7 Characteristics of a Great Recruiter

The best recruiters rely on intuition and high ethical standards – and they handle failure well. They are Jacks (and, more likely today, Jills of all trades). Here’s more top traits to look for when hiring your next executive recruiter.

April 17, 2018 – According to a report by talent consultant Kevin Sheridan, 86 percent of executive search firms feel they are doing a good job recruiting, yet only 60 percent of candidates report having a positive experience during the recruiting process with them.

Mr. Sheridan is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, a New York Times best-selling author and a sought-after voice on the topic of employee engagement. Having spent 30 years as a human capital management consultant, he has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild cultures that foster productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors.

Mr. Sheridan, with feedback from nearly 130,000 HR/talent management/senior executives, has laid out seven top characteristics of great recruiters in the order most frequently cited by respondents. Take a look at his findings – and then see what some of the nation’s top recruiters have to say as they weigh in.


In our latest episode of ‘Talent Talks,’ host Andrew Mitchell is joined by Paul Verriez, president of Verriez Executive Search. In this exclusive interview, Mr. Verriez outlines what makes a great recruiter, and what recruiters can improve upon to be more effective. According to Mr. Verriez, being ethical is a crucial characteristic for any recruiter. “As long as you’re honest and have integrity, you’ll go a long way.” Listen now:



1. They have great listening skills

The highest-performing and most effective recruiters harness the power of careful listening, which far better ensures that they fully understand the details of the exact job description, are acutely aware of the client’s preferences and expectations, and accurately assess ‘the match’ between the job position and potential candidates.

“You have to be a good listener, you have to be opened-minded and not afraid to ask tough questions,” said Paul Verriez, president of Verriez Executive Search. “In this industry, you need to ask those tough questions.”


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2. They ask the right questions before beginning the job search

The best recruiters do not settle on standard and basic job descriptions. Instead, they dive right into the detailed, and exact, job description before beginning to recruit candidates. They are equally as detailed when interviewing candidates, gaining an in-depth understanding of each candidate, including experience, values, beliefs, characteristics and goals.

3. They have great perseverance

The best recruiters are incredibly persistent and do what it takes to fill the job with the right candidate, often before or after the work day begins and ends. They are not hesitant to schedule interviews after hours to accommodate candidates who are currently employed, as those are often the very best candidates. These recruiters also tirelessly follow up with candidates, thereby building long-lasting and more meaningful relationships.

“There are some people in this world who don’t accept failure really well, and in this business you have to be able to accept that, overcome it and handle it,” said Mr. Verriez.

4. They are highly organized

Job searches are rich with many moving parts and dynamics. The best recruiters employ exhaustive organization practices to stay ahead of the curve and focus on the right corresponding priorities. While applicant tracking systems provide some help and support, long-term recruiting success is achieved through more than just software. Setting clear, specific and prioritized objectives require extremely thorough organization skills.


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5. They are awesome networkers and extremely good at relationship building

Outstanding recruiters easily build rapport and relationships that last a very long time. An outgrowth of this characteristic is trust, both with the hiring organization and the job candidates. Great recruiters firmly believe in personal relationships, and as a result, earn the undying trust of everyone involved. In addition, these amazing recruiters possess strong communication skills and simply love to network with others. Remember that a candidate who trusts his or her recruiter are far more likely to divulge mutually beneficial information to help determine when an accurate match exists.

6. They are eager to get on the phone with potential candidates, but more importantly, they like meeting in person

While emailing and texting is now the norm, superior recruiters take the time to speak with candidates directly to better and more accurately assess whether there is the right fit. Furthermore, this personal touch creates more meaningful and long-lasting relationships.

“Not being afraid to try new things is always essential,” said Mr. Verriez. “You need to get out of your comfort zone in order to obtain the best possible talent.”

7. They are not afraid to pull out of an agreement if it does not feel right

This attribute is a great one since it is not uncommon for some recruiters to panic and feel pressed to make the deal just to get it over with. Great recruiters give much scrutiny to pairing candidates with open positions, thereby avoiding recruiting for the same position again a few months down the road.

“Hopefully, this list has sparked some ideas for better evaluating recruiters,” said Mr. Sheridan. “Hiring the right people for the right seats on the bus is no small feat. Make sure your recruiter is ready for the task!”

Other Top Recruiters Weigh In

Here’s what a small handful of some of the nation’s best recruiters think are some of the desired traits and characteristics of their counterparts. From problem solving to being compassionate, honest and direct – it’s all here . . . and then some.

