8 Habits of an Effective Recruiter

We gathered insights from industry veterans to uncover the “yeah, no sh*t” habits that elevate good recruiters to effective recruiters.
June 13, 2024 —— Read time: 16min

What do all great recruiters have in common?

Hint: It's not waking up at five a.m. every morning to run three miles and take an ice bath.

Many have pondered what qualities truly differentiate rookies from recruitment experts. In fact, it's not uncommon to encounter many professionals in the community – some with twice as many years of experience who still haven't mastered the art, and others fresh to the field who are already incredibly savvy.

Becoming an effective recruiter isn't about being born with a special set of skills. It's about developing strong habits and consistent strategies that result in quality hires.

Exceptional recruiters demonstrate a relentless curiosity, a passion for connecting the right people to the right opportunities, and an uncanny ability to read between the lines. Much like a chef who knows how to balance flavors in a dish, exceptional recruiters blend science and intuition to create the perfect match.

We gathered insights from industry veterans to uncover the habits that elevate good recruiters to great recruiters. Their responses ranged from “Oh yeah, no sh*t,” to “Huh, I would have never thought of that.”

Get ready to explore the raw, unfiltered truths of what makes a recruiter truly great. We've compiled all their expert tips right here—immerse yourself and prepare to take your career to the next level.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you read through that will help you understand how to apply these changes to your own workflow and career:

  • 1

    Am I genuinely practicing this habit, or just going through the motions? What's really holding me back?

  • 2

    How can I elevate what I'm already doing? What tools or resources do I need to help me level up?

  • 3

    What's my game plan for staying accountable? Who in my network can I count on to hold my feet to the fire and tell it like it is?

  • 4

    How can I take this knowledge and pay it forward by inspiring and mentoring the recruiters around me to cultivate these successful habits?

Ready to dive in? Let's go!

What rookies get wrong

Talk to any recruiter in our community. Most will tell you that they never planned on becoming recruiters. Sure, some colleges and universities may have started creating HR-related degree plans. But for plenty of industry veterans, recruiting was just something they fell into—serendipity.

Some people come into recruiting because it aligns with a deep desire to help people.

Others have different reasons, like Trent Cotton, Vice President of Talent and Culture.

“I hated working with recruiters.”
Trent Cotton
Trent Cotton
VP of Talent and Culture at HatchWorks

He explains, “Growing up, my grandmother always taught me if you don't like something, you go and break it and then make it how you want. And so I kind of took that lens and said, all right, what in business do I think is severely broken? And it was really easy–HR.”

One thing is for sure. This industry is chock-full of diverse perspectives, eclectic experiences, and oddball personalities. We promise you'll fit in just fine.

But with so much fresh meat entering the industry every day, it's natural for newbies to have certain misconceptions about what the job entails. For starters, being a recruiter isn't all about helping your neighbor's third cousin's best friend land a job. The impact is much greater.

Let's examine some common misconceptions junior recruiters have and dispel some myths about this evolving industry.

Anyone can do this job

From an outsider's perspective, recruiting may seem simple. Post a job opening and wait for the applications to roll in. Conduct a few interviews and make an offer to the “best” candidate. That's all there is to it, right?

Junior recruiters have a habit of thinking about recruitment in a very “surface-level” way, says Sr. Recruitment Manager Leti Berry. When you get a new requisition, you'll likely start looking for active candidates in obvious places, like job boards and LinkedIn.

Great recruiters go beyond these channels, thinking and searching strategically to find the best talent that matches what your client or company is looking for. “The longer I've been recruiting, the more strategic some of my searches have been. … Thinking more strategically about what companies these people that we are looking for are really going to be at and what titles they would have at those companies, and then, how can we 'cold' reach out to them?”

“Cold” reach out

"Cold" reaching out refers to engaging a candidate with whom you have had no prior interactions.

Most people see the transactional element of recruiting and think that's all it is. What they don't see is all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into successfully securing top talent, like:

“It's easy for people to jump into the field, but it's a very taxing and grueling career path. And most people don't stay in this field,” says Technical Sourcer David Marr. “It's not for everybody. You have to be motivated and not let the grind and discouragement stop you.”

Not to mention…

“You have to learn how to take pain and rejection and failure and be the person that gets blamed for things that don't go your way on a regular basis.”
David Marr
David Marr
Principal Technical Sourcer

I know too little to succeed

Unless you've previously worked in the industry that you're recruiting for, you'll probably be asked, at some point, to recruit for a role or industry that you have very little knowledge about. It's okay not to know everything at first. Don't get hung up on not understanding every bit of technical jargon from the hiring manager or job description. Diminished confidence will not serve you well in the long run, and this is an industry where continuous learning is integral to success.

