Viewpoint: How to Build a Successful Training Program for Recruiters

By Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP Nov 23, 2016
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​Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP

​My first job out of college was working as an entry-level recruiter. My training program? I was handed a pile of resumes a foot tall and told to call all the applicants to find out what job they were looking for, how much salary they required, etc.

Simple pre-screens; probably 500 total resumes. It took me three weeks to contact all 500. I made at least 100 calls each day. Many applicants I had to call back because my boss said I didn't get all the information needed.

Upon completion of my "training," I went into my supervisor's office and handed him all 500 resumes with my notes and answers to the questions I had been told to ask attached to each. Do you know what happened next?

He took the pile, turned around to his trash can and threw them all away! He then turned back around, handed me a job description and said, "Here's your first position to hire. Go find me some candidates."

Training was over!

As unorthodox as it was, that exercise actually taught me a ton about recruiting. My supervisor knew that the hardest lesson for new recruiters is to learn how to get over their fear of being on the phone and asking personal questions. Before he invested in any formal training for me, he wanted to make sure I could do the foundational tasks that would make me successful.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

While that crazy training did help me be successful, it's definitely not something I ever used to train new recruiters. Nor would I recommend you use it, either! I've spent the better part of 20 years in talent acquisition (TA) on both the corporate and agency sides of the desk. Throughout my career, I've had to hire and train hundreds of recruiters, both agency and corporate, and based on this experience, my philosophy on training for recruiters has refined over time.

I've found there are five critical factors to building a great recruiter training program:

  1. Is the training repeatable?
  2. Does it lead to the outcomes your organization needs?
  3. Is success measurable on an individual level?
  4. Can it help break bad habits recruiters may bring to their new job?
  5. Do the participants truly feel like they gain value for themselves from this training?

A significant key to any great training program is to be able to use it again and again with every employee who needs it. Also, that training should lead to better outcomes for the organization, or it's worthless. For me, great training needs a component with which to measure individual performance: If you finish this training, we should see an increase in a certain desired outcome. Another aspect I've found that I needed was training to break bad habits I observed from new recruiters coming in from other organizations. Finally, if the recruiters do not feel like they're being developed, they won't get much out of the training program.

With these criteria in mind, what are the components of a high-functioning recruiter training program? This is the million-dollar question, because there is no one program, out of the box, on the market that will provide what you need to train your recruiters. All organizations and all TA leaders are going to have to do some of this heavy lifting on their own to build the program that will have the most impact for them.

All the recruiter training programs that I've developed had these components:

  • Live role playing. This is the one thing that is extremely hard to replicate with technology: Sitting down face to face with a recruiter trainee and doing live role playing with real-life scenarios they'll face when on the phone with a candidate. Even recruiting leaders shy away from this because it's "embarrassing." To me, it's more embarrassing to have recruiters who don't know what they're doing!
  • Phone calls. Every recruiter training program must get the new recruiter on the phone as soon as possible, even on the first day! There is no substitute for live interactions with candidates. My recruiter training programs attempt to break down these interactions in small parts. An example might be getting a new recruit to call for updated resumes of candidates you haven't spoken to in a while but who have the background you are looking for.
  • Sourcing. A major part of a recruiter's job is his or her ability to find and attract candidates. In a nutshell, this is sourcing! The good news is that there are actually a few really good online sourcing training programs that keep up to date on the latest and greatest sourcing techniques and will also test the recruiter's knowledge in these areas upon completion.
  • Intake meetings. Conducting great intake meetings with hiring managers is paramount to being great at recruiting. Thus, this has to be part of your training. What questions should the recruiters be asking? When should they push for more? When should they push back for concessions on skills or pay? Add your own questions to fit your organization and industry.
  • Operations experience/knowledge. The best recruiters know the business they're recruiting for. The problem is we usually don't have the ability to pull people out of operations and teach them how to recruit. You need to give them a taste of what different employees do to get recruiters comfortable in the departments and locations where they're responsible for recruiting talent. Try ride-alongs, plant visits and attendance at weekly operational meetings. All will help give trainees a better understanding of what skills the organization needs from candidates.
  • On-demand courses. Organizations move fast, and they need training that can begin and end on their timeline, instead of having to wait for the next available program. On-demand recruiter training is a must. If you have to wait weeks or months to formally train a recruiter, it will be too late to stop bad habits from forming.
  • Mentoring. Having a mentor to turn to when we don't know something is a huge component to the success of our recruiter training. It seems simple, but most organizations get this wrong. A mentor isn't just another recruiter doing the same job of whom you can ask questions. Mentors are people who have responsibility to ensure the success of a new recruiter.

The length of training is really dependent on multiple factors, including the recruiters being trained, the function they'll be recruiting in, the tools they have available, and what level of recruiting and sourcing you expect. Typically, we find it takes about four to six weeks to get a recruiter up and running functionally, finding talent and making placements. My best recruiters tell me they weren't truly comfortable in their role until a year or two in the position.

With everything TA leaders have to do, recruiter training tends to fall way down on their list of priorities. The best leaders understand the importance of training and make it a priority. Great recruiter training is the foundation for great recruiting. It's amazing how much easier the job of TA leader is when you have great recruiters!

Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP, is president of HRU Technical Resources, an engineering and IT staffing firm based in Lansing, Mich., and author of The Tim Sackett Project blog. 

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