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Job Recruiter Qualifications

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In a competitive job market, especially for executive and upper-management level positions, job recruiters are valuable partners to both job seekers and the companies looking to hire the best people. A job recruiter might work for directly for a company, identifying and recruiting individuals to come work for the same company, or might work as a headhunter with a third-party agency, recruiting individuals for openings in client organizations. Regardless of who the recruiter collects a paycheck from, though, there are certainly qualifications that he or she needs to meet in order to be successful. However, if you were to ask which of the following is a qualification that all recruiters must have, the answer would most likely be: “All of them.”

Executive Recruiter General Qualifications

In general, most recruiters need to have at least some experience in human resources before starting to search for and place individuals in open positions. Although recruiting itself doesn’t have any specific degree requirements, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that most employers prefer to hire Human Resources Specialists who have degrees in human resources, business or a related field. Certification isn’t always required, but many employers look for individuals who have earned certification in human resources or a specialty area from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the HR Certification Institute. Recruiting firms may also prefer candidates who have experience in a specific field, as well as a strong professional network of contacts.

Be a People Person

It might seem like it goes without saying that a recruiter needs to have people skills – that is, a recruiter has to be personable and engaging, and able to cultivate strong relationships – but a surprising number of recruiters actually aren’t all that friendly, or they don’t focus on building relationships. Many job candidates report having meetings with job recruiters that felt more like interrogations, being treated rudely or even being lied to by headhunters, all of which can give recruiters a bad name.

A good recruiter is focused on you and getting you to work with the company, and will take the time to get to know you both as a person and as an employee. Effective recruiters value your time, listen to your needs and desires and help you grow your career, not just place you in any job because there is an opening. And if things aren’t going well, a good recruiter is going to be compassionate and honest with you, then work with you to find more appropriate opportunities – not simply tell you that an employer wasn’t interested, or disappear. In short, the answer to the question, “What are the qualities of a good recruiter?” begin with a desire to work with people, along with a friendly and professional demeanor.

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Sales Skills

In many ways, recruiting is a sales job, because you are trying to convince both employers and candidates to work with you and with each other. You need to convince your clients that you can find them the best person to fill their needs, and convince candidates that they can benefit from working with your clients or employer. You should be able to articulate to both parties how they will benefit from the relationship, and in some cases, help negotiate contracts or employment agreements that will make everyone happy. Knowing the right questions to ask, how to overcome obstacles and solve your clients’ problems will make a you a good, if not great, recruiter.

Research Skills

If you think that recruiting is mostly using the computer to search LinkedIn and job search sites for resumes and profiles, think again. An ability to conduct research and use creative methods to search for and find potential job candidates is one of the most important executive recruiter qualifications. Among other tools, successful recruiting involves networking, making phone calls, staying on top of industry news and following key players, identifying thought leaders and using social media to find people who have the skill sets your clients are looking for in an employee. You can certainly use sites like LinkedIn as a starting point, but not everyone has a presence on the platform or keeps it up to date, meaning that you might not find an ideal candidate if you limit your search to that site. Similarly, a job bank or resume repository will contain thousands of resumes, but they probably won’t tell the full story of any of the candidates. Before you begin actively courting someone, you want to know all about them – and by using your research skills, you can discover things about people that would put them at the top of the list when they otherwise would have been overlooked, or even take someone out of consideration before you spend time reaching out. Recruiters are referred to as “headhunters” for a reason: They are hunters, and will put in the time and energy required to hunt for the perfect candidate.

Look Beyond the Surface

Having good research skills also means you possess the ability to look beyond the surface of a candidate’s resume or the “typical” employee a business is likely to hire. Recruiters who are able to uncover the “wow” factor in a candidate that might not be visible based on a resume – who look at the whole candidate and his or her motivations, paths to success and transferable skills – are going to have a great deal more success than those who focus on what is included in a resume or database profile. Again, recruiters who are willing to dig deeper and really hunt for great candidates are going to be the ones in highest demand.

