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What do recruiters do to find ideal candidates?

What does a recruiter do when looking for the ideal candidate?

In the past, we’ve spoken a lot about equipping job seekers with the right tools for success. We’ve covered various aspects of the hiring process, from crafting the perfect CV to mastering the art of the interview. But now, it’s time to pull back the curtain and peer into the mind of the recruiter: what do recruiters do to find the ideal candidate?

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes, we can start by stating that it’s a meticulously planned and executed process. To shed some light on this, we turn to Caroline Cooke, Managing Director and Founder of Cornhill Consultancy, a UK-based search-to-search firm providing executive-search-level services.

The role of recruitment

To contextualise the industry, recruitment services exist to help companies find the right people to fill job openings while simultaneously helping job seekers find suitable employment opportunities.

Recruitment is the process of finding, attracting, and selecting candidates to fill job positions within organisations. This involves various steps, such as advertising job openings, screening resumes, conducting interviews, and ultimately hiring the most qualified candidates.

For Caroline, the world of recruitment is etched on the back of her hand. With over 20 years of experience in executive search and recruitment, she is London’s top Rec2Rec headhunter. 

On what sets her firm apart from the rest, she explained: “In 2008, I combined all of my knowledge—the executive search, the fast-paced contingent, the internal recruitment—and I set up Cornhill Consultancy in a recession. What differentiates us from other recruitment companies is that we work exactly like an executive search service. We are perfectionists—the written profiles, the spelling, the grammar, and everything that we do, is exactly the same as a top-five executive search firm.”

“We create long lists, we create shortlists, and we do everything as an executive search service. We don’t advertise, we don’t use job boards—we purely headhunt.”

The reason for this bespoke approach ties into the fact that people use recruitment services for vastly different reasons. For some, it’s the only option in a particularly difficult job market, whereas for others, it’s the assurance and ease that comes with it.

When it comes to employers, recruitment services save time and effort by handling the process of sourcing, screening, and selecting candidates. They also benefit from the expertise and experience of recruitment professionals who can identify the best candidates for their specific needs.

On the other hand, for job seekers, recruitment services provide access to a wider range of job opportunities, including those that may not be advertised publicly. They also receive guidance and support throughout the application and interview process, increasing their chances of finding suitable employment.

Recognising potential

One of the most important things in recruitment is having the skills to recognise potential. A recruiter needs to be able to understand the candidate’s profile and see beyond what’s on the surface. Over her career, Caroline has accumulated a trove of insights as to what sets successful candidates apart from everyone else.

For starters, successful candidates possess a blend of qualities that extend beyond their CVs. The tough part is that the qualities depend on the type of role the candidate’s going for, and reading these off the bat isn’t easy. 

For example, when looking for an ideal recruitment candidate, Caroline emphasises the importance of being a people person: “I’d say that you need to be a people person to be a recruiter. So if you’re naturally a people person, you’re going to stand out to me. Your personality is going to stand out to me and therefore, it’s going to stand out to our client (employer). In recruitment, you need to be hardworking and tenacious. It’s a roller coaster. We also look for people who are organised, curious and entrepreneurial.”

To break it down


  • People skills: Being a “people person” is crucial in recruitment and candidates who naturally excel in interpersonal interactions stand out.
  • Good work ethic: Hard work and tenacity are indispensable traits in the dynamic world of recruitment. The roller coaster nature of the job requires perseverance to get back up every time you’re knocked down.
  • Organisational skills and natural curiosity: Recruiters value candidates who are organised and possess a curious mindset. These qualities contribute to efficiency and adaptability.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit: Candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset demonstrate initiative and creativity, traits highly valued in the recruitment industry.
  • Extracurricular activities: Beyond work experience, recruiters appreciate candidates with diverse interests and achievements. Engaging in activities like competitive sports, volunteering, or adventurous pursuits showcases a well-rounded personality.

Recruiters take into account the candidates’ proactive efforts, such as reaching out through multiple channels if they’re hoping to get a response. Perseverance is key, as Caroline believes in the power of persistence to capture attention and demonstrate commitment. Additionally, candidates with diverse backgrounds and extracurricular interests stand out as workplaces grow more and more inclusive than before. 

Recruiters like to look beyond the surface of a CV to identify exceptional candidates. Here’s how Caroline recognises potential beyond what’s written on a CV:

  • Holistic assessment: Caroline looks at candidates’ extracurricular activities and hobbies to gain insight into their personalities and interests. This informs her understanding of the candidate beyond their professional qualifications.
  • Proactivity: Candidates who proactively engage with recruiters stand out. Following up on LinkedIn messages, sending emails, or even making phone calls demonstrates initiative and persistence.
  • Perseverance: Caroline emphasises the importance of perseverance in reaching out to potential employers or recruiters. While respecting boundaries, candidates should persist in their efforts to make themselves noticed.

Biggest faux pas to avoid


  • Bombarding them with messages: While persistence is key, candidates should be mindful not to overwhelm recruiters with excessive outreach attempts. Respectful follow-ups are appreciated, but excessive contact may be perceived negatively.
  • Not personalising your message: Generic messages or applications are less likely to catch the recruiter’s attention. Tailoring communications to the specific role and company demonstrates genuine interest and commitment.

