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The Most Important Trait of a Successful Recruiter

By February 7, 2020No Comments

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’m still in a thoughtful mood. As I was trying to kick-start my own desk for 2020, I got to thinking about what it really was that I needed to do to make some goddam placements. I asked myself:

What single trait, characteristic, or skill is an absolute prerequisite to be successful in recruitment?

Now we all know that to be truly great you need to be equal parts sniper and marriage counselor, and a fair few things in between, but for today’s exercise, let’s try and pick one thing only. Before reading below, have a quick think and choose something. Done it? Good. Please continue.

Before I give a run down on my shortlist and eventual winner, I should probably state my credentials for blogging about this. Firstly, I’m certainly not the biggest biller out there, and probably never will be. I’ve never billed a million dollars, and probably never will. I have however been recruiting for about 14 years. In that time, I’ve worked in-house, agency, temp, perm, exec search across almost every sector. For the past 10 years, I’ve recruited exclusively recruiters, and have placed hundreds but not thousands of recruiters. I have certainly interviewed more than a thousand recruiters or recruitment wannabes, and met many more at events. Arriving on these shores with no mates has also meant that most of my friends are, sadly, recruiters. In my own businesses, I’ve hired almost 20 people, mostly in Recruitment roles. I say this not to boast, but to highlight that I’m more like Serena Williams’ Dad than Serena Williams. I’m not Lionel Messi. I’m the chubby stato at home counting his passes. Whilst being a keen amateur, I’m mostly a creepy observer of the exceptional.

So here’s my list of front-runners and the eventual winner:

Tenacity: For many years, I’d swear this was the most important trait of a recruiter. A determined attitude towards life seemed to fit nicely with the recruitment industry. Being so driven that nothing will stop you can only make for a mega-biller right? Nah. In my experience, tenacity is a fantastic trait, but if that’s all you’ve got, you soon realise that recruitment is a mug’s game and you use this determination to get a proper job elsewhere. Alternatively, you stick to recruitment, and failing to heed the words of Kenny Rogers around knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em, you waste copious amounts of time chasing crap business merely to prove a point.

Resilience: Another front runner. Recruitment is a world of knock-backs. If you can’t handle being told “no fucking way would I go out for a drink with you” every weekend, then you have no chance as a recruiter. Those who take this feedback in their stride only to hit on their initial target’s mate have a natural advantage in the recruitment game. The problem with resilience is that it is a pretty broad church, and not all resilience is useful. Some people are resilient because they’re human door mats. These people make crap recruiters. Some people are resilient because they just don’t care. And in recruitment you have to care. Care about money, care about candidates, care about something.

Intelligence: Hahahahahahahahahahaha!

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Emotional Intelligence: Absolutely. Recruitment is all about the understanding and management of human emotion. Taking a candidate from “not actively looking” to accepting a job involves sailing through some particularly choppy waters. The ability to understand and then manipulate human emotion is a very important skill. And please don’t take the term “manipulate” as a negative. Recruitment is all about manipulation of people, situations, and diaries. As long as we don’t manipulate the truth, and the candidate ends up with a great job, and the client is happy, then I sleep reasonably well at night. Admittedly, the wine does help.  This still isn’t the most important trait however.

man holding telephone screaming

The ability to sell: A contentious point. Are great salespeople born or made? Unlike being gay, I’d say it’s 30% talent you had prior to being trained, and 70% down to good training. Whereas I’m crap at being gay, no matter how hard I train. However, similarly to resilience, there are sales people and then there are sales people. Many recruitment firms have hired a top telesales exec and put an arse-wipe stain on their CV for 3 months. And what works for a top business support recruiter often doesn’t work for selling retainers. For a great analysis of this, read the sales bible “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackham. Basically, selling broadband is different from selling a retained search.

Being Organised: this is the most underrated and unnoticed skill of top recruiters, yet common to all. Most recruiters come across as somewhat scatterbrained. As you can probably tell by my rambling prose, I am prone to distraction myself. However, if you stop what your doing right now, go over to the highest biller in your office, you will see some weird little (often self-devised) system of squiggles and notes on their notepad. It may be a list with symbols, it may be the page sectioned off into squares, it may be something I’ve never seen before. But trust me, it’ll be there. To bill lots of money you have to spin lots of plates as so many break, heartbreakingly, on the fucking floor.

The desire and ability to pick up the phone: In talking to, and observing thousands of recruiters across 14 years, the number one trait that I would pick above all others is this; a prolific dialler. No matter how bad you are at everything in life, if you can’t help yourself but make endless phone calls, you will make placements. No jobs on? Call enough people with “Manager” in their job title, say a combination of garbled words including the word “recruitment consultant” and some poor sap will eventually send you a position description. No candidates for this job? Just call enough people and ask them if they want the job. Eventually, a placement will be made.  It’s messy and clumsy, and you need more than this to be good, but without the desire to pick up the dog’n’bone, you will never be a great recruiter. For me, when assessing people who are new to recruitment, or joining my own team, this is THE quality that I would not sacrifice.

What about you? As always, comments, criticism, and abuse is always welcomed and encouraged.