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The Top 5 Skills of Effective Recruiters

Executive Summary

Recruiters are the gatekeepers to a productive workforce. With so much power to alter the course of a business, it’s important to hire effective recruiters from the get-go. Just as it takes time to find the right employee, it can be challenging to find a recruiter who has the intangible skills they need to do their job effectively.  

  • Hiring a recruiter who can’t see past a candidate’s resume will likely leave you an employee whose interests and skillset are a poor fit for your organization.
  • Instead of scrambling to fill a vacancy with just any qualified candidate, be patient. Hiring in haste will cost you in the long run.
  • Though experience and education are significant considerations when hiring a recruiter, intangible skills like their eye for potential or their ability to mesh an individuals’ interests with the right position should hold considerably more weight.

The skills required to be an effective recruiter are largely intangible (as opposed to those that are concrete, measurable, or tangible).

An example of a tangible skill would be computer programming, as opposed to creative thinking, which is likely to be considered an intangible. These are no less important than tangible skills. In fact, they can be more difficult to define, which makes it more challenging to find the person who will be the best fit for a job.


First and foremost, HR recruiters need to be target-driven. This means having a clear sense of what each opening requires in the way of experience and education as well as the skillset needed to perform the essential and nonessential tasks associated with the job.


In addition, recruiters need to remain focused on departmental and organizational goals, determining how incumbents in every available job can help achieve those goals, while still satisfying their own personal career goals. This requires an understanding of what applicants are interested in: Just because someone is good at working with numbers does not mean they want to be an accountant. Effectively, then, recruiters need to mesh an individual’s skills, knowledge, and interests with the goals of an organization.


The importance of finding the best fit cannot be overstressed. This does not always mean hiring the person who is the most qualified. Potential, which is admittedly difficult to quantify, can sometimes outweigh experience, education, and credentials. You are not required to hire the most qualified person as long as you select someone who meets the minimum requirements of a job. Some people have a problem with this, equating time devoted to a task with mastery. But just because someone has done something for a long time doesn’t mean they’re good at it. Consider, too, the upside of hiring for attitude and potential and then training for skill, as needed. In other words, it’s more plausible to teach someone how to perform a tangible skill such as how to use software programs, but a good deal harder, if indeed even possible, to teach someone how to be open-minded or have a good work ethic. Stated another way, someone with best-fit qualities reflects the organization’s culture: that is, specific characteristics that define a business. Corporate culture may include an emphasis on teamwork, strategic thinking, technological awareness, and a host of other skills and attributes. Effective recruiters understand the components of their corporate culture and look for individuals whose work style and behavior are compatible.


The best HR recruiters also understand that just because they find an individual they want to hire, that person may not be sold on accepting the offer. Sometimes it’s because of salary and benefits, but there are lots of other reasons why a person accepts or rejects a job offer, such as the commute, limited growth opportunities, or the hours. Effective recruiters are salespeople of sorts: They may need to sell the merits of working for their organization, showing a willingness to compromise where possible. For example, suppose a viable applicant needs to leave work two days a week at four instead of five, in order to get to a class on time; offering them a start time of an hour earlier twice a week may be all it takes to seal the deal.


Finally, effective recruiters won’t settle. As frustrating as it may be to leave a job vacant for an extended period of time, they know it’s worse to fill it in haste, only to recruit again when the person hired doesn’t work out. When a job remains open longer than expected, the best recruiters will rethink the sources they’re using and ensure they’re on the same page as the hiring managers. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being patient.

Excerpted with permission from Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting, and Orienting New Employees by Diane Arthur, copyright Diane Arthur.

Bring It Home

I was working in the oil and gas industry, but my heart was just down the street at a local nonprofit. Determined to work for them, I watched their job openings like a hawk. Soon, a position for a copywriter opened up. Though I’d been writing for well over a decade, I had zero professional experience under my belt. Needless to say, applying for that position was a complete shot in the dark. Why would an international organization trust me to be their “voice”—writing all of their materials that their funding, their livelihood, depended on?

Miraculously, somehow, their recruiter saw past my complete lack of professional experience and to my potential. Had she not given me that first chance, I might have never been able to leave a job I was qualified for (on paper) to do for one that actually held my interest and best utilized my skillsets.

Comment below with your most memorable story when it comes to finding the right (or wrong) employee for the job, and whether or not an effective recruiter might have made all the difference.~ HarperCollins Leadership Essentials

Isaac Sacolick

Diane Arthur is the founder of Arthur Associates Management Consultants, Ltd. Human Resource Development Specialists. For the past 30 years she has provided training and consulting services to numerous organizations in all facets of HR, especially in both nonprofit and corporate work environments.

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