Changes in recruitment

Over the past two decades, the recruitment landscape has undergone significant transformations. With the rise of remote work, many industries now offer part-time or remote positions. However, it’s important to note that in some sectors, such as recruitment, the demand remains primarily for full-time, in-person roles. 

There’s also a growing focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Efforts are underway to introduce candidates from underrepresented groups into various roles, such as women returning to work or individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

To prepare for these changes, candidates should remain adaptable to evolving work arrangements and industry trends. Continuous learning and investing in courses or training programs focused on diversity and inclusion can enhance employability. Open-mindedness to diverse perspectives fosters innovation and problem-solving in the workplace.

As most know already, AI and automation are revolutionising processes across industries—and it already has a firm grip on recruitment. AI-powered tools streamline candidate sourcing, resume screening, and initial interviews. Data analytics play a pivotal role, enabling informed decisions about candidate selection and retention.

Remote work has become a permanent feature of the job market, requiring organisations to develop robust remote onboarding processes and flexible work policies. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives continue to gain prominence, emphasising the importance of inclusive hiring practices.

Employers prioritise skills and experience over degrees, leading to the growth of alternative credentialing and upskilling programs. Virtual reality revolutionises recruitment processes, enabling candidates to experience workplace environments before accepting offers.

Candidates expect personalised communication and experiences during the recruitment process, driving the adoption of AI for tailored messaging and candidate engagement. By embracing technology, prioritising diversity and inclusion, and remaining agile, organisations can build a competitive advantage and drive success in the evolving job market landscape.

Evaluating if a job is right for you

Just as employers and recruiters evaluate whether you’re a good candidate or not, you should definitely vet potential employers and job offers before agreeing to anything, too.

When you’re thinking about whether a job is right for you, there are a few things to consider. Caroline highly recommends that you check out websites like Glassdoor, where people leave reviews about their experiences working at different companies. If you see a lot of complaints about long hours or poor work-life balance, it might not be the best fit for you, unless you’re okay with that.

Another thing you can do is look at the profiles of employees who work there on LinkedIn. This can give you an idea of their experience and how long they’ve been with the company. Sometimes, you might notice that there aren’t as many employees as you’d expect for a company of that size. This could be a sign that there’s a high turnover rate, which might not be a good sign.

It’s also a good idea to check how financially stable the company is. You can do this by looking up their financial information on websites like Companies House. If a company isn’t doing well financially, it could affect your job security in the long run.

During the interview, don’t be afraid to ask questions yourself. Remember, the interview is a chance for both you and the company to see if you’re a good fit for each other. You can ask things like why you should work for their company instead of a competitor, or why the interviewer chose to work there. Finding common ground with the interviewer can also help you make a good impression.

When it comes to figuring out your strengths and interests, there are a few things you can do. First, ask your friends and family for their input. Sometimes, they can see things about you that you might not notice yourself.

You can also do some self-reflection. Think about the things you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Looking back on past experiences can help you identify patterns and figure out what you’re passionate about.

If you want a more in-depth understanding of your personality and work style, you can take a psychometric test. There are lots of free ones available online, or you can invest in a more comprehensive assessment like DISC profiling. These tests can give you insights into your strengths and the types of environments where you thrive.

Ultimately, the key is to be honest with yourself and take the time to really think about what you want in a job. By doing your research and knowing your own strengths and interests, you’ll be better equipped to find a job that’s the right fit for you.

5 things you should do right now before applying

Before we let you go, take some time to do these five key things right now:

  • Address career gaps: This is crucial for crafting a compelling resume, according to Caroline. She advocates for transparency, highlighting achievements rather than concealing gaps. If you see a gap in your CV/resume, you need to prepare an explanation as to why there is a gap. If you did something during that period of time, such as a workshop, project or volunteer work, it’s worth adding it to your CV.
  • Reflect on your journey: What feedback have you received throughout your application process? What mistakes or issues did you notice? Take note of them and work your way up from the bottom. It’s important to think back on your experiences in order to see where things could’ve gone better. 
  • Evaluate your opportunities: As we mentioned before, Caroline recommends thorough research and discernment. Using platforms like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, she advises assessing company culture, financial stability, and employee satisfaction. By asking insightful questions and seeking common ground with potential employers, candidates can make informed decisions aligned with their aspirations.
  • Do a SWOT analysis: Identifying strengths and interests is important in pursuing fulfilling careers. Leveraging tools like psychometric tests and peer feedback helps align skills with suitable roles. Self-awareness and self-belief are essential in realising professional potential.
  • Manifest your dream job: Caroline recommends manifesting as a tool for achieving career goals. Her own experience of visualising and affirming aspirations before bedtime helped her through some tough periods. Sometimes, inner strength is really what you need to keep you moving forward.

If you want to kick your career off in 2024, book a call with us, and let’s talk about it. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for the latest career information, tips, and updates. (They’re both completely free!)



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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