“A great recruiter is an excellent problem solver who finds solutions to a clients’ challenges while being results oriented and effective,” said Hannu-Matias Nurmi, group director and head of employment at Mercuri Urval. “In order to do that successfully, the best recruiters create results and add value for their clients. And they get to know their clients well – inside and out.”

One area that recruiters can improve upon, said Mr. Nurmi, is how they communicate proactively towards both clients and candidates. “Where are we in the process, what is the status, what is the next step,” said Mr. Nurmi. “Always be the one to call your clients and candidates first. When you get the call and you’re asked where the process is going, you’ve lost the game. And one utterly important aspect – feedback, feedback, feedback! A great recruiter always provides valuable feedback to all candidates in the process. Do not forget those who did not get the job in the last step of the process.”

“Great recruiters care more about making a match between their client and their candidate more than they care about getting a fee,” said Bess Cadwell, vice president, CSAM at Govig & Associates. “Most recruiters are transactional in nature but the great ones are not. Great recruiters are not afraid to ask the tough questions. They are not afraid of telling a hiring manager that what he/she wants is not what he/she needs to have a successful long-term hire. A great recruiter is more interested in delving into the intangibles and how to culturally align people with companies. Great recruiters have high emotional intelligence and they are curious by nature. Last, but not least, great recruiters have a passion to learn the candidate’s story and will then effectively articulate that story to the hiring manager which paints a picture that a resume never will.”

In a market where talent is very thin, she noted, “recruiters need to connect with candidates and develop relationships the old-fashioned way, which means either by phone or in person.” Too many recruiters, she added, “default by sending emails or texts believing that they are developing rapport with people that they are trying to convince to change positions. They will rarely penetrate the passive market using those tactics. If you are not connecting with people on the phone or meeting with them in person, your chances of delivering high-quality talent to solve your client’s problems diminish exponentially.”

“Great recruiters I’ve worked with master the sales, recruitment and interviewing process and become experts in their respective industries if they aren’t already,” said Don Alexander, president and managing director of GeneCoda.

“High performing recruiter characteristics include salesmanship (e.g. challenger), curiosity, optimism, perseverance, stamina, diligence, presence, intelligence, continuous learning, business acumen, adding value, being consultative and having true passion for the industries and people they serve.”

Depending on the recruiter’s background, the individual may need to work on one or more of the areas mentioned above, he noted. “That said, many recruiters focus on filling the role at hand. While this is extremely important, it’s also important to understand a client’s overall business and goals so that one is in a position to add value in alternative ways and create more meaningful long-term relationships that transcend the next placement.”

“I believe great recruiters take a consultative approach with both their clients and candidates,” said Angee Linsey, managing director at Linsey Careers. “When you have a specialty niche, you have the opportunity to see how many organizations do things – some better than others. You can appropriately share insights with a client that helps them improve how they look at what they truly need in a new hire, then you are serving them beyond just putting a body in a spot. When you take a consultative approach with candidates, you talk to top performers when they aren’t necessarily looking for a job. You can have meaningful conversations that uncover not only what they have done, but their true career goals.”

To Ms. Linsey, great recruiters have a ‘long-term relationship’ approach to their work for both clients and candidates. “In our firm, we focus on how the client defines success in the first three, six and 12 months. That changes how we interview. We are looking for the skills and culture fit to meet that success criteria. When you only look at a job description with a list of skills, recruiting tends to be more transactional and far less effective. From a candidate perspective, that long-term relationship is critical.”

“A recruiter must understand what the client’s true needs are behind the position description and understand what is going on with a candidate in their professional career and personal life,” said Bob Clarke, chief executive officer at Furst Group. “A recruiter must truly understand the position for which he or she is recruiting in order to understand a candidate’s match for the role. In the world of healthcare, that means we must grasp complex subjects like revenue cycle, population health and clinical integration. One must listen for the message behind the message. What is the client really seeking? What is the style and fit of the organization and the position? It is critical that we as recruiters listen for the hard facts but also the soft cues as to culture, leadership style and needs.”

Recruiters need to internalize the mission and vision of their client organizations, he said, as well as get to know candidates on a deeper level. “Both our clients and our candidates are taking a risk as they explore the fit of working together. Because of that, recruiters must enjoy problem-solving and work hard to build their skills in assessing candidates through detailed interviews as well as becoming certified in scientific behavioral assessments. In our field we always remember that both clients and candidates want to do meaningful work that will improve the healthcare system for all of us. Our job is to put the puzzle pieces together so that can happen.”


