A Personal Snapshot of the Recruitment Training Industry

Most of the recruitment training content I’ve seen seems to simply reinforce the behaviours that has helped create the state the agency recruitment market finds itself in today.

Cold-Calling (or Business Development as many seem to prefer calling it) is a popular training area – and if there is anything more circular that teaching recruiters to cold-call for jobs, I’d like to know about it.

Other broad recruitment training areas include things like Candidate Management, Headhunting, Building A Client Portfolio and Candidate Interviewing Skills.

On face value all of them seem perfectly reasonable things to train because they reflect how recruitment has always been done and any training business will simply shadow the sector that they serve. Or want to take advantage of.

Sorry, that last sentence was overly cynical. I take it back.

The problem is, the entire recruitment industry has been turned on its head these past 5 years – which means that much of what’s being trained today has far less impact or relevance than it had 5 years ago.

So, how did these recruitment training courses lose their relevance?


The transparency of information offered by the Internet in general and social media in particular has done to the recruitment agency market what the printing press did for the Church – meaning it has democratised how people get and interpret their information about a given subject.

It was partly this information democratisation (along with cheaper job advertising and LinkedIn) that finally encouraged more companies to bring their recruitment inhouse – which has resulted in big losses of business for many recruitment agencies.

In addition, recruitment agencies no longer have the control over the large pools of candidates they used to have and they’re much easier to bypass, should a hiring company or candidate be so inclined – and many are.

This in turn makes the agencies more skittish and less trusting, which has a negative impact on the way they interact with potential clients and candidates – regardless of whether they have an inhouse recruitment function or not.

Now more people are savvier.

Candidates know more about how agencies work and companies are less reliant on those agencies and the dynamics by which agencies used to be able to engage with potential clients and candidates is nothing like it once was.

It really is a different world now.

It’s different because these people know a lot more than they used to.

But recruitment agencies are mostly still being offered training to improve results in activities that have a declining relevancy.

So let’s revisit those popular training areas for recruiters:

Cold Calling (aka Business Development, Selling, etc.) – Cold-calling for jobs just incrementally annoys more and more potential clients. Getting better at it only works if the recruiter has something to sell that can take away some client pain. Many recruiters haven’t got a clue about client pain points and those that do only ever attempt to ease that pain with an aspirin rather than a permanent cure.
More companies know this because they’ve read other people’s experiences online.

Candidate Management – The extent to which a recruiter can manage candidates is directly related to what extent that recruiter has any real influence over the vacancy. This is why you rarely hear inhouse recruiters complain about candidates letting them down or not turning up for an interview. They have complete control over the vacancy.

The massive rise in job agency ads on job boards and social media over the past decade has simply served to show the rest of the world that agencies have very little control over most of those vacancies.

It looks like the numbers game is being played and candidates have become wise to it. Or at least the better candidates have.

Headhunting – Headhunting for what? Candidates to put forward for jobs the recruiter has a 1 in 6 chance of filling? Headhunting candidates for interviews that aren’t going to happen is as productive as cold-calling for jobs that aren’t going to get filled.

Again, this sounds like a great skill to develop, but has too high a wastage factor to ever be sustainable for very long.

Building A Client Portfolio – Sadly all this often means is getting on some PSLs and generating enough hiring companies who will give the recruiter access to their open vacancies, along with several other agencies. Which brings us back to the 1 in 6 placement to jobs ratio. Less a ‘client portfolio’ and more a list of ad-hoc customers with minimal loyalty or buy-in.

Candidate Interviewing Skills – Do agency recruiters really interview candidates? And by ‘interview’ I mean assess the candidate against a job spec. When they do meet candidates (which is rare these days), it’s mostly to sell the job and get candidate information that they can sell to the hiring company to increase the chances of securing an interview.


So, all of these training areas, along with their various sub-categories (closing techniques, candidate attraction, taking a job order, etc..) deliver fine-tuning for skills that are having less and less impact and relevancy with their target candidate and client audiences.

Much of the training for agency recruiters I’ve seen is little more than hot air and buzz words.

Here’s an example.

Here’s another.

Both of them concentrate on teaching skills that for the most part are either going to have very little practical worth or are simply claiming things that aren’t true.

This is old-world recruitment training for a new-world recruitment market.

Then there’s all the peripheral stuff that’s being bandwagonned at the moment.

Like Social Media training delivered by people with a just handful of followers.

Content Marketing training delivered by people who can’t write.

Non-specific, NLP-driven, motivational training delivered by people who think feeling good is what it’s really all about.

Having said all of this, agencies do buy training as much to make their employees feel valued than they do to embed new skills. So some of it is doing some good and a small amount is doing a lot of good.

But I think most of it could be doing a lot more.


There’s basically just one aspect of an agency recruiter’s job that needs to be addressed first, above everything else, and that is what they sell to potential clients.

When you get down to the basics, there are just two things a recruiter has to sell; ‘Maybe’ and ‘Definitely’.

