Four lesser known qualities of great recruiters

As recruiters recruiting recruiters, we know the basic soft skills to be looking for when seeking out talent.
We know that great recruiters must have high levels of intelligence, professionalism and excellent communication skills, including verbal and written skills, because a recruiter spends so much time talking with people and translating employer needs into job descriptions. We know that a great recruiter has to have good listening skills, be a top notch networker, and have high levels of integrity.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the qualities that make great recruiters. These personality traits might not always be the first to come to mind when we ask “what do you look for in great recruiters?” but they make all the difference. You probably already embody these qualities yourself – that’s why you’re here! – don’t forget to look for them in your new recruits.

Four lesser known qualities of great recruiters


Empathy isn’t just about having a bleeding heart and feeling sorry for people. That’s actually sympathy, and a lot of people confuse it for empathy.

Empathy is a key component of what we call emotional intelligence, defines as
“the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically,” and is, itself, one of the keys to professional success.

Empathy, meanwhile, is specifically defined as fundamentally, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

In order to place people in positions where they will thrive, you need to be able to read them, relate to them, and put yourself in their shoes. The ability to understand what drives an individual and what will make them happy will help a recruiter go far in their career. It helps you understand what the job candidate needs to do well and also what the employer really wants and needs – regardless of what they tell you and what is written in the job description – as well as the communication style that will work best with them.

A survey conducted a few years ago found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that 90% of employees are more likely to stay with an organisation that empathises with their needs and 80% would be willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer. Also, more than two thirds of employees in tech, healthcare, and financial services said they would be willing to take less pay for a more empathetic employer. And, since the employment experience begins with the candidate experience, an empathetic recruiter is key to employee acquisition and retention.

Food for thought: research findings suggest that interviewers who ask brain teaser questions like “estimate how many windows are in New York” are more likely to have narcissistic or sadistic personality traits. Scott Highhouse, a professor from Bowling Green State University, Ohio, who specialises in industrial organizational psychology, said, “Our research suggests that people who score high on measures of narcissism and sadism are more likely to elect to use these types of questions. The common factor here is a general lack of empathy.” Don’t be that interviewer.


Many people think of conscientiousness as its basic definition: “the quality of wishing to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly.” We tend to think of a conscientious person as someone who shows up on time to work and keeps a clean desk area, but conscientiousness is more than that.

As a personality trait, conscientiousness is defined in this release as being “hard-working, orderly, responsible to others, self-controlled and rule-abiding.” Research has shown it to be a strong predictor for positive life outcomes in the areas of “academic performance, physical health and mortality, work performance, marital stability and wellbeing.” It also makes a good recruiter.

Conscientious people are aware of what is going on around them and attuned to other people’s cues. Because they pay attention, they may be better able to read body language and what’s not being said. They care about finding the right person for the job and are better able to do so than less conscientious people because they take note of the little details that make a difference. They care that everyone is happy and successful and understand how their candidate choice contributes to the success of an organization and, in turn, how that person’s work contributes.

Conscientious people don’t make rash decisions or hire someone because they think the candidate is cool or they’re just sick of looking. They carefully consider their choices and are, therefore, much more likely to get it right the first time.


Creativity might not be the first quality that comes to mind when thinking about what to look for in a great recruiter. We often associate creativity with artists, musicians, chefs, writers, and the like, and it’s defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” But creativity is a valuable quality in a recruiter.

Creative thinkers are the best problem solvers, and sometimes staffing can be the biggest problem of all. When we have jobs for which we can’t find qualified candidates, and often wonderful candidates for whom we wish we could find roles, creative recruiters can work out these puzzles.

Job postings can be dry and boring and fail to catch the attention of top talent. Creative thinkers come up with employer branding strategies that get noticed and write job descriptions that get responses. They are better able than less creative thinkers to get attention on social media for the jobs they’re working to fill with compelling content and out-of-the-box ideas.

Creative thinkers are gold.


Finally, this may be more obvious, but a recruiter absolutely must have high levels of self-confidence and self-assuredness. There’s no place for bashfulness in recruiting. A great recruiter communicates confidently and has confidence in their decision-making skills. They aren’t shy about networking, asking questions, and connecting people.

A great recruiter is happy to share ideas and post on social media without worrying about whether they’re going to look silly or be ignored (the things most of us worry about). And great recruiters are confident enough to ask probing questions. And they can handle hearing the word “no.” The ability to have one’s suggestions, ideas, candidates and job offers rejected and to react with grace is key.

Great recruiters embody these qualities in combination

It’s probably good to note that too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. And too much of any of these traits can be a problem. An overabundance of empathy can lead to an inability to think critically and to shift focus to other things. It can also lead to anxiety because empathetic recruiters may acutely feel the stress and disappointment of rejected candidates and the frustration of employers. Too much conscientiousness can lead to perfectionism and burnout and an inability to settle on decisions because you can’t stop taking all the factors into account. Too much creativity may lead to overstepping boundaries and unrelatable thinking. And finally, too much confidence can lead to arrogance and an inability to listen. Arrogance is not a quality anyone should have and not something anyone looks for in a recruiter. There is a fine line here, and it’s important to note that.

That’s also why these qualities are best in combination. Creativity combined with conscientiousness, however, pretty much negates the risk of creative thinking getting out of hand. Confidence combined with empathy and conscientiousness keeps potential arrogance in check.

Find these qualities in your recruiting hires and your success rates and those of the companies you work with will soar.

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