31 Things That Set Great Recruiters Apart From the Average

Anyone can call themselves a recruiter. There are no university degrees in recruiting, no laws that require you to pass a test or be certified like those required to become an accountant or lawyer. All it takes is a job title and a business card. To compound the problem, most people who enter recruiting do so in order to use the job as a stepping stone to some other future HR job. Some even view recruiting as a “necessary evil” they must endure in order to be promoted to the real job they want as an HR generalists or OD consultant. Unfortunately, because many recruiters merely view their current job as a temporary assignment, they don’t strive to become experts in recruiting. Recruiting Managers Are Part of the ProblemRecruiting managers often compound the problem by hiring “junior,” inexperienced people as recruiters and then putting them into recruiting positions with little or no classroom training. In fact, it’s quite common to hire a rookie and tell them just to shadow another recruiter in order to learn the tricks of the trade. All this means is that they may take on many of the bad habits of mediocre recruiters, thus eliminating any chance of eventually becoming a great recruiter themselves. For those who are currently recruiters or who have recently entered the field and wish to make it a career, it is important to identify what differentiates a great recruiter from an average one. Great performers excel in each of eight following areas. In this piece I will discuss those broad areas and reveal the 31 specific things that it takes to become a truly great recruiter. Great Recruiters Make Fact-Based, Data-Driven Decisions Most business functions have shifted from experience-based to fact-based or data-driven decision-making. Supply chain management, customer relationship management, and the production functions, for example, have all shifted to fact-based decision-making. The same needs to be true in recruiting. The very best recruiters don’t rely on hunches or opinions but instead base their decisions on facts and data. Data is not only helpful in making more accurate sourcing and recruiting decisions but it also assists in making the business case for recruiting. Some of the ways the great recruiters use data include:

    1. They don’t rely on “old wives’ tales” and past practices. They use data and results in order to assess what doesn’t work. They then drop all employment practices that don’t make a significant business difference.


  1. They track source quality and shift resources to ensure that the most effective sources are used the most frequently.
  2. They actively track quality of hire (where quality of the hire means the on-the-job performance of the new hire).
  3. They stop looking at the cost of hire and instead measure any potential business gains (economic impact) that result from hiring a higher percentage of top performers.

Great Recruiters Utilize Market Research A great recruiter uses the latest market research tools in order to identify what it takes to interest and sell a candidate. This market research might come in the form of interviews, surveys, or focus groups. It’s important for top recruiters to realize that, since the demands of candidates often change rapidly, market research must be a continuous process.

  1. The very best recruiters identify the candidate’s job acceptance criteria at the very start of the recruiting process.
  2. Top recruiters do a survey of all hires and ask them why they accepted the job and what the factors were that “almost” caused them to say no (i.e. what worked and what didn’t).
  3. Great recruiters do a survey of all rejected offers and find out what the deciding factors were for these candidates.
  4. Great recruiters do internal customer satisfaction surveys to see what managers, applicants, and recent hires want more of and less of.
  5. Because we live in a fast-changing world, it is no longer sufficient to react to events. Most recruiting related crises are a result of failing to anticipate! Great recruiters learn from the past, gather data on trends, and accurately anticipate upcoming recruiting possibilities. They accurately forecast upcoming labor shortages and surpluses. They also tell managers when hiring should be curtailed and when it should be accelerated.

Great Recruiters Get Managers More Involved Traditionally, most recruiting has been done by recruiters. However, in a rapidly changing world, it is increasingly more difficult for any recruiter to keep abreast of the skills required for most jobs. In addition, new technologies allow managers to have laptop access to most recruiting tools. Because they are closer to the job they frequently can do a better in convincing a candidate to say yes.

  1. Great recruiters build a strong business case and sell hiring managers on the impact that recruiting has on the bottom line. By convincing managers to spend more time and resources on recruiting, a recruiter dramatically increases the chances of getting a successful hire.
  2. Smart recruiters prioritize their key jobs and key managers. The best recruiters realize that all jobs do not have an equal impact on the business. As a result, they prioritize their activities around those with the highest business return on investment. The best also prioritize managers and respond rapidly to the high priority ones. They regularly survey these high priority managers to see what they want more of or less of.
  3. Great recruiters shift the responsibility for most recruiting to managers and employees, because they are the ones who suffer if a bad hire is made.

Great Recruiters Complete a Competitive Analysis Recruiting can’t be done in isolation. Once a recruiter develops a best practice tool, it is almost certain to be copied by a talent competitor. The very best recruiters track what the competition is doing, forecast what they will do next, and anticipate the possibility a competitor will copy any new recruiting practices they may develop. Some of the things that great recruiters do in the area of comparative analysis include:

  1. They provide managers with better information about the actual offers made by talent competitors and how their organization’s offers are superior or inferior to the offers made by others.
  2. Great recruiters do side-by-side competitive analysis between major talent competitors and their own organization. They identify areas of weakness and they develop a continuous improvement plan to ensure that they continually maintain a competitive advantage in everything they do.