Good Listening Skills

Recruiters provide a service to both their clients and their recruits, and providing excellent service means listening carefully. Not only do they need to listen to their clients or the hiring manager in their company to learn about the job, the ideal candidate and the skills and qualifications they are looking for, they also need to listen to the people they are recruiting to learn more about what they can do and what they are seeking from an employer. Successful recruiters learn early on that it’s not about them, but rather about the people they are working for, so they need to listen carefully to truly understand what all parties need and want. Great recruiters have mastered the art of active listening, and use techniques such as summarizing, restating, validating and reflecting to indicate that they have heard and understood. They also take detailed notes and refer back to conversations in future communications, thereby leaving no room for misunderstandings.

Good Communication Skills

Not only do recruiters need the ability to listen, they also need to communicate clearly and effectively. There’s no room for misinterpretation in the hiring field, so recruiters need to be clear, direct and accurate in all of their communication. They understand what creates roadblocks to communication, including being patronizing, making assumptions and providing unsolicited advice, and would rather rely on their listening skills to determine what others are really saying – and act accordingly. Remember, a recruiter is a salesperson, and he or she must be able to uncover the customers’ pain points and explain why their service or solution is the best. By asking leading and open-ended questions designed to get people talking, and listening carefully to the responses, a recruiter can provide solutions that work for everyone.

Following Up

Imagine being heavily courted by a recruiter, to the point where you are seriously considering leaving a good position for one that sounds even better. You’re all ready to take the next steps and start interviewing, and then suddenly the recruiter stops returning your calls and emails. Or perhaps you’re simply in the early stages of working with a recruiter and you agree to talk, and maybe send over your resume, and then the recruiter simply disappears. Recruiting is a relationship-based field, and if you drop the ball on following up, and essentially "ghost" your contacts, you aren’t going to be very successful. Even if a candidate turns out not to be a great fit or your client chooses someone else, it’s professional (and polite) to continue to follow up and stay in contact. Otherwise, the next time you approach someone with an opportunity, they aren’t likely to want to work with you – and they will tell others about their experience. Always make a point of staying in contact with your clients and candidates, even if it’s just a quick check in to let them know what’s going on, and even if there haven’t been any major changes.

Understand the Big Picture

Successful recruiting isn’t only about finding a candidate who ticks off all of the boxes for education and experience. Even the most well-qualified candidate can be a complete disaster in the workplace if he or she doesn’t fit in to the culture of the organization. Recruiters need to understand the value that a candidate can bring to an organization and how they fit into the overall picture, understanding that even those who don’t have the exact experience or skill set being sought could still be a good fit.

One approach to big-picture thinking is to look at candidates less in terms of specific skills, and more in terms of the expectations and requirements of the job and how well an individual can manage the required tasks. Think about what a successful candidate could bring to the table, and the experience and accomplishments that could be beneficial to the hiring organization. What qualities – regardless of how they were fostered – make someone a great fit? By focusing on the bigger picture and the overall candidate profile, recruiters will be more successful in reaching passive candidates and in identifying those who would be a great fit, even if their background seems unconventional or isn’t an exact match to what the employer thinks it wants.

Proactive Networking

Recruiters don’t only look for candidates when they have a position to fill. The best recruiters are those who cultivate a talent community and spend time nurturing those relationships. Just because someone doesn’t fit into a position today doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Staying in touch and keeping track of new skills, accomplishments and experience could mean the difference between determining exactly the right person at the right time and having to engage in an exhaustive search.

Being proactive also means staying abreast of the future needs of your organization or your client organization. Great recruiters are always one step ahead, keeping track of employee comings and goings, growth in the company and trends that could influence company needs and the specific skills that they are looking for in new hires. Being proactive as a job recruiter allows you to be a partner to your clients or employer, and produce the best possible results.

About the Author

An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

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