Behavioral characteristics of top executive recruiters (Part II)

by Allen Oakley
Chief Operating Officer at Charles Aris Inc.

When it comes to the behavioral characteristics below – which build on the first four I detailed in Part I of this series – there’s no order of importance. What matters most is that most successful executive recruiters exhibit a combination of them on a daily basis.

Positive Attitude

There’s plenty of readily available research on the benefits of having a positive attitude. Recent studies have shown a positive attitude can increase life span, develop greater resistance to the common cold, and even reduce the risk of death from heart disease.

What may not be mentioned in research on attitude is that it is a critical human characteristic – one that is highly contagious regardless of whether it is positive, neutral or negative. Naturally, no one wants to be seen by their colleagues as having a negative attitude or being an “energy vampire” in their organization.

In the executive search industry, there are trip wires which, if not addressed proactively, can lead to recruiters developing a negative attitude toward their work on an ongoing basis. The good news is that we have control over how we react to and overcome those trip wires.

The most effective recruiters carry a keen sense of self-awareness and make ever

y effort to stay positive no matter the circumstance. They understand that a sustained positive attitude can seep into every individual they contact.

It’s human nature to interact with individuals we genuinely like to be around, whether it be in the business world or any other realm of life. An intentional, sustained positive attitude is a major asset displayed by the best executive recruiters, who use it to greatly increase their odds of landing and retaining clients over the long run.

Active Listening

Most of an executive recruiter’s work life is spent on the phone. Every moderately successful recruiter has countless conversations with candidates, clients and other search-specific stakeholders every day.

It’s difficult to truly understand and internalize what is being communicated over the phone if one simply “hears” what is being said during the call. Active listening is one of the most important characteristics highly effective recruiters display in every interaction.

At its core, active listening requires listeners to paraphrase what they have heard, using their own words, to ensure that all parties involved during a conversation are on the same page. This doesn’t mean that a successful recruiter regurgitates every topic covered during a conversation; but the main talking points are always confirmed and specific action items are identified.

Being an active listener over the span of a long workday is difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of focus and energy. The most effective executive recruiters train themselves in the art of active listening, which helps them maximize their time and efficiency on every call.


A day in the life of a recruiter is never the same. The old adage “the only constant is change” is definitely true in the executive search industry.

There is one critical behavioral characteristic that is always constant, however, and that is sociability. We’ve covered a few of the behavioral characteristics which are critical to recruitment, and each of those can be trained and developed over time. Possessing a sustained positive attitude and being an active listener are two such examples. They can be developed with training and repetition in practice.

In contrast, sociability is a critical characteristic that is close to untrainable. There are varying degrees of sociability, but the most successful recruiters display high levels of extroversion at all times. They have a natural curiosity and genuinely enjoy the conversations they engage in every day.

Ability to Influence Thinking

Every successful sales executive, regardless of industry, is at least relatively familiar with this vital characteristic. But in the world of executive search, relative familiarity with the concept simply isn’t enough.

The most successful executive recruiters have extensive experience and employ this learned characteristic every day, with candidates and clients alike. The ability to influence the thinking of other highly intelligent senior executives, whether they be clients or candidates, is a skill that is part art and part science. It takes time and experience to master this behavioral characteristic.

The most successful executive recruiters understand how to “read the tea leaves” and influence thinking during complex conversations with senior leaders. They pinpoint the best time to leverage this skill during conversations, shedding light on topics or issues which might otherwise be overlooked or misunderstood.