Developing Experienced Recruiters

Several months ago in The Fordyce Letter, a reader wrote with a not-uncommon problem. He owned the finest training products in our industry, but they sat, as he said, “on the shelf,” while his group of experienced search consultants continued to repeat errors and limit their production, showing questionable improvement. He questioned why this was the case.


Unfortunately the reader, by his very phraseology, appears to be denying reality, and therein is the problem. There are a number of excellent motivational products available, from the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, to Larry Nobles’s three-tape audio series “Success Behavior.” Everyone should be exposed to these outstanding works or their imitators.

Nevertheless, the reality is that most people, in the absence of a truly life-changing event, are not self-motivating beyond a certain point. The fault in this instance lies solely with the manager. To let excellent training products “sit on the shelf,” as he says, and expect the non-self-motivated to improve is about as likely to yield results as purchasing exercise equipment for a non-motivated spouse. Improvement by osmosis is highly unlikely. Does this mean there is no hope? Of course not. But it requires personal involvement and work from the manager.

A Culture of Learning

The manager shapes the organization. He develops the corporate attitudes. He forms the culture. If products simply sit and it is left to each recruiter to utilize them as he or she sees fit, this sends the clear message that continued learning is an individual responsibility, and thus an option. That message is wrong. Professional growth is not an option, and not individual. It is a permanent ongoing responsibility of the entire firm. But it is the manager’s responsibility to develop a plan – and to enforce that plan – to bring it about.

The Key

The plan itself embodies four elements, and they will be discussed in this article. But the key to these elements is group meetings that cannot be interrupted. To allow calls to be taken during meetings addressing skill improvement is to send a message that these meetings are not of the highest priority, and to reduce the quality of the meeting. Eventually, everyone will be filtering in and out of skill-improvement sessions, reducing the focus and concentration of the entire group.

These skill-improvement sessions should be con-ducted twice a week, in the morning, and not on Fridays. A rough estimate of length might be 30 to 45 minutes.


The difficulty that many managers have is deciding on topics and organizing the material. Without sufficient preparatory work, they simply pick a subject and blindly stumble into it the morning of the meeting, relying on their consultants to bail them out of their lack of structure by making contributions. This is rarely productive – and totally unnecessary.

In fact, there is no need for a manager to flail about wildly seeking subjects or specifics, as the outline of our industry has long been established and codified, and since broadened and refined.

Thirty years ago, a trainer named Phil Ross developed an audio series entitled The 28 Steps to the Placement Process. The superb foundational training book by Larry Nobles Search and Placement! contains 28 chapters. This author’s own book Breakthrough! contains 30 chapters. His two recruiter-based DVDs consist of eighteen 30 to 40-minute modules.

All of these high-content resources, plus selected passages from The Fordyce Letter, are repeatable, reviewable, relevant – and should be the foundation of solid sales meetings to improve skills and production.

For those recruiters who claim to be too advanced to learn, a quotation from an early manager of this writer should draw quick acknowledgment: “No one is smart enough to remember all he knows!”


The reality, of course, is that people in our business do not get paid for what they know; they get paid for what they do. Improvement is useful only if it translates to increased production. There is only one way to go from knowing to doing, and that is role-playing.

New people should have this as an integral part of all training. But for experienced ones, an analogy will be persuasive. No matter how many millions of dollars a baseball player earns, every day – regardless of income – he does batting practice.

Role-playing is our batting practice, and we do it for the same reasons: to polish skills and correct weak points leading to improved performance.

An extensive article on this subject, titled “From Knowing to Doing! How to Implement,” can be found at the author’s website. It should itself be the subject of an entire meeting to clarify and explain why this is mandatory and how to do it.

The most frequent error made, however, is attempting to role-play face-to-face. To be effective, role-playing must be real; that means on the telephone, not face-to-face.

You can’t consistently hit for a high average if you skip batting practice.

Management Evaluation of Calls

What does this mean? It means that the manager must find out what the consultant is really doing on the phone. How? By listening in to his calls at his desk.

A simple analogy will show the value of this. In outside sales, it is part of a sales manager’s job to travel the territory with the people he supervises. On some calls, he will participate by adding clout on “key account calls,” while on others his job is to listen, evaluate, and then conduct “curbside coaching” with the aim of improving performance.

The technology to do this is readily available, either at any Radio Shack or similar electronics store, or with headsets designed with an extra jack for taping. The easiest way is simply to tape the call with the manager listening in via an earplug.

Speakerphones are not recommended, as they will alter the quality of the recruiter’s voice (reverberations are common), thus reducing the worth of the call.

Poor performers will resist this idea, as it will show them up. Good performers will like being listened to, as they believe it shows them off.

Signs on the Phone

Habit patterns can be broken and poor habits improved only by practice (role-playing) and repeat reminders. The manager should insist that the recruiter put a sign on the phone as a reminder of habit patterns that must be broken. Examples of this may be “slow your pace” or “who else?” for a recruiter who stops at one referral, i.e., lead to new recruits.

