Five Specific Traits All High-Performing Recruiters Share

February 11, 2022
George Turner Global Head of Operations

If you Google “what makes a good recruitment consultant?” you’ll find a mountain of articles waxing on about “communication skills”, “confidence” and “discipline”. And let’s be clear: those articles aren’t wrong. Each of these qualities is key to being a great recruiter – it’s just that they’re also key to 90% of other professions.  

These articles read like bad job ads – generic, perfunctory and dull. So instead of informing you once again that good recruiters are “productive”, we’re going to use our wealth of experience to tell you what actually sets recruiters apart from other professions.

Here are five specific traits all high-performing recruiters have in common:

1. Perspective taking

Recruitment is a constant balancing act, where you’re trying to serve both the needs of your client and the needs of your candidates. But this isn’t as simple as just getting people what they ask for – we have to really understand what they need.

That requires perspective taking: the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and make sense of their complex needs, wants and blindspots. Sometimes a candidate doesn’t understand their worth; sometimes a client hasn’t properly thought through the role they’re filling. 

Great recruiters are able to see things from a variety of points of view and negotiate outcomes that better serve everybody. This is often what marks great recruiters out from merely competent ones – they are able to please both parties. 

2. Active listening

If great recruitment were as simple as pairing suitable candidates with suitable clients, we might as well automate the whole thing. In reality though, an awful lot of recruiters’ time is spent decoding and making sense of what our candidates and clients tell us.

Active listening is a particular way of engaging with people. It involved keenly observing both the verbal and non-verbal communications, and asking for clarification or elaboration when necessary. 

For a recruiter, this is vital for a few reasons. First, it helps us signal attentiveness and build genuine trust and respect. But perhaps more importantly, it ensures that we actually understand what the candidate or client is trying to say. 

Because not everyone is capable of perfectly articulating themselves, and it is often only by decoding what people say that we are able to get to the essence of what they really want. 

3. Antifragility

Responding well to difficult situations is desirable in any job – that’s why so many employers now specify “adaptability” and “resilience” as key soft skills. But for recruiters these qualities go one step further: it is not just about adapting to difficult conditions but actively thriving in them.

That is what antifragility is: the ability to actively increase in capability as a result of stress, uncertainty and challenging circumstances. Great recruiters not only survive but thrive on the tough deadlines, late nights and fast paced environment they find themselves. 

4. Tactful honesty

Not many jobs involve actively lying – though perhaps more than most of us would like. But great recruitment demands a particular kind of honesty which few other professions require. 

Consultants have to be able to tell uncomfortable, often rather brutal truths in a way that doesn’t hurt individuals or harm negotiations. They have to be both forthright and compassionate – a balance that is not easily achieved.

This may also be the clearest way to distinguish between good and bad recruiters. Bad recruiters get the balance wrong, either tipping into arrogant bluntness or irritating sycophancy. 

5. Genuinely caring about work

Everybody cares about their own work, but recruiters have to care about work in general. Whether its workplace culture or fair compensation, great recruiters feel passionately about ensuring that work is a positive part of every candidate’s life.