Developing a productive admissions department

“As we move forward in the business of career education, we find that today’s schools rarely compete against other schools, and program offerings rarely compete against other program offerings. However, managements are measured against managements, and executed strategies are measured against other equally executed strategies. In essence, one management team competes against another. In the end, the winning team is the team that can best select and act on the right set of facts, and then place these facts into a working sales and marketing plan.”

Proper selection of admissions representatives has a great deal to do with your school meeting its revenue goals. Month by month – quarter by quarter – it really doesn’t matter. If you can’t hit the starts, the net income will be impacted. Now don’t get me wrong – you can get hammered if retention is off, or bad debt rises above the threshold anticipated. But nothing will kill a school faster than low conversion performance. So, hiring someone who can and wants to do the job, well, makes the job a lot easier.

It seems today we are having a tough time finding the right “fit” for the admissions position. Our “keepers” stay, but the turnover rate of the new people keeps getting more and more serious.

I have always felt that training will improve someone’s overall performance about 20 to 25 percent. So, if you hire a 7 on a scale of 1-10, they can get to an 8.5 or 9. But, if you hire a 3, the best you will probably see is a better 3.

In some markets even getting candidates to show for an interview can be a challenge. And, with the nation’s unemployment rate running low, the pickings are a bit tough. I have always felt that good salespeople are rarely out of work. Somehow good salespeople have a clear line of sight to their next job when it’s time to leave the current one. And, in reality, good people do move on.

I know of a school here in Southern California, American Career College, run by David Pyle. I also know his admissions management people, and as a company they do one of the best jobs of not only finding people, but keeping them, too. They hate turnover of representatives, so they do a better job of making sure that the ones they hire fit the profile of the ones who stay. It’s not foolproof, but it works better than most I have seen. People in this market “want” to work for them, and that’s a great start. David and his executive team are very professional and methodic about the responsibility associated with keeping representative turnover low, and as a result, because it is managed from the top down, turnover is low. They hire right, then they train right, too. It is far easier to train a person who walked into the position as an 8 than to train one who was a five.

Now understand it takes time to find the right person to fit the job. But as a first step you need to define the job. Not in a job description manner, but as if you were explaining it to your sister. Who makes it in this position and why? Sales success is definable. I have heard over the years so many people say “well, it’s in their blood,” or they just “never give up,” or they just have a “knack for this sort of thing.” All of which may be true, but how do we duplicate that sort of objective analysis?

In my experience everything about a person is definable. Yes, I need to know about them on a “whole person” sort of platform, but once I know it, I can manage to it. Sales shouldn’t just happen. That makes the whole forecast model a bit rough.

So, in looking to what makes a representative a success, we first need to know what we need to look for in the next hire to help us stack the deck in our favor. When you look into the DNA of your top people, what do you see? Can you break it down into individual attributes? Do you think you can duplicate it in the next hire? Probably not all of that is for sure. Some of the best representatives I know have that “one thing” that separates them from the crowd. So we move past that one and try to get some of the rest.

But one thing I know for sure, once you have that person profiled, and you set out to find a person like them, you can’t waiver back and forth. If you set your sights for an 8, then an 8 you must find.

Be assured, they are in your market. But, maybe they are not currently unemployed. So they won’t see the ad you have placed.

Here is a thought. Use radio or television to find a new representative. Reach the people going to work, not looking for work. Although there is an exception I am sure, most people today if they really wanted to work, could. So sometimes what we are left with to interview are people who aren’t really as motivated as a representative needs to be in order to reach their start goals. Now I am sure there are exceptions as I say, but with the low unemployment rate today, the jobs are there. And remember, you really aren’t looking for someone who will require 100% of your time. So, honestly, they have to walk into that interview with something already going for them besides having a great personality and thinking they like to help people. Yes, they need to have both, but only after they have the core skills.

When I have interviewed representatives for admissions in the past, I covered all the more standard questions about education, experience, goals, competitive spirit, etc. And from the answers I receive, we either move on or I thank them for coming. I have always felt that before any interview, someone should be 100 percent prepared to talk about themselves and their interest in being a success at the job they are interviewing for.

From there we move on to a more practical question and answer period. Once we have some comfort in the relationship, I ask them how they would rate themselves as a successful sales professional on a scale of 1-10. I tell them that the scale only pertains to their productivity compared to their peers (if they worked in a sales position before). Anything below an 8 could cause trouble. Since I am asking them to answer with no substantiation or validation to back it up, I would hope that they would see themselves as a strong C+ or B. Now on the other hand, if they say less than 8, they are probably not lying.

