How to be a relatable recruiter

Recruitment is a people business, and no one knows this better than James Reed, chairman of Britain’s largest recruitment agency REED. Being relatable is one of the most important things you can be, so here are five tips to be just that.


We all know recruiters who have the gift of the gab, but does it help them to build relationships that last? As the word suggests, being relatable is about relationships, not one-off sales. Here are the best ways to be a relatable recruiter, gleaned from my many conversations with recruitment professionals.

Be a people pleaser

Many recruiters are what can be described as ‘people pleasers’, which comes in handy when you’re in a job that’s based on keeping two external parties happy. It can sometimes seem like an impossible task, but pleasing people essentially comes down to treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. When you care deeply about satisfying their needs, you’ll find your desk plays host to an endless parade of quality matches, and you’ll feel motivated from the core to provide an exceptional service.

With clients especially, this involves seeing them as more than a pay cheque. When you know what hobbies they have, where they go on holiday and what they think of their new boss, you show you care. As time goes by, you’ll become increasingly engaged with them and they with you, which makes your relationship easier to manage than if it’s only surface deep. For instance, you’ll find they trust you to do their candidate CV screening, and they’ll take your calls readily because they know you always have something useful to say. You’ll also have fun working with each other and earn more from them in the long term, because they want to do repeat business with you.

Think about how you interact with people at all levels of your client organisations. When you visit a company, it’s essential to treat the receptionist with as much respect as you would their manager, not only because it’s good manners but because that same manager will often ask the receptionist what they thought of you as soon as you’ve left. If you treat the gatekeeper as an irrelevance, you can kiss that important relationship goodbye.

Be honest

Ask any candidate what their worst experience of a recruiter has been and they’ll probably tell you it was the recruiter promising the earth when it wasn’t in their power to give it. This usually comes down to the consultant wanting to help the candidate, but it’s easy to see how it can backfire. If you’re open with your candidates they’ll be more likely to be upfront with you, so when you ask them if they’re working with any other agencies, for instance, they’ll tell you the truth. This can be a huge help when you’re marketing the candidates to clients.

The same goes for when you’re making promises to your clients. By all means give yourself a tight deadline but make sure you can stick to it, otherwise you’ll disappoint them and lose their trust (not to mention denting the reputation of yourself, your organisation and your profession). Apart from anything else, it just makes sense. When you’re realistic with both parties it decreases the chances of candidates dropping out or of clients turning them down, both major timewasters in our field. This also applies when you’re negotiating salaries. Close your clients low and your candidates high. For instance, if a candidate will accept a salary of £30,000 and the client will pay up to £35,000, agree the placement at £33,000 and everyone’s happy.

Being honest about something that you can’t deliver can involve having tricky conversations, and it’s best to do this upfront so it’s not eating away at you. As Mark Twain once said, ‘If it’s your job to eat a frog it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ Just get on with it before worrying about it has taken up your whole day.

Turn up

Did you know that if you secure a face-to-face meeting with a client to discuss a job and the lead time, you’re four times more likely to fill the role than if you do it over the phone? There’s something about the phone that makes you more easily forgotten, whereas if you take the trouble to pay a personal visit you have the chance to build rapport and get to know them on a deeper level – people buy from those they know. If you’re struggling to persuade your client to agree to you taking the job details in person, try this: ‘You rightly expect me to have met all the candidates I send you and, in the same way, they expect me to have met you before I recommend them for the job.’

Why not book a day out of your diary once every couple of weeks to visit six or eight clients? If you have 30 active ones, that means you’ll see each of them once a quarter. They’ll appreciate you giving them a market update, salary survey or even just a hello, and will often raise an issue or ask a question that they wouldn’t have thought about over the phone or email. The reassurance they’ll gain from this could make the difference between them coming to you for their next placement and searching elsewhere.

You can also create opportunities for meeting both existing and prospective clients by organising events for them. These could be social, such as taking them out to lunch, or professional, such as employment law seminars or industry update talks. You can ask a local specialist firm to provide a presentation and host it on your premises, with everyone having the chance to network and learn. It’s a great way of finding out what your clients are most interested in and positioning yourself as a helpful, go-to recruiter at the same time.

Be yourself

Sometimes it can feel as if all you do is sell, sell, sell, and when that happens you know you’re going off track. Of course, recruitment involves marketing your agency and jobs to candidates, but try not to see each call as a pitch or you’ll come across as robotic and self-serving. People buy from people and in your case that means from you, not anyone else. So be yourself on a call – in fact, it’s one of your strongest competitive advantages because no one can be you as well as… well… you.

This goes both ways. Sometimes you’ll find yourself dealing with a potential client who you find objectionable or unpleasant. Remember, it’s your decision who you work with, and if you don’t think you can get on with that person, you don’t have to progress the relationship. Running a recruitment desk is a bit like managing your own business – you have a choice who you trade with. When you love your clients you’ll give your all to them, but if you ignore your preferences just to make a sale, the cracks in the relationship will start to show. Knowing and being yourself also has another benefit, which is that you’re likely to trust your judgement when something doesn’t feel right instead of ignoring it for the sake of putting across the correct image.

Don’t forget your candidates

Recruiters are naturally empathetic towards their candidates, which is more than can be said for some clients. One recruiter I met told me that they’d had a candidate who’d failed to turn up for an interview because they’d just been rushed to hospital. ‘What a shame,’ said the client when they were informed. ‘Can you reschedule them for tomorrow?’

Joking aside, the number-one reason why many clients are reluctant to use a recruitment agency is because they once had a bad experience of that same agency as a candidate. As the maxim goes, ‘Never forget that today’s candidate is tomorrow’s client.’ Apart from anything else, it makes sense to look after your candidates because you’ve gone to the trouble of interviewing and registering them, so why would you want them to feel tempted to look elsewhere? They’re also more likely to perform well at interview if they feel confident that you’re on their side.

What do candidates value? One of their main gripes is that recruiters are all over them like a rash when they have a suitable role for them to fill, but that once the job is gone they’re dropped like a stone. Job seekers also want feedback when they’re not successful at interview, and even when they are. Think of the effort they’ve gone to in researching the company, turning up to be grilled and performing in a nerve-wracking situation – they don’t want it to be for nothing. So while you’re focusing on retaining your clients, pay equal attention to your candidates. Why not give them a call to see how their job search is going and ask if there’s anything you can do to help? Many of my recruiters have a whiteboard on which they write the types of roles for which they’re recruiting. They aim to have at least five pre-existing candidates underneath each one, and call them every week. How happy you keep your candidates should be as much a measure of your success as how well you retain your clients.

Also, understand what a candidate’s motivators are. They may want a pay rise but that’s probably not all – it’s your job to discover their deepest need. Is it a better work-life balance? A shorter commute? A more interesting challenge? When you know what they’re after, you’re in a better position to deliver it to them, and they’ll thank you for it. You have to be excited by your candidates because you need to sell them to your client – if you don’t know them well enough to relate to them, you can’t do that effectively.

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