How to Become a Recruiter, According to 16 Experts

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What skills and qualifications do you need to become a recruiter?

We asked experts to give us their insights.

Table of Contents

Ian Clark

Ian Clark

Head of Americas, Washington Frank

Great recruiters come from all walks of life, so we don’t require any kind of formal education as a rule

Though many of our consultants do come to us as graduates, they have backgrounds in a wide range of academic subjects. All you really need to become a recruiter is resolve, a proactive attitude, and a passion for helping people.

Work on building those skills that will help you in a sales role

Look into online recruitment certifications. Take a course in public speaking to build confidence. Even studying something like project management will really help you stand out; recruiters have to be able to keep a lot of plates in the air.

No matter what sector you decide to recruit in, it’s your soft skills and your mindset that really matter. Recruiting can be tough, but it’s truly an industry where you make your own luck, and it can be incredibly rewarding if you’re tenacious enough.

Bob Prather

Bob Prather

General Manager of Accounting & Finance Division, Lucas Group

One of the great things about the recruiting industry is the diverse backgrounds from where recruiters come. Not many folks leave school with the intent of exploring a career in recruiting. In fact, most don’t even know that is an option. However, after getting a bit of education on the scope of the job and on the ability to make recruiting a fun, long-term career, it is a very attractive option.

My first recommendation is to understand what type of recruiting company may fit you the best

If you have relatively little experience, it may be in your best interest to find a larger, national company with training programs in place to introduce you to the world of recruiting and start with teaching you the basics. If you have sales or industry experience, you may find that a smaller, more-flexible environment fits your background.

However, I’d encourage someone that wants to get into recruiting to do their homework and find several different types of companies to engage with them.

You could try to engage the company by applying online

However, part of what makes a successful recruiter is being resourceful when it comes to finding hiring managers. Rather than applying online only and hoping for a callback, I would recommend finding the main number to the local office of the companies that look like potential fits for your background and ask for the person in charge of an internal recruiter or the local hiring manager.

The initiative will go a long way to show that you have the resourcefulness and willingness to find the right talent or contact.

Keep in mind that for good recruiters, recruiting is a profession and a career – not just a job

Like any profession, such as law or accounting, you will have to put in a lot of effort and hard work at the beginning to understand the basics and learn the consultative skills necessary to bring value to clients and candidates.

But, when you do put in that effort, recruiting can be a rewarding, lucrative, long-term career that allows you to impact peoples’ lives on a daily basis.

Sara Ferraioli

Sara Ferraioli

Partner and Managing Director of Human Resources Division, WinterWyman

Being persistent without being aggressive or annoying

The most successful recruiters I know can balance being persistent with being respectful and professional. When we want that ideal candidate, they typically don’t say, “yes” on the first call; we follow up in the appropriate time frame, with the right temperament and a clear message.

If you come across as overly pushy or unauthentic, you’ll lose trust damage your reputation. Understanding the balance between persistent and aggressive will be helpful as you get started in your recruiting career.

Being financially motivated

This may seem like a topic you want to avoid but being at least partially motivated by money seems to be a common thread with successful recruiters. The field can be very lucrative for professionals who do it right.

So while recruiting is a people business – we love making high-quality matches with great people and excellent companies – the work can be tough; the financial pay off helps recruiters stay motivated and engaged. If you are thinking of a career in recruiting, consider how money-motivated you are.

Chris Chancey

Founder, Amplio Recruiting

There is no clear path for a career in recruitment. While a formal education is nice to have, it is definitely not the be all end all. I, for example, graduated with a degree in Business Stewardship and I thought I was going to be a pastor only to go off on a tangent to pursue a career in recruiting.

A lot goes into building a career in this field but I would say the three main requirements for anyone wanting to take a deep dive into recruiting are great people skills, networking, and personal branding.

Improve your interpersonal skills

A large part of recruitment is about interacting with people from all walks of life whether those are corporate clients or job candidates. Importantly, the job entails selling the benefits of working with a certain employer to job seekers and ensuring employers get value for their money by matching them with great employees.

Take advantage of opportunities that will help you learn how to communicate effectively, build relationships, negotiate, persuade and sell.

Network

The recruiting industry is very close-knit and that’s probably due to the nature of the job, which is pivoted on referrals and recommendations. The thing is if you want to get into recruiting, knowing and reaching out to several recruiters who are already at the top of their game will give you a leg up. This doesn’t mean you can’t launch your career if you do not know anyone; just be prepared for a very steep climb on your way up.

