Behavioral characteristics of top executive recruiters (Part I)

by Allen Oakley
Chief Operating Officer at Charles Aris Inc.

Let’s cut to the chase: Executive recruiting isn’t for everyone.

A sustained, successful career in the profession requires a unique blend of numerous behavioral characteristics. I’ve been working in the executive recruiting industry for a mere five years and I continue to learn more about this fascinating profession every day. In my short time, however, I’ve observed specific trends in basic behavioral characteristics which most successful executive recruiters exhibit on a daily basis. The trends outlined below are solely my observations; I’m sure there are more traits of which I’m not yet aware.

When it comes to the characteristics below, there’s no particular order of importance. Let’s begin with a trait with which every productive individual in society is familiar:


It goes without saying that self-discipline is a critical characteristic of successful individuals, no matter their profession. If we’re honest with ourselves, though, we undoubtedly understand that self-discipline is a quality that is difficult to become proficient at continuously. In the world of executive search, the most successful recruiters stay laser-focused on the strategic execution of their daily plan, managing their time efficiently. Now more than ever, there are countless distractions which can derail consistent execution and thoughtful time management. Unsolicited e-mails, unproductive phone calls, endless meetings, co-workers who want to socialize in the middle of the day – these are just a few examples. Successful recruiters develop and maintain the self-discipline necessary to minimize distractions which don’t create value.


With every conversation they have and every work-related action they take, recruiters are always playing in the game. There is no down time to take a play or two off because the game never truly ends. As the old saying goes, “The current is always flowing against you.” That adage certainly expresses a general truth in the executive search industry. To swim against that current successfully, it takes a conscious effort to develop the stamina needed to maintain self-discipline and stay productive every day. The most successful recruiters display the stamina required to stay in the game and move the ball on an hourly basis.

Focused Sense of Urgency

There are four words which all successful executive recruiters can relate to: “Time kills all deals.” World-class talent is exceedingly difficult to locate and attract. A-level players have multiple career opportunities presented to them every year – in the cases of some, every month. The most successful recruiters operate with an extremely high and focused sense of urgency. They understand that elite talents don’t have to look for their next great career opportunity. The next great career opportunities find them. The window of time to pry A-level players away from their existing companies and place them with your clients is limited by a number of factors.

The sheer number of career opportunities presented to A- level talent demonstrates why working with a sense of focused urgency is so critical for executive recruiters. It’s only natural for humans to psychologically disengage from exploring career opportunities when weeks go by with no meaningful communication about an opportunity.

The most successful executive recruiters are tactful not to push a candidate or client off a cliff with their own sense of urgency coming across as pushy or insincere. They understand how to offset their urgency to place world-class talent by displaying the thoughtfulness and delicacy required in dealing with sophisticated executives.

Service Mentality

Successful recruiters don’t simply want to place a candidate with their client and collect their hard-earned fee. That type of transactional approach doesn’t fulfill the intrinsic need they have to be thought of by their clients as the very best at what they do. They recognize that just because they closed a search for talent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the search was a success from their client’s point of view.

Successful recruiters have a service mentality that propels them to exceed their client’s and candidate’s expectations throughout the entire search process. They constantly contemplate how to better address their client’s critical staffing needs while seeking more efficient methods to locate and attract world-class candidates.

The most successful executive recruiters create innovative service methods for clients and candidates on an ongoing basis. Having a high level of service mentality creates clients for life – a trait and result shared by many a top recruiter.