Our advice? Be a sponge. Absorb as much information as you can about the expectations for the role, the current market trends for similar roles in your geographical location and industry, and the type of candidate that would best fit in with the culture set by the hiring manager and their existing team members. Ultimately, it's your job to set the expectations for the hiring manager and the candidate about what it'll take to fill the open role. Strive to be a talent advisor.

Talent advisor

A talent advisor is a true business partner to an organization. Talent advisors go beyond filling roles by helping stakeholders understand the real business impacts associated with talent-related decisions. They do this by being well-versed in market research, industry expertise, and their organization's business goals.

So, how do you get there? Here are two ways you can achieve talent advisor status:

  • 1

    Research and come prepared. Back in the day, your best bet for learning about a new role or industry was to hope that your local library was carrying some good information. Even just a few years ago, your research would be only as good as your ability to Google, or you had to learn the hard way through trial-and-error, with a little embarrassment for good measure. These days, tools like ChatGPT have made it much easier to find the answers you're looking for and close the gaps in your understanding of just about anything. Other tools like Insights give you the upper hand when it comes to market research so you can wow your hiring manager with real data points in your first intake meeting and set proper expectations for the rest of the hiring process. Veteran recruiter-turned-marketer Shannon Pritchett calls it “presearching.” You want to give the hiring manager confidence that you know what you're doing and can have a sophisticated conversation with the types of individuals who can make a huge impact in the role.

  • Presearching

    "Presearching" is the amount of research you're willing to do before the position ever opens up.
  • 2

    Be curious. Demonstrate a genuine interest in learning more during conversations with candidates and hiring managers. Aim to get a good feel for what's essential to a candidate, and if their responses are shallow, try to build enough rapport to get them to open up, advises Leti Berry. Sharing the aspects of a job opportunity that resonate will help you close candidates. On the hiring manager side, you'll want to ask in-depth questions about their team, the qualifications that matter most to them, and what they're looking out for in candidate profiles.

Sourcing is a junior-level role

“The misconception is that ‘sourcer' is a junior-level role,” says speakEZ Podcast host Dan Harten. As talent acquisition evolves, sourcing has taken on its own function separate from recruiting.

“For a sourcer, it's all about top-of-funnel.” Dan likens it to a game of dominos. The more dominos you have, the more opportunities to play. Let's say you're working on five requisitions. There's a certain amount of candidates, or “dominos”, you need “in play” to fill the role. This is also known as your talent pipeline. “You might have a goal of 20 candidates per req, so you need 100 candidates total.”

Good sourcers, like Dan, schedule at least 2-3 hours every single day to source. Outreach is a huge part of it. You never know when a person will respond, so you have to put enough effort into outreach for candidates to start filtering in when you need them to. He adds, “I was doing drip campaigns before drip campaigns were cool.”

Crediting the “compound effect” for his sourcing success, Dan set a goal of reaching out to at least 100 new candidates daily. By the end of the week, he had already engaged 500 new candidates! This relentless approach kept his pipeline flowing, and the results were impressive.

The following Monday, Dan would send a second message to anyone who hadn't responded to his message the previous Monday… and did 100 new reach-outs. Every week, the number of candidates compounded. That's a lot of dominos.

Rookie sourcers can set more achievable goals for their skill level, like reaching out to 25 candidates each day. “That's how I got good,” Dan says.

Modern inventions like recruitment candidate relationship management (CRM) systems make it easy to keep track of all these new candidate relationships. Before that, recruiters like Dan just had Outlook, a spreadsheet, and a prayer.

“Right now, the sourcer role has taken a hit because it's a candidate market, meaning there are more applicants, so you don't have to go find the talent.”
Daniel Harten
Daniel Harten
Sr. Customer Marketing Specialist

Still, sourcing calls for a valuable and unique skill set, which every great recruiter should have under their belt.

In the words of HR Director Austin George,...

“A recruiter is only as good as their pipeline.”
Austin George
Austin George
HR Director

The secret sauce: What experts get right

Now that we've discussed what rookies get wrong, let's talk about what experts get right. These are some of the habits you'll need to develop to become a lean, mean recruiting machine.

