Qualities of an Effective Recruiter

After about two years of writing recruiting articles for Officer.com, I may have saved the best subject for last: salesmanship and other qualities of an effective recruiter.

What are the qualities of an effective recruiter? The number one quality, and perhaps the most overlooked, is salesmanship (please bear with me if I use the generic "man"). There are other qualities as well.


Every department, no matter how small, should have a recruiter. A 100-officer department has over 100 recruiters. Every Marine a Rifleman and every officer a recruiter. They should be briefed and given recruiting material as they have to train and work with the new recruits. Still, there should be someone to refer people to that are interested even if your department is too small for a regular recruiter.

In many agencies the recruiter doubles as a background investigator, or has other functions and duties. Too often I've seen recruiters assigned because they were on light duty. In other cases it was obvious that the administrator may have selected the recruiter(s) based on race & diversity (is this wrong?). Also, I've seen plenty of recruiters too who were in recruiting because it was easy duty, not because they really cared about the next generation of officer/deputy/agent/trooper.


Any recruiter should have the work ethic and personal make up to be motivated and caring. Assignments made on the basis of light duty or seniority are seriously flawed. Diversity is important, but not if the individual is not truly motivated and capable. To a degree, I do feel that in some, not all cases a minority may relate to another minority member, but only if that recruiter is motivated and trained. I do believe that female candidates do generally prefer a female recruiter and do want to ask specific gender questions about working in a male-dominated organization that they may not ask a male recruiter. That said; remember there are state & federal laws, EEOC rules, and likely department contractual obligations that all effect impartial selection. Diversity is good, but discrimination is not.

Sworn vs. Non Sworn vs. Human Resources

Many progressive agencies use non-sworn personnel in some recruiting positions. I strongly warn against simply having our recruiting websites and issues transferred to human resources. These folks often can't answer specific questions and have their hands full hiring secretaries, sewer workers, firefighters, etc. I believe every agency should have a uniformed sworn recruiter for job fairs and other public contact events. That said, agencies such as the Tallahassee (FL) Police Department have hired a retired sworn officer (in this case a sergeant) as their recruiter, freeing up full time sworn officers for the street. In many cases the recruiter can be part time. Manatee County (FL) hired a civilian sheriff's recruiter. In Las Vegas they used a grant to hire a former officer for their recruiting staff. Santa Rosa (CA) has a lady from human resources who is permanently assigned to the police department, so that she does know the answers to all those questions, i.e. Do you have K-9, motors, how long until I can be CSI or detectives, etc.?


Okay, you have selected a recruiter or recruiting staff, be it sworn, former or retired officers (used generically--trooper, deputy etc), or civilian. When you selected them, did you consider their sales background or do you have plans to train them in sales?

The Chula Vista (CA) Police Department was faced with rapid, expansive growth and chose a recruiter, Eric Farwell, who had extensive background and experience in sales and marketing.. Detective Farwell indicates that it's all about volume. You need a thousand contacts to get one "sale." In this case closing a sale is "all about getting the applicant to take the test." Even then, follow up is needed to keep good candidates interested. Detective Farwell uses his cell phone and e-mail extensively to keep in touch with candidates. He also says that you must have passion about what you are selling--in this case, your agency. "It has to be genuine," he says. He recommends an article on the web by Mark Hunter entitled "Passion as a Sales Tool." He also suggests any books by Zig Ziglar, especially Secrets of Closing the Sale.

Stan Fincham, a consultant with two college degrees and years of marketing explained all the intricacies of sales, motivation, understanding your customer and closing the deal. After about two hours, I feel he only scratched the surface. Some of the concepts that Mr. Fincham stressed was to avoid "no" words, ask questions that can't be answered "yes" or "no," and use the potential recruit's name, e.g. "What has drawn you to be here today, Richard?" and "What other things are you considering other than law enforcement?" He then suggests getting side by side and setting yourself up as their guide or helper through the steps or process (avoid the word "tests"). Another great question is, "What's a good time to set you up for a department tour or ride-along?" You always "understand"," then spin it in your favor. Mr. Fincham emphasizes observing and listening to the candidate and mirroring their thoughts and behaviors. He is a big fan of Milton Erickson and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a system that exploits the relationship between neurology, linguistics, and observable patterns of behavior.

Another stop I made in understanding recruiting was to the experts, the U.S. Military. In your community, almost always you will find that military recruiters are more than happy to spend time discussing their techniques with you. Consider inviting them on a ride-along, and at job fairs go over and spend time talking to them. I've also found this a fertile recruiting ground to recruit them, especially the part-timers or those near retirement.

