Why Are There No College Degrees in Recruiting?

Recruiters have the most important role in the organization. And that is by no means an overstatement. The vast majority of CEOs we work with cite people as their top strategic initiative — putting the best people in the right roles. And, recruiters are responsible for making that happen.

According to LinkedIn profiles, there are more than a million recruiters in the U.S., representing an estimated $124.1 billion-dollar industry that continues to grow at a rate significantly faster than the overall economy. Despite the growth and strategic importance of this role, there are no college degree programs in recruiting. Sure, there are broad-based HR management programs which may offer a three-credit class that hits the high-level aspects of recruiting, though not one academic organization in the world has come up with even a bachelor degree to prepare students for this crucial role.

Think about that. You can receive degrees in Bagpiping, Auctioneering, Puppetry, and even Cannabis Cultivation from legitimate, respected colleges. Yet, there’s no college degree program for recruiters, the group responsible for facilitating an organization’s No. 1 strategic initiative.

Can you imagine putting a nurse on the floor without formal training? Yet, many organizations don’t think twice about putting a recruiter on the phone as the gatekeeper of talent for the organization.

There’s clearly a disconnect between academia and the needs of the real world when the highest level of education a person pursing this role can aspire to is a certificate program. If recruiters are the backbone of an organization — the gatekeepers of talent — why is there not more academic momentum behind it? And, how are recruiters expected to be successful if they have no formal training?

When recruiters are asked how they learned to do their job, over the shoulder or on-the-job training is most commonly cited. They found a great mentor and developed into the role. Their educational background more often includes a college degree in business or psychology.

Sure, there is formal training on how to use applicant tracking systems and assessment tools, but no formal education on how to source, assess, and hire the best person possible for a particular role; how to conduct an interview; how to conduct an intake to qualify a position; how to successfully move from requisition approval to orientation day.

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What are the attributes of a successful recruiter? There is both a science and an art to it.  Behavioral-based interviewing, negotiating, presentation, and analytics all comprise the science side of it. But hiring the right people for the right role also requires the art of effective communication, building rapport, persuading star performers to join your organization, and much more.

While certain behavioral competencies such as attitude, judgment, idea generation, and sales orientation are essential to be successful at recruiting, equally important are skills to be developed such as proactive sourcing, understanding the monetary and non-monetary motives, candidate assessment, technology, and interviewing skills.

All organizations want the best of the best, and the best candidates always have the greatest number of options. The recruiters’ job is to engage with those candidates and persuade them on the merits of your organization. When you put the right people in the right roles, your organization can flourish.

Wouldn’t you think this crucial role in the organization is worthy of a degree program?

David Szary is senior vice president and general manager, recruiting services, HealthcareSource. HealthcareSource is a leading provider of talent management solutions for healthcare.


10 Comments on “Why Are There No College Degrees in Recruiting?

  1. I fear the specious argument that so many superficial degree exist justifies another is a logical fallacy. The truth may be that there is a broken educational system driven by profits not service or results, but that certainly does not justify another degree. The difference between the follow on argument that you would not hire a non-degreed nurse and a non degree recruiter is that nurses, like many roles where a technical degree are required, have continuing oversight by larger professional or licensing organizations that ensure consistent application of terminology, technique, practice and evaluation.
    So in my mind it is sort of chicken in the egg as to what needs to be addressed first, our nation’s inability to fix higher education, or our industry’s inability to agree on a universal set of standards, practices, education and evaluation?

  2. I have rarely met anyone that planned a career as a recruiter or in staffing. Although it would make sense to have a way to educate recruiters more specifically in college, I wonder what the demand for the field would be. Demand drives programs.

  3. I have NEVER understood companies that hire recruiters straight out of college. Perfect world scenario is to migrate people who are successful in their fields into recruiting, letting them act as gatekeepers to their profession. But that’s unrealistic. What worked for me (and I advise everyone in recruiting to learn from my happy accident) is to have a TERRIBLE first job in a field unrelated to recruiting. I was able to make tons of rookie mistakes and gain an appreciation for what a “real world” job seeker goes through. How are you supposed to empathize with someone when you’ve just graduated from college and been told “Now you get to judge people”? It’s illogical.

    All that as a long way of saying I don’t see a need for a degree in recruiting. People would be better off studying liberal arts like history, English or a foreign language, political science, psychology, sociology, etc.

    Or again, train in a high profile profession like nursing or engineering and near the end of your career discover something new as a recruiter. The most valuable tools recruiters have are an open mind and empathy.

    1. Catch 22 here. All the experienced recruiters that I’ve tried to hire come with EXTREMELY hard to break bad-habits. Because the good ones know their value and I refuse to spend that much.. I’m frugal. HAHA But, regrettably I’ve learned by repeated failures, not a single one out of the 6 has lasted more than a year. And a year was much longer role than they deserved, frankly. All sunk costs. I have an obligation to their families and it hurts a great deal when they can’t grasp new ideas they promised up and down in the interviews wouldn’t be an issue… 🙁

      Now, to be fair, I don’t think Corp Recruiters should be hired right out of school. To me, that is ludicrous (of course only my opinion).. especially with all the VMS/HR Processes in place to keep cock-roach style, inexperienced, non relationship having phone jockeys from pestering hiring authorities. But, from a tech recruiting standpoint, these HR Generalists (by no fault of their own, haven’t the faintest idea what they’re looking at with technical resumes. All they use is CTRL & F to search for buzz words… and unfortunately, the s**** candidates have figured out this strategy, leaving the real-heavy hitters without being selected for an interview because they’re under the impression someone with a technical background would easily put 2&2 together and see the value they bring with making an alphabet soup looking monstrosity. It is my opinion, if I hire someone fresh with a good moral compass, empathy and strong IQ & EQ, I can turn that individual into a top 10% recruiter within 12-18 months. 2 under my belt. So far, so good. Also, I only hire people with Degrees. Not technical, though. They’re (in my opinion) predisposed to making decisions. I welcome any feedback, constructive other otherwise. As a reference, I’ve thrice been a 1MM dollar+ Gross Profit Recruiter.

