McAfee’s Brian Fink shares mentorship best practices to nurture and guide new recruiters toward success.

Recruiting is going through a reckoning similar to what happened in the mortgage broker industry starting in 2007. The red-hot job market and high demand for talent acquisition expertise over the past three years brought plenty of people into the recruiting game, lured by what seemed like easy money. That fantasy crashed recently, as layoffs and the threat of recession laid bare the reality that recruiting under normal or suboptimal circumstances is actually hard.

I’m glad to see people who got into recruiting for the wrong reasons drop out. But I’m also worried that we’ll lose plenty of good young recruiters with great potential. The responsibility lies with experienced recruiters to make sure this doesn’t happen. We need to take a more active role in mentoring so we can bring about a new Golden Age of Recruiting.

A quote reads: “As recruiters, we need to take a more active role in mentoring to bring about a new Golden Age of Recruiting.”

Throughout my 18-year career, I’ve had the privilege of training more than 10,000 recruiters and sourcers, conducting webinars, and speaking at industry events. I’ve found great fulfillment in connecting with new recruiters, delving into diverse industries, and sharing best practices for mentorship—because I’ve seen firsthand what a difference mentoring makes.

Here are some valuable insights I’ve learned as a recruiting mentor, including tips we can pass on to mentees that will set them up for success. With proper nurturing and a network of support, we seasoned recruiters can make a real difference in the successes of junior talent pros and the companies they serve.

Why the Extra Effort to Mentor Junior Recruiters Matters

You may be thinking (and I used to be right there with you), nobody did this kind of thing for me. My first recruiting boss handed me a phone book and wished me luck. Somehow, I managed to make it, but I saw a lot of talented people drop out along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, recruiters need to be tenacious (more on that later). But this “sink or swim” mentality is outdated—it’s time to put real, strategic effort into mentoring junior recruiters.

Why? Well, for starters, mentorship is crucial for attracting and retaining employees. According to data from MentorcliQ, employees involved in mentoring programs have a 50% higher retention rate than those not in programs. An April 2023 Gallup survey shows that employees with formal mentors also have a 75% higher likelihood of agreeing that their organization offers a clear career development plan. These formal mentoring connections can facilitate positive perceptions of equity in advancement opportunities as well: Employees with formal mentors are 58% more likely to strongly agree that their workplace ensures equal chances for all employees to progress into senior management roles, according to the Gallup data.

An infographic shows statistics from a 2023 Gallup survey about the importance of formal mentorship.

The numbers prove that when new employees feel nurtured through mentorship, they have more confidence and an eagerness to participate in company activities and initiatives. For recruiters, this is invaluable—you need to understand your company and its mission inside out to successfully recruit for it, and you’re more willing to do this when you’re encouraged from day one.

Getting Started: How to Kick-start a Recruiting Mentorship

According to a 2019 survey from Olivet Nazarene University, 76% of US professionals agreed that mentors are important—but only 37% currently had one. So how can we as recruiters help boost those numbers in our field? You can initiate a mentor-mentee relationship by looking within your organization or professional network for junior recruiters seeking guidance. Did your company just hire a batch of new recruiters? Are there mentorship programs within your organization? If not, do you feel comfortable speaking to management to help start one? When you feel ready to commit, get out there and start looking.

But don’t get started until you’re mentally ready. You have to be in the right mindset, and that starts with knowing what you want out of this partnership. A mentor-mentee relationship isn’t quid pro quo, and if you’re coming at it with the mindset of “I’ll do X for you if you do Y for me,” you’re already on the wrong track. Mentorship isn’t about debt and payback. It’s about two people learning from one another. You’re planting a seed and committing to nurture it.

To get started, do your homework on your potential mentee. You need to understand the person you’re approaching, their expertise, their passion, and their wins and losses. Look at their LinkedIn profile to get a feel for their professional vibe. You’ll know right away if you have chemistry. It’s like dating—but without the disappointment and heartbreak.

Keep in mind that mentorship doesn’t bloom overnight. It’s a long-term investment that requires regular communication and engagement. Make sure your potential mentee is prepared for the time commitment. When a mentee shows me that they’re willing to dig in, actively contribute, and collaboratively tackle challenges, we’re more likely to click. This could involve their setting clear goals, taking the initiative in discussions, seeking feedback, and displaying a genuine enthusiasm for the learning process.

Cultivate Skills for Success

Once you’ve connected with a mentee, the next step is to assess their strengths. Focus on these essential soft skills first—they are the bedrock of success:

Tenacity: I already mentioned this, but it’s worth reiterating. As a recruiter—especially when you’re new—you’re going to be told “no” a lot. You might get 100 “no” responses from candidates before a single “yes.” As a mentor, help set this expectation upfront to keep new recruiters positive and motivated. Share stories with your mentees about times your perseverance led to breakthroughs. Describe situations where you faced major challenges but kept pushing forward, resulting in successful placements. By illustrating the tangible rewards that come from tenacity, you can inspire your mentees to see “no” not as a setback but as a stepping stone toward an eventual “yes.”

Curiosity: Good recruiters are curious about people, and that curiosity naturally leads them to questions that find the “why” behind a person’s work, strengths, interests, and growth potential. I’ve found I often get the best insights about a candidate when I’m well off the beaten path of expected interview questions. Encourage your mentee to delve into the candidate’s hobbies, volunteer experiences, or even creative pursuits. Share with them how exploring a candidate’s extracurricular activities can shed light on their problem-solving skills or their ability to balance responsibilities, and how this can provide invaluable insight into their potential.

