Executive recruiters come in a variety of styles — some are flashy and fast, others quiet and thoughtful. Some seem more like salesmen, while others operate like scientists.
Whatever their approach, the best executive recruiters all possess certain internal traits that help them succeed — behavioral mechanics conducive to excellence.
Here are five of the most critical.
1. Great recruiters aren’t afraid to ask questions (and don’t make assumptions)
Before they do anything else, great executive recruiters seek to understand their clients’ needs. In turn, they’re not afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer to a client’s question.
That requires more humility than you might think. Executive recruiters face a certain amount of pressure to be seen as industry experts. As a result, many recruiters feel they have to provide immediate answers to every question their clients ask out of fear they’ll appear unprepared or undeserving of their search fee.
But succumbing to this anxiety isn’t just tempting — it’s also dangerous.
Recruiters preoccupied with perception skip steps in favor of seeming smart. They make assumptions, rely on surface-level conceptions of what it is a client wants in a new hire, and ultimately produce answers that are inadequate at best and irrelevant at worst.
Good executive recruiters resist that impulse. They know they’ll never have an answer for every one of their clients’ questions. They also know that when they don’t fully understand a client’s question or request, what they need to do is to obtain more information, even if it means risking sounding unprepared.
This is something I, and a lot of other experienced recruiters, still struggle with—but in 99% of client engagements, asking questions is the key to search success.
2. Great recruiters are able to find the answers they don’t yet have
Of course, it’s not enough to simply ask questions. Quality executive recruiters also need to be able to put their money where their mouth is and track down mission-critical information when that’s what they’ve promised to do.
In other words: great executive recruiters follow through.
Often, what that entails is conducting thorough and thoughtful research. This might look like scouring obscure texts about frameworks and systems relevant to the role you’re recruiting for. It might mean familiarizing yourself with federal compliance standards, and it most definitely means understanding the industry your client operates in.
But it also requires a certain awareness. Beware of paralysis by analysis. In conducting a search for a software developer, for example, you don’t need to teach yourself how to write code — but you should know how programming languages differ.
What it really comes down to is competence and reliability. If you’re not able to conduct research in this way — if you’re not able to deliver information requested of you by a client — you will never be able to complete searches successfully at scale.
3. Great recruiters inspire confidence through a process-driven approach
As an executive recruiter, one of your more implicit jobs throughout the search process is to inspire confidence in your client that by hiring you, they’ve made the right decision.
What separates the low performers from the experts is the manner in which they accomplish this. Average recruiters seek to appear qualified. These are the folks who pretend to have all the answers, who offer nothing but bluff, bluster, and a slurry of buzzwords.
Professionals, meanwhile, inspire confidence with a process-driven approach—one proven to produce results.
These are the kinds of executive recruiters who enjoy continued success over time, the sort that builds upon itself and earns them a reputation. They don’t need to sell themselves or convince a client that they’re working hard, because they can point to the machine they’ve built, the results it has generated, and let that do the talking.
Searches conducted by recruiters who eschew process or don’t lend it this sort of credence turn out to be disasters.
4. Great recruiters have high standards for themselves—and their work
Here’s the truth about maintaining efficient and inspiring processes: in order to do it, you have to hold yourself and those on your team to a certain standard of professionalism and excellence.
Executive recruiting is a lot of work. It entails outbound engagement with candidates, client management, process management — a veritable orchestra of responsibility.
Great recruiters ensure the mechanics of their process stay finely tuned. They arrive to meetings and status calls on time and well prepared. They use platforms like Clockwork Recruiting to stay organized and keep all relevant reports and research findings in one collaborative space. Moreover, they don’t make excuses.
5. Great recruiters like what they do and want to get better
As with any profession, to be great at executive recruiting, you have to want to be great. You have to want to improve.
The reason? Executive recruiting is athletic. It’s competitive. It’s hard, and it requires a certain commitment. You have to push yourself. And in order to do that on a regular basis, you have to want to get better at it.
If you don’t, you’ll fall behind. Simple as that. Because elsewhere, other recruiters do want to improve and are working harder than you every minute to do just that.
Executive search is hard. There are times when you’ll fail or become demoralized. But what separates average recruiters from those who are transcendent are the internal skills—the mechanisms churning like pistons beneath your rib cage that can only be learned over time. That’s what powers you to work harder than the competition.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re flashy or slick. What matters is that internal machinery.
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