A Case for Better Recruiter Training

Every time I talk to people who have recently sought new jobs, I am amazed at how poorly recruiters have treated them. Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who is highly respected, highly placed in a major organization, and one of the top 15 or so performers I know. He recounted his recent experiences with a corporate recruiter. The recruiter called him based on a referral. However, she had done no research on him at all. She did not know how highly respected he is nor that he had in-depth experience. Her questioning was basic and simplistic, and she didn’t have any insight into the position – just the job description provided by the hiring manager.

After talking to my friend for awhile, she told him that he probably wasn’t right for the job because he had not previously worked in the same industry, and that was a prerequisite for this position. This came after 20 minutes of conversation in which this was never mentioned, and came despite his 20 years of experience, reputation, and solid credentials. A lack of recruiting skill results in tremendous inefficiencies and higher costs. It means many good candidates are not seriously considered, and many others decide not to go forward. It means that too many candidates are screened before a suitable one is found, and that too many unsuitable ones are interviewed and rejected. While unskilled recruiters in an agency environment don’t last very long, they seem to do well in corporate recruiting, in which standards are lower and no one is paid for being efficient.

I find that few organizations have ever systematically asked for or collected feedback on recruiter behavior and style from candidates, whether successful or not at getting a job. In fact, I’m pretty sure if we were to run a nationwide poll about what job seekers and candidates think about most corporate recruiters, I think it would amount to an indictment of our profession. Job descriptions often fail to differentiate one job from another. Many recruiters do not understand the position they are recruiting for, and many recruiters just check off a list of requirements filled out by a hiring manager. That hiring manager may not really know what his or her top performers need to have as competencies and also lack insight into the talent marketplace.

Technology, websites, and solid assessment tools can increase the chances of finding and hiring a successful candidate, but nothing replaces skilled recruiters in creating excitement in a candidate, in building authenticity, and in finding and overcoming the candidates’ objections. The bottom line is that when we treat candidates poorly, ask simplistic questions, fail to understand what motivates them and what they are really seeking, and have untrained recruiters working the phones, we lose good candidates and create a very bad image of the organization. Here are six ways to quickly change this picture:

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  1. Collect feedback from candidates on the recruiting process. Find out what they thought about the recruiter. Ask them if they were asked questions that they felt would discriminate a qualified candidate from an unqualified candidate. Find out if the recruiter had done any research on their backgrounds or qualifications. Get an assessment of friendliness, authenticity, and politeness. Give each recruiter his or her results, and assign a mentor or coach to recruiters to help them develop better skills. This should be correlated with each recruiter’s success in closing candidates and on how well his or her hires do and how long your recruiters stay in your organization.
  2. Be sure all recruiters have had training in communicating and negotiating with hiring managers. The only way that a position should be opened is after a recruiter has had the opportunity to deeply discuss the position with the hiring manager and perhaps with an incumbent. All requirements should be verified and double-checked for their necessity, as each one will potentially disqualify a good candidate. Requirements that can often be challenged include years of experience, GPA, college major, and previous industry experience. Recruiters need to learn how to push back and challenge and how to offer alternative suggestions. The recruiter should have a short, carefully thought-out list of requirements, competencies, and experience for each position and hiring manager. Each item should be objectively defensible and be a predictor of performance.
  3. Recruiters need to deeply understand the talent market and be able to show the facts and figures to hiring managers about what the local market is like. How many openings are there for a similar position? Who else is hiring for the same positions? How difficult is it to find qualified people?
  4. Sourcing should be primarily from relationships and talent pools that the recruiter has developed over time. By using relationship tools such as Jobster or LinkedIn, along with email and other communication tools, recruiters can reduce the number of completely unknown candidates to a minimum. I propose a new metric for recruiters: number of hires made from candidates whom something was known about for at least three months before the hire. I believe that the longer and more you know a candidate, the less likely either of you are to make a mistake in the placement.
  5. While I believe that assessment testing is a better way to discriminate one candidate from another, every recruiter should have completed one or more courses in behavioral or structured interviewing. They should also be trained and skilled in probing into critical areas and getting the information they and the hiring manager will need to select one candidate over another.
  6. And, they need to know how to close the candidate and overcome objections. I encourage recruiters to take courses in selling and to aggressively build up their ability to close candidates, find out what candidates really want, and how to overcome objections. Losing a candidate after many weeks of courtship should happen rarely.

