Tips for New Recruiters

Practitioners discuss early challenges, staying focused and standing out from the crowd

By Roy Maurer December 4, 2015

One thing recruiters need to know to succeed: Be less salesy and more engaging.

That's according to a trio of recruiting professionals from the Washington, D.C., area who agreed that the worst way to begin a conversation with a potential lead is to say “I have a job for you.” Even worse: “I have the perfect job for you.” Instead, be an active listener. “Adjust how you talk and listen to make the candidate feel listened to and valued,” said Chrissie Hendrickson, regional search director for Special Counsel, a firm that places legal support staff.

In a panel session at recruitDC’s Fall Conference, recently held in McLean, Va., titled “How to Go from Pesky Recruiter to Trusted Resource,” Hendrickson, Henry Addo and Danielle Boykin shared their insights on cultivating a network, setting expectations for candidates and clients, managing time, and creating a personal brand.

RecruitDC is a nonprofit recruiting networking group based in the nation’s capital.

Challenges Starting Out

Among the biggest tasks facing new recruiters is growing a network. Like most recruiters, Addo didn’t have a network his first day on the job. “When I started, my director sat me down and said, ‘Make calls,’ ” said Addo, a recruiter with pureIntegration, a business integration company. “I continue to make calls. You cannot build relationships without talking to people.”

For Hendrickson, the concept of building a network was “intimidating and kind of schmoozy,” she admitted. “But I came to realize that my network was really just the people I knew. The first thing I did was e-mail everyone I knew and say, ‘I’m a recruiter. If I can be of service to you or anyone you know, I’d love to be in touch.’ ”

She got so good at cultivating her network that after a few years, 85 percent of the candidates she placed were a result of direct referrals. “Don’t be intimidated by the idea of a network,” she said. “If you have one great connector in your network, you’ll have access to all kinds of other people.”

Boykin, a recruiting manager for staffing firm Robert Half, stressed the importance of engaging great connectors—those people who can introduce you to many other key people—especially when starting out. “Building a network is really a matter of having enough conversations with enough different people and ultimately being known for what you do,” she said. “I’ll accept any connection on LinkedIn, and I will engage with anyone who thinks I can be a resource for them.”

Another challenge for new recruiters is learning what questions to ask candidates to determine their career motivations. At her first job, Hendrickson conducted the first interview and then introduced the person to the account manager for additional screening before the candidate was passed on to the client. Nine times out of 10, Hendrickson’s submissions were rejected by her boss. “So I started to learn which questions were really important to the clients and what I needed to ask to make the right match,” she said. For example, she learned to say things like “Tell me the top two things you’re most looking for in your next opportunity” and “Tell me what’s motivating you to being open to the job market right now.”

Boykin struggled at first to understand what the jobs she was recruiting for actually were. “I hire finance professionals, but I don’t have a finance degree,” she said. “But I know how to talk to people, and I know how to uncover information about what they’ve done and how to ask questions about their day-to-day work activities. The second they say something I don’t understand, I say, ‘Tell me more about that.’ ” She advised junior recruiters to “dig deeper and deeper and leverage every single candidate and every single conversation to learn more about that niche group and that industry to look more like an expert in your market.”

Setting Expectations

Boykin said a client once told her the employer wanted to hire someone “as soon as possible.” In the process of determining who would be available to conduct interviews, “I found out that they have six mandatory steps in the hiring process,” she said. “I told them how unrealistic that was. We talked through the timeline again, and they didn’t budge.” Boykin told the client that working with their lengthy hiring process may be tough and that good candidates would likely drop out along the way. However, she noted, “as long as I know what that process looks likes upfront, I can tell each candidate, ‘If you’re really interested in the job, this is what it will take to get there.’ ”

Addo said he’s been similarly frustrated with the inflexibility of the hiring process at his organization. “You need to educate the hiring manager about talent acquisition,” he said.

But you also have to manage the candidates to ascertain how serious they are about a particular opportunity, he added. “They may give you a great first conversation. They tell you that they’re thinking about a new opportunity, but you need to know if they’re really interested as the process moves along. When it comes to the second or final round of interviews, and they start to hedge and say ‘I don’t know’—that will hurt your acceptance ratio.” An acceptance ratio of less than 90 percent is trouble at competitive agencies, he noted.

Boykin advised recruiters to “walk away from business” if they feel the order is a waste of time. That may not be possible on the corporate side, but at an agency, “there’s so much opportunity that if there’s an order that isn’t a good use of my time, I move on,” she said. Her advice to junior recruiters: “You’re not going to fill every job you get. Go and get a job you can fill. If it’s too niche a position, or if the pay isn’t where it should be for the role, I’ll walk away. I don’t want to sell a position to a candidate that isn’t going to be a good fit.”

Staying Focused

Recent research has shown that multitasking is not nearly as efficient as we like to believe. Boykin said she works better in a structured environment with opportunities to time-block. She spends time devising sourcing strategies around every position she is assigned, looking at what target companies to recruit from or what resources to use. “I’ll literally mark on my calendar how much time I’ll spend recruiting from LinkedIn, the amount of time I spend leveraging my network and the amount of time [I spend] combing through job boards,” she said.

Another strategy is to handle outbound e-mails and calls during a certain time block and to work on incoming e-mails and take incoming calls during a separate time block, Hendrickson said.

Boykin noted the importance of completing any research before making calls, so as not to take away from crucial calling time. Another tip: “Do first what’s closest to getting done,” she said. “For example, if you have three e-mails and one is about a new position, one is about questions regarding an upcoming interview and the third is an offer, you’re going to follow up on the offer first. It seems so simple, but it helps me prioritize when my inbox is swamped.”

Standing Out

The panelists recommended that recruiters just starting out begin working on their personal brand. Addo and Boykin share insights and experiences via blog posts. Boykin also works on her LinkedIn profile every day. “Being active on LinkedIn is my job,” she said. “I’m very mindful of what will drive people to my profile, and I ask every single person I place and every single hiring manager I work with for a recommendation.”

It’s simple, Addo said: Differentiate yourself by being yourself. “Don’t try to be anybody else. It’s important that the talent understand who you are. I come at it as an expert in recruiting and as a talent advisor. I don’t pretend that I understand more about the industry I’m hiring for than the candidate.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy



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