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What defines a good recruiter?

A good recruiter is one who builds strong relationships, thinks ahead, collaborates effectively with hiring managers, keeps an open mind, empathizes with candidates, plays multiple roles, continuously seeks self-improvement, represents the company well, and masters the basics of recruiting.

Christina Pavlou
Christina Pavlou

An experienced recruiter and HR professional who has transferred her expertise to insightful content to support others in HR.


What makes a good recruiter? Good recruiters don’t just perform their daily tasks well. They make sure their company continuously attracts and keeps good people. Recruiters don’t necessarily have to come from HR backgrounds, though.

Experience in sales, design, marketing, customer service, coding and a variety of other fields can foster good recruiting skills. Despite their diverse backgrounds, there are a few qualities all hire-worthy recruiters should share.

How to be a successful recruiter:

Build relationships

Statistically, recruiters have to reject more candidates than they hire. Good ones do it gracefully, by turning rejections into relationships. Sending a post-interview rejection letter should be a given.

But, sending personalized emails and building actual relationships makes good recruiters stand out, even when they’re rejecting candidates. A good recruiter remembers small, positive details from their interactions with their rejected applicants and uses them to add a personal touch to their messages. They highlight candidates’ strengths and may even suggest other jobs they would be suitable for. And they stay in touch for future openings.

Stacy Zapar, a seasoned recruiting consultant and speaker, says:

“I spend about an hour a day responding to messages in my LinkedIn network, but it’s worth it. It’s all about relationships and nurturing those relationships both professionally and personally. I invest in my network and my contacts, in turn, take time to help me back.”

Think ahead

Recruiters who add value to their company don’t just wait for a job opening announcement to start looking for candidates. They’ve started building pipelines and they keep in touch with past applicants. They engage passive candidates and create a strong network.

They know where to look for experienced candidates (like GitHub for developers) and how to meet new talent in the most unexpected places (like obscure Slack channels.) They’re not afraid to explore, and benefit from, social media recruiting. If they see a department growing, they collaborate with managers to forecast their hiring needs.

They attend HR events to stay up-to-date with recruitment trends. HR is all about development – for employees and companies alike – and a good recruiter keeps that in mind.

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Play well with hiring managers

Sometimes recruiters have to navigate disagreements with hiring managers that result from conflicts of interest. A successful recruiter needs to figure out ways to tackle these differences and balance hiring managers’ demands.

Everyone talks about candidate experience. But, hiring manager experience is equally important. Keep in mind that hiring managers don’t necessary have enough time or knowledge to thoroughly understand the entire hiring process. Good recruiters use their expertise to highlight problematic situations that may be hard for hiring managers to spot by themselves, like subtle signs that indicate a candidate may be a future toxic coworker who undermines their team.

Good recruiters also try to understand how each manager thinks. Some hiring managers might want to choose between a few top candidates, so recruiters should conduct in-depth screening interviews and make sure there won’t be any crucial deal-breakers afterwards.

Another hiring manager might prefer to quickly assess resumes on their own. In this case, a good recruiter focuses on sourcing qualified candidates and lets the hiring manager do the evaluating and interviewing on their own.

Keep an open mind

Effective recruiters know better than to judge a book by its cover or a candidate by their resume. Surely, a marketing manager is able to write a compelling resume and a salesperson can present themselves in the most engaging way. But does this necessarily mean they’re good at their job? Or, should a recruiter reject a developer with a poorly structured resume? Recruiters should read between the lines and find proof that candidates’ skills actually match their job requirements.

Operational and behavioral interview questions can help identify qualified candidates. Recruiters could ask for specific facts or assign projects to assess how their candidates deal with job duties.

But more than that, recruiters who stand out are the ones who praise the value of diversity over typical requirements. They suggest a candidate who they think is passionate enough to bring new ideas to their team, even if they don’t come from a stereotypical background. Instead of hiring another ‘beer buddy,’ an effective recruiter will consider a candidate who’s a ‘culture add’ – not a ‘culture fit.’


