7 Recruiting Competencies to Guide the 21st Century Recruiter

recruiter, recruiting compentencies, 21st century

I used to think that recruiters were just the same as human resources professionals. I was wrong. I was in fact very wrong. Our jobs, although similar in terms of who we report to in the corporate organizational structure, are distinctly unique. Great not just good recruiters require a different set of skills, abilities, and competencies altogether to engage, qualify and recruit talent to our organization(s). I’ve been exploring the different competencies needed to be successful at the different human resource roles: 1) recruiter, 2) leader, and 3) HR practitioner. This blog is part of a three part series discussing the competencies required to be successful in three very different but similar roles within the organization. I wrote about trends in a similar manner at the beginning of 2016. You can click here to read the talent acquisition and recruiting trends piece.

7 Recruiting Competencies to Guide the 21st Century Recruiter

Whether you are an HR practitioner, recruiter or leader, you are responsible for finding, cultivating and building talent within your organization. A competency is defined as the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. It also means the legal authority of a court or other body to deal with a particular matter which I find significance because we fall under the umbrella of HR we are the legal authority within the organization of all things concerning talent whether it’s talent acquisition, talent management or talent strategy.

When it comes to the role of recruiter there are many types. The first that comes to mind is the difference between agency and corporate recruiting. Corporate recruiters work to fill roles within their own organization. They are paid a salary plus a commission for their performance as well as their company’s performance, typically annually or bi-annually. An agency recruiter works for an organization that specializes in staffing companies typically by a specific niche, silo or vertical. They are responsible for filling roles for many organizations often at once. Their compensation split is much different. Many work with a base salary and a commission that is tied to filling or placing a role within their client company.

Seven Competencies for the 21st Century Recruiter

I won’t deny that the difference between agency and corporate recruiters but for the purposes of this article I won’t differentiate between the two. I believe the skills and expertise to be a recruiter are the same. Agency recruiters might be stronger in competencies naturally than corporate recruiters and vise versa. There are some minutiae, and maybe I’ll go into that at a later date. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. You can leave one in the comments below.

– Market Intelligence. Recruiters must have great market intelligence understanding the available talent in the market and position they are hiring for. They need to understand the competition and where opportunities lie to network and locate new passive or active candidates. This market intelligence is critical for localized markets or regional areas in hot markets like San Francisco, New York and smaller areas like Oklahoma City and Omaha. Market intelligence gathered through the power of networking and building relationships is the best kind. Great recruiters know about layoffs and organizational restructures before they are publicly announced and are actively working to find roles for those candidates.

– Talent (KSA) Assessment. Great recruiters are great assessors of talent, working with the hiring manager to understand the skills needed to do the role and what the market has to offer. They use their market intelligence combined with their ability to quickly analyze social profiles, traditional resumes and applications along with their interview and screening skills. Talent assessment of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) will remain a critical recruiting skill whether you are a recruiter in 2016 or 2026. While they might try, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and bots won’t replace this competency.

– Networker. Recruiters are relationship builders connecting and building relationships with candidates, referrals channels and within groups, clubs and professional associations. The distinction between the new 21st century recruiter is that recruiters now must be well-versed and as comfortable with in person and phone networking as they are with digital and virtual networking including Skype meetings, video chats, social media and other private and direct messaging platforms and technologies.

– The Art of Selling. I agree with Daniel Pink when he says we are all in sales. Certainly, recruiters spend a great deal of their time selling the best talent to the hiring managers and selling the best talent on the job they are tasked with filling. The art of negotiation in this current market where candidates are coming back to recruiters with multiple offers is a muscle that great recruiters use on a weekly or even daily basis. Being in recruiting is about setting the mood and tone to make your best candidate chase you and not the other way around.

– Sourcing. Recruiters are naturally curious by nature and use sourcing skills to find and uncover talent, whether it’s within their applicant tracking system (ATS), candidate relationship manager (CRM), through their networks or by phone. Recruiters with sourcing skills can uncover talent through a variety of channels including the internet. A skill like sourcing is a true treasure and one that leads to more personalized messages, phone calls and passive candidate conversations as recruiters uncover information about their candidate during their talent assessment and while selling the role.

– Marketing. I am a firm believer that a large part of the new world of recruiting is marketing focused. Recruiters must be comfortable on multiple social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and other position specific communities by job title, vertical or niche. Even with the rise in popularity in recruitment, marketing and employment brands, connecting with individuals is the best way to build trust and expand your network. Recruiters must be marketing experts and this starts with building your personal brand and staking out your place as a thought leader or influencer in your market.

– Communication. Sales skills are great, but this skill is nothing without effectively articulating value and thoughts to candidates and clients. Communication is essential especially offline and online activities including social media, email and in person communication. It’s more than networking. It’s more than customer service. It’s about managing it all and doing so quickly, efficiently and effectively because we know the market. And more importantly, we’ve taken the time to understand the client and the candidate needs.

8th Bonus Recruitment Competency

– Resilience. Recruiters are strong. We are stubborn. The best and most flexible recruiters came out of the recession with a new appreciation and understanding of what it means to be a recruiter. We are survivors and because of that we don’t accept no for an answer when we’re talking to our best candidate prospect or when we’re following up with our networks. This is my favorite competency because it fuels the other six. Resilience develops through experience, flexibility and the commitment to continuous learning and growing. I think this competency outside of the sales and networking is the biggest differentiator between HR practitioners and recruiting. It’s a skill that can be learned but I believe it’s often an in-born quality. Recruiting is tricky and recruiters are willing to take the risk to deliver and that starts with our commitment to resilience.

Talent & Talent Acquisition Are Moving Targets

Like most competencies, these are subject to change. The economy, your market, recruiting area of expertise and type of organization, and its culture impact the level at which these competencies are used. Recruiting, like the rest of the talent umbrella is a moving target especially in this healthy economy. For a differing opinion, you can read Greg Savage’s opinion on the skills needed for the modern recruiter in 2016 by clicking here.

Stay tuned for a link to part 2 of this series discussing the competencies of successful HR practitioners. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Franz Thomas L. Martin says

    Thank you for this article. Quite insightful and it made sense for new practitioners in the field of recruitment.

  2. Vrushali says

    Thank you Jessica for such a helpful article. These are the competencies which can not be replaced by AI.


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