Your best bet is to build and grow your network using all the tools at your disposal both offline and online. Preferably, get a mentor or two, who can guide you in the right direction and even recommend you for some entry-level positions.

Build your personal brand

Trust and visibility are the currency of a career in recruitment. Job candidates need to trust you with their career journey and employers need to trust that you will source the best talent for them.

Other than that, the world of recruiting is super competitive and taking the initiative to build your personal brand not only helps you build credibility; it is also a great way to set yourself apart as an emerging thought-leader, which makes you game for top recruiting firms if you wish to go the way of employment.

Social media is a boon for anyone who is serious about building and managing their brand; if you know your way around LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you have no excuse for not building a vibrant personal brand.

Tom McGee

Tom McGee

Vice President & General Manager of Sales & Marketing Division, Lucas Group

People become recruiters in several ways.

They talk with a recruiter about finding a job and that recruiter asks the candidate if they would be interested in becoming a recruiter themselves. In my experience, numbers one and two are usually how people get into the world of recruiting.

  • A friend of theirs who is a recruiter suggests they could be a great recruiter.
  • A person during their career realizes that they like the recruiting aspect of their job and decides to pursue it.
  • A person decides to make a career change and they figure out that, by going into recruiting, they can use their connections and knowledge of their industry to be successful.

If someone is interested in getting into recruiting, I would suggest they research the industry and learn which firms recruit for which industries. Then they should contact multiple firms that interest them. When interviewing, they should ask questions about:

  • The level of positions they place.
  • The compensation package.
  • How and when they will be paid on a placement.
  • How the firm handles splits between recruiters.
  • If their recruiters run a full desk or a split desk.

Jordan Wan

Jordan Wan

Founder & CEO, CloserIQ

Evaluate your skillset and determine which ones can be used in recruiting

Before moving to a career in recruitment, it’s helpful to think critically about what skills and experiences you bring. Create a list of your strengths as a sales professional, and consider how these skills might be transferable to recruitment.

Find a mentor in recruiting

Recruitment is a vast field, and trying to navigate it without mentorship is a mistake. Comb through your professional network; consider people you’ve met at industry events, as well as recruiters you’ve worked within the past. You may also be able to connect with recruiters on social media, as many are active there.

Familiarize HR tech tools

To succeed as a recruiter, you need to learn about an entirely new set of tools. Even if you’re not taking a full certification course, pursue resources that will allow you to learn more about recruitment technology. Listing these skills on a resume can be a real differentiator.

Ellen Mullarkey

Ellen Mullarkey

Vice President, Messina Staffing

Recruiting is essentially a sales job, and you really have to be a self-starter

There’s also a surprising amount to learn. The best way to get into it is to get an entry-level position at a recruiting firm. Just call them and sell yourself to them. If you can do that, you’ll get hired and will be on your way. Be prepared for a grind, though, as you’ll start off cold calling and screening.

Even if you want to work independently as a recruiter, you should start at a company and learn how it works first. You can also reach out to any recruiters you know and ask for advice or even to shadow them.

Find a niche that you’re good at and enjoy and then zero in on that and stick to it

Recruiting is a very different world across industries, for example, blue-collar tech jobs versus IT jobs, so don’t give up if it doesn’t work for you right away. You might just be working in the wrong niche.

Don’t assume that a sector you know the most about or have the most experience in is where you’ll be the best recruiter. There are really a lot of other factors that match your personality to a particular type of recruiting—whether that’s the particular sector, agency versus corporate versus independent.

So, the bottom line is that getting into recruiting is though, and it takes a lot of perseverance. But if you can sell, you can recruit. And once you find your stride it’s really rewarding to work.

Ryan More

Ryan More

Director of Executive Search Practice, Peak Sales Recruiting

Develop your interpersonal skills, as recruiting is equal part selling and relationship management

You may have found the perfect candidate for a role, but you may need to sell them on why the new role is worth moving, increased travel time, lower salary, etc. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have to sell the client on why the candidate is who they need rather than who they think they need.

Identify an industry you can specialize in

As this makes it much easier to learn about the environment, the clients you’ll be working for, and the unique traits that are required for employees in that industry.

Learn what actually makes an ideal employee in this industry, learn about the expectations that come with that role, and speak the language so that when the time comes, you can have a deeper conversation about the opportunities you have and the businesses you’re representing.