Empathy: Recruiting is a people-focused job, and it's essential to meet candidates where they are—which isn’t always where recruiters want them to be. Listening with empathy enables recruiters to identify the intangible qualities that can signal a candidate’s potential or indicate that they’re not the right fit. Try to emphasize the significance of active listening and open-ended questions. Share a time when your empathetic approach helped reveal a candidate’s resilience amid personal challenges and how understanding their journey made you a better advocate for their unique strengths. By sharing your own experience with empathy, you can help make your mentee’s recruitment approach more nuanced and effective.

Assessing and encouraging these soft skills helps me identify where a recruiter is in their career, and where I can step in and help before we jump into hard skills like tech tools, sourcing techniques, market awareness, and applicant tracking system training.

Implement an Effective Mentorship Strategy

Recruiting is a numbers game—but it’s also a game of confidence. When mentoring new recruiters, I suggest a crawl-walk-run approach, which empowers them to achieve incremental wins and build confidence. When we focus on small victories while assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their performance, it allows us to break down areas of improvement into manageable tasks. This allows the mentor and mentee to effectively isolate weaknesses and brainstorm small, easy-to-implement fixes.

Here’s one example: I tell junior recruiters not to try to close the “sale” on a job opportunity all through email or LinkedIn messages. Use those tools as a means for getting a candidate on the phone, where it’s much easier to make a genuine connection. That connection helps you better determine if they’re a good fit for the job—and lets you build a personalized and compelling pitch for the job opportunity that is more likely to resonate with them.

Encourage Unique Conversation Starters

The best thing a junior recruiter can do is learn how to find a common interest with a candidate. I emphasize this right from the beginning: It’s the key to effective recruiting, and it’s something they might not necessarily think of without encouragement.

We should always train our mentees to leverage LinkedIn for clues as it’s one of their best tools as a recruiter. If a candidate runs marathons, writes a food blog on the side, or loves Succession, there’s your conversation starter. Instead of a generic message like “I see you've been working in this industry for 10 years,” you can start with “What did you think about last night’s episode?”

An illustration uses Boolean circles to demonstrate tips for recruiters when reaching out to candidates on LinkedIn.

The bottom line is people love to talk about themselves, and it doesn’t take much to get the conversation flowing. But where do you start? How can recruiters discover a candidate’s interests at scale? The answer is LinkedIn.

I encourage my mentees to reverse-engineer their interviews. Start from a topic you know a decent amount about—something you can talk about and relate to (e.g., Succession)—and add that to your search terms. Now you’ve got a whole list of candidates who fit the job criteria (right skill set, right experience level, etc.) and you can start the conversation on a personal note by reaching out to all of them in a customized way.

This is good recruiting advice in general, but it’s especially helpful for anyone new to the game. As mentors, one of the best things we can do is teach our mentees not only how to use the tools at their disposal, but also how to retrofit them to work to their advantage. We all have little tricks we’ve picked up along the way, and it does no good to hoard that knowledge. If I share this LinkedIn tip with a Gen Z recruiter, just think of how they could use their own relationship with tech and the web to take it to the next level. Encourage them to explore while also demonstrating how to keep it professional, relevant, and candidate-focused.

Integrate Mentorship Into the Recruitment Process

To create a holistic mentorship experience, I encourage newer recruiters to be bold in asking questions and recommending improvements to their company’s various processes. This will ensure that they’re set up for success from the beginning.

A few examples of improvement to suggest include:

  • Developing the interview process: Ensure well-defined roles and an interview path that aligns with company goals.

  • Fostering a culture of feedback: Empower all team members, regardless of tenure, to share information freely and contribute to the hiring process.

  • Establishing a well-defined onboarding process: A structured onboarding process enhances talent retention and demonstrates a commitment to positioning new hires for success.

  • Creating a clearer organizational chart: Clarify the reporting hierarchy to provide candidates with a sense of direction and purpose.

  • Leveraging networks beyond the hiring manager: Encourage recruiters to engage with other team members to gain a comprehensive understanding of position requirements.

New recruiters might not feel comfortable advocating for themselves or any of these process changes. That’s where mentorship comes in. Remind your mentee that they bring fresh perspectives and unique insights that can significantly contribute to refining processes. Encourage them to gather data and examples that support their suggestions—quantifiable metrics or anecdotes that demonstrate how their suggestions could positively impact the recruitment structure at their organization. Advise them to be articulate and solutions-focused, and to align their suggestions with company goals.

By coaching your mentees to advocate for improvements and communicate with leadership, you empower them to create positive change while building their own professional presence.

Why Mentors Benefit Too

Every experienced recruiter has their own hard-earned best practices that they can adapt on their mentorship journey. But the question I often hear is “Why should I take the time to be a mentor?”

For me, it’s simple: Mentoring has made me a better recruiter. My mentees have forced me to define my process, challenging me on both how and why I do what I do. That’s helped me refine that process and make it more scalable and repeatable. Above all, the entire experience of sharing my passion for recruiting keeps that passion burning hot, constantly reminding me why I love this business so much.