Never Neglect Career Development for Recruiters

It’s ironic yet true: Recruiters will often pitch their organizations to candidates as places where career development is a priority–meanwhile, their own career needs are often going unaddressed.

“Recruiters are on a hamster wheel, trying to get talent in the door,” says Caroline Stokes, an executive headhunter and certified emotional-intelligence practitioner. Many of the recruiters she talks to simply don’t have the time to attend conferences or seminars or even listen to podcasts or read publications about the latest developments in the profession, she says. As a result, they’re often struggling, forever behind and at greater risk for burnout. Given the digital revolution in the recruiting field, the challenge to find qualified candidates and the necessity of providing a positive candidate experience in today’s environment, it’s more important than ever for recruiters to be sharpening their skills and building their strengths–and yet many find themselves simply running in place, she says.

In the following Q&A, Stokes–who hosts a podcast called The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter and who will be presenting a session at the upcoming Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference on recruiters and career development–explains why emotional intelligence and listening skills will be increasingly vital for recruiters to have, and why she believes recruiting is the world’s toughest job.

Why are recruiters often the last people in the world to get career or leadership coaching?

I’ve spoken to so many recruiters who have enormous workloads–they’ll say, “I have 150 open reqs to fill. We just can’t do it all.” They simply don’t have the time. How can they possibly do it all? They’ve got to monitor their inbox, they’re managing rejections, analyzing candidates and determining whether they’re compatible for the role, getting feedback from hiring managers and so on. It’s the organization’s responsibility to ensure that the recruiters have a chance to take a deep breath, analyze what they need to do and how to do it strategically, and develop their soft skills and shape a recruiting strategy to help move the company forward.

It’s also the recruiters’ responsibility to advocate for themselves. They need to be brave and say, “I need training. This is the course I need to take.” It might mean going for a six-month executive-coaching course at Stanford or a course from the Center for Creative Leadership, but whatever it is, once you get on that train of career and leadership development, there’s no going back. It’s like once you’ve had a really good hamburger–it’s hard to go back to the greasy fast-food place down the street afterwards! You crave that feeling of learning and growing, and it makes you more employable for the future. I don’t hear recruiters talking about this very much. I’ve had recruiters on my podcast who do have that attitude and drive to make themselves and their company better, but in general, it’s really hard to find, either because the organization will prevent it or recruiters themselves just don’t think it’s their area of development.

In your experience, where do recruiters tend to need the most “work” in this area?

Quite frankly, they’re trained on how to use the latest technology, social media, how to negotiate, create a script that can be recycled–all that standard stuff we just automatically use–but when it comes to directly speaking to candidates or being able to think about how to approach talent in a different way, that’s where shortcomings lie. It’s kind of like how a detective has to learn to think like a criminal in order to catch a criminal; a recruiter has to learn how to think like a candidate so that they can find those candidates and lure them in. This requires emotional intelligence and soft skills. Listening is a really underappreciated skill, especially in this day and age when we’re so inundated with tech and things are moving so quickly. You may say, “Oh, I listen,” but you don’t.

Why is listening such a vital skill for recruiters?

When you’re trying to understand the nuances of an individual, the ability to ask clear questions and listen intently are absolutely critical. You have to be able to stop and listen to a candidate so you understand what’s going on with them and help them feel that they want to be a part of your organization. If a recruiter isn’t listening to the talent they’re interviewing, then it’s a complete disconnect. All companies will say, “We listen to our customers,” but we’re all at fault for not actually listening. For example, there’s a blockchain engineer who’s posted more than one article on LinkedIn about how recruiters from Amazon keep contacting him over and over again, even though he’s written at the top of his LinkedIn profile that he specifically does not wish to be contacted by Amazon! They apparently don’t read that or don’t share that information among themselves and just keep contacting him. It’s because recruiters are so highly pressured that they’re trying to vacuum up talent wherever they see it, but they’re going about it the wrong way. Why doesn’t someone just reach out to this guy, take him out for coffee or lunch and ask, “What is it we’re doing wrong?” But they’re not interested in listening.

Why is emotional intelligence an important quality for effective recruiting?

Caroline Stokes, an executive headhunter and certified emotional-intelligence practitioner

The most important aspect of developing one’s emotional intelligence in recruiting is the stress composite–how you manage stress, from a recruiter perspective, is huge. We all want to be better versions of ourselves. We’d rather not make mistakes, such as grammatical mistakes when sending emails out or CCing the wrong person because we’re so rushed. If we’re not able to manage our stress, we can’t think creatively about how to find a candidate or think like a candidate: Where are they? What qualities do they have? But, if you can manage that stress composite extremely well, then you’ll be able to handle your negotiations better, manage your relationships with candidates better, you’ll be better at research and communicating.

And [stress] impacts your relationships with friends, family, loved ones. How many wrecked relationships have occurred because we’re stressed? Learning to be an executive coach, mastering emotional intelligence … it makes you a better human, so you can be better for your clients, for the people who rely on you, for the talent you need to place. That’s the beautiful virtuous cycle, rather than the vicious cycle I see for so many recruiters, who don’t feel content or satisfied and they don’t understand why. I think going through executive coaching, emotional-intelligence training, leadership development–it enables them to see, “OK, I understand so much more, I understand how my brain works.” The thing is, regardless of whether we’re extroverts or introverts, our brains all work the same way, and we need to understand ourselves so that we can then help others.

As an example, one of my classmates at my executive-coaching certification class at Royal Roads University was a surgeon who was very direct with people and had difficulty smoothing things over; she would actually have the nurses talk to patients so she wouldn’t have to. She said the course was life-changing. She went from being a doctor with an arguably difficult bedside manner to someone who was constantly working on improving it to showing more empathy and understanding and becoming much better with people. She became a hugger!

You’re in the process of writing a book. Can you summarize what it’s about?

It’s titled Elephants Before Unicorns: How to Attract Talent in the AI Age. It’s about how all the “elephants” in an organization can impact how a recruiter is able to work and how they can attract talent. Everyone wants the best possible candidates, but in order to do that, you have to do some internal reflecting [on] how things inside the organization need to be addressed, and this book will explore how to do it.

In the process of writing your book, have you had any new insights into what it will take for recruiters to be successful going forward?

Well, in terms of technology, it’s never been more important to be human because, even with all of today’s advances, we’re still hiring other humans. Despite all the new technology, recruiters still aren’t very happy. They have the toughest job, the most underappreciated job, in the world.

My punchline is that, to become more human, leverage your organization’s leadership and understand the importance of what you’re doing and how you serve the organization, which comes from a better understanding of how it works. When you have a better understanding of how you can make a positive impact, that will enable a disgruntled and unhappy individual who may not have been meeting their targets to have a complete turnaround.

The Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference will take place Feb. 20 through Feb. 22 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

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Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.