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The Recruiter Chronicles: “The Million Dollar Interview”


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The main reason I love writing “The Recruiter Chronicles” is that I do not write from the perspective of being a “big biller” (yet). Consider me somewhere between consistent solid performer and top performer, but definitely not “big biller.” I am an “everyman” type of recruiter and I, like most of you, am scratching and clawing towards “big biller” status. I do feel like I’m on the way though, and this series that I write is a testimonial to the misadventures that have and will happen along the way.

I have two teammates here at The Aureus Group in Omaha, Nebraska that certainly qualify as “big billers,” having both eclipsed the Million Dollar annual production threshold recently and trending to do the same in 2011. Recently, I sat down with both of them and asked for their perspective on what it has taken to arrive at this hallowed ground of agency recruiter production. For the sake of anonymity we will call them, lovingly of course, “Big Biller A” and “Big Biller H.”

Big Biller A has been in the recruiting/staffing business since 1987 holding many different roles, including one as a recruiting franchise owner. Currently, Big Biller A is a Senior IT Recruiter with Aureus Group and also manages a team of three recruiters.

Big Biller H was recruited into our industry right out of college, and has been going strong now for nearly twelve years. Currently, Big Biller H is a Senior Account Manager working directly with clientele of the Aureus Group, and she has been with us for more than four years.

Before you accomplished it, did you ever think it was possible to bill in the Million Dollar range in a single year?

Big Biller A: Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve always thought it was possible. When I was a franchise owner, I was the sole individual responsible for sales and revenue generation and had a team of three recruiters working to fulfill those orders. We were close to $1MM in margin as a group years ago but I didn’t track it individually like we do now.

Big Biller H: I always knew the potential was there, but with the way the economy has been the past few years, I never anticipated that 2010 would be one of my best years ever.

Tell me about a low point you have had as an agency recruiter. Has there ever been a time you thought about getting out of this all together? If yes, what pulled you back in?

Big Biller A: Yes, every day I think about getting out of recruiting (Laughs…). Seriously, when I got out of our franchise business and had already spent nearly seventeen years in the business at that time, I thought it was time to get out and do something new. I kept coming back to opportunities within the recruiting industry. It’s in my blood – kind of like a disease!

The low points are always difficult times in the marketplace like recessions and recruiting in the IT field where we’ve been at 100% employment with most skill sets for several years. I just don’t let myself “buy into” that mentality.

Big Biller H: When the bottom fell out of the telecom industry in 2001, I actually did take a hiatus from the business for a couple years to pursue other sales opportunities. However, IT recruiting really gets in your blood, and I truly missed the rush you get when you find that perfect match for an employer and change a candidate’s career and life for the better! I also missed the competitive nature of this business and the thrill of beating out the other guys. Nothing can beat that.

What is the single biggest success factor that has allowed you to have the kind of productivity you have had for the past couple of years?

Big Biller A: It really boils down to two different things. First, I’ve got the right skills and am in the right place at the right time with the right people. I work with an incredible team of people here and in particular, I partner with a great Account Manager that works hard and continues to bring in the business. We both want to fill every job that we get and expect to do it! Second, our model is the most successful in the recruiting business, in my opinion – and I’ve worked in all possible models! In our roles here at Aureus Group Systems Division, we are either a dedicated recruiter or a dedicated account manager. We don’t try to do both because different skills are required and most people’s strengths favor either recruiting or account/business development. This has created a synergy, high production capability, and capacity best illustrated by the old saying, 1+1=3.

Big Biller H: One thing I was very fortunate to have at the beginning of my career was excellent training in this industry. I was taught that building relationships with your clients is KEY to not only make one placement, but to build a long-term “trusted advisor” relationship. That, and of course also to provide them with better talent than your competitors can. No matter how great your relationship is, if you don’t have the product to offer, all you’ll have is a good friend.

What have you both done differently than in years past? Or, what have you tweaked in order to stay ahead of game?

Big Biller A: I am more focused and specialized. In prior years I’ve been pulled in many different directions with multiple responsibilities. In my role here, I can apply my laser-like focus and produce the talent our client’s need when they need it, and also lead, mentor, train and teach my recruiters to do the same.

