How to Really Do More With Less: Why Recruiter Training Doesn’t Work

Part 1 of a Series Related to Optimizing Recruiting Team Results

Let me start by saying I am biased with regard to recruiter training. Beyond that bias, though, it is clear that providing development opportunities for people to improve their skills is certainly worthwhile, but in most cases it only holds true provided the training is implemented correctly. But there are countless occasions when I observe recruiter training initiatives deployed incorrectly, so the topic warrants discussion, particularly given that one of the common themes prevalent in today’s workplace environment is cost-containment, and the goal of doing more with less. Indeed, “doing more with less” has probably never been more pressing than in today’s economic climate and is particularly true of human resources and talent acquisition departments across most companies.

I talk with a large number of recruitment leaders who, like many others, are asking, “But how can I do more with less?” As a result many of them are seeking to improve business results by developing their staffing teams. Just last week I was talking with the staffing leader of a large, multinational corporation and the primary mandate for 2011 was to develop her recruiting team capabilities.

I have delivered a large quantity of recruiter training, have also led very large teams of recruiting professionals, and have been required to improve their capabilities through coaching and professional development, including training. I am a huge fan of developing proficiency and capabilities in order to improve business outcomes … but there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to create real results. In truth, I would go so far as to argue that in general terms, one of the primary gaps in the recruiting industry is that the skills of the average cross-section of recruiters would really benefit from significant improvement. Unfortunately, I often observe recruiting leaders investing in training, and then lamenting the fact that recruitment yields, productivity metrics, or other outputs do not show improvement.

One of the reasons for this is that doing more with less requires a systems approach when implementing changes. Recruiting team output is the dependent variable that is related to a number of independent variables that combine with different magnitudes to produce results in the system. These variables include recruiter or team capacity, incentives, motivational factors, feedback and communication systems, skills and competencies, and also environmental factors. We will look at the first couple variables in this article, and the next in the next article.

The presumption underpinning this article is that recruiter training is being implemented in order to improve business outcomes … which seems self-evident, but you might be surprised how many times I’ve observed training being delivered to recruiting (or other) teams without sufficient thought put into answering the question, “What outcome are we trying to improve with this training?” Before training is considered, thinking through the question in detail, and being very specific with regard to what goals training is intended to influence, will pay dividends.

Recommendation #1 — Do not implement training before evaluating recruiter and recruiting team capacity

The capacity variable is strongly correlated to nearly all recruitment metrics, including doing more with less. Indeed, the often-cited measure of “time to fill” is often a measure of recruiting team capacity. Many organizations fall into the Trap of False Economies … what at first seems like a cost-savings measure actually in fact increases operating expenses. For example I commonly observe organizations loading up their recruiters with far too many requisitions, but the net result is that cost per hire increases dramatically. Another example would be a lack of investment in administrative resources … some recruiting organizations “save headcount” by reducing (or eliminating … or outsourcing) much-needed administrative support such as scheduling or other logistics management in order to reduce costs.

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Delivering training to a recruiting organization that is at capacity or being stretched beyond its capacity will have negative ROI — the team will just grow frustrated because it doesn’t have time to get to everything on its plate already. Instead, revisit the expectations for the role of each member on the team, revisit the capacity model, and make sure the team has the capacity to implement the behaviors that training is designed to help them improve.

Recommendation #2 — Do not underestimate the impact of incentives

If your recruiting team isn’t incented to improve results or change behaviors, training them how to do something differently or improve their behaviors or skills is unlikely to produce material results. Incentive influences human behavior. It always has and it always will. If you’ve thought through the outcomes you are trying to improve through the delivery of training, then mapping the incentives to these outcomes is relatively easy. However, many staffing organizations have not done an effective job of aligning incentives with the outcomes that drive the most business results. Don’t waste training dollars without thoroughly understanding what the incentive structure, both tangible and intangible, is for your team and whether it’s aligned with the training objectives.

But incentives can be tricky. Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Stanford professor and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management suggests that incentives can and should include things other than money. A useful exercise is to have your recruiting teams define what incents them. To do so, ask them to form a small focus group of three or more people and send them off to come up with a broad list of incentives, beyond just compensation. Once you have the master list of potential incentives, share them with the broader team and have each team member force-rank them in terms of their personal preferences (what incents each individual most). You may be surprised at the results. Once completed, align the incentives (some will cost zero dollars) against your business objectives, and then evaluate training initiatives against these objectives.

In the next installment, we will examine how motivational factors, feedback and communication systems as well as environmental factors relate to recruiting team training and doing more with less.

Jason Warner left corporate America to focus on entrepreneurship with a clear mission: to help organizations recruit better. In early 2011, he founded RecruitingDash, a recruitment software company that delivers world-class SaaS-based reports, metrics, dashboards, and analytics from existing applicant tracking software. As with other trends in Big Data, RecruitingDash turns the wealth of data in the recruiting "supply chain" into valuable information and insights to improve recruitment efficiency and effectiveness for companies of all sizes. A former corporate recruiting and talent management leader at Google and Starbucks, he has successfully built, scaled, and led large global recruitment and talent management functions during critical growth periods for some of the world's most recognized fast-growing companies, including Google and Starbucks. At Google, he led the largest learning, training, and people development group at Google -- for the Sales and Operations group across Latin America, Asia Pacific, and North America. During the peak of Google's growth, he also led recruitment for the Global Online Sales and Operations Group. He was previously the director of North America recruiting for Starbucks Coffee Company.