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“A great recruiter is compassionate, honest and direct,” said Nicole Newman, vice president at SearchWide. “Understanding that recruiting an individual out of their current role and into a new adventure is a life-changing endeavor that has consequences beyond the candidate themselves is paramount. Being transparent and forthcoming in all communication with both candidates and clients ensures that both sides know what they are getting into and reduces the possibility of unexpected surprises or skeletons. In-depth and first-hand knowledge of the industry, organization and position sets great recruiters apart from average recruiters.”

To be more effective, she said, “all recruiters should keep up on the current trends and skill sets needed in the positions they are recruiting for. Technology is changing the way many of our clients and candidates do business and being able to effectively communicate those skills and experiences allows a recruiter to offer better matches. Additionally, understanding the organizational culture is key to successful placements and, often, a correct culture fit is as important as skill-set and experiences.”

“A good recruiter has an understanding of the job they are looking to fill, and has a firm grasp on what skills and experience each position requires,” said Chuck Mollor, managing partner at MCG Partners. “A great recruiter understands how a hire will be a perfect fit by understanding the organization’s culture and values, and the behaviors required for success in each position. By using a behavioral assessment, great recruiters can gain insight into which behaviors, motivations and drives lead to success. By understanding how a person is going to approach their work and working with others, a great recruiter can rank each candidate on not only how well their skills, experience and knowledge match the requirements but how well they fit culturally with the organization.”

In order to go from good to great, he said, “recruiters need to realize that it’s the whole person who comes to work. It’s not just about how well a candidates’ skills, knowledge and experience match up to the requirements of the job or how much they like a candidate and can see them fitting into the organization. If a recruiter doesn’t understand what naturally drives and motivates a candidate behaviorally, they may end up selecting an individual who is likable and has done similar work in the past, but who doesn’t really enjoy the work they do.”

“I believe the ability to be a relational recruiter and not a transactional recruiter is one of the most important traits of a great recruiter,” said Alan Medders, a search consultant at Higher Education Leadership Search. “In other words, get to know candidates and institutions you are working with on a search for two reasons. Relational recruiters look for candidates and institutions that are a good fit for each other. This is based on where the candidate is in their professional career and the institution’s needs for that position at that particular time. This can certainly minimize the likelihood that the candidate and/or institution regrets the decision they made. This can only be accomplished through relational recruiting.”

A transactional recruiter, he noted, “is concerned about getting candidates in the pool, moving them through the process, the institution making a candidate selection and moving on to the next search. The benefit of being a relational recruiter is that candidates and institutions know you are taking their best interest at heart during the recruiting process and will want to work with you and your firm again in future searches. Become a relational recruiter!”

“A great recruiter has a long-term view,” said Bill McCormick, founder and CEO of The McCormick Group. “They show integrity through their actions. They understand an opportunity has to be equally beneficial for the candidate and employer. Average recruiters skew towards the employer, their paying client. The best understand the candidate is also paying in a sense. Not with money, but by entrusting their career to the recruiter. Only when all parties are satisfied is the job done right. Finding people based on checking requirement boxes is easy, but it’s not that effective in terms of success.”

Effective recruiters understand their clients and can help define what the person hired needs to accomplish to be successful, he said. “They add value throughout the entire process, from defining the role, through the search, interviews, evaluations, and offer stage. When there is a relationship built on trust and results, recruiting moves from a transactional vendor to a true consultant.”

“Having been in the search profession for nearly 20 years, while there are a number of key traits that set a great recruiter apart from an average recruiter, what are most critical are work ethic, persistence and integrity,” said Darren DeGioia, president at JDG Associates.

“Beyond those, a great search consultant is one who understands the criticality of building strong relationships with both clients AND candidates. This really depends on the clients the search consultant is supporting and the level of the search they are conducting.”

With the search business being relationship-driven, he added, “one way to be more effective is to always build your network. Understanding the nuances of a particular search so you can really sell the opportunity is essential. Dig deeper when conducting research and think outside the box when sourcing for candidates.”

Contributed by Andrew Mitchell, Managing Editor; Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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Fascinating and enlightening article! I wish some of the “top recruiters” interviewed for the article actually embodied the sentiment and characteristics espoused in their quotes/statements. Some of the “top recruiters” in actuality/practice do not. In fact, some of the firms that employ these recruiters have clients who refuse to work with the search firm if that specific consultant interviewed for this article is even remotely involved in the search.