Candidates are frustrated. They are now, more than ever, difficult to find and convince to work for us. Trust and building a relationship are essential. Organizations that implement this level of recruiter training will usually win the candidate they want, and, even when they don’t, will always win their respect. In a talent-short market, inefficiency is costly and is bad business.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


10 Comments on “A Case for Better Recruiter Training

  1. Spot on Kevin. I especially agree regarding point 2 with respect to a recruiter’s skill in being able to effectively communicate and negotiate with a hiring manager. I coach many recruiters and the area that I find to be consistently weak in almost all of these people is an inability to help a hiring manager remove what I call ‘artificial’ barriers to hiring the best person for the job.

    These barriers are presented as supposed ‘key competencies’ or ‘critical experience required’ but in reality are little more than prejudices of the individual hiring manager (eg age, gender, industry experience, years of experience, qualifications etc). The hiring manger may be very sincere in believing these sorts of pre-requisites are vital but a recruiter’s skill in effectively, and respectfully, challenging a hiring manager to see beyond these well intentioned, but ultimately ineffective indicators of likely success in the role, ensures they deliver the best result for the client in the most time and cost effective way.

  2. I would like to add some comments to Kevin’s if I may. I got into recruitment/consulting 7 years ago and my raison d’etre was to help people find the right role -to use my expertise and experience to guide/advise and help find solutions for clients and candidates alike. I saw what I was doing as ‘Providing a valuable service’. At no stage did I ever consider what I was doing as ‘ Sales’ and it dismays me more and more that our industry has shifted more and more towards this. People are people. They are not commodities and this is part of the reason that candidates are reporting bad experiences with recruiters. I don’t want to tar all recruiters with the same brush but, increasingly, the industry advertises for ‘sales’ people to fill recruiting roles. Sales people have no idea of employment legislation in the main; they are often financially motivated, and individually motivated – if a candidate is not going to provide them with a fee, they drop them like a hot potato. I have seen so many instances of this and I have been on the receiving end myself so know how it feels. It is not nice. Part of this is a lack of financial recognition of just what a recruiters job entails. There are some recruitment companies out there who pay appalling base salaries, making the recruiters so reliant on commision that you start to see this individualistic ‘Sell your Grandmother’ mentality emerging more and more, to the extent of undercutting their own colleagues, not sharing candidates etc. It becomes all about the money and less and less about the needs of the candidates and clients who put their trust in the consultants. Because of this behaviour I have also noted that recruiters are not held in particulary high regard. I, personally, take pride in what I do. If I cannot help a candidate or feel that they are being unrealistic in their expectations, I will be honest, I will try and set them on the right path. I will do all I can to find new directions for them – even if it means I tip them off on roles with companies that will not or cannot pay recruitment fees. I may not get a fee on this occasion but I will have the satisfaction of knowing I did a good job for that candidate and, long term, will have, potentially, an advocate for me as a recruiter, and the company I represent. It’s all about long-term relationships with both candidates and clients and to be able to forge these, recruiters need to be able to earn that respect. Going back to Kevin’s comments that does mean getting the right training in terms of how to interview, what questions to ask, how to address and overcome objections using knowledge and persuasion, giving the right advice, even if is not neccessarily what the candidate/client wants to hear but one of the most IMPORTANT things recruiters need to be trained in that they are not currently, to the best of my knowledge (and I have worked for four companies now) is employment legislation and being able to advise clients and candidates alike on how it can potentially impact on them.

    I am lucky that I work for an organisation that focusses on what I have illustrated – they pay an attractive base salary in appreciation for what the consultants do to. Yes, we are still targetted on the financial side of things but, it’s not all about the moeny. It is providing a quality service to candidates and clients alike and, if you do that, it may take a wee bit longer, the fee’s will come.

  3. Kudos, Kevin! Having been a job seeker, a recruiter, and an industry researcher, I have been been more often appalled than impressed.

    I have seen companies who should know better than to spam, spam techies aka geeks. Geeks despise spam. They’ll often forward the spam to buddies and/or they’ll post the spam to their blogs.

    In an more interesting case I saw, the geeks initially disbelieved who was spamming them and where they were spamming them; their very own backyard, a social network sphere.

    The geeks had fun with it. They verified the e-mail address was legit and then they toyed with the recruiter. One geek posted, ‘Company A spamming us?… let the games begin.’

    Spam, late interviews, black holes, radio silence, mediocre rejection letters, and the lack of common courtesy generate negativity.

    Your article will help raise attention. Kudos. Thanks for trying to better our industry, image, and improve candidate experiences.