You have to put yourself in someone’s shoes to better understand and connect with them. And that means ‘everyone’s’ shoes. Good recruiters need to really dig into hiring managers’ needs to understand candidate requirements. Hiring managers would prefer to receive five spot-on resumes instead of 50 that don’t meet their requirements.

But recruiters also need to think from a candidate’s point of view. If they want to attract great people, they have to understand what’s meaningful to candidates and see what an employer can offer them. Recruiters won’t be able to actually get to know their candidates if they try to dominate the conversation by overselling positions and stressing that their company is a great place to work.

To stand out, recruiters should thoroughly research each role they recruit for. Thorough research means more than just reading a job description or getting a list of desirable skills from the hiring manager. Good recruiters don’t have to become masters in JavaScript to recruit web programmers, but shadowing a member of the IT department or taking a quick online course could help them get a better idea of what a programmer really does and what extra qualities they should be looking for.

Play multiple roles

You can read many recruiter job descriptions or ask any good recruiter you know to describe a typical day at work, but nothing seems to capture what a recruiter does 100 percent. That’s because recruiters interact with so many different people with different needs, every day.

Good recruiters need to know marketing techniques to post compelling job ads. They need to act as salespeople. They should know a bit about psychology to better understand candidates’ reactions. Recruiters will also find themselves using ‘PR tricks’ at recruitment events to boost their company’s employer brand.

But, above all, they need to be team players who collaborate with their colleagues. A recruiter’s job isn’t – or shouldn’t be – cut off from their company’s operations. How will they understand what kind of employee would be a good fit if they don’t interact with their team members?

Participating in the onboarding process and getting frequent feedback from new hires could give them a better understanding of the entire recruitment cycle. Then, they can make job descriptions and offer letters more accurate and appealing. Recruiting is not about ‘one-size-fits-all’ programs and procedures that work well in theory – it’s about constantly tailoring recruiting approaches to meet specific hiring needs.


For good recruiters, there is no such thing as a bad experience. Mistakes are valuable learning lessons. When they don’t achieve the results they expected, they try to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it next time. They celebrate small and big wins, like a quick hire or landing a candidate for a hard-to-fill role.

But they’re also continuously seeking ways to improve. To stay ahead of the competition, they need to follow all current HR developments. How can HR technology improve their performance? What are the latest recruiting trends? What are social media recruiting best practices? How do new laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU change the way they source?

Successful recruiters ask themselves these questions and search for the answers. HR has come a long way since it first appeared in the business world and it keeps evolving. Recruiters need to stay up-to-date to be able to turn challenges into opportunities and failures into examples to avoid.


A recruiter acts as their company’s ambassador. They’re usually the first person candidates interact with and they’re usually responsible for making (or breaking) good candidate experience. Bad candidate experience is just a Glassdoor comment away from tanking your employer brand and good recruiters are aware of that.

Treating your applicants well (or poorly) is a reflection of your company culture. If your recruiters keep canceling their interviews last minute, candidates will probably think you’re disorganized. Being impolite or failing to provide prompt responses indicates your company mightn’t respect its own employees.

On the other hand, if your recruiters acknowledge your candidates’ skills and time during the entire hiring process, it shows that your company trusts its employees and recognizes their achievements.

Are brilliant at the basics

At the end of the day, a successful recruiter is someone who has mastered the basics. If they’re not familiar with labor legislation, they could run the risk of asking illegal interview questions. Or, if they say the wrong things when sending emails to candidates, they could totally hijack their company’s recruiting efforts.

To increase their effectiveness, good recruiters use different interview processes for each role. Recruiters need to treat their candidates with respect and professionalism.

As Workable’s Recruiting Manager Eftychia Karavelaki puts it:

“Candidates are potential customers. You have to be serious about them.”

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