Article originally appeared on Forbes.com
Think of the last recruiter you spoke to.
Were they the strong, silent type?
Did they exude a quiet, stoic confidence?
Did they ask you thoughtful questions about your career goals?
Something tells me they were a bit more talkative. In fact, they were probably like the recruiter who inspired me to write this article. The guy talked so much that I seriously doubted he even needed me for the conversation!
He wasn’t trying to recruit me for a position. But judging by how he chewed my ear off, I can only imagine he treats candidates the same way.
All joking aside, this is a problem. I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about what makes for a great recruiter. Considering today’s hyper-competitive labor market, recruiters definitely need to bring their A-game.
But the discussion has missed one crucial component: the importance of listening. It may sound simple, but listening is the single most important skill for successful recruiting. If you want to achieve long-term, sustainable performance as a recruiter, you must be able to listen carefully and ask the right questions.
I’m drawing on 20 years of recruiting experience when I say that. Let me elaborate on why listening is so critical for making great placements.
Listening shows respect.
Much like amateur salespeople, recruiters often try to impress candidates. They initiate contact with a shock-and-awe approach, trying to dazzle candidates with details about an “amazing opportunity.”
The problem is that candidates can see through the charade. When we listen and ask thoughtful questions, we show candidates that we respect their time. We show them that we care about their careers. I always tell new recruiters, “Be impressed and interested, not impressive and interesting.”
Listening builds relationships.
All successful recruiting comes from relationships, and relationships are built on listening. Through listening, we grow to understand one another and learn more about someone’s strengths, weaknesses, wants and needs.
Furthermore, when we show someone that we care enough to listen, they tend to open up. They give us an honest look at where they are now and what they want in a new opportunity.
Listening leads to more knowledge.
As recruiters, we need to be savvy on the subject matter of a given field. If we’re recruiting for an IT role, we need to be experts on the IT labor market. But how are you supposed to know what it’s like to work in IT (or to job hunt in IT) if you’re not actually in the field? You find out by listening.
All too often, recruiters try to establish their authority by talking over candidates — telling them what is and isn’t possible with their job search, etc. However, we learn more about candidates and their fields by listening. The more we know, the more we’re able to influence candidates to apply or give an opportunity due consideration.
Listening builds loyalty.
A funny thing happens when you make a habit of not truly listening to candidates — they find someone who will. When candidates feel like a recruiter isn’t listening to them, they start to ignore your calls. That means you need to start tracking down other candidates. In other words, it means more stress and lost time for recruiters.
But failing to listen to candidates can have broader consequences. A particularly self-involved recruiter might push a candidate to ghost the client after accepting an offer or scheduling an interview. Likewise, candidates might badmouth the process online, harming the company’s employer brand. We must listen to candidates routinely from day one to avoid these headaches and streamline the process.
One Last Piece of Advice…
We now know why listening is important — but do we know how to listen correctly? It’s not enough to listen carefully and take detailed notes. We also have to ask questions that encourage the candidate to open up and give us the full picture. We need to prompt candidates to elaborate on their experiences and what they want out of a career.
For example, recruiters can ask candidates why they like or dislike their current position, or why they handle projects the way they do. In doing so, we can gain deeper insight into the candidate’s work style as well as their drives and motivations. With this information in hand, we can make far better placements.
In this busy, noisy world, it’s amazing what you can achieve by simply taking a moment to be quiet and listen. You’ll be surprised at what you learn and how candidates respond.