The 6 Biggest Mistakes Recruitment Directors Make When Hiring Trainees

Mike Walmsley
Recruitment Training

How many trainees have you hired that billed over £350,000 in their first year? I wish I could claim more than one – but I had plenty more who billed those kind of figures in their second year. Glen, Olivia, Jake, Paul, Craig, Rob Hannan and several others, most of whom subsequently became directors or now run their own recruitment companies.

One of my former staff at Parker Bridge reminded me that he billed £370k in his second year. He also reminded me that even 20 years ago the minimum expectation for billings at Parker Bridge in the first year was £150k.

What’s your expectation for first-year billings in today’s market? Does the not-so-magic figure of £100k come to mind? So why is it that some trainees bill far more than others in the same marketplace with the same kinds of candidates and the same kinds of clients?

Here are the 6 biggest mistakes that I see being made by recruitment directors when hiring trainees:

1. Taking a “Flyer” On Them

Let me set the scene. It’s 6pm and you are ‘looking forward’ to interviewing a trainee. Within 30 seconds you know that interviewee is wrong for your business but you still go through the motions. The next evening, 6pm again, you interview another trainee. They’re not bad, perhaps 7/10 calibre. Two days later, you interview another trainee, 6/10, also at 6pm. In your frustration, you talk to your fellow director and suddenly the 7/10 calibre person that you saw a few days ago morphs in your mind into a potential star. You then utter the immortal words, “Let’s take a flyer on them, there is something I really like about them and if it doesn’t work out we can always get rid of them.”

Three months later you fire that person.

Here is the thing with trainees: You have to kiss more frogs! Part of the challenge with hiring trainees is that many of the candidates think it’s easy money. Not only is skilful interviewing needed (more about that shortly including my simple 3 step competency framework) but you need a bigger pond to fish in, otherwise you could end up compromising and hiring 7/10 people who only give you 7/10 results.

Glen, Olivia, Jake, Paul, Craig, Rob and many others were hired on the back of me running assessment days. In a nutshell, we would use multiple sources to attract, say, 700 potential candidates, then we would weed them out via telephone interviews, psychometrics, verbal referencing etc – followed by a rigorous assessment day where between 20 and 40 highly screened candidates would be put under significant pressure, followed by back-to-back interviews with the very best 10 candidates = 4 to 6 high quality hires.

"What’s your expectation for first-year billings in today’s market? Does the not-so-magic figure of £100k come to mind?"

2. Not Testing Their Drive

Please try to break these 3 competencies. If you like them, simply build a scorecard, devise questions to drill into the competencies and then ensure an effective handover from interviewer 1 to interviewer 2 and 3.

I. Drive: work ethic, never say die, hunger, determination, massive commitment, will do whatever it takes etc

II. Interpersonal effectiveness: persuasive, likeable (candidates, clients, colleagues), sales ability/potential sales ability etc

III. Self-management: disciplined, a problem solver, updates the database after every call (only needs telling once to do this), sends targeted emails after every sales call, makes the ‘8 PM candidate call’ whereas colleagues come into your office the next day saying, “I couldn’t get through, she was on voicemail” etc

Of course, psychometrics can help uncover lack of drive. Fail to use them at your peril.

3. Not Role Playing

Nicki, who billed £350,000 in her first year, was a 29-year-old floor walker for Harvey Nichols – i.e. she didn’t fit the profile of a graduate with a years sales experience that most recruitment directors might seek when hiring trainees.

For me, role-play is a very powerful way – early in the screening process – to do 5 things:

a) Assess their ability to solve problems under pressure

b) Assess their persuasiveness

c) Assess their resilience

d) Give them a feel for what recruitment is really like

e) Assess their capability to take constructive feedback

Nicki nailed the role-plays and demonstrated that she had so-called, ‘natural sales potential’. But I also made good hires from people who didn’t nail the role plays first time – what they demonstrated, however, was the resilience to have another go and to show significant improvement 2nd time around.

4. We Do On-The-Job-Training

Tell me please, what does ‘on-the-job-training’ actually mean? Are you teaching the new starter 20 ways to find candidates without LinkedIn, Facebook and advertising whilst hearing a snippet of a phone call and giving some feedback? Are you teaching them how to take effective job specifications whilst concentrating on your next sales call? Are you teaching them to handle tough objections whilst typing up an email to an important client?

On-the-job feedback is NOT training – it is a form of coaching but only if done constructively (and usually it is not done constructively).

One of the key reasons that Parker Bridge grew from 3 to over 120 staff globally was that we had a world-class internal training programme comprising our very best ideas, plus best in class from the world’s top recruitment trainers.

If you only do one thing as a result of reading this article make sure that you invest in proper training for all your staff, but particularly new starters. You can check out www.RecruitmentTraining.com here.

5. 10am Start

Please do not tell your new starters to arrive at 10am on the first day – (perhaps because you are disorganised, you haven’t organised a PC, desk, training programme, login to the CRM, email address etc?)

What I’m really getting at here is, set the tone for how hard you want them to work on day one!

Get them to arrive early with their written plan of how they intend to have impact within your business. Let them know that the day will be fun but hard work including homework in the evenings (give them a taste of what it’s like in the real world) and, critically, set the expectation that they should bill early.

And test them. Your side of the bargain is to invest in world-class training to help them succeed. Surely, their side of the bargain is to demonstrate that they have learned it?

6. Not Firing Quickly Enough

There’s obviously an exception to every rule but whenever I hear the comment, “Jane didn’t bill for the first six months but, three years later, she is now our top biller,” I worry on behalf of that recruitment company.

In my world, ‘Jane’ would have billed earlier because she would have received world-class training, effective one-to-one sessions with managers and ongoing development sessions each week (bite -sized 30-minute sessions do not eat into management time significantly).

You see, when you have inducted people effectively into the business it’s easier to fire someone who is underperforming sooner because you know they have been given every chance to succeed. Invariably, many recruitment directors do not do this and therefore they hold onto 7/10 calibre performers for too long and only come to their senses after many £1,000s have been wasted.