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Talent acquisition requires a balance of hard skills—e.g. data analytics and business acumen—with the soft skills required to work in teams and negotiate with people.

As someone who has been in the industry for over 10 years, here are the essential skills, traits, and competencies I look for when hiring recruiters.

1. Curiosity

This a skill that more and more leaders in more and more verticals are turning to.

You may be surprised to see it first on the list, but I reject the notion that recruitment is simple and doesn’t require lots of learning.

I remember one of my first managers telling me that I was too “cerebral” for recruitment and I asked too many questions.

Turns out my curiosity was my superpower that allowed me to adapt to the changes in job market conditions. 

It also helped me make the move to in-house from agency recruitment and into wider HR.

For example, if you approach every conversation with a candidate as if it’s the first time you’re hearing about their experience, you will learn a lot more about them than if you approach it as if you already know what they do because you’ve recruited similar people from their company before.

Bear in mind that while a screening call may be your 8th conversation of the day, you’re the first point of contact for the candidate.

Approaching conversations with genuine curiosity to get to know the person can make or break your process.

Besides, it’s how you can keep each conversation fresh even when you’re in the thick of it and averaging around 10 conversations a day!

Eventually, this is how you can carve a niche and become the go-to recruiter for a specific area. Either that or you become a true generalist who can pick up a lot of different roles.

It's also worth joining communities and keeping up with the latest latest recruitment trends.

2. Communicating With A Purpose

Each role requires a different kind of communication e.g. product managers have to influence and organize.

For recruitment, it’s a balance of being informative while simultaneously gathering information and assessing a candidate.

This is because it’s important for both the candidates and the company to be able to make informed decisions about each other.

This will take time and lots of practice i.e. conversations with candidates and also genuine reflection.

I always take time to reflect while writing up my screening notes for hiring managers by asking myself the following questions:

  • Do I have enough details on the person’s experience, motivation, and current mindset when it comes to going to a new role?
  • Did I ask enough questions to understand the depth of experience and expertise i.e. not just lots of descriptive notes, but true insight?
  • Did I inform the candidate sufficiently about the role - the bits where it matches their expectations and the bits where it doesn’t?

3. Project Management

In my agency days, it was common to joke about how bad recruiters are at “admin”.

And yes, if you discount it as just “admin” it can be boring! 

But, in reality, each role you’re working on is a separate project with discreet complexities, stakeholders, etc.

Add to that the fact that you will be working on multiple roles at the same time project management skills are vital!

A good way to build up the project management skillset is to start with templates and tools to help keep track of a recruitment process.

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is useful, but even a simple waterfall/kanban tracker can be a great start.

As to templates, always make sure to invest a bit of time upfront to make sure you and the hiring manager are aligned on:

  • What does top talent look like? 
  • What signs in resumes do we look for?
  • What is the hiring process
  • What skills are required and how do you assess them?
  • What are some backups (e.g. if the hiring manager is out who can take over interviews)?
  • Standard and level of feedback for candidates.

Once you have these you can action things more efficiently e.g. be able to autonomously reject candidates at first stages and be confident handling exceptions or backups.

Recruiters need to keep the pace of the interview process, so effective time management will greatly impact the time to hire and the candidate experience.

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4. Data Analytics Skills

Recruiters should be able to identify the important data points as well as gather and interpret data.

Now, it can be quite easy to boil recruitment down to just numbers e.g. X number of people at the screening stage, X number of people at the first stage. 

However, just reporting on that will only ever yield half the actual picture. 

It’s when you start comparing things like performance over time or conversion ratios between different stages of interviews that you get the bigger picture.

In my article covering key recruitment metrics, I talk quite a bit more about which ones are most important. However, even more important than having the raw numbers is for the recruiter to be able to gain actionable insights from that data.

One of the biggest problems currently is that, with all the data and reporting we have at our fingertips, we’re not using it properly and just pasting raw numbers or graphs to slideshows.

