Good onboarding and mentoring can help empower your recruiting team members, ensuring their success and yours.

When I started my career as a recruiter, I was ready to quit every single day. The first month was absolutely terrible. I began in a cohort of five people, and my colleagues were getting impressive amounts of activity right away. Within two months, everyone in my cohort had several placements—except me. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and I was incredibly frustrated. It took me more than three months to get one placement.

But then something interesting happened. Even though I was the last person to make a placement, I was the only person in my cohort who survived at the agency for a year. And today, 25 years later, I remain firmly entrenched in this highly rewarding industry. Based on my own observation, the average career life span for an agency recruiter is only one to two years. Even that short time frame has been tested recently: As competition for talent increased and the so-called Great Resignation led to significant turnover, recruiter burnout soared.

How can you motivate your recruiters so they want to stay on, and succeed, instead of moving on? I’ve found that the following three key factors can make all the difference in building an enthusiastic recruitment team.

1. Make Time for Proper Training

Why do recruiters leave recruiting? Recruiters quit because they are unhappy not only with their results but with their personal performance. Conversely, what makes a great recruiting team? One that has received thorough onboarding and training.

If a junior recruiter is not trained properly when they enter the industry, they will begin at a disadvantage, trying their best to get placements and earn commissions but often coming up short. Then frustration and pessimism will build, which undoubtedly will precipitate quitting. Fortunately, you can provide motivation for recruiters and help alleviate that dissatisfaction.

Recruiters leave their jobs because they are unhappy not only with their results but also with their personal performance.

Share Domain Knowledge

There’s something to be said for being able to talk the talk. A successful recruiter must understand the domain in which they work. For instance, if you’re going to work in the technology sector, you should learn as much as you can about it. You have to be able to discuss topics like front-end and back-end software development, as well as the technical roles associated with those functions. Or, if you’re working in the retail arena, you have to know about consumer-packaged goods and the jobs that need to be filled around those products. It is critical to fully understand what a hiring manager is looking for.

As such, prepare new recruiters by starting small. Have them focus on one particular area of an industry or one type of role. Then, allow them time to look up information online and examine organizational flowcharts to get a basic understanding of how a particular industry works.

Of course, the best way for new recruiters to gather that knowledge is to have conversations with hiring managers. You learn by asking questions, and those first few months are an excellent time to get on the phone and simply discuss needs and expectations. Once a recruiter has that domain knowledge, they can move to the next level of success.

Provide Helpful Materials

In the beginning, I like to provide my recruiters with as many guides and other materials as possible so they don’t feel lost or overwhelmed when talking to clients. Given that Alpha Recruitment is a recruiting agency and we work with many different companies and sectors, I often put together a deck for new employees about a particular client, an industry, or a type of role that needs to be filled so they have information at their fingertips while they prepare for client conversations. I also provide “cheat sheets” with pertinent information that can be referred to at any point during a call. This gives new recruiters a foundation to develop their approach to conferring with hiring managers.

Offer Hands-on Training

A recruiter’s first month should involve a great deal of shadowing. They should listen in on calls and watch the recruitment process in action with an experienced professional in your department or agency. As soon as possible, shadowing needs to evolve into hands-on training, during which new recruiters make calls and learn to actively listen to clients or hiring managers.

After each call or interaction, which you should observe, you can offer a critique to point out any missteps and offer suggestions for improvement. You don’t have to be a micromanager, but you need to be present to provide feedback. If they’ve asked the wrong questions or need to recognize how to move a conversation forward more effectively, you can note those areas and help them make changes right away instead of addressing issues months or even years down the road.

Illustration depicting a mentor imparting knowledge (shown with a lightbulb in their head) to a junior recruiter (with a growing plant in theirs).

2. Set Expectations Around Recruitment Goals

People come into this industry with great expectations. They’re personable, and they believe that their charisma will lead to immediate success—and the financial rewards that come with it. However, it’s critical to help new recruiters set appropriate expectations so they have a realistic yet positive view of the job and don’t hastily give up.

