July 15, 2018

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Executive Recruiter or Recruiter Executive?

Somewhere along the way, the word “executive” was dropped from our collective identity and we became, simply, recruiters.

This makes me sad. There’s something about the term “executive recruiter” that defines our place in the world, and immediately sets us apart from our first cousins, recruiters who advocate for the military or for college athletics.

Besides, I’m rather fond of a job title that implies a professional association with the rich and powerful. Chief executive officer. President. General manager. Hey, that’s the crowd I run with! The movers and shakers of business, finance and government.

Reality is different, of course. Recruiters fill all sorts of positions, regardless of how highly they’re positioned on an org chart. In the big scheme of things, talent is talent, and as long as there’s a company with a critical problem—and the inability to find the right person to solve it—we’re the go-to guys.

The Real Meaning of the Word

Of course, there’s more to being an executive than flashing a business card with a fancy title. And there’s more to being an executive recruiter than simply rubbing elbows with the people who do.

Effective leadership starts with a core competency in the subject matter. For example, if you’re the captain of a ship, it’s awfully difficult to navigate through a storm if you know nothing about engines or rudders, or you never learned how to read a nautical map. There are plenty of examples of failed leaders who took command without a strong base of knowledge or a pattern of successful management to build on.

That’s why it’s so important for recruiters to master the basics, like how to make a strong sales presentation or simplify a convoluted job description or string together the right keywords to locate a passive candidate online. All of these skills require knowledge, training and experience to reach a point of fluency.

What elevates a recruiter to the level of an executive requires a completely different set of skills: The ability to bring people together, anticipate and overcome obstacles and provide solutions that make everyone feel good about the outcome. Or, to put it more succinctly, a true executive is a leader who makes good decisions.

You Are What You Train For

Whenever I’m asked to provide training, mentoring or coaching, my first task is to diagnose the individual’s—or the company’s—weakness or problem. Is the issue they’re confronting related to a basic, functional skill? Or to executive ability?

If the root cause is functional, then fundamental or remedial training is advised. Fortunately, there are plenty of materials and role-playing techniques to help improve a recruiter’s core competencies.

But very often, the key to top performance is turned at a level that reaches beyond the mechanics. It’s when you successfully resolve a complex offer negotiation or read between the lines of an ambiguous reference check or identify a potential conflict of interest that your executive skills are tested and honed.

And that’s the point at which the words “executive” and “recruiter” begin to fit our job description in equal measure. And it probably explains why so many people—both inside and outside our field—are reluctant to put the words "executive" and "recruiter" side by side.

- Bill Radin

Bill Radin is one of the most popular and highly regarded trainers in the recruiting industry, and has trained many of the largest independent and franchised recruiting organizations, including Management Recruiters, Dunhill, Sanford Rose, Snelling and Fortune Personnel. His speaking engagements include the NAPS national conference, the annual Kennedy Conference, and dozens of state association meetings and network conventions. The Radin Report is published monthly.