Want to Be Great? Here Are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Recruiters

Article main image
Mar 28, 2013

We just updated our Recruiter Circle of Excellence Competency Model to take into account the expected surge in hiring in Q2 and Q3. There was also an interesting story by the co-founder of Meebo who concluded that most recruiters are pretty bad.

Her big points: recruiters are afraid to pick up the phone and call, they don’t know the job so they sell smoke and mirrors, and most just post boring jobs or search through LinkedIn.

It was a pretty scathing summary. This approach might work when you’re trying to hire the 15 percent of fully-employed who are looking, but totally useless when trying to hire the 85 percent of candidates who are passive, even the bad ones!

So as part of updating the competency model to take this 85 percent into account, I decided to revisit my old virtual mentor, Stephen Covey, for some inspiration. You might find the results interesting.

Hiring the best person available for a position, rather than the best person who applies to a job posting, requires a different type of recruiter and a different type of recruiting process. In 1989 when Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was published it seemed like a good framework for bridging this gap.

Here’s my take on how to be a great recruiter using the Seven Habits as a frame of reference:

1. Begin With the End in Mind

There is too much focus on skills and experience when opening up a new job. By describing the job in terms of outcomes and the long-term career opportunity, the skills become a subset of performance.

The idea is that if a person can do the work, the person has the right skills and experience. This allows a company to upgrade the talent pool to include more high-potential, diverse, and passive candidates without compromising quality of hire.

When talking with strong candidates, recruiters need to be able to describe real job needs as a series of clear performance objectives (design new rapid response mobile interface) rather than emphasizing skills (must have 3 years+ HTML5 and a BSCs).

2. Think Win-Win

This is recruiting from beginning to end. Passive candidates need to see the career opportunity in another job before they’ll consider it seriously.

This typically is a slow process taking days to fully absorb, not minutes to explain. So recruiters can’t rush it. They need to sell the next step, not the job. This requires a series of career discussions and in-depth interviews, including exploratory meetings with the hiring manager.

If the job is a true career move and the candidate is exceptional, the compensation will be resolved without much duress.

3. Be Proactive

If you want to hire the best person available, rather than the best one who applies, pick up the phone and start getting referrals. Strong networking skills are a critical part of this.

The direct way: use LinkedIn to find prospects connected to your first-degree connections and ask them about specific people. These people will call you back, so your productivity will soar along with quality of hire.

The indirect way: find the best prospects in the entire LinkedIn database who are your second-degree connections, then find your first-degree connection and ask if they’re qualified.

When getting referrals, don’t ask your connections if they know people who are looking; instead, ask them to tell you who is the best person they know in a specific field. Then call this person, mention the person who referred them, and recruit the person thinking win-win and begin with the end in mind.

4. Put First Things First

Prioritize and work on work that matters. This is the difference from filling the position with the best person who applies to seeking out and recruiting the best person available.

Focus on urgent and important, not just urgent, and especially don’t focus on not urgent and unimportant. Too many recruiters spend their valuable time weeding out the weak, rather than attracting the best.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

Too many hiring managers overemphasize skills and experience when opening a new requisition. They then either overemphasize technical brilliance or the impact of first impressions when deciding to hire the person or not.

If a good candidate is rejected for a bad reason, recruiters need to intervene by first understanding the real job, why the person wasn’t considered, and as a rebuttal, presenting detailed evidence the candidate has performed similar work at peak levels.

Recruiters can’t use hyperbole to convince a hiring manager about the worthiness of a candidate, but they can use facts and evidence.

6. Synergize

This is team skills on steroids: working with, influencing, coaching, and developing people. For a recruiter it’s working with and influencing the hiring manager and the interviewing team to make the correct decision using the correct information.

Too many recruiters aren’t willing to challenge those with more authority even though they know their decisions are flawed. Becoming a trusted partner in the entire hiring process is essential if a company wants to see and hire the best people available.

7. Sharpen the Saw

Constant self-improvement is not only a core characteristic of all top performers, but essential for recruiters who want to stay competitive.

It starts by mastering the three primary sourcing channels: improving the yield and quality of all job posting efforts, using and nurturing talent databases, and becoming an expert at networking and passive candidate recruiting. Once these are mastered individually, shift the entire emphasis to passive candidate recruiting, since this represents 85 percent of the total talent market.

As the hiring market shifts into second and third gear, recruiters will become the front line for helping companies hire the best talent available. Don’t settle on the best person who applies.

It’s time for recruiters to improve their game. Embracing the Seven Habits is a great place to start.