‘Maybe’ is what they currently sell 99% of the time.

The problem with ‘Maybe’ is it renders cold-calling (along with candidate attraction, management and interviewing) as being largely unproductive activities. ‘Maybes’ are the jobs that the generalist recruiters fill about 1 in 7 of and the specialists about 1 in 4.

If they sell ‘Definitely’ then all of those skills (and more) do actually become essential and productive activities – because when a recruiter is the only one working on a vacancy, candidates become much more interested in dealing with them – and therefore much easier to manage. Suddenly all that training in headhunting and assessment becomes meaningful.

I don’t see too many recruitment trainers offering to teach recruiters how to sell and to deliver ‘Definitely’, which is a shame because it has the ability to significantly improve how agency recruiters work – for the betterment of themselves, their employers, their clients and their candidates.

And once the recruiter starts filling every job a company gives them, that client will not use a rival agency. I mean, how could they? Clients do not walk away from agencies that have a 100% fill rate. So that solves the cold-calling problem.

There are of course sections of the recruitment agency market where this Maybe/Definitely scenario wouldn’t apply. Contract recruitment is one, as are those perm markets where the candidate supply is much smaller than the number of vacancies – the R2R market being an obvious example.

Those markets require very little actual recruitment skill because there is very little actual recruitment being done. These are what I call spot-trading recruitment markets and the only training these people need is on how to generate numbers, make lots of phone calls and pitch candidates to hiring managers.

Where we find ourselves now is in a client market that wants and needs recruitment services that most agencies can’t offer – and whose training industry can’t provide training for.

I’ve met and interacted with some UK recruitment trainers that have impressed me, and others that haven’t.

The ones that haven’t impressed me have a number of characteristics in common. Here’s a few of them, which may help you sort the wheat from the chaff the next time you’re in the market to buy some recruitment training:

The Fakers – They use words and phrases like “millionaire”, “transform”, “discover the secrets” and “double your billings”. Some of them have fake LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to fluff their own content. They think that Permission Marketing (sending sales messages via email basically) is the new silver bullet and are always encouraging you to sign up for something free with your email address. Then they bombard you with emails using emotive language like “Want to learn how to bill a million pounds?” and “Discover the secrets of the top billers”. I don’t like these types of recruitment trainers.

The Number Crunchers – They send you a connection request, which you accept, only to then receive spam emails selling their training courses. Sometimes they don’t even send the connection request. A few months back I received two LinkedIn PMs from two reasonably high profile recruitment trainers and both messages were virtually identical with just a few key words changed. This gives you some insight into the level of sophistication their sales training probably has. Physician, heal thyself.

The Generalists – They claim to be experts in all aspects of recruitment consultancy, despite some of them having only had a couple of years recruitment experience before moving into training or having had plenty of hands-on experience, the last of which was more than 10 years ago. They post lots of promotional material (masquerading as blogs) all over LinkedIn groups and Twitter and then don’t engage with any of the responses they might get. Sometimes, if they do engage, they throw their toys out of the pram if you challenge any of their claims. These trainers will want to teach you how to overcome objections, but can’t do it themselves. These are the kinds of people who fire an arrow and paint a bullseye around wherever it lands.


The recruitment agency market isn’t working like it used to and its training industry is assisting in that decline.

How do I know this? Let me answer that anecdotally.

A few weeks ago I met a senior trainer who delivers courses for the REC. He happened to mention that agency recruiters could generally be described, almost by definition, as “winners”.

I then asked him how any person who fails to deliver on around 80% of the activity they generate could be described as “a winner” and that surely those kinds of stats would suggest that they are in fact losers.

He looked at me like a dog that had just been shown a card trick.

You see, the recruitment training industry sees nothing wrong with having a 15-20% success rate. The client market sees plenty wrong with it. You only have to ask these clients what would happen to their businesses if they only ever fulfilled 20% of all the orders they ever took.

So, what are you going to listen to? The market, your regional recruitment trade body or people selling recruitment training out of a suitcase on street corners?

Demand more for your training budget than just placebos.

Views: 1410

Comment by Barbara Goldman on July 29, 2013 at 2:03pm

This is an interesting post. I have purchased training programs for my company. I have not been able to use one of these programs in entirety for several years. The programs remained the same, and the business changed. Over the past five years, I developed my own training, and I continue to develop training. I thought it was because our company was unique, but perhaps the entire business is changing rapidly. I see signs of it all over. The changes aren't sourcing changes (social media, searches, etc) that's old hat. The changes have to do with the level of cognition needed to actually perform the job. The job is fractured, in our office the recruiting job has morphed into several jobs. It's been interesting.

Comment by Rebecca B. Sargeant on July 30, 2013 at 10:22am

I too find this post interesting.  As I am a Trainer in the Recruitment Training Industry, I do my best to build an effective training program for all levels of Recruitment Professionals.  