Great Recruiters Use Leading-Edge Sourcing Tactics You have to find a candidate before you can sell them on the job. Of course, great recruiters do both ó but they must start with great sourcing tools and strategies. The very best do the following:

  1. They start with the premise that the hardest people to attract (currently employed people) are, in fact, the most desirable candidates. Great recruiters focus almost exclusively on employed top performers. The very best also realize that top performers are hardly ever unemployed and that it takes an impressive sales pitch before they will even consider leaving their current job for any new job. Great recruiters view their role as primarily a sales job, where they develop effective sales pitches that convince top candidates first to apply and then to accept their job offer.
  2. Great recruiters seek out the best candidates on a global basis. They realize that the best candidates might live in another region or country. They also realize that the tools, strategies, and approaches that work in the U.S. are unlikely to be equally as effective in other countries.
  3. Great recruiters develop processes and metrics in order to isolate which sources produce the top candidates and which sources are costly and ineffective.
  4. Great recruiters identify the best sources for diversity candidates. In addition, they also help make the business case for having a diverse workforce.
  5. Great recruiters create “feeder channels” for future hires by identifying which firms can become their “farm teams” (i.e. firms that are lower in prestige but that still attract, train, and develop employees whom they should target).
  6. They develop “personal courting” and relationship-building programs with pre-identified prospects. By pre-identifying and pre-qualifying talent, great recruiters not only decrease their response time when a position does open, but they also increase the time to have available in order to sell the candidate on the company.
  7. They help build their employment brand by speaking (and encouraging others to speak) at conferences and industry events. Great recruiters also coordinate their recruiting efforts with the company’s PR events in order to increase applicant flow as a result of good press coverage.
  8. Great recruiters build continuous candidate referral networks. By building a network of contacts both inside and outside the company that continually supply them with the names of top talent, recruiters can develop a “talent pools.”

Great Recruiters Learn Quickly

  1. Great recruiters realize that they work in a rapidly changing profession. The knowledge required to do their job and the tools that actually work can go out of date within a matter of months. If you are to excel in recruiting, you need to learn rapidly from the successes and failures of others. This means using the web to access information fast. Join recruiting-related list servers and chat rooms to learn and get answers rapidly. Subscribe to electronic recruiting and business newsletters in order to read about business and recruiting trends. The best develop a small, personal, learning network of business and HR professionals so they can test ideas and share “what works” solutions rapidly.
  2. The very best constantly experiment and try new things. If you are to continually improve, its essential that you experiment with new sources and tools. Great recruiters take calculated risks by trying new variations and then rapidly gathering data in order to identify what works.

Great Recruiters Make Use of Technology The extensive use of technology in recruiting allows us to speed up our hiring and to do it on a global basis. Top recruiters utilize the web and the latest recruiting software to find, assess, and sell candidates in ways that were not possible before the recent advances in recruiting technology. The very best recruiters do as much as 75% of their sourcing through the Internet. Some of the things the best do include:

  1. Great recruiters frequently visit Internet chat rooms and list servers in order to identify top talent and to develop relationships with any prospects they have identified.
  2. The very best recruiters use the Internet to build long-term relationships with potential candidates long before they are needed. They push jobs to them and use electronic newsletters to educate candidates about the great aspects of their firm and the jobs it has to offer.
  3. In a world where the speed of change increases literally every day, individuals must learn to do everything faster while maintaining the same level of quality. This invariably means the use of technology in everything you do. Great recruiters become experts in using technology to identify candidates and to effectively sort and track resumes.
  4. Traditionally, all hiring was done on a face-to-face basis. Candidates came to the office and interviewed in front of the owner or manager. Great recruiters utilize technology to assess and sell candidates remotely, without the expense (in time and money) of having to bring them into the office.

Other Practices of Great Recruiters

  1. Great recruiters consider retention as part of their job. Instead of dropping all contact after a candidate is hired, the best keep in touch because they realize that their insight into why the candidate accepted a job can be used to keep the new hire satisfied once they’re in it.
  2. Not all recruiting programs are equally effective, so great recruiters determine which activities, programs, and sources they should spend their limited time and resources on. They prioritize their recruiting programs based on their success rate and ROI. They focus their budgets, time, talent, and money on the highest priority areas, and delegate, drop or outsource the lowest.
  3. Great recruiters are also great business people. They realize that recruiting, if it is to be effective, must vary with the economy. Top recruiters monitor the company’s sales projections and the unemployment rate in order to develop a workforce plan and a recruiting strategy that best fits the current and forthcoming economic conditions.

Conclusion In my work with over 100 recruiting functions, I have unfortunately found that there are relatively few great recruiters in our profession. Most recruiters focus on the administrative and assessment aspects of recruiting, while the top ones focus on sourcing passive candidates and then selling them on the company and the job. The very best are also data driven and make fact-based decisions. If you are currently a recruiter who is striving to be among the best in your field, it is essential that you “unlearn” and “relearn” recruiting. Emulating the above 31 ways top recruiters differ from the norm will guarantee you a spot at the top of your profession. And what better time to start than now!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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