Develop your networks

By looking for individuals in your industry and reaching out to them on LinkedIn – this platform will be your most valuable tool in this role. Not only for finding candidates, but it can be used as a tool to absorb thought-leadership from the brightest professionals in the field you’ve targeted.

Learn enough, and you can even use it to put out your own content, promote your personal brand, and let it do the job of attracting candidates and clients to you.

Simon Royston

Simon Royston

Founder and Managing Director, The Recruitment Lab

A career in recruitment can be incredibly rewarding. Depending upon your personal aspirations I believe recruitment is able to offer spiritual, financial and intellectual rewards….literally find a recruitment role with the right culture and you can pretty much have it all.

That said, to be a successful recruiter you need to have some key skills

You will be expected to be excellent at sales, an awesome communicator (written and verbal), target driven, prepared to work hard, be disciplined and do the basics each and every day, multitask like a god and have skin so thick a rhino will be jealous.

To be right at the top of your game you need business acumen, empathy, maturity and a large dose of common sense. A touch of gravitas also helps when clients want to discuss problems that need solutions and candidates need career advice.

I feel those best prepared for a career in recruitment have previous roles and experiences that have developed some of these skills. A stint in telesales, a busy account manager position, maybe something where you have had to work with the public.

Many graduates leave university and step into recruitment roles. Yes, they tend to be confident communicators, but many have had part-time jobs during their studies which actually enhances their application to the industry.

If you are serious about a role in recruitment, think of it from the perspective of the hiring manager. They want you to hit targets, be capable of speaking confidently to clients and candidates and winning new business….if you have a track record of being able to do that then step this way. Just be prepared for hard work and some setbacks along the way and if you can do that you may be about to have a lot of fun in the industry.

Evan Donahue

Evan Donahue

Sales and Recruiting Manager, JMJ Phillip Group

Recruiters typically work in an industry niche

Research your local agencies and get an understanding of what niche they work in and go after the one that sparks your interest.

Communicate and network

Recruiters talk to people all day long and often to individuals at varying levels in an organization. How can one gain experience doing this while still in school? Attend networking events and get out of your comfort zone. The ability to approach others, open a discussion, and carry a conversation with them will be very valuable.

Lastly, think about if you want to work for an agency or if you want to be an In-house recruiter

Without real-world experience, you may not know which is right for you. I’d recommend starting at an agency. You’ll gain insight into a lot of industries and learn a ton about how businesses operate.

Kathleen Steffey

Kathleen Steffey

CEO, Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search

The first thing you have to consider is your characteristics and abilities to make sure you have what it takes

A recruiter’s day to day role is highly determined by the following; work ethic, behaviors, ability to never give up, decision making, excellent communication skills (both written and verbal) and resilience to up’s and down’s.

Start applying for Recruiting positions with larger recruiting agencies

Larger recruiting firms provide a structure that allows for entry-level recruiter’s to be trained and coddled through-out their onboarding process. While it can be cutthroat (you’re given a certain amount of time to make a placement and if no success is happening, you’re let go due to the headcount heavily being tied to revenue/placements), it can be rewarding for those that can make it and are a fit for the role as a Recruiter.

Piotr Sosnowski

Piotr Sosnowski

Head of Human Resources | Co-Founder, Zety

Get a degree

While you don’t necessarily need a Bachelor’s in human resources, a degree in fields like psychology, sociology, or political science (anything that’s related to human interaction and psychology) will 11x your chances of breaking into recruitment. If you’re a techie, all is not lost because you can do a 180 and become a technical recruiter.

Get killer skill sets

If you still have your grad cap on, you’d want to get some real-life experience to get your foot in the door.

Intern at a recruitment firm for 3-6 months or volunteer at a local NGO

If you have work experience under your belt, you’d want to identify transferrable skills and market them to get a gig in recruitment. E.g., If you work/worked in client-facing environments like sales or customer support, you’ve got a ton of communication, time-management, and problem-solving skills that will help you become a recruiter in a heartbeat.

Penina Soberman

Penina Soberman

Human Resources Manager, Quantum Networks

Do your research and understand the skills that are needed to be successful in that role

Think about and also understand the industry you want to be working in because different industries have different expectations for the various roles that are offered. Once you narrow down the industry, use your current connections or network with people on LinkedIn to gain experience so that you have a basis for if you really want to work in that industry.