Conducting Sales Meetings

Aristotle wrote that “the truest knowledge of an art is achieved only by teaching that art.” As the manager conducts substantive, structured, formal skill-improvement sessions, this will be found to be true. However, this benefit should not be limited only to the manager. The experienced search consultants too will gain markedly by preparing for and conducting such meetings.

In a firm with five or more experienced recruiters, the manager should eventually be conducting no more than 50% of the twice-a-week meetings. Every experienced recruiter has a skill in one or more of the facets of our complex business. Even if it is only playing a tape of a call and critiquing his own performance, he should be in charge of occasional skill-improvement sessions.

The entire firm, but especially the meeting conductor, will be the beneficiary.

Numbers and Ratios

There is no point in repeating what has been said in detail elsewhere (see aforementioned two books), but at some point keeping track of numbers and analyzing ratios is mandatory.

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As President Bush said in promoting his successful “No Child Left Behind” education bill, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it!”

Advance Preparation

It cannot be too strongly stressed that “winging it,” i.e., no preparation, yields poor results. And, in fact, there is no need to do so.

The 50+ chapters in the aforementioned two books, the 18 modules in the previously referenced DVDs, and the 24 modules in the Larry Nobles audio series Successful Search and Placement – to cite a few examples – mean that topics and structure are no longer a problem for any manager!

The owner should let his people know at the end of the week in written form what topics will be covered at the two meetings the following week. The recruiters must thus do reading or thinking about these topics, and be ready to discuss them.

For example, if the subject is desk organization, everyone must read the first two chapters of the Larry Nobles book (which address the subject), underline or highlight, and be prepared to discuss these chapters.

Each person must have his own copy of the books that are the foundation of our business in order to give structure to the meetings.


The original question in The Fordyce Letter referenced the fact that the finest training products in our industry “sat on the shelf” while the manager left it up to his individual people to implement the material.

This manager is at fault. He is not doing his job, and is thereby cheating his people and himself by not instituting a culture of continued improvement in his organization.

Corporate cultures can be changed, and the steps outlined in this article will accomplish this over time.

Nevertheless, there will be a jolt when changes are made. The manager should conduct an initial meeting outlining these changes. He should commit himself to consistent implementation of these steps in front of his people. He should put a sign on his own office wall to remind him to continue to do so. And he should get a clear commitment from each person to wholehearted participation in these changes.

In explaining this to his staff, there is no reason that a certain amount of fear cannot be utilized with experienced people only (not with new ones). Experienced people have seen recessions. And they know that all markets have ups and downs. Our market is strong and our future is bright. Yet there will be brief downturns in the future.

The reason our entire industry suffers so badly in a slowdown is singular. We “confuse brains with a bull market.” We quit expanding and upgrading our client base. And we quit improving our skills.

Tell your experienced people this. They know it is true. And resolve to do your job. Resolve not to let it happen to them.

The Difficult Consultant

If you suspect that one individual will not participate in these changes, take pre-emptive measures. Bring this person into your office and give advance notice of your meeting. Flatter him. Tell him you’re counting on him. Tell him he’s the leader. Build him up. Repeat this to keep him on track with the program. Ask for his help, and allow him to conduct sales meetings.

If despite all your efforts, this person not only fails to change but also exhibits behavior that slows down the rest, there is only one right answer. Bob Half of the Robert Half organization wrote, “One bad person can spoil an entire office, because bad spirit is more contagious than good spirit.”

A person who consistently exhibits a bad attitude over time and cannot be changed must be terminated, regardless of production.


It is critical to realize that building a culture of continued learning into your entire organization is not a matter of “motivation” or of one-shot blasts as in attending a conference, though that may be fine if you can afford the cost in time and money. The focus must be on comprehensive, repeatable, reviewable products that represent a long-term investment.

A culture of continued improvement can be achieved only by a consistent ongoing plan that incorporates the above steps and more. This is the responsibility not entirely of the consultants, but of the manager as well, who must serve as a coach, guide, and shaper of the skill level of his entire firm.

Only in this way can the production of the firm and the individual people be maximized, and the true potential of our glorious industry be achieved.

A 30-year veteran of our industry, Steve Finkel has consulted with hundreds of firms on four continents. He has been described by Personnel Consultant Magazine, produced by NAPS, as possessing “the most in-depth knowledge of search and placement in industry history.” The producer of many excellent training products (, he is also the author of Breakthrough! How to Explode the Production of Experienced Recruiters, considered to be the definitive work for recruiters on this subject. Highly recommended. He can be contacted at (314) 991-3177.

Acclaimed international author, speaker, and trainer Steve Finkel is a veteran of over 30 years and six recessions in our industry. Personnel Consultant Magazine, published by the National Association of Personnel Consultants, has referred to him as possessing "the most in-depth knowledge of search and placement in industry history." Recruitment International Magazine, Europe's largest industry publication, has described him as "the world's premier author and trainer in search and recruitment." His revised and up-to-date 360-page book Breakthrough! is now distributed in 25 countries and is also available on Amazon. Contact him at 314-991-3177 or