Get Real About Big Wins

As I learned all those years ago, your first several months as a recruiter may not come with any major successes. In my employees’ first two months, I don’t expect them to have a placement. Some recruiters may hit the ground running and see quick results, but it’s important to help new team members understand that it is not expected. Encourage them to look at their first year as a paid apprenticeship, during which they have the time and flexibility to learn everything they can about the job, from sourcing candidates to negotiating salaries and everything in between. That respite will give your recruiters some breathing room, which helps to manage their motivation levels and sets them up for future success.

Be Clear About Compensation

Of course, placements equal commissions, and that’s what drives the majority of recruiters. Some people enter the field believing they can make a six-figure salary or more right away. That is rarely the case.

Salaries vary from company to company and from the agency to corporate environment. In recent weeks, the average base salary for entry-level recruiters in the US was hovering at around $40,000. On top of that, corporate recruiters can typically expect a 5% bonus each year. Agency recruiters can earn an additional $20,000 to $50,000 in their first year, with commission and bonuses (typically about 10% of any placement).

The relatively low starting base pay can be challenging for entry-level employees who want a fast career trajectory that includes generous compensation. However, a new recruiter will not become a $100K booker overnight. It takes awhile to build the level of expertise that yields that kind of income. As their manager, you should point out that these earning possibilities will come with perseverance.

Address Market Fluctuations

The last couple of years have been unusual for talent acquisition professionals. We went through a once-in-a-generation pandemic that led to a very hot market, and new recruiters reaped the benefits of that phenomenon. But it’s important to remember that the market can take a downturn at any time—and that can be disconcerting for someone just entering the recruiting industry.

Recruiters encounter peaks and valleys. These market fluctuations can happen within industries and sectors or across the board, depending on the state of the economy. You may have an incredible six months but then have little to no activity after that. It can feel like everything is falling apart. I always encourage people to save their money when they’re making great strides, as you never know when the valley will appear. It’s more important to remember, though, that the market inevitably will come back up. You need to make that point often to persuade your recruiters to hang on until better times return.

3. Commit to Mentoring

Why didn’t I quit after those first few months? I credit that decision to my manager at the time. Quite strict, she watched everything I did and corrected me often. She even recorded my conversations so we could listen to them later, and she put a mirror on my desk so I could catch a glimpse of myself and remember to smile during calls with clients. (This was before Zoom, mind you.)

While my approach is a bit softer than hers, it was helpful to have someone checking on me at that micro level so I could understand what I was doing right and wrong and course correct if needed. She was my boss, but she also became a mentor. That’s what you need to be for your new recruiters to help motivate them during those early months and years on the job.

An infographic about how the recruiting process has improved because of the addition of virtual interviewing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a boss, you must mentor and motivate your staff. You have to be there for them during the learning process, giving them adequate time to grow and develop their skills and providing all the tools they need to do well. When things don’t go well, you should share your own experiences and walk them through the tough times. That said, balance is key: You also have to make sure that your team respects you. You need to maintain a manager-employee relationship. It’s a fine line, but you can walk it.

See Your Employees as Clients

It’s expensive and time-consuming to train talent. You are investing in a person you believe in. I view my employees as I do my clients; I go out of my way to ensure that they are successful and enjoy their work. I don’t want them to dread Sunday night because they are not looking forward to Monday morning. I don’t want them to have a bully for a boss or feel that they are working in a disrespectful environment. There will be frustrations, but you need to work through those and get to the other side. People who feel listened to and appreciated are more willing to stay with and grow within an organization.

Take Responsibility When Turnover Becomes a Problem

When new recruiters have lofty expectations and not enough training to get them where they want to be, they will feel defeated. Whether they leave on their own or are let go because they are not performing well, you sometimes have to look inward at what went wrong. If I hire 10 recruiters and only two remain after a few months, or if I have constant turnover, I need to figure out where the fault lies. Although every company has turnover, sometimes you have to look at the leadership to see if there is a deeper issue. If you actively mentor your employees and support their development, they will succeed—and you will enjoy the benefits of having a truly dedicated and enduring team of recruiters.