  • I don't teach "scripts," I teach people (recruiters) how to have a conversation. 
  • I don't teach "give me a job order," I teach how to develop relationships and build  organizations. 
  • I teach the Candidate is GOD and it's time to find them a job.  NOT fill ORDERS.

In my opinion there are two reasons we are stuck with the old training. 

The first is there is a myth out there that anyone can be a Recruitment Professional.  Only 20% of people make it to their third year in recruiting.  The myth causes business owners to hire people off the street, give them a canned script, point them at a phone and pray that person will make them money.  If we took more responsibility for the people entering our industry this wouldn't happen.

Second problem is, we as an industry will take and try to fill orders with clients who we all know are bad employers.  If we assumed the role of Workforce Planning Consultant and required our clients to the proper hiring process this would put everyone in a better position.  Of course being a Workforce Planning Consultant takes time.  In my opinion the benefits of higher rates to us, better opportunities for candidates and clients that are more satisfied with their hiring decision would outweigh the time/ cost investment. 

Recruiting is NOT easy cash and people need to stop treating like it is.  I am a Trainer because it's time to change our industry from the inside out.  I don’t promise lots of money today, I promise better relationships that will bring more stable, long term money.

Thanks for your post! 

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on July 30, 2013 at 10:31am

Barbara and Rebecca, thanks for your endorsement of this blog.

Rebecca, this is potentially a big question, but how do you teach recruiters how to build relationships?  What are some of the components of that particular activity?

Comment by Rebecca B. Sargeant on July 30, 2013 at 3:38pm

I start by teaching Recruiters and Sales people, that candidates and clients as people too!

As people, none of us want to be "sold" anything.  What we really want is others to acknowledge our own wants and needs. 

Once Recruiters and Sales people understanding this concept, we can start to help them build an eight step PROCESS of building a relationship.  The more relationships a Recruiters and Sales people have the more places we can go for help and recommendations.

This training program circumvents the need to ever use a canned script. BTW, that canned script is the same one every other recruiter and their brother is using.




Comment by Mitch Sullivan on July 31, 2013 at 4:22am

Rebecca, that sounds like putting the cart before the horse.

Doesn't it make more sense to teach them how to sell value and solve problems first?

In my experience, good customer relations are borne out of respect.  Respect is usually the result of valuing the service/solutions that are sold and delivered.

Comment by Rebecca B. Sargeant on July 31, 2013 at 9:36am


No one wants a stranger to sell them anything.  Also, I don't know anyone who would tell a stranger their deepest darkest problem, let alone let them solve it. 

The foundation for a great Recruiter and Sales person is their ability to build a relationship borne out of mutual respect.  If a client or candidate doesn't respect before the process, starts god knows they are not going to respect at the end of the process. 

We do not again respect because it is earned.  We gain respect because we give it and expect it throught out our relationship with each other. 

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on July 31, 2013 at 11:29am

"No one wants a stranger to sell them anything."

With the greatest of respect Rebecca, if that were true, about 80% of all sales would never happen.

I've never heard of enterprise software salespeople or derivative traders making friends with their target customers before selling to them.

Comment by Derdiver on July 31, 2013 at 3:33pm

All good points and a great post.  I have looked at training over the years and I see very little new for the corporate side if any at all.  Lack of urgency, respect, consideration, and timeliness seem to continue to prevail.  There are some very good OLD ways of doing things but the resolution that newer is always better has been going on forever.  I am mentoring two recruiters now on my own time from separate companies because they WANT to be good at their job.  Maybe I should go in to training, LOL!!!

Comment by Barbara Goldman on August 1, 2013 at 1:24pm

Rebecca, the relationship is the key. You are so right. And the old scripts are dead in the water. You are on to some good stuff. It sounds similar to where we have arrived as a company. It's been a process. Recruiting is changing, but we have been in markets that dramatically shift for the past twenty years. Many firms have had difficulty adapting.

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on August 1, 2013 at 2:21pm

Of course relationships are important -but they're a by-product of being seen to be an expert in your field and someone who can deliver what the client needs.

For example, around 2 years ago I pitched a smallish company of around 120 staff to take control of all of their recruitment.  I didn't know them or anyone who knew them.  I went in cold, I pitched them the concept, they expressed an interest to learn more, we met, I did my research, put together a proposal, met again and it was closed.  At the time I felt they weren't entirely convinced that I could deliver but they felt they had little to lose by entering into the agreement on a 3month trial basis.

As time went by and as the results became apparent, we developed a very healthy working relationship.  I don't socialise with any of the directors, but we have a very friendly and transparent relationship and we all trust each other.

Us liking each other is the result of me delivering what I said I would.  And time.

Too much is made of relationships in recruitment too early.  Most people can't even articulate what it actually is in any meaningful terms.  What I find it mostly means fro most recruiters is doing whatever the client asks them to do, being polite and taking them out for lunch every now and again.

There are plenty of recruiters who claim to have fantastically warm relationships with some of their clients, many of which spend more of their recruiting dollars with other suppliers.


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