In the military, you'll note that each branch has their own style. Detective Farwell particularly was impressed with the U.S. Marine Corps. Also, there are recruiters for active duty, reserve and the guard. All are helpful and I always try to return the favor and send potential applicants their way, especially those that are under 21 or have potential but can't currently qualify for the department.

The military has "their way" and it can de dogmatic but still educational. They sell duty, honor, and esprit de corps. They sell the benefits, travel, money, self-improvement, etc. One of the most important techniques I learned from the recruiters was to listen. Listen to the candidate and see what their needs are. Find their "button." Selling retirement and medical benefits to a fit, 21 year old may not be the right button. It might be money, action, etc. In some cases it may be working hours. A sheriff's department may sell their agency by saying, for example, that over 60% of their shifts are day shift because of the courts, jail, transportation, detectives, special assignments, etc.

It very well may not be selling the agency. I chose a switch from my California agency to the Reno Police Department partially due to the quality of life, clean air, cost of housing, recreational activities, Lake Tahoe, etc. Sell to the family. The spouse may really be the target. Sell the educational system, housing, community, etc. If you don't have this info available, you are not doing your job properly.

After listening and finding the button, you "spin." Spin is not deception; it is putting a positive slant on the truth.

Example: "I hate graveyard."
Spin: Graveyard earns an extra 5% shift pay and you have all day or evening with the family, to run your errands, no traffic jams to and from work, etc. Only 15% of all sworn positions are on "the yard."

Example: "I don't want to work the jail."
Spin: We have all types of jobs, including patrol, but later in your career you may want to work the jail as a break from the street. Our jail personnel work a 12-hour shift, so you have 3-4 days off weekly. Working the jail is the best training you can get for understanding criminals. On a police department, you may get stuck on patrol.

Example: "This town is crowded and expensive."
Spin: We are one of the top paying agencies in California. After 20 years you can retire at 60% of your pay and move to wherever you want. That kind of money will buy you a lot of nice housing in a small town. If you work in a nice area that pays poorly, it will affect you the rest of your life.

Sergeant Mike Couturier is in charge of his agency's recruiting staff. He is not only a former Army recruiter, but he was recruiter of the year! Sgt. Courtier likes to turn the tables on an applicant. "What do you offer us? We get plenty of applicants; we need good officers with strong work ethic and some background. What do you have to offer?" I've seen Sgt. Couturier work, and it takes the candidate aback and really is effective. He also likes to dangle a carrot and ask, "If I gave you $100,000 right now, what would you do with it?" The answer will tell you the button or buttons that motivate the candidate. Then, you sell.

Watch a good salesperson and see how they will also talk about some unrelated subject with the candidate, whether it's fishing, golfing, sewing, needlepoint or the customer's recent root canal. They will appear to show genuine interest as if it were the most fascinating thing they ever heard!

Closing the Deal

It ain't over 'til it's over. No deal is done until you close it. Get the candidate to apply and take the test. Maintain a tickle file or group e-mail list of especially promising candidates, and e-mail or even call them to remind them about the test dates. It's not over at that point. The recruiter should be present at the testing dates, even if civil service handles that. Show you care, keep them motivated. Counsel those who don't pass the test. I also like to sell non sworn positions, such as dispatch or Community Service Officers (aka CSOs or PSTs) to otherwise good candidates.

Learning Sales Techniques

This article just scratches the surface of understanding sales. There are many good books on the market or at your local library, especially any local college library. There are also excellent DVDs on the market. All recruiters should receive this type training. Maybe you can get the local college marketing class to put on a presentation as a class project. I know we all love car salespersons, but if you are on good terms, they usually have a library of sales tapes. Are there other community groups that have persons in the sales field, such as Toastmasters, the Chamber of Commerce, and others that might help? The technique is all the same. It's just like a timeshare presentation!

So, in summary, you should pick your recruiters based on motivation, sales ability, and perhaps diversity. Consider a mix of sworn, former sworn and civilian.

Once selected, your recruiters should be trained in sales techniques; they should seek out expertise including military recruiters, other sales professionals, books, DVDs, and other community sources.

Sales are perhaps the most important part of recruiting and listening is perhaps the important part of sales.

I won't say "good luck," because recruiting is skill, caring, listening, motivation and marketing: good hunting!