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Let Your Recruiters Learn

It may be hard to find the time, but professional development pays off

A group of people sitting in a conference room.

​Talent acquisition experts and practitioners agree that investing in learning—even when it's difficult to do so—is one of the key ways to maintain a competitive advantage.

There are many reasons that professional development is neglected or not effective, including a lack of time and organizational support, and even user resistance. But when you invest in your recruiters, their performance will improve, said Johnny Campbell, the CEO of Dublin-based SocialTalent, a leading talent acquisition learning platform.

"There used to be a fork in the road where leaders thought they had to decide to either make an investment in technology or people," he said. "I think there's been a realization that performance will come up short if you just invest in technology without also enabling the people. Teaching people how to use and adopt new technology is critical to success."

Campbell said that recruiter training was almost nonexistent a decade ago and is still a priority for only a minority of employers. However, he said, interest is growing. "People used to ask us, 'What if we make this investment and our recruiters move on to a competitor?' My reply was 'If you don't invest and they stay, isn't that worse?' "

Cost, investment of time and flexibility are some of the things you should consider when deciding what learning opportunities you want to offer your recruiters, said Treena Diebolt, senior director of talent attraction for global job search engine Indeed.

Learning and development (L&D) should be fun, engaging and relevant to the day-to-day job, she said. Allowing people to fail is also important.

"We let employees learn by stretching into new things, and we're tolerant of failure," Diebolt said. "Not all training investments will yield the result you plan for, and that's OK," she added. "We've made that feel safe for our team by encouraging experimentation."  

Support from the top for L&D is the most important element necessary for a professional development program to be worthwhile, Campbell said. "Learning that isn't driven from the top down almost never succeeds," he said. "In any cohort, 20 percent will be avid learners, and 20 percent will disengage, but the 60 percent in the middle need to understand that the top level of the organization considers training a priority."

And not just a top 10 priority, but in the top bracket of the top 10. "If you place L&D as priority No. 7, don't even try it," Campbell said. "It won't be a focused effort and won't get done effectively. Wait until you can make it a top-four priority."

"If we're not intentional or purposeful about making the effort, time slips away," agreed Brett Bunce, director of field human resources and talent acquisition for restaurant chain Cracker Barrel.

Nneka Ladday, director of talent acquisition for Pilot Thomas Logistics, an energy company in Fort Worth, Texas, said she advocates for her recruiters and doesn't give up when leaders turn down a training request. "With no specific budget for training allocated for the recruiting department, I had to partner with my VP of human resources to determine how I could provide some level of exposure for learning and succession," she said.

One way to get business leaders on board is to give them examples of how professional development has improved outcomes, such as the hiring of more quality candidates. She also makes sure her team members invest in learning themselves before any training investments are made by the company. "There were times that I funded professional development myself because I truly believed that it's important to invest in your team," Ladday said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Government and Other Resources for Employment and Training Programs]

Overcoming Roadblocks

The size of organizations, cost and time are common obstacles to L&D. Carving out the time for professional development may be the biggest roadblock. "In many organizations, the talent acquisition function … is already a balance between all the work that must go into sourcing, interviewing candidates, negotiating and consulting with business partners, and keeping the pipeline full," Bunce said. "It can be difficult to pull time away to focus on development. It's got to be managed in a way that people can still do their day jobs."

It's a common misconception that professional development can be accomplished through a course or seminar, Bunce continued. "Things that contribute to a great learning experience include a range of content and approaches. So much of what we do in terms of growing our capabilities is through stretch assignments on the job. But there's also e-learning, video and gamification. E-learning can be done from any location from any point in time, and it's self-paced, so you can manage it into your workload. It's a strong option for us."

Bunce and members of his team have gone through the coursework of Indeed Academy, Indeed's free, online learning site, launched in October 2017. Indeed Academy helps recruiters get the most out of Indeed's tools but also helps them master sourcing, interviewing and recruiting fundamentals, Bunce said.

Training doesn't even have to be structured, Ladday said. Her team holds informal gatherings called "training days" to discuss what team members have learned and brainstorm ways to help them in their jobs.

"I solicited my team's feedback on all of the areas that they wished they had more exposure and training in and created a monthly calendar," she said. Now her recruiters participate in a contest that encourages research and creative thinking, and Ladday invites vendors to speak with them so they can better understand the products they're using.

Another L&D obstacle is when recruiters resist training, Campbell said. "That usually happens when employees feel that the training is not applicable to them."

One way around that is to ask some recruiters to help select, design and launch the training, Campbell said.

"Talent acquisition has become more complex, and different people practicing within the function have different expertise needs," he said. "You can't just bring in a trainer for the whole team or have everyone take the same course. Everyone on the team is at a different stage of professional development."

Changing Needs

Campbell said that a few years back, most of the interest in recruiter training was in technical, top-of-funnel areas, such as sourcing and using social media and other channels to recruit. Now the most popular content is around negotiation.

"I think we are moving away from learning technical skills like how to source, to human skills like how to close a candidate, influence hiring managers and be a talent advisor," he said. "It makes sense. Technology is now doing a lot of the technical things like sourcing, and professional development can be better used to teach people things that machines can't do well."

Bunce said the recruiters at Cracker Barrel are most interested in learning how to improve talent evaluation when advising hiring managers in selecting candidates. "We also want to focus on driving a better candidate experience, to strengthen our brand," he said.


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