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What to Look for When Hiring Recruiters

What personality traits do you look for in recruiters that you hire? Where do they come from: specific industries, straight out of school, etc.? Chris from Florida

Answer: Chris, recruiters are very much like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, if you are fan of that Christmas movie. Recruiters come from the “Land of Misfit Toys”. If you remember the part of Rudolph where, “I am a cowboy who rides an ostrich,” “I am a squirt gun who shoots jelly,”? It is just like these misfits.

I have had great recruiters come from the same places my duds have come from. I have hired great recruiters right out of school; I have had duds come right out of school. I have had specific industries, but I think you might get a little bit of an edge sometimes when hiring out of retail. Somebody earlier in their career that is tired of working 80, 90 hours a week, on second shift, working holidays. Now, we have had duds come out of them too.

Here is the main difference: the accountability system you put in place for new hires will tell you much more about your success rates with the type of people you hire to be recruiters. Knowing what I know now, there is a bunch of people I look back in the 90s and early 2000s, before I started figuring this out and dialing it in, that if I had just held them accountable to some specific targets and did that in a systematized way, they would have been big billing recruiters.

This is a common axiom that most owners have, is when I hire the right guy and he/she gets it, they will stick. And that does happen, by the way, one out of 20 times. At least in my firm. Only one out of 20 times. When I look back between 1990 and, say, 2001 when I was hiring recruiters the wrong way and did not have the best accountability system in place, four or five recruiters really stepped up and did great. By the way, in that time I hired, over 100 recruiters that did not do so well. Now, a bunch of those would have still failed, even in the tightest system. Do not get me wrong, it does not say I hired 4 or 5 recruiters that were successful and 95 failures. It is those 5 recruiters would have been successful without me there, without leadership. They had their own initiative, their own drive in spite of my inability back then as a leader and a manager, they succeeded. Those are also the recruiters that will go off on their own and compete with you in four or five years because in their defense, you do not add value if you have no defined recruiter success system.

What I would challenge you to do is install an accountability system for your recruiters and that you talk about in your interview process. When I I did my interview process I would tell them the good news and bad news about recruiting was (A) most recruiters in the industry are mediocre at best. 80%. And how do I know that? Conversations with hiring executives. The recruiting industry is treated like used car salesmen because most recruiters do not develop themselves professionally. Most recruiters call prospective clients and say “Hey, Mr./Ms. Hiring Manger just checking in and want to see if you have any open recs you need help on.” That is what used car salespeople do when you step in on the lot. “Hey, you know, what do I need to do to put you in a car today?”

When new recruiters came on, we trained them entirely different, so that somebody with absolutely no experience on their first day on the phone sounded like somebody with a ton of experience. And you set that expectation in the interview. You say “The good news and bad news is most of the industry is mediocre at best. That is the bad news. The good news is, I have a system and a process we are going to take you through. I am going to hold you accountable to certain activity targets, combined with in-depth training over your first couple of days to make you very dangerous and set you up to sound successful.”

I know this works because it is working in my clients firms, so it is not just me.  It is a recruiter hiring and success system that is replicable recruiter after recruiter.

Most people think that great recruiters are found and I am here to tell you that most great recruiters are made. If you think about a soldier, there are some people that are natural born soldiers, but we can all agree on that a lot of really good soldiers are made. And how do they make that? They make them in boot camp where they kind of drag them down and build them back up. That is the whole reason for boot camp. I am not military and thank those of you who are. The purpose of boot camp is to save your life as a soldier.

The purpose of an on-boarding process with a new recruiter is to save his or her life in recruiting. We make it particularly difficult and I explain that in the interview process. I tell candidates that in the first three months there are going to be days where you are going to wish your parents never met. Recruiting is probably one of the hardest professions to break into. There is a ton of rejection. You are going to be sitting there day 62 and you are going to be leaving voicemails and getting email rejections, voicemail rejections, and you are going to say, “Is this what I spent $200,000 at college for? I’m smarter than this” and you won’t be wrong. However, I am here as your Sherpa to guide you through that path. I am telling you right now that if you do exactly, specifically, and precisely what I am going to tell you do, we will have you at six figures no later than your second year.

That is a very bold promise that I honored all the time if they followed my system. The keywords, in the statement are exactly, specifically, and precisely what I tell you to do because it is all metrics based. There is no mystery in this.

Personality wise, Chris, to answer your question and the reason I answered it, probably not the way you wanted, is it does not really matter. For me, the first criteria were I needed to like them as a human being. If I found them moderately annoying in the interview process, no matter how talented they were (that is nothing against them, I am not describing that as a bad person), but the chemistry has to be there.

The second criteria is look for evidence of where they have excelled in the absence of supervision in the past. I am looking for evidence of someone that will succeed without me. Now, am I only going to hire, try to identify that 1 in 20 person that would succeed without me? No. That is going to take 50 interviews to find that person, or better. I am going to hire the candidates that need me to succeed, need my accountability system to succeed, need my development and my mentorship to succeed. Those recruiters are much more loyal to you, than the ones that just figure everything out by themselves.

The main thing I looked for demonstrated initiative, demonstrated execution in the absence of having a direct manager present all the time. It was not a requirement, it was not a knock out factor if they did not, but that is where I looked. I coach a lot of my recruiting firm owner clients when they call me up and say, “I am about to hire this person, Mike, and here are all the things I like about him or her and here are a couple of my concerns.” And a lot of times I will say, “Hire them.” There is still an element of a crapshoot.

What I would also suggest is, hiring two or maybe three recruiters at the same time. I always liked having two or three recruiters in a training class, so I can leverage my time. By having two recruiters in a training class, if, I have got Johnny and Mary in the training class, and Mary’s hitting the cover off the ball and Johnny is kind of a slug and he is dragging on his targets. I will pull Johnny aside and say, “You know what? One of the agreements that you made here is to do exactly, specifically and precisely what I told you and you’re not hitting those exact, precise targets and this is probably just the tip of the iceberg and, Johnny, I just think you are probably better served in another career. Goodbye.” Now, Mary comes into work the next day and there is no Johnny, Mary is even more motivated. I learned from my coach that there is always a little bit of value having some “blood on the sword.”

Hiring recruiters is an art form. The beauty is, once you dial it in, this is one of those things that kind of helps you build a company that runs without you because the mentoring and the habits are built very, very early on.

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