What makes a successful recruiter?

Talent acquisition shouldn’t only be handled by junior HR practitioners

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I have commented several times how many practitioners got their start in the HR profession doing recruitment. That was certainly the case for me.

In many cases, recruitment is handled by the more junior members of the HR team. But that isn’t always the case — nor does it necessarily make sense to have only junior practitioners recruiting for senior or difficult to fill roles. Nothing is more important to an organization than its people, so why staff the recruitment function solely with people straight out of school with little business experience?

Recruitment not necessarily a stepping stone to HR generalist roles

It would be a mistake to think of talent acquisition as being solely a stepping stone to a career in HR doing “bigger and better things.” Recruitment can be a challenging and rewarding career, and a senior recruiter is a highly skilled professional — particularly those who recruit for executive or highly specialized roles such as technology, health care or finance.

Recruiters need to be experts not only in recruitment, but also in other areas of HR such as total rewards management, labour and employee relations, organizational development, HR strategy, metrics and benchmarking, workforce planning and talent management. They also need to have a solid understanding of the business and the functions within it, technology (especially social media and applicant tracking systems) and employment law.

Today’s talent acquisition specialists aren’t just posting requisitions, screening resumés and interviewing candidates. In many cases, senior recruitment practitioners are involved in developing recruitment strategies and policies, testing and screening applicants, coaching hiring managers and making recommendations, building a pipeline of candidates, helping to build and maintain the organization’s employer brand, engaging with internal and external candidates on social media and managing relationships with external partners such as technology vendors, recruitment agencies and other providers such as background screening companies. Other senior recruiters manage a team of recruiters.

While there are some differences in the types of skills required by recruiters in different settings, all or most of the above can apply with respect to internal, external or outsourced recruitment in a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) arrangement. One difference in an agency environment is many recruiters are also required to have sales skills and be able to acquire new clients and job requisitions, “sell” candidates to clients and promote vacancies to candidates.

Whether a recruiter originally came from an agency or an in-house environment may also have an impact on whether or not they consider themselves to be HR practitioners or career recruiters. While that sounds a bit strange given that recruitment is recognized by most people as the quintessential HR discipline, many agency recruiter types don’t see themselves as HR practitioners.

Even a large in-house recruitment team will typically consist of people with a mixture of backgrounds and career interests, and organizations should support dual career paths either for people who see recruitment as a stepping stone to an HR generalist type role or who want to continue as recruiters. Regardless of their ambitions, however, recruitment touches on virtually all aspects of HR, and working in talent acquisition in a senior capacity is good preparation for a role in talent management and other areas.

What makes a good recruiter?

So what makes a good recruiter? I would argue there are certain skills required to be successful at talent acquisition in any setting.

They include strong interviewing skills, a solid understanding of business and the industry they work in, the ability to network and build relationships with candidates and hiring managers, consulting skills and an appreciation for the organizational culture and values of the organization. It is also necessary to have a good understanding of employment law and employee relations, as well as labour relations when recruiting in a unionized environment.

Recruiters generally need to be go-getters and be able to work well in a busy, fast-paced environment. They need to have strong people skills, but also understand business and technology.

While recruiters definitely need a solid understanding of soft skills and cultural fit, the most important consideration when screening candidates is determining whether the individual can actually do the job. For that reason, they need to be able to work with the hiring manager to determine the most important aspects of the role – although they may also need to be assertive by advocating for candidates or giving pushback to hiring managers when their expectations are unrealistic.

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