What Makes an Ideal Recruiter?

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 It’s not difficult to list the skills and traits of an ideal recruiter. But, more challenging is identifying how and when possessing these desirable, but not ultra-rare characteristics almost certainly spells “r-e-c-r-u-i-t-e-r” and only that.

In other words, why do these traits that are also found in other occupations—singly or in combination—create or predispose someone to becoming a recruiter, as opposed to, say, a marriage counselor?

For example, being a “people person” by temperament or other inclination seems to be an essential, indispensable trait (along with associated people-person skills). But there are lots of occupations, including that of marriage counselor, that require such an attribute.

So the question becomes when does being a people person or possessing other ideal recruiter traits, singly or in combination, result in or predispose to (considering) becoming a recruiter? Is being a “people person” really a necessary, even if not a sufficient condition for being a(n ideal) recruiter?

The preliminary answer(s) to these questions can take various forms, based on different “models”:

1. There is a single general or specific trait, circumstance or skill (in all likelihood as yet unidentified) that virtually guarantees that its possessor will or should become a recruiter. The challenge is to identify it. Here, the model is X= RECRUITER. This is the simplest, clearest and least likely model, unless some astrologer knows something we don’t, e.g., “Ah…Taurus with Mars rising. Yep, that’s why you’re a recruiter!”

2. Although individual traits and skills may be common to many professions, when a certain combination of them exists in one person, the probability (s)he will or should become a recruiter (and maybe even only a recruiter) automatically becomes very high. In that case, the model is X+Y+Z = RECRUITER. This can be broken down into two sub-types: “circumstantial” and “typological”.

The circumstantial version identifies unique personal historical variables as the key determining factors in becoming a recruiter (and conceivably for becoming an ideal recruiter):  Mandy desperately needed a job + likes talking to people + saw an ad for a recruiter job illustrates this circumstantial model.

Clearly, such an oversimplified illustration will capture neither the full dynamics of becoming a real recruiter nor serve as a “recipe” for an ideal recruiter—especially since historical accidents and circumstances can’t serve as a kind of generalizable template or algorithm for creating any and every recruiter, ideal or otherwise.

The typological form of this model could, however, conceivably work. Something like “Type A + Extrovert + Empathy +….”, which if a long and specific enough list could be a formula for an ideal recruiter (but see #4, below).

3. Common relevant single traits/skills or common combinations of traits/skills may need, in particular instances, some further “nudge”, e.g., circumstantial or chance factor, to “create” a recruiter. Change the nudge, e.g., a chance encounter with a professional who recommends the career, moving into an apartment next to a recruiting office, taking the first job that clears the accumulated stack of bills.

A more melodramatic example of this is having a “life script” with a (psychologically, genetically, socioeconomically or even supernaturally predisposing) strong bias toward recruiting that will virtually assure becoming a recruiter, if having the otherwise general and common characteristics, as a necessary condition, is met.

The model that expresses this is (X+Y+Z) + NUDGE FACTOR = RECRUITER. Theoretically, such life scripts (in the sense intended by “transactional analysis ”) could include “I must be neither a follower (subordinate) nor a leader (dominant). These are too risky. So, I will become a messenger.”

4. The required traits and skills in any given list may seem too common to suffice to pinpoint “recruiter” as the inevitable or very probable career, because, in fact, they are described too generally. For example, “people person” may not be specific enough, e.g., to distinguish an ideal recruiter from an ideal hotel doorman.

Instead, “people person who likes to triangulate relationships” might be a better approximation, given that recruiters mediate the relationship between employer and job candidate, whereas, to do his job, a hotel doorman can communicate with only the incoming/exiting guest). In this case, the model becomes X’+Y’+Z’=RECRUITER, where the prime symbol indicates a sub-variety or subset of X, Y, and Z.

Common sense and observation suggest #3 and #4 as likeliest to be the correct model(s). Because nudge factors can be extraordinarily diverse and unpredictable, it seems that the most useful model to develop here is #4—the specialized general-trait model, e.g., “people person”, but of a very specific sort.

What Kind of ‘People Person’?

Because “people person” has already been introduced and is easily understood to have different, perhaps incongruent manifestations, let’s start with that:

  • People-oriented: What could possibly distinguish a people-person recruiter from, say, the typical people-person, people-oriented triangulating marriage counselor? Lots.