Big Biller H: One thing I have started doing is marketing specific candidates much more than I have in the past. I try to create a need where maybe there wasn’t one. This shows my clients that I have them top of mind when excellent talent is available — regardless if they have an opening or not.

What changes do you see coming in our industry, and what are you doing to prepare for those changes?

Big Biller A: Technology is constantly changing and has been tremendous and an incredible asset to what we do with the addition of social networking and everything else. Unfortunately, it can also be a huge distraction if you don’t manage your time and it manages you instead. I’m very careful not to get sucked in by it because before I know it, four hours are gone! There are more and more distractions all the time.

The IT talent pool will remain very tight and the market is becoming more and more candidate-driven in IT all the time. We will need to continue to dig and cold-call recruit talent that is already employed.

Also, with the ability to work from anywhere at any time, the industry will be more global than ever before. Companies can offer their services more easily on a nationwide basis instead of just locally or regionally. Because of the lack of available, qualified talent, companies are going to need to become much more flexible when filling their staffing needs. We need to educate our clients that people don’t have to physically be in their location to get the job done properly.

Big Biller H: Right now, it seems that Cloud Computing is really picking up steam, and I’m hearing a lot about mobile device development as well as a plethora of IT opportunities within the Healthcare industry. I try to stay as knowledgeable as possible about upcoming trends and take time to attend the user group meetings and read the industry newsletters, especially anything that is related to our target markets.

What advice would you give someone that is stuck about halfway to being a “million dollar producer?” How would you coach this person to get all the way there?

Big Biller A: One of my first managers in this business, Margie, gave me great advice. She told me to continually ask myself if what I was doing at the moment was the most productive thing I could be doing RIGHT NOW. If not, stop and go back to being productive. Am I working RIGHT NOW on something that will lead me to achieving my goals and the goals of the organization? If not, stop and get back to working closest to the money!

My parents owned many retail businesses and I worked in those stores from the time I was eleven years old. They taught me that the customer is always right, even when we may know they’re not. I’ve been very conscious about always treating everyone like they’re my customer. Because, guess what? They are! The candidate you are interviewing today could be your customer and start buying services from you tomorrow! It’s amazing how often that happens in our business.

Be empathetic to people that have been out of work. It becomes very difficult as a recruiter to hear the horror stories from our candidates. We hear hundreds of those stories and can get desensitized to it, but maybe this is the first time that candidate has confided in a recruiter with their story. I try to treat those individuals with care and respect and have faith that it will come back ten-fold.

Finally, work harder and smarter than everyone else is working. Be the first one at work, the last one to go home, and be the person that recruits on the weekends. You will continually stay ahead of the competition.

Big Biller H: I agree completely with all of that. I would only add to really know your product and your target audience! The better I truly know my candidates and clients, the more value I can add. Also, remember not to take yourself too seriously. This is a stressful business, and being able to laugh with my coworkers about the craziness of our industry really helps me keep things in perspective.

Both Big Biller A and Big Biller H enjoy and embrace the grind required to stay in the elite class of agency recruiting. Both are humble enough to accept that talent is not enough, and effort must always outdistance ability in order to achieve at the level they have. Both live in day-tight compartments of planning, which is cornerstone premise coined by the great Steven Covey. They both allow urgency to create positive action rather than desperation. Lastly, and most important, both have had to fight through adverse times in their career, when it is hard for most to envision success on the path in front.

The Recruiter Chronicles will return soon with a story about how a Corporate Recruiter has become my closest ally within the walls of my best client. Stay tuned!

Nate Elgert is a Senior Account Manager at Aureus Group, a Division of C&A Industries, located in Omaha, Nebraska. C&A Industries is a former Inc. 500 company and is one of the largest privately owned Staffing and Recruitment firms in the United States. C&A Industries currently places candidates in every state. Nate focuses his recruitment in Accounting, Finance, and Banking, primarily across Nebraska and Iowa. Nate joined the Aureus Group in 2006 and during that time has run both a dual desk, and has focused on Account Management. Nate is former Golf Professional and still enjoys the occasional round with his friends and family as time allows. Nate is married to his wife Angie, and has two girls, Sofia and Cecilia.