Assuming 8 or better, I say, “Good. Then tell me how you would handle the following two objections. Regardless of what your sales experience has been, you most certainly have come up against these two before. Oh, when you tell me how you would handle it, speak to me like I am the one who posed the objection. The buyer. Talk to me the way you would if you were actually selling me something. OK?” And they say OK.

Objection One. “Your price is higher than your primary two competitors for the same product. Why would I ever want to pay more for the same thing?”

Objection Two. “You know, that’s a ton of information to absorb. What I would like to do is take this information home and think about it. Can you get back with me next week?”

The answers they give you to these two are really not all that important. Of course whatever they say as it pertains to answering the objection should be considered. But the most important thing you are looking for is the manner and style they used when addressing them.

When they responded, did they do so with enthusiasm and creditability? Did they maintain reasonable eye contact with you? Did they seem sincere? All of those are inbred; you can’t train to any of them at their age. Are they 100 percent gotta-have qualities? You need to determine that for your school.

But I will tell you this: Not a lot of starts hit the boards from people who aren’t enthusiastic, have questionable credibility, lose eye-contact, and seem insincere.

Good selection goes beyond profile testing and a resumé. They are the initial steps to actually getting someone in front of you to interview. Now the hard part takes over.

Good selection takes time, so:

  1. Take the time to do it right. Don’t rush the process.
  2. Conduct an absolute two, or preferably three, interviews before making any offer.
  3. Be conscious of the reality that this person will drive your revenue.
  4. Shop around for the best candidates.
  5. Don’t oversell the job in the interview – make the applicant do the initial selling.
  6. Compare and evaluate applicants of the same exact scale.
  7. Don’t be a spendthrift when looking for the right person.

This takes me back to radio and television. Think about running a radio spot during morning and evening drive. It will serve two purposes. You get some publicity and the people driving to work may be driving to a job they don’t like or want. Possibly your offering might spark their interest. Think of doing the same thing in afternoon or early fringe TV. A spokesperson, maybe you, going down to the station and cutting a 30-second spot asking people if they like the idea of really helping someone. If they are good at motivating people to a greater level of success, maybe admissions is something for them to consider. Great school, great benefits, great opportunity to grow, etc. You may catch a wife, husband, mother, father, friend who knows someone who, yes is working, but would love something that actually has a career path, too.

I ran a newspaper ad a while back: It said: “Admissions position for leading local college available due to promotion. Starting salary up to $60,000 per year, bonus, great benefits, no weekends etc., etc. I got 43 responses. We hired one, started her at $43,000, and she was happy because she got an $8,000 bump. We told her of the graduation incentive program, and that she would be reviewed twice a year for increases or decreases. She was pleased as punch. We put the high salary there because the client was prepared to pay it if a $60,000 person walked in. They didn’t, but a $43,000 person did and she will be at that 60 sooner than later. She walked in an 8.5.

Contrarily, we ran the same ad again without the dollars. Got 9 responses. Could have been the weather, could have been everyone was busy that weekend, or it could be that people did not want to waste their time and get caught up in “let’s make a deal” interviewing.

I know this from experience. Some people are worth $60,000 in admissions and should not be excluded from earning that because others in the company don’t. In an earlier blog I have already said that admissions is the only department in your school that generates revenue. And revenue is where pay raises for the others can come from.

I suggest running a background check on everyone you hire in admissions. Credit and background check. People with poor credit history should be explored a bit more. The pressure of admissions plus the pressure of bill collectors (if that fits), makes it tough for a representative to keep focused. Most representatives and admissions directors seem to have a FICO somewhere between 600 and 700. When it drops to the 500s or 400s, I would ask what happened. Sometimes there is good reason, sometimes just poor judgment. But depending on the rest of the package, it could go either way.

Bringing the right person on board takes time and patience. But in the end, it makes good sense.

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2 Comments on "Developing a productive admissions department"

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Laura Kohkesh
Great piece! I think you’re spot on with every point you covered. Your article left me wanting to pick your brain much, much, deeper. I have 15 years collective experience in admissions dating back to the mid 80’s. I was trained “old school” — ya know, back when people were people and political correctness was not a religion. Those were the days! In that environment, when I began as a rep, I quickly hit the mark of 65% interview to enrollment, and being trained by “old school masters”, I was disciplined to achieve my performance perfection point simply by monitoring… Read more »
Tracy Kreikemeier
Hi Laura, Welcome back to the industry first and foremost! I wanted to comment on your question on the lead quality of a ground campus Internet lead. This will be your lowest costing start. This will likely be your lowest costing lead as well and depending on the type of lead (website driven, paid search management or affiliate generated) the conversion averages will be anywhere from 5 to 12%. Picking up the phone and calling is still the best way to reach out and yes this lead is as good as any other lead you are receiving. In some cases… Read more »