      1. I have a technical degree and ran over $10MM in GP in 3 years for myself. Trained over a 100 recruiters. Sold first recruiting company at 33. On second iteration. I like guys that are cocky and have a chip on their shoulder. Money hungry. Almost unmanageable. But they love a strong leader. Those are the guys that will make you money. Old enough to have knowledge but not right out of school. Just old enough where they’ve failed a few times and are ready to make something of themselves. 26-28 years old.

  4. Talent Acquisition/Recruiting is a spectrum. It runs from the straight-commission sales person/recruiter(?) at one end to the Corporate Recruiter at the other end. Somewhere in the middle is the RPO Recruiter. (Not dealing with the management structure…that’s a discussion for another bottle of wine and a bigger bowl of Bill’s Blend v2.)

    I would submit that a good recruiting background is one that equips the recruiter with a breadth of industry verticals knowledge and a depth of job families knowledge. And those two elements can, at best, be surveyed in a collegiate environment. The real understanding comes from working in the various milieu not experiencing them vicariously. So, yah, I agree with the author’s point that recruiting can’t really be taught in academe. That said, a better recruiter, IMHO, has a business degree with electives in psychology and sociology and experience in a range of companies to know what works.

    The contingent recruiters probably constitute a large part of the the million recruiters cited. While they do provide a service much like realtors, I wonder oft-times, if we should dial the contingent group out of the discussion and focus on the RPO, Retained and Corporate recruiters when we discuss these matters. I would wager that the cited CEOs would prefer the folks finding those good people for her or him to be invested in the process–the RPO/Retained/Corporate group have that investment. Am I biased…yah. I don’t say these things lightly and I say them without malice or disrespect. I posit the question in a Civil Conversation manner.

  5. There are no degrees in recruiting because putting recruiting in an academic setting would plausibly subject its practices and assumptions to objective scrutiny, and that is something Sales! people specifically avoid at all costs. First to go would be all the BS and hand wringing about ‘passive’ candidates. Also there would likely be an acknowledgement via data collection and analysis that good recruiting can’t overcome incompetent management. And finally there would most likely be a strong acknowledgement after study that all the BS about salaries not being critical is, in fact, BS.

    If you follow recruiting ‘guru’ types on the web the one thing they all have in common, whether you agree with them or not, is the support for their methods is LOOOOOOOOOONG on anecdote and extremely short on actual data. These are the types of people who dominate the industry, and they DO NOT want the cold light of academia shined on their island of BS peddling.

    Anything that would remove recruiting from the sales! people who currently control the industry and force objectively measurable accountability on to the field is something they will oppose at every turn. It’s far easier to peddle BS to corporate execs when you’re telling them what they want to hear, rather than having an independent body of scholarship that might call their precious assumptions into question.

  6. I would add that many management and psychology academics see TA as too practical (i.e. vocational education).

  7. I have a degree in HR where we did study the basics of recruitment (and that was over 20 years ago) but the art of recruitment has changed so dramatically in that same time period from the methods of sourcing to (albeit a lesser extent) the interview and selection process that how would you come up with a degree to match that evolution? Recruitment as a subject is too dynamic. The Human Body has not evolved in millennia and I think that Shakespeare hasn’t published any new plays recently, whereas during my career in Recruitment we’ve had the advent of the internet, the easier accessibility of assessment tools such as psych and technical tests. Creation of internal recruitment teams. We’ve even got email now for crying out loud! Never had that in my day!

    And let’s be honest, how many people set out thinking “I want to be a recruiter when I grow up”? I’ve yet to meet one. Those of us in the profession probably fell into it by happenstance. I did not like all the admin around HR or pushing people out the door but I loved dealing with people and I was cocky enough to talk to anyone, so someone advised me to try recruitment agency work and I pretty soon realised that I loved finding people jobs and talking with them but didn’t like the sales side of it so I moved to an internal role where I do a lot of the things that I didn’t like in HR originally but I still get to employ good people for my organisation (and I am not quite as cocky or brash as I used to be!).

    Plus Recruitment is one of those jobs you can do with just your wits and raw talent, the experience you have gain and the internal or external training your employer has given you or you have done yourself. Let’s not close another avenue of employment off to young people who don’t want or can’t afford to go to University by getting some academic, who has never done the job, to sit around and a waffle about it all day!

  8. No. It’s a good idea to require a business degree like business admin for a recruiter role which requires courses like psychology, organizational psychology, human resources, international business, international marketing, contract law and business law because this role has a lot of legal duties that open a business to potential hefty fines and legal lawsuits. A business administrator has education to navigate these legal issues. I’ve seen such issues arise in background checks when uneducated recruiter uses sites like truthfinder or beenverified to make prescreening decisions. This is not say you wont need to train them. It’s just that they tend to have a good understanding of the legal ramifications of choosing candidate A over B.

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