Recruiting takes a lot of time and practice and everyone is going to make mistakes along the way

Especially when looking through resumes and screening candidates, it will take practice to learn what skills or keywords to look for when considering candidates for different roles.

Finally, never be afraid to ask someone who’s been in the field for advice

People have different experiences, stories, and lessons to share and never be afraid to ask them for help.

Maggie Shea

Maggie Shea

Partner, StaffBuffalo, LLC

There is no linear career path to become a Recruiter. One of the jokes that I hear across the board is “You don’t go to school to become a Recruiter, you fall into it!” The best Recruiters that I know went to college for something completely out of the realm of Recruiting and were then Recruited by an Agency that saw potential in them.

In order to become a recruiter, you have to network and speak with others who are already recruiters

Simple questions like, “How did you become a Recruiter?”, “What do you like most about your position as a recruiter?”, and “What do you like least about being a Recruiter?” will help you gauge if Recruiting is the right career path for you, whether you are interested in Agency or Corporate, and which Company and Culture would be the best fit for you!

If you do not like networking with others, don’t become a Recruiter

Working with people can be draining and you have to be resilient, with an innate pull towards positivity. You will have very high highs and some very low lows and you will need to ride out the lows and cherish the highs. I always suggest that our recruiters keep a positivity notebook, with Thank You notes from candidates and successes that they have along the way, to smooth out the tough days.

You must have attention to detail

Be able to truly listen to what your clients and candidates want, in order to be successful long-term. Recruiting should be looked at as a career versus a job, since every day you are building your pipeline of talent and you will continue to succeed and become better at your position, as long as you are treating people the right way!

Jen Richardson

Jen Richardson

Director, Client Services & Recruitment, Boost Agents

I have changed career paths twice, first transitioning from a personal chef to a career in advertising, and then transitioning from advertising to recruitment.

I found that account services and recruiting combined my three passions: advertising, client management, and connecting great people with one another. Here are my 5 steps to becoming a recruiter:

  • Do your research. Look up companies that you find interesting and get coffee dates.
  • Ask yourself if you are emotionally up for the highs and lows of the industry. Big wins and big loses.
  • Take courses for searching. Go to networking events. You need to know people anyway.
  • Apply and put yourself out there. Make yourself stand out. Follow up. Be presently persistent.
  • Jump in and work your butt off.

Brenn Scott

Brenn Scott

Acquisition Specialist, Inflow

If you enjoy being gregarious, helpful, and you like to charm, but feel timid about sales, then recruiting might be a great career choice. After all, you aren’t hawking widgets, you’re “selling” something everyone actually needs–a job!

Being a master communicator and coordinator is an absolute must to be a stellar recruiter

While recruiting isn’t sales in the traditional sense of the word, it’s still all about gaining buy-in from various stakeholders in the process. Candidates, hiring managers, and potential team members all have expectations that need to be constantly managed. This is not only one of my favorite parts of recruiting, but it’s also one of the most important parts of recruiting in general. I call it “the art of getting everyone on the same page.”

Throughout interviewing, everyone wants to feel heard. Each stakeholder wants to feel that their concerns have been addressed, that the process has been beneficial to them, and that things are moving forward according to expectation. It sounds easy, but it’s actually a difficult thing to do.

You have multiple people, all within different stages in their careers, with different backgrounds, and different objectives–be it getting hired, hiring someone who can get the job done, or wanting someone open to hitting that company happy hour with the team.

In my opinion, the best way to become great at managing expectations and mastering communication and coordination is to start in an agency environment.

Agencies move fast. Things change quickly and you have to be able to pivot along with them, all while keeping those key stakeholders informed. Providing a top-notch experience to everyone is going to keep your clients coming back to you and keep your candidates funneling referrals your way.

Referrals and a strong network of professionals who have had great experiences with you make the actual “recruiting” part of recruiting much, much easier regardless of whether you’re in-house or on the agency side.

I’ve had people turn down offers from companies I’ve worked with only to come back and give me a colleague’s information based solely on the fact that they knew I would take great care of that person. As they say, good people know good people. Referrals are the single best way to find highly qualified candidates.

If you can build trust across teams, with your key stakeholders, you’ll set yourself up for a great future in recruiting.

Recruiting is about relationships. And the relationships you make at the beginning of your career will last a lifetime. When you provide a great, genuine experience for candidates, they’re grateful. And why shouldn’t they be? The work you do helps people get one step closer to their dream jobs.