Despite their common characteristics of enjoying interaction with other people, mediating between them and wanting to do something useful, there are people-oriented respects in which recruiter and marriage counselor are diametrically opposite.

Conspicuous among those differences is the contrast between a marriage counselor’s expectation, role and goal of overcoming conflict and a recruiter’s commitment to preventing it.  Someone who likes a good scrap may be better suited to calming down screaming couples than to recruiting.

Likewise, someone who, as a child, was too terrified to help parents who were constantly fighting might make a better recruiter than marriage counselor, if only from fear of trying.

These  two forms of being a people person are quite different—as different as the roles and goals of a referee in a boxing match (whose role is to supervise required conflict) and those of a confessional priest (whose main aim, as middleman, is to eliminate and prevent further conflict between sinful man and his Maker).

Hence, when listing “people person” as a key, ideal recruiter trait or when vetting recruiters on that basis, it will not be enough to hear from that recruiter that (s)he is “people-oriented”, given that even illegal drug dealers are “people people” (whose jobs, unlike those of recruiters, depend on stealth, violence and dangerous conflict—with the law and rival dealers).

The Recruiter as ‘Patient’

  • Patient: It’s a cliché and stereotype to say that recruiters have to be patient, and by implication that the ideal recruiter must be perfectly patient. What’s less commonplace is the consideration that patience comes in many, sometimes conflicting forms—which raises the question of which kind of patience a recruiter should have.

Customer service reps have to be patient—not in terms of waiting for results or information (as a recruiter may often have to be), but in waiting for an angry customer to cool off.  A given recruiter’s patience is likely to be more akin to or primarily “time-tolerance” than to the service reps required “rudeness-tolerance”.

This means patience in waiting for information—something routine for a recruiter, but very difficult for a service counter rep working with a customer in real time.

Hence, here too, caution is needed in interpreting a job-hunting recruiter’s self-described “patience”—because (s)he may be talking about rudeness-tolerance, while the interviewer is hearing time-tolerance.

Recruiter ‘Empathy’

  • Empathic:  “Empathy” sounds perfect—as something everybody should have in any job involving other people. So, it should be part of the ideal-recruiter package. But, not so fast—there are two kinds of empathy, and they are in some ways completely opposite.

The first form of empathy is the one with which we are all familiar: sympathy experienced in virtue of caringly putting ourselves in the shoes and soul of another. Call this “nice empathy”.

But then there’s a second, not so nice kind of empathy: manipulative, exploitative—the kind of empathy ad men and propagandists have that makes it so easy for them to move and control masses of people.

Worse, it’s the kind of empathy that a dungeon inquisitor has that enables him to know precisely how, how long and where to inflict pain—precisely because he can get under his victim’s skin while peeling it off.  Call this “not-so-nice empathy”.

Common to all of this not-so-nice empathy’s forms is the ability and inclination to identify with the feelings, aspirations, thoughts, etc., of another just enough to manipulate and exploit them, but not so much as to care about them.

Presumably, the ideal recruiter will be someone with a well-developed capacity for “nice empathy” and, as a minimum, unfamiliarity, ineptitude or lack of interest in “not-so-nice empathy”.

Other Recruiter Traits

Now consider other traits likely to be thought to be the right stuff an ideal recruiter will have:

  • Persistent
  • Adaptable
  • Mediating
  • Curious
  • Informed
  • Knowledgeable
  • Observant
  • Fair-minded and impartial

All of the foregoing are short-listed traits that can serve to define and identify the “ideal recruiter”. Space here does not allow a comparable fine-mesh analysis, like those above. But rest assured, this can be done for each of them—and with the same instructive conclusion: In searching for an ideal recruiter (or an ideal candidate) or in aspiring to become one, be sure that

1. You are identifying the ideal trait, skill or circumstance specifically enough to not misinterpret it or confuse it with one of its alternative, conflicting or disqualifying forms.

2. You don’t confuse an essential trait with an “accidental” one—i.e., with one that is merely associated coincidentally, personally or stereotypically with some great recruiter you know (of).

If you can avoid committing these blunders, you will be taking at least one step toward becoming even more ideal yourself.


By Michael Moffa