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: 1362

Comment by JP Sutton on August 1, 2013 at 9:45pm

Mitch you are correct in your last comment. It doesn't matter how much a company likes me, if I can't deliver, then they will drop me like a bad habit. On the flip-side however, if I can deliver, but am an ass, I will also be dropped. Its a double-edge sword, and you need to know how to swing it...

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on August 2, 2013 at 1:03am

I totally agree, Jim.

But being able to sell something is, for me at least, the critical area where the recruitment industry is floundering at the moment and trying to build a relationship with anyone before you've established any commercial credibility with them is a monumental waste of time.

Like I said earlier, horse first, cart second.


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