Relationships and emotional intelligence are a recruiter’s key tools

by | 21st December 2018

What makes a good recruiter? What qualities do you need?

Perseverance is high on the list. Clients pay for a vacancy to be successfully filled, but there’s so much goes on in order to get to that stage. People don’t react how you expect or when you would like them to. You must be able to handle different people’s needs and aspirations. It can be a very reactive process with a lot of juggling involved.

Having the confidence to challenge clients is important. It’s a fine line between challenging a client and sounding arrogant, as if you know more than your client’s business than they do. There are times when a client will rule out a candidate and I know that they are wrong. It could be that I just need to highlight some skills or experience that didn’t come through in the CV. I’d be failing in my duty to both the client and the candidate if I let this pass.

There are times I need to be diplomatic. An employer might have fixed ideas about what is required and discount certain candidates because the CV doesn’t include a specific skill or experience. As an outsider I can ask some seemingly dumb questions. The employer knows his business, but perhaps the job spec is out of date or the vocabulary and jargon might not be clear to anyone outside of the company. Perhaps the employer is asking for three specifics skills, but further questioning shows that only one of those is essential and the others can be taught on the job. It’s a matter of teasing out what the employer really needs and going back to the 85% match to achieve a workable compromise.

Even when a candidate is keen and can do the job it’s still important to understand their home life, motivation and career aspirations. This means being honest about the opportunity.

Sounds like you must use a lot of psychology and emotional intelligence. Do you see yourself in the candidate’s position or do you see things from the client’s point of view?

I would say that I can easily relate to candidates, so often I find it easy to put myself in their position. I think, “What would I want from a job, if I had their skills and personality?”

A London based candidate may have a great CV and be a perfect fit for a Manchester client. But if he has a family and commitments, will he really make that long-term move? The CV tells me he’s a good candidate, but the circumstances make me think twice.

Dealing with clients can be tricky. It’s very common for an employer to come to me with a vacancy that needs filling urgently, then disappear on holiday for a couple of weeks or their priorities would shift, and the recruitment get put on hold. That happened regularly when I was recruiting for the NHS; it was not unknown for me to have to resource a job 4 or 5 times because timescales and priorities kept changing. The more a company works with me and gives me a fixed plan and timescale, the more effective the process becomes.

As a recruiter I try not to be too influential or persuasive.

Where does your business come from?

These days most clients come to me via networking. That means we already have some connection so there’s no hard selling, no cold calls.

The client will contact me by ‘phone or by email. No one looks forward to the recruitment process. If a client has had a bad experience in the past they can be very cynical. So sometimes there’s a little reassurance required.

I pride myself on being a recruiter who doesn’t pester clients. I know that probably means that I miss out on a few potential clients, but the feedback I get is that many clients are sick to death of receiving calls from pushy recruiters.

It takes time to build up a client’s trust. It may take a face to face meeting or several very long phone calls, but I pride myself getting to know the client and understanding their business before I put forward a candidate.

How do you help your clients?

By finding them staff. That’s the simple answer. The actual process is more complicated. I have to find them the right staff. If a client is looking for a sales administrator or a bookkeeper I can find plenty of people whose CVs tick the right boxes, but I need to probe deeper.  There’s no point recruiting someone who won’t fit in or would outgrow the job in six months’ time.

Understanding the culture and attitudes is vitally important. Sometimes a successful recruitment can hinge on seemingly minor details. For example, an employer might consider that “smart casual” means smart jeans and a shirt. Whereas as candidate might see ripped jeans and a hoodie as appropriate for work. That may seem a trivial example, but by making sure that both sides have the same expectations I can ensure that the candidate will fit in.

I also take a lot of the pain out of the recruitment process. For an employer there’s often a lot of stress involved.  A vacancy has sprung up because someone has left; they need to devote time and energy to filling the gap left by the leaver and at the same time draft a new job spec, place ads, sift through a stack of CVs and hold a series of interviews. That can amount to a full-time job for someone. With no guarantee they’ll find the right person, the cost of getting it wrong can be worrying.

Ultimately, I save them money. Using a recruiter will work out more cost effective than doing it yourself in the long run. The larger agencies normally charge upwards of 20%, whereas my fees are normally around half of that.

Is it always a perfect fit between client and candidate?

It’s rare to find a 100% perfect fit. I would say that we can usually work with an 85% fit from each party. There’s generally some compromise required. As I said earlier, counselling and negotiation is all part of the process.

What are your goals or targets?

When I began my priority was to still be in business in twelve months’ time. I’m glad to say that I achieved that. I can pay my bills, I don’t need to commute to an office every day and my time is my own to manage as I like. So over all I’m happy with the way things have gone so far.

To be a viable business I need to fill two or three vacancies each month. I achieved that during my first year and recently placed seven candidates in one month. That left my pipeline a little depleted. Not exactly feast and famine, but it meant that the following month I had to redirect my focus to getting new business.

My target clients are small to medium sized businesses. As a small business myself, I do not expect to work with businesses that are going to need 100 positions filling.

Having said that, a major client has asked me to fill 24 positions in the next three months. They are expanding into the UK and need a B2B sales people, telesales staff, a bookkeeper and technical staff.

Can you give us a sense of your business values?

A lot of agencies over promise and fail to deliver. I can’t guarantee that I will always find the right candidate, but I can guarantee that I will always take the challenge very personally and do my absolute best.

In the early days I was told outright by a client that he didn’t believe I could find anyone to fill their vacancies for software developers. In a way that was quite a relief as it took the pressure off; I was up against other agencies but was considered a complete outsider with no hope of competing. The thing is, good software developers are in demand and are snapped up very quickly. There was no point advertising, the way to find the right people was to contact them directly – it goes back to what I have said constantly about building a personal relationship. I think I developed a kind of professional ADHD, I put in an awful lot of time and effort into finding potential candidates and speaking to them personally. It was time consuming, but it paid off; I filled the vacancies, had a satisfied client and a credible business.

I’ve found that some people have come into recruitment with little or no previous experience. They lack the work experience and they lack the people experience that I have. For them it’s mainly about the money, for me it’s much more personal, much more about building long term strategic relationships.

Do you have any advice for anyone new to the job market?

It’s important to understand that your interaction with the agency is an important part of the recruitment process.

Bearing in mind that I tend to specialise in the IT sector, I’m most able to give advice about this sector.

You can walk out of University with a First-Class Degree, but you will very quickly find that you’ve been taught about systems that employers are no longer using, that most of your tech knowledge is simply out of date. Without practical experience many graduates struggle to find a job.

You might join a large organisation and be one software developer amongst the annual intake of 40 or 50 graduates.  Small to medium companies need someone who is tech savvy. They need someone who can walk in and take over the work load virtually from day one. Candidates need to differentiate themselves by ensuring that they are work place ready. That might mean working as an intern or just getting some real-life work experience in a different field.

Are there any big changes happening in recruitment?

Obviously, the move to on-line recruitment has had a major impact. It seems that the smaller recruiters are making the most of it. The bigger guys of the recruitment world are struggling; they are too prescriptive, they lack flexibility because they stick to a rigid model.

Businesses are switching to the smaller recruiters because we can offer a more tailored and personal service. That’s the feedback I get from clients and they often comment that I am very different from their usual recruitment agency.