Manage your time effectively

If it isn't already clear, recruiting is not for the faint of heart. You've got hundreds of candidates to contact, hundreds more to follow up with, interviews to conduct, research to do, meetings to schedule… Learning how to manage your calendar and use your time efficiently will be instrumental to your success as a recruiter. Here's a tip from the experts: time-blocking.

Time-blocking is the practice of scheduling dedicated blocks of time in your calendar to work on specific tasks. This time management technique has several benefits, like minimizing distractions by allowing you to focus on one task at a time. Everything else will be taken care of when the time is right–literally.

In addition to time-blocking, set aside time to wrap up your day and plan for the next. Keeping a running list of action items will ensure that your day always has direction and that you always know what to prioritize.

Find “human” resources you can lean on

“Try to get involved with recruiting communities as quickly as possible,” Dan urges. “Attend webinars, conferences, trainings–internally and externally. Always consume the information that people are talking about and do your research.”

This is one of those tips that applies to recruiting but is just as valuable for any other facet of life. The pivot from good to great happens when you start viewing recruitment not just as your job but as a craft you're determined to master.

For David, mentorship was invaluable to his growth as an up-and-coming recruiter: “I had a great boss who I sat next to, and I basically learned how to do what I do now from mimicking what they did.”

So, how do you find one of these “mentors”? David says, “It doesn't have to be a person from your company. It can be someone in the industry that you respect, that you approach and say, ‘Hey, would you be willing to mentor me?' There's a bunch of us out there that are trying to help improve the community and the next generation, to pass the baton so to speak.”

Look, we get it. Putting yourself out there is scary. Assistant Vice President of Senior Executive Talent Acquisition Marvin Booker offers these words of encouragement: “We all started somewhere.” Referencing Researcher and Motivational Speaker Brené Brown's concept of “FFTs” (“F***ing First Times”), Marvin says not to let Imposter Syndrome and the fear of doing something for the first time hold you back.

“A lot of us feel those same stresses and pressures,” he continues. “Don't be afraid to get out there and have those awkward conversations. I have rarely, if ever, encountered negative feedback or pushback for doing that. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I've been embraced. If they don't have time, they'll refer you to someone else. There are so many folks who are so amazing and will dedicate their time–unpaid–just to walk you through a scenario, how to problem-solve, or just how to deal with life.

“That's how you'll grow. I couldn't have had near the success I've had in my career without the people who took the time to take my phone call or take an email or to help me out when they didn't have to. I try to pass that on as well and do the same thing for other people.”

We create ripple effects when we help other people, Marvin says. We couldn't agree more. That's the mindset behind hireEZ's free online recruiting resources, including:

Get involved today. Give back tomorrow.

Document everything

You understand the importance of learning from others. Being a better recruiter means also learning from yourself. How do you do that?

“Document your processes. Document your wins, your losses, your lessons. … That process is relevant to understanding how to be successful on a day-to-day basis.”
Marvin Booker
Marvin Booker
Senior Executive Sourcer

It's also great for reflecting on your work and accomplishments. “Sometimes we get so busy with work and life that a year can go by and you'll think ‘What did I do? What did I accomplish?' So, having that documentation can be really helpful in figuring out where you might need to make various improvements or where you were successful.”

Marvin mentions keeping a library of his favorite search strings in note-taking apps like OneNote or Evernote. Expert Tech Recruiter Heather Colvin supports this idea, encouraging recruiters to keep a database of important contacts and information:

“If you're going to be in this space for 10-15 years, [those candidates] are going to be around, too. In ten years, you might have an opportunity for them, but if you didn't keep a log or database, you might remember who they are, but you don't remember their last name or how to contact them.”
Heather Colvin
Heather Colvin
Tech Recruiter

Heather emphasizes the advantages of being detailed in your documentation. For example, as a tech recruiter, she might specify whether a candidate specializes in working with Java or .NET for web development. This makes it easier to find the right people to contact when a relevant opportunity arises.

Learn to manage hiring managers

Let's be real. Your hiring manager is not the expert on finding the best talent. That responsibility falls on you, the recruiter. It's your job to steer the ship every step of the way toward hiring the right person for the role. Here's how Shannon Pritchett did it:

“I would build my searches with the hiring manager, and I'd run those searches in front of them so they could actually see what the talent pool looks like.” Collaborator Dashboards in hireEZ facilitate this type of information sharing to ensure stronger partnerships between recruiters and various stakeholders.

