Hire Experienced Salespeople or Grow Your Own?

During my years in the staffing industry, my firm had strong opinions about our ideal candidate profile. We (like a million other companies) wanted young, hungry, recent college graduates who were eager to work hard and make a lot of money. At the same time, we were adamantly opposed to hiring experienced agency salespeople or recruiters. We told ourselves, “If they weren’t successful at that company, why would they be successful here?” We felt that hiring them would mean we’d be getting the rejects—and then we’d be forced to spend time and money retraining them to our way of doing things. It just seemed easier to hire for personality traits first, then train on skills.

With those criteria and objectives in mind, we put each candidate through four rounds of interviews, along with extensive testing. We carefully selected and hired the most promising up-and-comers we could find.

The result of this methodical approach? We still had a very high turnover rate.

Twelve years later (after eight years of direct experience in the staffing industry, followed by four years—and counting!—of running a company with strong connections to the staffing industry) I’ve gained a new perspective. I see that most of the successful firms I work with now tend to pass over the wet-behind-the-ears newbies and hire the experienced pros instead (still spending a lot of time ensuring that the new hires are good fits based on personality, culture, and drive). Once these companies fully vet their new hires, they invest a lot of time, money, and energy in training to ensure the new employees’ continued success and make sure they have the tools (e.g., software systems, marketing strategy) they need to get the job done

True, plenty of firms out there hire based solely on traits and achieve great success. But that’s because they have incredible training programs that turn those inexperienced employees into valuable assets. For the most part, I’m seeing that the wildly successful agencies are the ones that hire experienced employees with proven track records..

Unless a company has an amazing training program with even more amazing trainers, its best bet is to hire well-vetted, experienced professionals (being wary of any non-compete clauses, of course). When you really think about it, this approach makes a lot of sense: those seasoned pros are already familiar with the industry. They know a great deal about what works—and what doesn’t work—in agency recruiting. And they’ve had time to decide (while employed by a competitor) whether or not they like the industry.

Sure, you could build your entire staff from the ground up, but that would require you to make huge investments in training, take big chances on people who don’t know the industry (and who, after they get to know it, might decide not to stick around), and wait patiently—with your fingers crossed—that those gambles pay off. Instead, hit the ground running by bringing on board salespeople and recruiters who know what they’re doing, have already demonstrated a commitment to the industry, and have the experience you need to build a successful organization.


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