Recruitment Blog

RCSA’s Recruitment Professional of the Year Michelle Rubinstein reveals what makes a great recruiter

Sarah Linney
Content Marketing Manager at JobAdder
michelle rubinstein

Michelle Rubinstein understands what leads to recruitment success. As the winner of the 2023 RCSA Recruitment Professional of the Year, Michelle has been recognised by the recruitment industry as a leader in her field.

We recently sat down with the Associate Director of TalentWeb, an Australian specialist recruitment agency, to discuss the lessons she’s learned throughout her extensive recruitment career and what advice she’d give to recruitment professionals and leaders.

As RCSA’s Recruiter of the Year, what do you think makes an excellent recruiter?

Michelle: It’s a difficult question to answer, because I don’t think there’s a magic formula, everyone is different, and I think their strengths shine through in different ways. 

Firstly, I think recruitment is simple, but it’s not easy. I think the mechanics of what we do aren’t difficult but it’s a tough job because we’re dealing with people on both sides of the equation. And we know that we can’t control all of those moving parts. I always think it’s not the nuts and bolts of what we do that help us stand out, I think it’s about our approach to what we do as a recruiter and focusing on the impact we want to make.

I’ve generated some great results in great market conditions and some great results in not-so-great market conditions. And I think the exciting thing about recruitment is that success isn’t down to the market, good luck or bad luck or how much we do or don’t know. It’s about how we roll with the punches that we’re dealt with and the choices that we make every day, really focusing on what we can control and playing to our strengths. 

Also, those small 1% things that we can do to create maximum impact. So, I think what makes an excellent recruiter is if you can focus on your goal setting, which is probably the easiest part of the equation, your activity, which is like the meatiest part, and then also your mindset, which is probably the most important part.

If I had to sum it up, I think what makes an excellent recruiter is you really have to love what you do. If you want to be successful long-term in recruitment and really carve out a successful career, you have to love recruitment and be passionate about all the elements of the role, not just the placements and the commissions, because it’s a tough career. There are many ups and downs, and you’ve got to be prepared and be able to roll with the punches.

You’ve got to have a goal and then cut it down into bite-size actions that you’re going to hold yourself accountable to. At the end of the day, your manager or leader will set goals with you, but it’s up to you to really get on with it. And again, the exciting thing about recruitment is the sky is the limit. Your success is really down to you.

I think what also makes an excellent recruiter is resilience, resilience, and resilience. Your mindset can be your biggest friend, but also your biggest foe, and managing that emotional roller coaster will really set you up for success.

I’m always a fan of being organized. I think you can be the best recruiter in the world, but if you don’t have a system that works for you, you can come unstuck pretty quickly.

And most importantly, I think you really have to appreciate the impact that you have on people. This career is all about people and so recognising the impact that you have on people’s careers, their livelihood, their families and their business performance is absolutely critical.

How do you think the recruitment industry has changed over the years, do you think some recruiter skills or characteristics have become more important than others? 

Michelle: Call me old-fashioned. But for me, fundamentally, recruitment is recruitment. Yes, they’ve been some incredible technological advancements and new tools to help us be more efficient with how we go about what we do. But at the end of the day, the fundamentals of recruitment are about understanding or identifying a business need, understanding what your candidates want and connecting the right people to the right jobs at the right time. 

I think, if anything, what has changed recently is your softer skills, how you approach business development and relationship building and really building those authentic relationships so that you can really deeply understand both sets of customers that you have.

Everyone has a database or a network, or access to a database, but it’s what you do with it, and the impact that you leave on the people in that database, that’s going to help you stand out.

With the rise of work from home and flexibility, which many recruiters now have and very much appreciate, I think those who are new to the industry really need to work out whether there’s any changes to their way of working to make sure they stay connected to their teams and their customers, even if its through remote channels. I think holding yourself accountable is even more critical, given that you’re not necessarily having to come into an office every day.

We’ve also seen a big change in recent years with the power of social media and branding. I think the alignment of your company brand and your personal brand is super critical. Let’s be honest, it’s a cluttered market. There are thousands of recruiters out there, all going through the motions of recruitment every day, so really focusing on what your value proposition is, and how you can promote that to your market authentically is essential.

How do you lead and nurture your recruiters at TalentWeb?

