10 February 2016

Wanna-be consultants: Making the right call with your admin staff

One of the Top Influencers in the Australian recruitment industry over the past 60 years, Julia Ross, started her working life as a clerical assistant at British construction company, Taylor Woodrow. Her subsequent ascent to the top of the Australian recruitment industry is a demonstration that it doesn’t matter where you start it’s what you learn along the way, that makes all the difference.
The history of administrative workers crossing over to ‘the other side’ is long, and littered with just as many failures as successes.
The major challenge occurs with a wanna-be-recruiter administrator who is already working within your recruitment agency. My experience is that these employees are rarely ambivalent about trying their hand as a recruiter; they are either enthusiastic about the possibility, or dead set against it.
Mostly these administrators are young, friendly, competent at their current job, enthusiastic and fit your culture. There’s no obvious reason to say ‘no’ to a promotion to a recruitment role, and many owners don’t want to say ‘no’ either. However, as many agency owners have found to their cost; administrators who are young, friendly, competent at their current job, enthusiastic and a culture match, aren’t necessarily going to succeed as an agency recruiter.
The difficult decision occurs when a point is reached that unless the enthusiastic administrator is given an opportunity to become a recruiter with you, they will most likely leave to take up a recruiter consultant role with another recruitment agency that is prepared to give them a go.
Once a successful administrator has failed as a recruiter, it’s very hard for them to eat humble pie and return to an admin role with that same agency. They inevitably feel they want to, or have to, leave. This is avoidable, if the administrator is given an opportunity to prove they have what it takes to be a recruiter, while they are still in their admin role.
Of course the big advantage of assessing an internal candidate is that you already possess evidence of fundamentals such as reliability, optimism and cognitive ability.
However this basic information is not enough to make an informed decision. I strongly suggest you go looking for additional evidence that will help you, and them, make the right call.
Here are four tips for that evidence-seeking to help you navigate this potentially tricky path as objectively as possible:

  1. Test their understanding of what the job actually involves:
    Have the administrator shadow a consultant for a day (ideally one who is doing lots of business development and/or managing difficult or emotional candidates and/or clients) then ask the administrator to summarise, in less than one page, the three biggest differences between their current admin job and the job of a recruitment consultant, and what skills they would need to improve the most to be able to successfully make the transition.

    An alternative task to this is to ask them to shadow your highest performers in the team/company and then write a brief report on what core skills and behaviours make that person a high performer (ideally with a couple of specific examples).
  2. Test how proactive they are:
    The job of an administrator is predominantly predictable and reactive. The job of a recruitment consultant is predominantly unpredictable and proactive. The demonstration of forward thinking, planning and initiative is critical for success in a recruitment consultant role.

    Give your administrator a moderately challenging small project that requires them to search for information or find and organise resources to successfully complete the project. What initiative do they demonstrate in completing the task? How proactive were they in asking for help?
  3. Test their Achievement Drive:
    Set them a straight forward consultant-type task with a specific goal to be accomplished within a specific time frame (eg 'Search the database and call all the ‘A’ graded candidates who registered with us between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2013 and we haven’t spoken to since 31 December, 2013 to see whether they are looking for work. Your goal is to re-activate at least 6 candidates by the last Friday of the month').

    Watch how far they are prepared to go to accomplish the goal (ie do they stay back past their official working hours to catch candidates after they have left work for the day) or do they fail to accomplish their goal and give you a bunch of excuses and reasons instead.
  4. Test their coachability:
    After some very basic training (say, 30 minutes) challenge the administrator with a role play focusing on a very specific skill (eg talking a candidate around when he calls to cancel an interview or asking a candidate about their reason for leaving in a phone screen).

    Make the role play challenging. Stop the role play if it’s going badly and return to the start (after giving feedback). Run through five or six different variations on the same role play. Provide immediate and direct feedback. Note how the feedback is taken and acted on.

Of course no amount of evidence-seeking will guarantee that you will make the right call but you owe it to yourself and your wanna-be-recruiter administrator to put in place a number of steps that will give you clear-headed evidence that you are making the right call.
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