  4. Helen,

    Your remarks hit to the soul of recruiting and the reasons I, too, love and have such passion for our profession. In your words ‘It’s all about long-term relationships with both candidates and clients and to be able to forge these, recruiters need to be able to earn that respect’. Many times during my 5 years of recruiting (agency, corporate and third party), the relationships I have developed with my candidates have lead to placements. During my initial interview, I tell my candidate that I feel that her/she is just as important as my client or company (they do not hear that very often) because it is very important that this potential placement be a win-win for both, otherwise neither is going to be happy in the long run. Many, many times candidates (whether placed or not) have thanked me for what I have done and this gives me immense satisfaction that I have treated and respected them as they should be. I love recruiting as it touches so many lives in so many positive ways. I would not want to do anything else.

  5. Helen –

    I feel your pain. (Upset & passionate folks write foot long paragraphs). Sounds like you hate ‘sales people’, group them into a ‘bazaar-like’ steriotype, and blame them for the shoddy things that go on in recruiting. That’s your call.

    Great sales folks (mostly outside the ‘bazaar setting’) are hard working solution sellers, many with a sales cycle longer than the often 2-4 mos. in recruiting, and are a credit to the economy.

    Selling something often not in stock, I guess when asked what you are selling, you can say ‘Nothing’. But asking for money up front from those you often have not met, is not psychology. Nor is it brain surgery, but at least you don’t have to pay the doctor up front.

    Incidentally, we have 2 (former) psychologists on board, but they are not the highest billers.


  6. Actionable intelligence that should be taken to heart by Talent Strategists everywhere. This is a breath of fresh air. Placing recruiters on the front line without training and information resources is a formula for disaster. Even great employment brands will surely be eroded if they are represented poorly.

  7. Part of the problem is the training some ‘recruiters’ sometimes DO get.

    ‘This is the form we use to spam. Well, no it’s not really spam. Yes it IS a form letter but.. that’s the form we use.’

    ‘Here is our reject letter. Yes, I know they’ve been in the process 2.5 mos., signed an NDA, allowed us to do a credit check, flew out twice, but that’s the form we send.’

    ‘When you finish the phone screen, be sure you say I’ll be your blah blah.’

    ‘Yes, I know it’s an urgent requirement but we only post ads on Fridays so they’ll on top over the weekend. Here’s the ad we use for that.’

    ‘Tell the candidate you got his name by referral.’ They’ll be more inclined to talk to you. (well it’s true, the name DID come out of a sourcing center didn’t it?)

    Mediocrity at its finest.

    KUDOS, Kevin! Kudos, Helen. See the comment section on the article ‘Recruiting the Recruiter’ by Jeremy Eskenazi. https://staging.ere.net/articles/db/B94159C1CF674A558A3270FBD8A2196D.asp

  8. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for your article. It was interesting. I run a recruiting firm in India. This is a red-hot market right now and I believe that if you can’t ‘get’ recruiters, you will have to ‘create’ them. Unfortunately the recruitment industry is in a nascent stage in India, hence we do not get access good recruitment training. Is there somewhere I can get training material – books, CDs, Videos? Can someone recommend such material?

    Really appreciate your suggetions.


  9. Hi there:

    For free resume sourcing tips, check out the following blogs:


    On Jim Stroud’s sight he also has some books and videos that you can purchase. I’ve found them to be very helpful.

    For recommended reading, explore Shally Steckerl’s blog:


    For Shally’s blog, click on further reading, news & books, and Shally’s wish list, and then ‘My Recruiting Wish List.’

    I hope this helps.

  10. Prashant:

    There are several training programs and related training material that one could choose from. The first step in the process is to determine the following before you select a training program:
    ? What is the area of focus for these recruiters and how will your team be structured?
    ? Are your recruiters going to be doing full-lifecycle recruiting or would they be supported by a team of sourcers?
    ? What is the competency level of these recruiters and what level of training would they be requiring?

    Based on the answers to the above you could either craft a training program in-house to address the specific need of your recruiters based on their competency level or have them attend one of the many training programs available.

    The best training that I have come across so far is by Lou Adler who is a subject matter expert in Recruitment training. He has several programs and some of them are delivered over the web. Please visit http://www.adlerconcepts.com/about/louadler.html for information on Lou Adler and http://www.adlerconcepts.com/workshops/rbc_main.php for information on his Recruiter Boot camp programs. We sent 4 of our recruiters to his boot camp which was a day long live session and each of them had great things to say about the quality of the program. Thanks to this training and our other in-house training efforts our recruiters are now a cut above the rest.

    I had the honor of meeting Lou Adler personally and attending one of his sessions and felt that he was the best. I have been in this industry and the workforce for over 20 years and have not seen anything better.

    Please feel free to contact me should you need any further information.

    Ravi Subramanian
    Principal Consultant
    Illuma, llc.
    (312) 676-2320

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