Michelle: It all starts off with the hiring. I’ve always had the belief that you can teach someone the mechanics of recruitment, but you can’t teach someone resilience, accountability and motivation. I always make sure that I’m focusing on hiring the right people that I believe are going to be successful for the long term in recruitment.

And once they’re on my team, I take an individual approach. Everyone is at different stages of their lives and their careers, and they’re going to need different things at different times. I always try and be on the front foot of identifying how I can add value, rather than just watching somebody flounder and wait for them to come and ask for help.

I’ve invested a lot of my time in on-the-job training and also formal training around leadership. I think leadership is a gift, and it’s a privilege, it’s not a right.

To do it effectively, you need to make sure that you’ve got the right tools to be the most successful and most effective as a leader. Many recruiters get promoted into leadership roles off the back of success from being an individual recruiter, but they’re not necessarily armed with the tools to be the best leader or indeed want a leadership role. As I said, I take that role very seriously. I’m always on the lookout for how I can make sure my skills are the best they can be across all areas, so that I can be the best leader I can be.

I know my strengths. There are some things in the role that I believe I’m very good at, and I know there are things that others around me do better. If something’s not in my wheelhouse, I’ll explore whether a team member can get help from other sources, whether it be someone else in the business or via any professional resources.

I think I take an individual approach. There’s no one-size-fits-all to leadership. Everyone needs different things based on their skills and their approach. I’m always seeking out things that my team need on an individual basis so that I can provide value.

I’m a big supporter of balance. I’ve got a couple of people in my team that would work around the clock 24/7 if I let them. I look out for those clues to make sure that my team are taking time to recharge and making sure that they’re having mini breaks wherever they can.

I am a big advocate of praise. I praise a lot, and I praise often, whether it’s the big or the small stuff. There are so many parts to what we do every day to lead to a successful placement, and I think if we don’t appreciate the small wins along the way there’s an opportunity missed.

I over-communicate, everybody knows that. Anyone that’s worked for me knows that I’m an over-communicator. I communicate too much, too often, but I think that’s also put me in good stead because the communication and the conversations I start generally uncover things that my team need that I might not have been aware of.

I’m also a fan of sharing my own recruitment experiences and learnings with my team and colleagues–the highs, lows and everything in between. I keep it real so people feel comfortable being open with me about the challenges they may be facing. 

As job growth slows and many are struggling with a tight talent market, what advice would you have for recruiters who are feeling frustrated or burnt out? 

Michelle: I think we’ve got to take a long-term view of this. The market is always changing and that’s something that I’ve always loved about our industry.

I joined recruitment as a rookie, with no recruitment experience whatsoever, a couple of months before the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). I was in a situation where I saw the highs and the lows of the market in a very short space of time. 

My advice is pretty simple; you have to focus on what you can control. Set your goals, plan your activity, get your mindset in a good space and success will come no matter what the market is doing. Your success might look a little different, but it will come.

You’ve got to be patient and consistent. I’d suggest people should seek counsel from those around them. Be kind to yourself, if you need a break, take one. If you need to sense check something, check it with a colleague, peer or manager, just do it. Don’t wait for them to come to you. And most importantly, as I mentioned earlier, focus on your mindset and your resilience.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt throughout your recruitment career?

Michelle: I’d like to think I’m still learning. But reflecting on what I’ve learned, you’ve got to trust your gut and to quote a previous manager that taught me a lot, ‘don’t admire a problem’. If you think something is going to go a certain way, the chances are it will. Don’t sit there and wait for it to happen. Think about a strategy or an approach that will put you in good stead to deal with the ‘what ifs’.

Accountability is key for me. I think my success or not at various times in my career, when I look back have all been around what I’ve held myself accountable to.

I ask lots of questions. Recruitment is like peeling an onion. I think the more information you have the more knowledge and power you have to find the right solutions for your candidates and your clients.

I’ve always said that recruitment is a marathon of sprints. Investing your time in your resilience and balance is going to see you through. That’s what has put me in good stead since I’ve been in recruitment.

Recruitment is not just about the placement and the commission. It’s the care factor and the impact that we have on people. 

I know that I focus on doing everything I can at every stage of the process to leave a lasting impact on someone. Even if I don’t place them, I’m building relationships for future roles for candidates. So that referral network of candidates and clients is what’s put me in a valuable position to help people now and into the future. Having got ‘back on the tools’ in recent years, it’s been so humbling reconnecting with candidates and clients I may not have spoken to for over 5 years and they still remember their experiences with me in prior years.

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