The Competencies of a Great Recruiter: Human Resources or Sales?

If you are in a leadership position and responsible for growing your business, then no doubt you need to have a strong recruiting capability. As we all know, it’s all about the talent. Through the years the word “recruiting” has been used to cover many facets of talent acquisition. I often ask the following question to business leaders: When it comes to finding, attracting, and engaging talent in your market, do you see the skill sets of an excellent recruiter more in alignment with those of human resource people or those of sales and marketing people?

How you view the strengths of your Human Resource people vs. the strengths of your Talent Acquisition people can be critical to your growth strategy. Most managers believe that recruiting high-performance candidates, while associated with the HR department, requires the skill sets of a good salesperson. The traditional human resource function is responsible for many important areas of an organization including, compensation, benefits, payroll, organizational design, training and development, succession planning, culture development, diversity, labor law, retention, onboarding, job analysis/design, performance metrics, and workforce planning – just to name a few. While discussing the core competencies required to excel in these areas is beyond the scope of this blog post, suffice it to say that these competencies and the behavioral characteristics associated with these HR functions are quite different than those of a sales function. Successful sales people, generally speaking, have different skill sets and behavioral profiles than successful HR people.

So where does a “great recruiter” fit in? Having hired many recruiters over many years, it has been my experience that the very best recruiters have the behavioral characteristics and competencies of great salespeople. The process of finding, attracting, and engaging talent that results in an “excellent hire” is similar to moving a sale through a solutions-based sales cycle of a complex product. This is especially true if you are pursuing successful people from your competitors. These people are not in the job market – not looking at online job postings – and not responding to unsolicited emails or LinkedIn messages. They are highly regarded by their firms and well compensated. Herein lies the significant difference in the recruiter who has the behavioral characteristics of the HR type vs. the “headhunter” who has the behavioral characteristics of the salesperson. In my experience, many HR types tend to rely on job postings, LinkedIn messages, and employee referral programs. Headhunter/sales types tend to rely on proactively cold calling potential candidates, generating leads and referrals, converting them into prospects, and developing personal relationships.

In a market of high unemployment where many people are monitoring job ads, finding an “acceptable candidate” is not difficult and the typical HR recruitment process can get the job done. However, when the job market begins to turn up and many companies begin to hire – they are all usually doing so simultaneously and using the same online resources. This is where a recruiter with a salesperson/hunter mentality will be essential to finding, attracting, and engaging the level of talent that will put your company ahead of the competition. This is also why many companies are now separating their Talent Acquisition function from their HR department. They have come to realize that Talent Acquisition is critical to the success of the organization and the function requires “hunters” with excellent sales skills. Some companies can afford to develop this internally and some prefer to outsource it to professional recruiting firms. Either way, it is critical for attracting superior talent.

About the Author

Joe Ziccardi

Joe Ziccardi is currently the Chief Talent Officer and Director of Human Resources Services for Alternative Recruiting, a consulting firm and service provider in talent acquisition solutions, executive search, and performance optimization. With more than two decades of experience in providing talent and HR related services, Mr. Ziccardi brings extensive knowledge and insight to the talent issues that face small to mid-size enterprises.

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