as a resource and they can reach out with any questions, thoughts, comments or concerns that might come up. If they feel like you’re a resource who has their back, they’ll have yours, too. Conversely, the worst thing any recruiter can do for their brand is to go silent or suddenly become unresponsive – loose lips may sink ships, but silence is the one noise that no client or candidate wants to hear. Because being there is half the battle.

1. Give A Crap.

This might sound obvious, but if you want to successfully build a recruiter brand, you have to actually care about recruiting. You have to give a crap about your candidates and clients.

Passion is one thing every recruiter needs, and no recruiter can fake for long. If you’re dedicated to delivering the most value possible and care about improving careers and companies by finding the right talent for the right job, you can never go wrong.

If you’re committed to your candidates, and if you care about your clients, and have some sort of personal investment in professional outcomes, then you’ve got what it takes to build a killer recruiter brand. If you don’t give a crap, well, don’t worry. You won’t be in recruiting for very long.

Trust me.

Nicole SmarttAbout the Author: Nicole Smartt is a shareholder and Vice President at Star Staffing, one of the top search firms in Northern California, where she manages the company’s day-to-day operations and client engagements. Nicole has almost two decades of recruiting industry experience, having worked in a variety of roles prior to joining Star Staffing in 2009.

This extensive background and wide range of experiences help Nicole leverage her knowledge of what makes the ideal match between employer and employee on behalf of Star Staffing’s clients and employees. Nicole is active in many local organizations, including community organizations and chambers of commerce, throughout the North Bay Area. She is also the co-founder of the Petaluma Young Professional’s Network and serves on the board for Santa Rosa’s Wednesday Night Market and the Active 20-30 Service Club, and was recently appointed to the Young Professionals Entrepreneur Council.

Nicole is the youngest person to be awarded the Forty Under 40 Award by the North Bay Business Journal, and has been featured in publications such as Forbes Online, the Washington Post, Fox Business and the American Express Business Forum, among others.

Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_Smartt or connect with her on LinkedIn.