Learnings from a First-Time Recruiter

bigstock-Woman-Climber-Success-Silhouet-98413910.jpgIn July of 2015, I was knee-deep in my hunt for the perfect job. I spent my free time scanning job boards and scrolling through my LinkedIn news feed, and I was dodging questions from relatives about what my future held.

By early October, LinkedIn was still my favorite website to visit, but for an entirely different reason. I was a new recruiter, and it felt surreal to suddenly be on the other side of the job search. Rather than sprucing up my own resume, I was screening several resumes a day, looking for many of the same strengths I had just tried to communicate to companies.

When my first week began, I knew I had a lot to learn. Then, I thought about the fact that this was my first full-time job, and the learning curve looked steep. I was lucky to have a supportive team that was eager to answer my questions at every turn, but I still stumbled and fumbled and struggled to find my footing as a new recruiter.

Technically, I am a member of a rotational program here at Lever. After spending five months on the recruiting team, I’m now on the marketing team. There is so much I have yet to learn about recruiting. Still, I want to share five pieces of advice with all the new recruiters out there. 

1. Use your recent experience as a candidate to your advantage

When I first joined the recruiting team, my recent interactions with hiring managers and recruiters were fresh in my mind. My goal was to use those memories to inform the way I treated candidates. I thought about the best interview process I went through, and outlined the reasons it stood out to me. Then, I remembered the worst process I experienced, or the one that made me anxious to even think about, and I tried to understand why it still provoked negative feelings.

If you are new to recruiting, as I was, I encourage you to do the same. Did your recruiter take what felt like a million years to respond to you? Did you feel intimidated by the interviewers you met with? It is so easy to put yourself in your candidate’s shoes. You just wore them. When you interact with candidates, aim to make them feel as comfortable and valued as you did during your most enjoyable interview experience. 

2. It’s not about you

My manager, Amanda, remembers my first phone interview. Unfortunately, I do too. The call lasted around 15 minutes because I didn’t ask any follow-up questions. I was so worried about looking foolish in my front of my manager that I couldn’t listen to my candidate or jot down notes. Instead, my eyes were glued to the list of questions I had written out before my interview.

On the one hand, I think that my nerves were inevitable. It was my first time conducting a phone interview, so of course I was nervous, right? Yes, but I could have channeled my nervous energy towards a different objective. Rather than trying to memorize the list of questions I found through research and shadowing, I should have thought about what information I wanted to communicate to my hiring manager after my interview. I was so focused on looking polished that I didn’t think about my candidate or the team I was hiring for.

Before your first screen, have a discussion with your hiring manager about what she wants to learn. Does she care most about your candidate’s strengths, motivations, or background? Once you understand more about what your hiring manager values, you can build behavioral interview questions and ask “What excites you about your current role?,” for example, and imagine how your candidate would want to contribute to your team. You can ask “What accomplishment are you proudest of, and why?” and understand their strengths, problem-solving abilities, and perception of success. When you focus on gleaning the most information possible for your hiring manager, you won’t have the brain space to worry about your own interview performance.

3. Look beyond your personal biases 

When you begin your career as a recruiter, it is difficult to assess an interviewee objectively. Your standard is based upon personal experience rather than other candidates. In my first few phone screens with sales development rep candidates, I looked for qualities that I see in myself: eagerness and excitability. I also looked for the qualities that I heard salespeople should have: scrappiness, competitiveness, and drive. As I connected with more candidates, however, I discovered several other traits that characterize successful sales reps. The most introverted employee, for example, may connect better with customers because she takes the time to listen and comprehend their pain points.

This is a difficult lesson to learn before you’ve interacted with a variety of candidates, so I recommend that you meet with members of the team you are hiring for as early on as possible. Your fellow employees can show you what qualities make someone in their role successful.  

4. The small moments matter too 

Recruiters are some of the most perceptive people I’ve ever met. They have to be. I’ll never forget that after one of the first interviews I shadowed, my manager asked me if I noticed how my candidate’s tone changed when he was reflecting upon different experiences. When the candidate would talk about his relationships with others in the workplace, his voice would become a soft whisper. But when he would reflect upon his own accomplishments, he would project loudly and speak with authority. I noticed the tone changes, but immediately dismissed them as inconsequential.

This moment was pivotal because it taught me that in order to be a successful recruiter, you have to remain attuned to the smallest behavior changes. Anyone can pick up on red flags like job-hopping and inconsistent stories, but it is our job to take note of the most subtle gestures, body language, and habits that our candidate displays. The candidate whose voice would change was interviewing for a customer-facing role, so it was important for us to understand why his tone was varying. Would that pattern continue in some form when he jumped on the phone with customers? Would it be as confusing to them as it was to us? As recruiters, it is important for us to observe our candidate’s nonverbal behavior alongside the stories they tell us.  

5. Learn from your team members – they are your best resource

Without a doubt, I could have spent more time picking my team members’ brains.  While I shadowed my direct manager countless times during the first few weeks of my role, I wish I had done the same with the rest of my team. To this day, I still don’t have a clear picture of the day-to-day recruiting processes of my fellow team members. How much time do they devote to sourcing in a given day? Is there an optimal number of phone screens they like to set up in a given week? I know that our priorities shift as we move candidates through our pipelines, but I also know that the seasoned recruiters on my team had systems that I could have learned from to optimize my efficiency.

As one of my teammates recently remarked, even the most experienced recruiters should take time to understand the routines that make their fellow team members successful. As is the case with any role, you can always take additional steps to perfect your craft. But if you are new to recruiting, insight into your teammates’ best practices is essential. I recommend that you set up bi-weekly 1:1s with each of your team members to capture new insights.


When your candidate finally signs your offer letter, you celebrate, whoop, and holler with your teammates. It takes all the willpower you have not to jump up and down (sometimes you still do). But nothing matches the euphoria you feel on your new hire’s first day of work. When you see them laughing with their new team members and setting up their workspace, the fulfillment you experience is unparalleled. How many jobs can give you such a tangible reminder of why you come to work each day?

If this is your first time as a recruiter, I can’t wait for your future hires’ first days. In the meantime, I hope these tips help you find your footing before you jump into your new role.