I never meant to be a recruiter. One doesn't go to school for that type of job. Given how misunderstood the role is or has become, I'm still reluctant to call myself a straight recruiter. It’s always been much more than that to me and it is much more than what many people might believe it to be. A person in this role is a hunter and a gatherer of brilliance and creativity. Motivated by all of the wacky and awesome things people do out there, this person's appetite to find them is never completely satiated. The training for the job itself, is life.
Like most kids, I grew up curious. Raised as an only child by a single mother who depended on a community to help raise me, I quickly became very outgoing. I talked to nearly anyone. I was interested in everything and more often than not, I tested my curiosity and was always trying out new things. The piece of glue that always stuck was the single constant that was part of everything I was interested in: people. Each person was so vastly different than the next but there was always a piece of common ground.
When I was young, I even remember thinking the exact thought, “Wow, people are different.” It’s simple but important. A person thinks and believes 100% differently and 100% the same as someone else, somewhere, about some issue or topic. This was no different than in my own pre-teen life at that stage.
I described to my Mom a scene one evening after baseball practice,
“Hey, Mom! Me and Danny got into a fight on the baseball field after we missed a play. We couldn’t believe we messed up. It was so dumb. It was such an easy play. We argued forever about what we should’ve done. But then we stopped and started talking about what we should do if it happened again. We agreed on what we should do next. I thought it was sooooooo weird. Can you believe that?! We actually agreed on something. I mean, Mom - this is Danny I’m talking about! I guess everyone has something in common with someone about something right?”
Danny and I hadn’t agreed on much. He didn’t seem to understand me and I didn’t seem to understand him. He always teased me. I was on the baseball team much longer than most girls who had transferred to the softball team. We girls all had to transfer by a certain age but I hung around a little longer than most. He always asked about me that. After the missed play incident, he didn’t seem to care anymore.
That day on the field, I really changed my mind about him. He, too, about me. We were the outfielders who, together, missed a play. From that day on, I also started to think differently about people in general. We really do all have something in common. The puzzle for the rest of my life, however, was going to be to figure out what the common piece is and run with it. There was always a sweet spot.
Years later, after I finished graduate school, a company equally interested in what made people tick, took a chance on me and my ever-diverse resume. Up until that point, I thought my extreme curiosity and global history was a liability on paper. Wow, was I wrong.
For the first time in my post-academic life, a company wanted to hire my curiosity to help them ‘get the job done.’ It wasn’t easy but their investment in me and my background was crystal clear right from the phone screen stage. I felt amazing. It was as if a bridge had been discovered between two vastly different worlds in which I had very different levels of experience: the professional and the eccentric. That bridge was me. I was onboard no matter what - even if I didn’t get the job.
Throughout the interview process, I had to answer some tricky questions,
“So, explain to us how your global curiosity is going to be satiated by sitting inside a building in Silicon Valley, California?”
“How do you plan to translate your ability to navigate the world into the ability to develop and navigate a hiring process?”
“Honestly, your background is great. I have so many fun questions but first, I’d like to hear how you would like to be kept challenged and engaged in this or any role?”
Before each answer, I admitted one truth: “Wow, this is an awesome, challenging and really interesting question. You must really care about the people that work for you.”
I also admitted some version of another truth to each interviewer:
“I didn’t have to leave my neighborhood block to get what I did out of life so far but I did. It wasn’t planned that way. However, that piece that I got out of life and that I still keep getting out of life, is the ability to interact with some pretty amazing characters. They’re everywhere. Even right here. And every day, I still can’t believe what we are all capable of doing. So here I am and you’re presenting to me an opportunity to help those people build a bridge towards their ideal job? I’ve never done that before! You’d trust me do to that? That’s awesome and huge! That’s my ideal job!”
I got the job. And wow, I loved that job.
After I started, I was confirmed that even professionally, a recruiter, interviewer, people-person, culture manager, talent strategist - anyone, for that matter - is the sum of their experiences. A great recruiter (or enter your in-house name for it), however, is good at finding the overlap between the sum of their experiences with the goals, vision, direction of the company for which they’re recruiting. Then, they find common ground with candidates and each of their own parts that overlap with the company and role.
They dive into that sweet spot of what that candidate is really like; the books, thinkers or ideas that keep them up at night; the things that make them jump up with excitement; the depths of what really make them dynamic thinkers and problem solvers; and any other details that make them an interesting potential co-worker. After that, occasionally, magic happens. That magic is a hire.
The more diverse the thinking and experiences, the better the recruiter. As important, however, is that the more diverse and open a company is to that recruiter’s experiences, the better that great recruiter will be at that given company. After all, this role and the relationship between recruiter and company should translate into a heavy level of trust bestowed upon the recruiter as the company’s first and ongoing critical filter. Great teams aren’t just interested in numbers. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can hire a ton of candidates fast. That haste, however, will increase the likelihood of internal people development and productivity issues in the future. That, in turn, impacts business. The match made between a great team and it’s recruiter is, therefore, an important one. Understanding that relationship and cultivating it is even more important.
A great recruiter is your frontline. They are the messengers and protectors that can save you time, make you smarter by hiring the right team, and they can strategize about where to source and how to find the best people to align with the companies priorities. The quality and types of people the interviewing team spends time with is massively impacted by the decision a recruiter makes in the very beginning. This means they aren’t afraid to say no. They want the absolute right pipeline. Time is money and they want to make sure you make the best decisions with both. At the end of the day, a great recruiter should even be able to work in some of roles for which they are recruiting.
They are also “the safe zone” for candidates. They know the tricky details that candidates don’t want to yet share with their potential teams (who are typically interviewing them upfront) and their potential manager (someone who is often pretty involved in the hiring and offer process.) Candidates often do, and often should, tell recruiters things that they want to be held safe and sacred in the beginning stages of the hiring process: their current compensation; their timing; personal issues that might affect accepting or starting a job; their opinions or concerns about the interviews, team or role; anything that could even remotely be mistaken as something that clouds their passion and fit for the job.
Recruiters, in turn, should be the safe place that all interviewers and hiring managers go to when they have great or concerning feedback about a candidate. Interviewers and hiring managers shouldn’t have to convey that feedback directly. It’s their own reputation on the line if they do. Recruiters, having soaked up the ability to communicate challenging messages to a variety of people at a variety of levels, are the ones that can soften any message on behalf of the team. This is especially important when the message isn’t one of a job offer.
There are, of course, always exceptions. The size of the team, the amount and types of roles, and the stage of growth are some of the many reasons why a recruiter’s role might vary from company to company. They are, however, more than just seat-fillers. They aren’t just schedulers. They dig. They search wide and deep in the craziest places for the right people.
The people in these recruiting roles should sit at the table. Yes, that table. After all, they’re the ones who help set the table and all of it’s fine china.
You should take a deep and thoughtful approach towards finding your recruiter. They will be one of the best hires you ever make.