Building relationships is critical in every industry, but in recruitment it’s absolutely essential. Hiring is based on trust, and it’s hard to build trust when everyone has gone remote.
So, as one of the world’s leading human resources consulting firms, how does Robert Half prepare its people for the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic? How can the firm build and maintain relationships with clients and candidates from a distance?
The answer, according to Kristen McNamara, Senior Director of L&D and Talent Acquisition (International Zone), is to support people with immersive training experiences. Recently, I chatted to Kristen about how to create these experiences with remote learning.
We started by discussing the unique challenges of sourcing talent in the recruitment industry.
As Kristen explains, the recruitment sector is a competitive place at the best of times - even without a global pandemic.
“Recruiting and staffing is a highly competitive industry, with a short sales cycle,” she says. “Essentially, our business is selling someone else’s skill-set. It doesn’t belong to you, and you can’t stick it in a warehouse. It’s unique to that person, and it’s always changing.”
“That’s why our new hires need to be agile and quick-thinking. They need to match top candidates with the right organization, which takes a deep understanding of the problems businesses are experiencing. With COVID-19, this became even more important.”
For Kristen, hiring at Robert Half is all about looking for relationship-builders. “Talent isn’t just another commodity, which is why it’s our job to add value by building trusted relationships between clients and candidates. Our people need to be able to read the market and act quickly.”
One way to find the right candidates? Encourage people to make the transition from other professions.
Essentially, our business is selling someone else’s skill-set. It doesn’t belong to you, and you can’t stick it in a warehouse. It’s unique to that person, and it’s always changing.
“Nobody grows up with the burning ambition to be a recruitment consultant,” says Kristen. “A lot of our hires either come from another recruiting company because they like the way we work, or they’re what we call ‘industry-changers’: accountants, lawyers, or other types of technical professionals. We hire them because they’re good at what they do.”
As she explains, this proven record of performance can also create some challenges for new hires. “To ask someone who’s already established themselves in their industry to begin all over again can be tough. Starting back at zero takes a lot of bravery.”
The key for ‘industry-changers’ to conquer this learning curve? Get comfortable with failure.
“The only way you can learn to be a very good recruitment consultant is to make mistakes,” says Kristen. “That can be hard to handle when people are coming from year after year of successful career growth, but it’s true.”
But how does this learning curve work in a remote setting? According to Kristen, it takes the right kinds of immersive training experiences, both for new hires and established staff.
Nobody grows up with the burning ambition to be a recruitment consultant.
“COVID-19 changed everything, including the way we work with each other to develop skills, and the way we work with clients,” says Kristen. We had to learn iteratively while adjusting to our new remote circumstances. We were able to be quite nimble, and I’m very proud of that.”
This new focus on remote working also impacted Robert Half’s L&D strategy. “We took a distinct approach with supporting our new hires, and a slightly different approach with our established staff. But both of these approaches involved a pivot to immersive remote learning.”
Here’s what this training looks like in practice.
“We wanted to make sure our new hires were developing the technical skills and capabilities required to connect with clients, even from a distance,” says Kristen. “This learning focused on our values, our culture, our strategy, and our unique selling points.”
“Historically, a new hire would have learned these skills through training programs and self-directed learning. People learn in the flow of work, by shadowing others, getting feedback, learning from peers, and making mistakes. Now, this has all changed. We had to find a way to deliver a personal and supportive experience in a remote setting.”
So, how exactly did Kristen achieve this? “We looked at how we could pivot this immersive training through focusing on remote mentoring and peer learning relationships.”
Fortunately, this remote mentoring and peer learning has driven some great results. “Even when we return to the office, this hybrid culture of remote work is going to give us a great way forward,” says Kristen.
As Kristen explains, the firm’s established staff required a different kind of support during this time. “Our tenured staff already know our processes and procedures, our operating model, and our markets. Instead, they needed a focus on developing more ‘durable’ skills.”
“We’re working hard to provide robust and immersive training on mindsets, behaviors, and emotional intelligence. We want to support people to improve their leadership skills, including how they lead themselves, how they lead others (for example, clients and candidates), and how they lead the business. We take that philosophy from the Center for Creative Leadership.”
“These durable skills, such as self-awareness and interpersonal competencies, are more important now than ever,” says Kristen. “With COVID-19, our working lives and our personal lives are intertwined. We want to give people the resources they need to adjust to this.”
To cap off our discussion, Kristen talked me through her three techniques to connect new hires to Robert Half’s distinct culture - even in a remote learning setting.
We looked at how we could pivot this immersive training through focusing on remote mentoring and peer learning relationships.
At 360Learning, we’re focused on ensuring a robust culture of self-guided learning, combined with a strong feedback loop to help new hires improve over time. As Kristen explains, she’s using three techniques to pursue these same goals and connect people to firm culture.
For Kristen, a key priority during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to give new hires the same access to employee networks they’d usually have in the office. “We have social learning, which involves shadowing and mentoring, with peer networks guiding people as they learn.”
“We have an established feedback culture, so our people are constantly iterating from day to day, even remotely. That’s really helped to give our new hires a clear sense of firm culture.”
“One of the things I’ve been most concerned about is our new employee experience during this time,” says Kristen. “What does it feel like to start at Robert Half when you’re not in the office? What do you do when you don’t have the same visibility over our cultural and social norms?”
“Our biggest goal is to make people feel like a part of things. We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re just producing a service - we want them to feel welcomed and empowered. One way we do that is to be specific about our norms and values, and to make these visible by demonstrating them in practice.”
“As L&D leaders, sometimes we fall into the habit of thinking everything has to take the form of a training,” says Kristen. “Trust me, I love training. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s only one form of how people actually learn.”
“Instead, one of the things we’re looking at is how we build an environment in which people are encouraged to ask questions. This isn’t just about helping new hires to survive. It’s about supporting them to reach their own goals.”
Thanks again to Kristen for being so generous with her time!
While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Bruno Fournet of Disneyland Paris on how he keeps remote workers happy and productive during the pandemic, and with Lenn Moorhead-Rosenberg of WinCo Foods on how to support frontline staff during a crisis.
Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.