For example, when I was in a larger organization, I had to closely watch conversion rates per source as we were investing in a lot of new sources and needed to track if that increased the quality of applications.

Since we already received a lot of applications anyway, we needed to make sure we were on top of how each source of applicants was performing to make sure we were not wasting our time and resources.

On the other hand, now that I am in a smaller organization that receives fewer applicants, I am still paying attention to the conversion rates but I need to first make sure we get a critical number of applicants before we start weeding out certain sources.

Simply having data and reporting on it is not “data skills”, it’s understanding what is important for each situation and prioritizing it. 

5. Business Acumen

Effective recruitment requires an understanding of business and the world it operates in. This means building relationships with key stakeholders to understand how they operate and their worries and opportunities.

You can also use techniques such as PESTLE, SWOT, MOST, MoSCoW, or even a simple “five why’s” to help you get a well-rounded picture.

Business acumen will lead to a better recruitment strategy that’s agile and preemptive.

For example, at my current org, it’s challenging to find the talent we need so we’ve decided to create a graduate scheme, which is uncommon for a startup.

By conducting thorough research into the business, the labor market, and using some of the data skills we mentioned above, we realized that the incumbents in the industry do not train mid-senior level experts in the way we need them so—let’s just grow our own!

It will take some time but that is why it’s better to start now, while we’re still small and our talent needs are smaller, rather than when the talent needs will be bigger.

6. Sourcing

The ability to find and identify candidates (candidate sourcing) is a skill that requires constant honing to keep up with new platforms or tools.

One of the important hard skills to learn in sourcing is Boolean search. This uses a combination of keywords and the three main Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) to organize and sift through your searches.

Boolean can help in platforms, in regular searches, and in the coveted X-ray search—using regular search engines to find people on different platforms.

recruiter skill infographics

7. Screening

Candidate screening is the first live conversation between an organization and a candidate. The aim is to get a feel for the candidate’s skills and motivations and ‘pitch’ the role and organization to them.

Screening is something you will continue to practice throughout your career and every conversation you have with a candidate can be reflected on and used as a learning point.

Being a great screener is a key aspect of being a great recruiter and one your hiring managers will thank you for, so it pays to invest time into honing this skill.

8. Problem-solving

The world of recruitment is full of surprises so recruiters have to be on their toes and be able to problem-solve.

Sometimes these will be short-term problems e.g. a candidate can’t make a certain interview time so you need to find another slot. 

Other times these will be long-term problems like not getting enough candidates in the pipeline or not getting enough qualified candidates. 

Being organized will help with many of the short-term problems, but for long-term problems, you’ll need things like data skills, business acumen, and potentially even some marketing.

Problem-solving is the productive application of multiple skills that will help you solve problems vs panicking.

Show the teams you’re working with that you’re a safe pair of hands and that if something goes wrong you have a solution.

As cathartic as it can be to have the occasional moan, focus on solving things and then if still needed, have a moan once things are solved!

9. Courage

One skill I don’t hear talked about much is courage. Maybe it’s a trait, but I see it as a skill that great recruiters develop over time.

When I was a junior recruiter, it was difficult for me to have some of the tough conversations I have regularly now.

These tough conversations can be with candidates or with hiring managers. 

Recruitment is often taught as a sales profession, and to some degree it is, but that often gives the impression that we are just there to placate both sides (candidate and company) until a contract is signed.

If you want to be the kind of recruiter that just places people in seats, go right ahead and carry on placating.

However, I've found that the best relationships I’ve had with candidates and hiring managers have been when I’ve dared to speak up when I’ve noticed something was wrong.

Two examples I can give:

Once a candidate didn’t realize it but they kept on interrupting and talking over the women who were a part of the interviewing process, including me. 

We decided not to proceed and I could have easily gone ahead and given them some generic feedback. However, I talked to them candidly about what went wrong. It was not an easy conversation but it was the thing that helped them at the time.

Another example is when I had to speak with a hiring manager who had a very specific idea of what the candidate’s background, experience, and skillset should be (I’m talking 25 bullet points, lol).