9 Comments on “How to Really Do More With Less: Why Recruiter Training Doesn’t Work

  1. Great article Jason. I’ll be interested to read the next segment. I’m curious if you have any more tips on building the business case around investing in training/development to yield long term results. You allude to the importance of keeping req load manageable and administrative resources in place. This increases cost in the short term, but gives room for implementation of a more productive process. The challenge is quantifying that and getting leaders (sometimes outside of recruiting) to buy-in to the plan. I’m curious to hear others’ success in making this case.

  2. A thoughtful article. An important point to consider is: What do the recruiters need to be trained to do? I submit that much of what is “thought” that they need to be trained in is what should probably be no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated), or out-sourced (sent away) as you had mentioned. IMHO, the knowledge, skills, and techniques should be those high-touch, high value-add activities which are worth at least $50/hr, such as advising and consulting hiring managers, closing candidates and managers, and acting as an onsite project manager of remote/virtual staffing resources. An incentive would be that “these are the KSTs required of the recruiting staff who will be working with us in the future”.


  3. Jason, now that I’m down south, I’d like to refer to the old adage “that dog won’t hunt.” Adding to your comments, before I would recommend ANY investment in development or training, I would strongly assess whether you’ve got the right talent. Have you recruited the right recruiters for your current model? Maybe your recruiters were sourced for a model that required little consulting or hunting. As we all know, you can train, train, train away, but if you haven’t selected recruiters based on disposition and motivation against your competencies (in addition to technical skills), the ROI on training is minimal if not negative. You have to consider the talent you’re starting with before considering development a worthwhile investment. Looking forward to the next installment! Linda, Glass Talent Strategies

  4. I’ve observed that doing more with requires one of the following:

    1) Changing/reducing/automating/simplifying what’s done. Long-term productivity comes from doing things better – not more. The exception is a process, step, or job that can be automated. For example, CPAs can now do more of the process-centric steps through software. But providing guidance and thorough reviews is largely still a slow, hands-on process. Recruiting’s not much different.

    2) Applying recruiting talent differently. All the training in the world doesn’t make an inefficient process much better, but using a recruitment process centered around talent that you have or can easily acquire or maintain does. It amazes me that so many corporate recruitment teams have been redesigned several times in the last 10 years yet still struggle with recruitment effectiveness and efficiencies. What’s changed most in that same period for many of those same companies – the talented people doing the jobs. Ever notice how the same businesses who want smaller, centralized recruitment rarely make the best decisions and investments in people and technology for recruitment. Too many business people think world-class recruiters are easy to find or develop and only want to make $50-75k. Think world-class external recruiters do this?

    3) Stop expecting that a systems/process-first or people/talent-first recruitment style is right or wrong. Either can change much faster than your organization’s commitment and implementation. Great recruiters usually outgrow many of the companies they work for. Great systems usually don’t get fully implemented and utilized before companies move on to something better, faster, and most importantly cheaper. What’s most important is being able to adapt to the fluidity of your recruiting situation.

    If you get a great interviewer as a recruiter, figure out how to not trap that talent by submerging that individual in paperwork and process. If you get great automation, figure out how to fully implement and utilize it including maintaining appropriate staff to keep it updated.

    I once heard from a great coach of mine that teams get better not by doing more with less but by doing more of what’s important and moving on from what’s not. All three of my points are some iteration of doing more of what’s important.

  5. @ Darryl: Very well said.
    @ Everybody: If I may humbly re-submit my Agile Recruiting Manifesto-

    Manifesto for Agile Recruiting
    (This was “sampled” from the Agile SW Development Manifesto. -kh)

    We are uncovering better ways of hiring people by doing it and helping others do it.
    Through this work we have come to value:
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • Quick, quality hires over comprehensive documentation
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    • Responding to change over following a plan
    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

    Principles behind the Agile Recruiting Manifesto
    We follow these principles:
    • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of quality hires.
    • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
    • Deliver quality hires frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
    • Internal customers and recruiters must work together daily throughout the project.
    • Build projects around motivated individuals.
    • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
    • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a recruiting team is face-to-face conversation.
    • A quality hire which is on-time and within budget is the primary measure of progress.
    • Agile processes promote sustainable employee development.
    • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
    • Continuous attention to professional excellence and first-class service enhances agility.
    • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done–is essential.
    • The best requirements, processes, and hires emerge from self-organizing teams.
    • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

    I challenge staffing organizations to adopt, implement, and maintain these policies and principles. Don’t know how? I’ll be happy to show you.


    Keith Halperin

  6. Sorry I’m slow to jump in, it’s been a busy week for me.

    Sandon, in terms of justifying the business case for training the recruiting team, I would start by finding out what the typical training budget dollars are per employee. “Most” companies, particularly large ones, automate the budgeting process by allocating dollars per head for training in a peanut butter fashion. For example, many companies allocate $2,000 per employee for “training” annualized. My experience suggests that many recruiting departments have the budget, but don’t spend the dollars.

    Not to be coy, but I will get into some more thoughts in a future installment, Sandon.

    Keith and Darryl, you are absolutely correct. I recommend the book Lean Thinking by Womack which is one of the most interesting reads on optimizing supply chain and eliminating waste.

    Linda, indeed, sometimes “those dogs don’t hunt.”. But ironically we have approached this topic somewhat backwards… not all organizations need to hunt for all jobs, so clearly your process and go-to-market strategy in terms of recruitment needs to be supported by the right folks. There’s Farmers, Hunters, and Gatherers that may all play a role in talent acquisition. The key is to deploy them correctly with the right strategy and process that should be determined by the viability of the talent pool versus needs.

    Great discussion. More to come in several more installments.

    Recruiting Toolbox, Inc.

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