Shannon continues, “The more you can remove yourself from the actual outreach, the more likely you are to be successful.” So, for example, having the hiring manager reach out to the candidate directly might be a more effective strategy than the standard approach of having the recruiter reach out first. “People are more willing to talk to somebody who's currently doing that job or someone who's hiring than a recruiter themselves.

“But just because you didn't reach out to that person or ‘find' the person, you still set up the hiring manager for success, which is really what it's all about, is enabling them, making them look good, and helping them solve that position a lot faster. That's your customer at the end of the day.” Not only does Shannon's approach improve your chances of getting a candidate response, but it also helps the hiring manager feel more invested earlier in the hiring process.

The greatest thing Shannon ever did, in her own words? “I set up SLAs (service level agreements) with the hiring manager. You had to commit to me that you were going to be available to interview these candidates.”

It's about creating a good candidate experience. No one wants to be left waiting weeks to move forward to the next step in the process. “If I know you can't interview a candidate for a month, well then I'm not even going to open the position for two weeks, cause what's the point?”

By blocking off interview times, being prepared with “presearch,” and getting the hiring manager directly involved in the process, Shannon created a turnkey approach that set the stage for successful hiring. All that was left to do was find the right candidates to fill those interview slots.

Worst-case scenario? There's no candidate to interview, and the hiring manager gets that time back. Who can argue with that?

Make the phone screen conversational

“I don't care what anyone says—most recruiters don't actually read resumes," says Shannon Pritchett. "That's a blatant lie. You skim for keywords, then move on. Maybe before the phone screen, you'll glance at it more thoroughly to ask smarter questions. But the resume itself doesn't really matter. What actually matters is what you can bring from that resume into a real conversation with you and the candidate.”
Shannon Pritchett
Shannon Pritchett
VP of Marketing

Pointing to factors like gendered differences in resume writing, Shannon emphasizes the importance of using the phone screen interview to ask more probing and engaging questions that open a proper dialogue with the candidate. “We know for a fact that men tend to talk about themselves more than women. Men aren't afraid to be more boastful. Women tend to have a little more Imposter Syndrome than men.” These factors demonstrate why it's not enough to rely on a resume or standard interview questions to help you identify top candidates.

The misconception that recruiters have about first-round interviews, Shannon says, is that their purpose is for the candidate to sell themselves to you. It's not. The purpose of first-round interviews is so you can sell the candidate to the hiring manager. “If you can have an engaging, intelligent, and not a rushed conversation with [the candidate], then you're going to be a lot more sophisticated on if this is actually going to be a good fit or not.

“The best recruiters are the ones that advocate for the candidates.” Conducting a proper phone screen interview–one that is engaging, conversational, and illuminating–is the first step to truly understanding how a candidate might fit into your open role.

Here are some questions you may want to ask to get the conversation rolling:

  • 1

    "Tell me about a project or task you are most proud of. What was your role, and what was the outcome?"

  • 2

    "What's a decision you made in your career that significantly impacted where you are today? How did you arrive at that decision?"

  • 3

    "What gets you out of bed in the morning and excites you about your work?"

  • 4

    "Can you describe a time when you had to solve a problem that didn't have an obvious solution? How did you approach it?"

  • 5

    "Imagine it's five years from now, and you're looking back on your time here. What achievements would you like to have accomplished?"

  • 6

    "Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy. How do you think our company matches up?"

  • 7

    "What is a passion project or side project you have worked on? What motivated you to start it, and what did you learn from it?"

  • 8

    "Can you share a piece of constructive feedback you received and how it helped you grow professionally?"

Measuring Impact

There you have it. Develop these expert habits, and soon, you'll be able to call yourself a real talent advisor! We need more of those.

The impact is real. Take it from Leti: “Recruiting can be super transactional. We're talking to a lot of people that might not be interested, we're getting ghosted, it's kind of like a rollercoaster.

“But two years ago,” she recalls, “it was right around Christmas, and someone who I had placed in a job like four years prior called me to wish me happy holidays and tell me how that job really elevated his career. And I think that that really just helps to show the impact you can make in recruiting.

“We are making a huge impact on the business as well as in individual lives, and I think seeing that impact can make it easier to go through the rollercoaster of emotions.”
Leti Berry
Leti Berry
Sr. Recruitment Manager

Kudos to Leti and all our expert recruiters for navigating the ups and downs of this crazy industry and always finding–sometimes inventing–solutions to the daily challenges we face.

If you're looking to level up your talent-finding skills, check out these skill-based courses available for free on Outbound Recruiting Academy. Happy recruiting!


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