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How to Hire a Great Recruiter

Your company is just emerging from ‘Start-Up’ mode where everyone does everything, and now the need to grow and fill out your departments is critical to continued success. If your company just won a project/program, or just received VC funding – this need is foremost on your to-do list. Instead of paying outside agencies exorbitant fees, you decide you need your own Great Recruiter.

The vast majority of growth-stage companies I have dealt with over the last 15 years go into this search and hiring process completely blind. They usually find their Great Recruiter only after a several trials and errors, in addition to the expenditure of time and money. They know what they don’t want. But what do they want?

What if there were no trials, and no errors? How much would it accelerate your company growth?

Here are a few defining character traits that I advise companies to look for in Great Recruiters:

  1. Competitiveness: Former athletes or military experience, basically candidates who competed in something against their peers for recognition/awards/money. I once hired a chess champion who needed coaching on urgency, but was unbelievably competitive and thorough – which is hard to teach.

  2. Urgency Level: There is innate drive and understanding that the market is tight, and moving good candidates through the process quickly (and thoroughly) can be the difference. They do important things first, fast, and right.

  3. Curiosity: I find Recruiters who aren’t afraid to ask the 3-5 additional ‘tough’ questions to candidates are the ones who find the rockstars most often. This also means Recruiters who are genuinely interested in the technologies and skill sets they are working.

  4. Detail-Driven: The devil, and the bad hires, are in the details. These Recruiters have an ear for ‘BS’ and they question, politely, the details in candidate experiences. If something doesn’t add up, they know it and address it before a manager speaks to the candidate.

  5. Creativity: The old way of just calling people who are on job boards is dead. Great Recruiters are resourceful and savvy with various way to get in contact with candidates through social media, references and referrals, and networking. What can they make 3 calls on and get a good candidate?

  6. Ability to Replicate Themselves: They can share 1-2 examples of actual people they helped to learn the job, trained, mentored, or coached – formally or informally. How are those people doing now?

Here are some great interview questions that I usually ask to draw out these traits:

  • Tell me about something you competed for – how did you prepare, train, focus and execute?

  • How would you describe the relationship between speed and quality? What is more important to you?

  • Describe a scenario where you had 3-5 major ‘to-dos’ in a day, how did you prioritize them?

  • What is the best piece of professional feedback that you’ve received? How did you apply it?

  • Tell me about a time dealing with a difficult candidate who was amazing on paper.

  • Have you ever had a candidate embarrass you? What happened and how did you adjust moving forward?

  • What is your process for ensuring a candidate would accept an offer your company presents?

  • Describe a few creative sourcing techniques you’ve employed that you consider to be different than your peers.

  • What are two skill sets that I could give you just the title and the salary, and you could have candidates for by the end of the day?

  • Who are 1-2 people that would name you as a major influencer or coach for their early career? What did you teach them and what were the results?

Great recruiters are made, not born. So, who makes them?

Typically, major staffing and recruiting firms hire and train thousands of new grads each year, and just as typically, will turnover 40-60% of them. BEWARE of those who did not achieve any level of success or had short, jumpy tenures at several of them. The ones you want are those who were trained well to be ‘Hunters’ and achieved documented success, but are potentially burned-out by the hours, metrics, culture, etc. These recruiters can turn out very well, as they have the foundation.

Recruiters from other companies like yours can also work well – but due diligence must be applied. The name of their existing/former employer is not an automatic indicator of their abilities to do what your company needs. If they have been on the ‘corporate side’ their entire career, most likely they have not received the training required to be Hunters, but Davis Laine can help with that.

The choices a company makes with their first, second or third Recruiter hires can either accelerate company growth, or stall it. As anyone running a company can tell you - it is much easier to hire people than to fire them. It is certainly not at the level of hiring mistake as a bad executive choice, but because of that, can linger far too long and cost far too much. Interviewing and hiring Great Recruiters is not easy, but using some of the tips above can guide you to long-term success.

About the Author:

Mike Nicholas is the founder of Davis Laine, LLC, an expert advisory firm specializing in solving talent acquisition headaches through TA setup advisory, specialized recruiter skills training, and surge recruiting support.

For more information, visit

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