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Growing Your TD Team: Hiring The Right Trainer

Published: Tuesday, October 20, 2020

As you continually develop your personal, professional, and organizational capabilities within the Talent Development Capability Model, you will likely garner positive attention from senior leaders within your organization. In many cases, your ongoing efforts and results may even lead to a promotion! Leading a group of learning and development professionals can be extremely fun and rewarding. However, like all leadership roles it is not without challenges and obstacles. One of the most critical decisions a leader makes is hiring the right people. This is especially true if the person you are hiring is going to be responsible for the training and development of numerous people throughout your organization. Getting your hiring decision right, is an absolute must! Over the years, I have developed a systematic approach to hiring that produces consistently positive results. Below are 5 key aspects of the hiring process I use to build high performing teams; I hope they will help you build your team too.


Tip #1: Cast a Wide Net

When you start the hiring process, it is important to look for talent inside, around and outside of your organization:

When looking for talent inside of your organization, it can be helpful to take a broad perspective. Your organization might have talented folks with training experience in departments where they seldom have an opportunity to use their skills. Additionally, employee’s in your organization might have particular skills that would be hard to replicate. For example, if Juanita is extremely proficient with the complex software your sales team uses and it would take 12 months to replicate that proficiency, you might consider hiring Juanita and spending 3 months developing her facilitation skills instead of hiring a more experienced facilitator that has never used the software.

It is equally important to consider talent around your organization. This might constitute vendors, contractors, or even clients. While it can be a little tricky navigating these conversations, it is important to consider individuals that are not employees but have insight into your company and maybe even your department. In many cases you will know something about these people directly or at least by reputation; you will also have a sense for how they operate professionally. It is possible they may have broader experience or specialized skills than the employees within your organization which will enhance your team.

While I often prefer to hire from within the organizations in which I work, it is also wise to evaluate external applicants. One of the main reasons I recommend this is because it will give you a more accurate perspective of the talent within your organization. External candidates provide an objective benchmark by which you can evaluate your internal applicants. It might seem like your internal applicants are all top notch until you interview someone externally that has a more robust skill set and more extensive experience. This may cause you to more critically scrutinize both internal and external applicants which will ultimately lead to a better hiring decision. Additionally, the job market is always changing, and you might be surprised by the resumes that come across your desk. There may be a chance to secure top-tier talent from a competitor or even an talent development expert who is working through a career transition.


Tip #2: Examine Their Motivations

From the outside looking in, it might seem like talent development (TD) is fun and easy. As TD professionals know, this is not always the case. In fact, most TD professionals work really hard to make their facilitation appear effortless. Unfortunately, some of the people that express an interest in making the transition to talent development have a rose-colored view of what the reality of the job really is. This is particularly true when screening internal applicants that do not have facilitation experience. These folks see the tip of the iceberg and do not see all of the hard work beneath the surface. Over the years, I’ve learned to vet out applicants that were looking at the “glamorous” part of the job (traveling and facilitation) and were not prepared for all of the other aspects of the job (administration, content development, early mornings, late nights, etc.). They were not passionate about talent development; they were hungry for the spotlight.


I have also seen many applicants that view a career in TD as an exit strategy from a job they hate or are not proficient at. This is where the cringeworthy adage “those who can’t do, teach” comes from. Be cautious to hire employees whose career is on a downward trajectory. Again, this is particularly important if you are hiring someone that does not work in TD and is making a career transition. It is a painful truth that all it takes is one or two bad hires and your TD team will develop a negative reputation. It might sound like this: “the training team is where you work when you cannot cut in sales or marketing.” Perception is reality and it can take months or years to change that stigma once it develops. Again, examine each applicant carefully to determine if their primary motivation is developing people. If it is not and they are looking for an exit strategy, it is usually best to let them keep looking.


Tip #3: Assess Their Skills

A great friend and colleague of mine, Michael Kelly, once said: “I never go to the grocery store without a shopping list and I never hire someone without a detailed job description.” It has always stuck with me and is a great reminder to start with the end in mind when it comes to recruiting. It is a wise practice to invest the time and energy into preparing a thorough job description. This job description should include all aspects of the job currently and it should also include elements of how the job may change in the next 6-12 months. I often go line by line (or bullet point by bullet point) and ask applicants how their past experience matches each element that I am looking for. Is it tedious? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Depending on the particular role you are hiring for, it is always advisable to ask for the applicant to share their portfolio or demonstrate particular skills. For example, producing compliance reporting including a pivot table is a common TD job requirement. I might keep a Microsoft Excel file with generic data on it and ask each applicant to produce a pivot table using the sample data. This is just one example of how you might ask applicants to demonstrate their skills. They key tactic is to assess the skills and skill levels of each applicant to effectively eliminate underqualified applicants.


Tip #4: Hold an Audition

Auditions are the great “equalizer.” No amount of interviewing, reference checking or evaluating will take the place of an audition. Auditions can be virtual or live. When hosting an audition, it is important to provide each applicant with the same material, preparation time, delivery time, and resources. Minimizing variables is not only equitable for the applicants but it also makes it easier to evaluate each individual’s performance. Audition results will either confirm your findings about each applicant or completely surprise you! Top tier applicants sometimes stumble during an audition while less experienced applicants shine as the result of superior preparation. Never base your hiring decision on a single performance but include it as part of your comprehensive assessment of each applicant.


Tip #5: Solicit and Share Multiple Perspectives

Another common hiring practice that should be applied to all external hiring is the reference check. Keep your job description handy during these reference checks and whenever possible ask the references to provide insight into how various skills were demonstrated and to what degree. This will provide even clearer insight into how the applicant will demonstrate each skill on your team and to what extent.

When hiring internally, utilizing a 360-degree evaluation can be an incredibly helpful tool. This type of thorough evaluation provides insight from all levels of leadership and from various departments. For example, if a manager in your organization applies to your open TD position and you uncover that they seldom coached or developed their direct reports, you might have some follow-up questions. Similarly, if you find out from your companies accounting team that they seldom adhered to their budget and are routinely late submitting expense reports, that may or may not be cause for concern. The key is to get as much information and as many perspectives as possible.

Sharing perspectives should also be a two-way street. I often provide applicants with the contact information for members of my team. I require them to speak with at least two of them so they can ask about the good, the bad and the ugly of the job. I also encourage my team to be very upfront about challenges in our department or even opportunities with my leadership. This leads to some really positive and candid conversation with the applicant. Ultimately, it is better for someone to decide the job is not right for them before they are hired.

People decisions are some of the most important decisions you make in life and business. By using these tips, I hope you will be able to solidify a great hiring decision and assemble a top performing team!

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