As soon as I saw this I had to push back and ask them what exactly they were looking to accomplish.

Turns out a really heavy anchor bias was at play and they basically wanted to hire someone they know and only someone they know. Not an easy conversation to call out and confront bias, but it must be had.

10. Sales And Negotiation Skills

The above non-withstanding, there is still an element of sales and negotiation you have to practice and master.

Within sales, these three are the most important for recruitment:

  • Active listening skills
  • Storytelling skills
  • Negotiation
  • Relationship-building skills

Firstly, recruiters need to listen effectively to understand what the candidate wants and then help them picture themselves in the organization.

Negotiation is a balance and it’s not just about doing everything to make a placement.

One time I had a candidate with whom we agreed on salary expectations. I came back with an offer of almost double their salary expectations thinking they would be super excited (heck I was excited to give them that offer too)! 

The candidate was excited but came back a day later saying that they wanted 3x the original expectations. 

I drew the line right there and said no as that was way above the salary range we had. It’s not easy to potentially lose the candidate, but it turned out someone had given them the bright idea to “Get as much as the salaries in the US”, which is not how it works at all (US salaries are much higher than UK salaries).

Had I caved in and relayed the 3x expectations to the hiring manager, they would have likely withdrawn the offer (and reasonably so as it was a very ham-handed attempt at negotiating). 

We eventually hired them, and they actually came up to me shortly after they’d started to thank me for holding firm and not letting them tank the negotiation.

Sometimes as a recruiter, you need to stand firm and know when to push back on candidates and hiring managers. 

Relationship building requires consistency and keeping up with candidates regardless of whether they pass the interview process or not. 

I’ve worked with some amazing people down the years and formed some great relationships. This means that I now have a large pool of candidates I can reach out to if I have a role that I think they are fit for.

Recruitment is a social role, so keep up with the candidates! 

11. Resilience

Recruiters have to deal with a lot of setbacks. Candidates who you were sure would fly through flunk an interview or reject your offer out of nowhere.

You have to learn how to deal with these setbacks and try and learn from them.

It doesn’t matter if this is the first candidate or the 100th candidate you’re talking to about a specific role, you cannot let that interfere with your energy levels and the quality of the screening call.

When I interview recruiters, I always ask them about the toughest or longest role they had to work on and what specifically they did to demonstrate their adaptability and keep up their energy and creativity throughout the whole project. 

This tells how persistent they are when things get tough.

12. Creativity

There are many ways to flex your creativity when it comes to recruitment! 

It’s a key skill I look for in all recruiters by asking about either the most creative ways they’ve found a candidate or the most creative way they told the story of the role they are working on.

Here are a few outlets for your creativity, especially in the marketing side of recruitment:

  • Making interesting, visually appealing job posts
  • Telling the story of your company e.g. how to make the EVP marketable
  • Employer branding
  • Content and visuals on the careers page
  • Finding the best candidates in creative places e.g. creating worthwhile events, creative outreach messages to passive candidates, and new sources

13. Awareness

Over time, recruiters have to develop different forms of awareness.

From being able to recognize signs of bias, to being able to advise on how to interview across different cultures and roles, it’s important to continue building your knowledge of different situations.

This skill is something that you will need to continuously develop. I invested a lot in workshops and reading books like “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer and I am still learning all the time.

Improving Your Skills

The above is a non-exhaustive list, but I wanted to make sure I highlight some of the key skills I have seen in successful recruiters who stand the test of time. 

These are things I look for as a leader whenever I hire people for my recruitment team.

The most important thing to remember is that all these skills are a work in progress for all of us.

Consistent reflection on everything you do, regular retros, and separating time to invest in your development is crucial to staying on top of your game as a recruiter.

Couple more resources to help you on your journey:

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Mariya Hristova
By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent acquisition professional turned HR leader with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She has 10+ years of experience recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that great candidate and empoyee experiences are not just a luxury, but a must. Currently she is the People Lead at Focaldata.