Addressing a Corporate Recruiter’s Opinion of Agency Recruiters, Part 2

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Oct 10, 2011

A response to the article written last week by Matt Lowney titled “What Drives Me Nuts About Staffing Agencies (and How They Can Work as a Better Partner)

In part 1, I addressed some canned pitches that were outlined in Matt’s article and as promised, today in Part 2 I will address the follow-up items suggested to fix the broken relationship. My plan is to show where we, as agency recruiters, need to own our own faults, but also point out Corporate’s role in the difficulties that are often experienced when working with one another.

Below are some of the items and some thoughts on them.

Talk about your recruiting process.

Here is the text from the original post to provide more information on what was being asked:

“In the end, aren’t we hiring a staffing partner to do something we aren’t/can’t do internally? It drives me nuts to see agencies post client requisitions on job boards. This is NOT a value-added partnership. I can purchase a Careerbuilder posting and screen the candidates who apply. More recently I’ve really pushed vendors to talk in depth about their recruiting process. The responses are truly varied. I will absolutely select a staffing vendor based on the depth of their recruiting process.”

If you’re dealing with a third party recruiter in the first place, it’s most likely because you can’t effectively screen everyone who thinks they’re qualified from among the active candidate pool and develop/manage a passive candidate pool.  Though lack of ability or process isn’t the likely barrier – it’s more likely lack of time.

The most important thing to establish third party recruiter success with your organization may logically feel like it’s the process…but the reality is the process is irrelevant if the right people aren’t being presented for your open requisitions in a timely manner and with minimal time and effort on your part spent explaining the nuances of your business, your company, the hiring manager and the position itself.

Our recruiting process is really irrelevant to you.  Our recruiting results are what matter.

Let me give you an outdated example from my days recruiting producing financial advisors: I used to have an insomniac I knew who “gave great phone” leave messages on the direct extensions of financial advisers at competing firms to call my office overnight – typically between 3 and 4 am – after using our research to identify them and their direct phone numbers.  My phone would ring off the hook every morning, and I’d vet those that were interested, presenting to the appropriate hiring managers for their geography.

Is this something anyone can do?  Yes.  Does everyone have time to do it?  No.

“How do you find candidates for your open searches?” is not a question that will provide you with a real gauge of our ability. Better questions include:

  • Do you have a history of filling positions like ours and/or the industry knowledge and contacts to do it?
  • Do you have references?
  • From whom?
  • Do you bring industry knowledge and actionable insights?
  • Do you understand our company’s position in the marketplace, our culture, our business?
  • Can you distill this into viable candidate flow?

Yes to all of the above.

And even on the off chance that we sent a “job board candidate” to you, it was the result of a long interview process in which we delved deeply into the candidate’s actual experiences well beyond the industry buzzwords on their resume, checked their rationale behind every career change and obtained/communicated just about every numerically quantifiable piece of information, from compensation components through undergrad GPA (and sometimes, depending on the client, even SAT scores).

The occasional job board resume is only converted to “candidate” status after we have spent considerable time and resources vetting them to ensure they meet or exceed your need – “vetting” is not “screening.”

What actually makes you different?

I addressed this to some extent in part 1, but from the comments to that article you probably hadn’t notice it.

Here’s a secret: we’re not really that different, overall.

We’re in the top 10% in industry knowledge (just talking to us will demonstrate it; speaking with our references will validate it) and the ability to synthesize it into actionable items – check the trade rags for my quotes (here or here) and my LinkedIn references – all clients, candidates, former direct reports, and former managers with not a single “personal” reference in the lot to validate it.

We are the very top in terms of the level of detail in our presentations. Ask me for a sample.

Our references are from industry thought leaders.  Ask me for one, or a couple, if you want more detail than is already publicly available. Those references will tell you about our execution (but admittedly will probably have no knowledge of our actual process) and will echo the one real difference you should be concerned with.

That difference – excellence in execution — comes at a premium and is unavailable at a 20% fee.

Don’t over-promise.

“If you can’t fill the role, or it’s not something you’ve worked on before, tell me. I’ll respect your honesty, and in the long run you’ll get more work.”

This actually happens – we decline roles with some frequency.  But we also take on roles that didn’t exist before. For example, awhile ago I placed a project manager at a large national consulting firm to focus on building a Swap Execution Facility (SEF).   I had never placed that type of person prior…but then, nobody had ever built an SEF before, either.

But I’ll manage your expectations…if you manage mine. If you want to avoid over-promising/under-delivering of expectations by your recruiting partners, it is imperative that you provide us with the appropriate information for us to do the job properly. For example, you can answer some of the following questions:

  • So I know the “compression point” in terms of compensation, what is the manger’s salary?
  • What is the average tenure in the position of the people currently in the position?
  • What do they make?
  • What were their backgrounds before they got to that role?
  • What makes your opportunity different or better than that of your competitors, in quantifiable terms (if I haven’t already demonstrated knowing this)?
  • Who, for that matter, are your top 5 competitors (if I don’t already know them)?

Helping us by answering these questions will allow us to make better decisions on which candidates to send, rather than just giving them a canned job description that was most likely written months or years ago to which no qualified candidate has yet responded.

Help us help you. Or God help us all.


I want to deal with the same person each and every time I call. Additionally, I do not want to have to re-train my account rep every six months because you have retention issues. This leads to a second challenge: too many newbies. Most recruiting agencies fill most of their recruiting positions with new college grads and then do not support their development appropriately.” 

Making this statement reveals that your needs are pretty generic, because that stuff doesn’t fly in Wall Street search. The most successful people have been around for awhile, and we don’t like turnover any more than you do…which is why our junior people don’t get to open accounts or even get handed accounts until they demonstrate success in finding and managing candidates at a level a client would feel comfortable with.

I guess that makes us “different.” 😉

But it would be good to ask yourself your own question here: how long has your college recruiter been working there? How about your recruiting coordinators? Oftentimes we’re not the only ones with turnover issues…

“I want to meet the manager, account rep, and recruiters that my managers will be talking with.”

I will happily do this for you if you in turn introduce me to the hiring managers you support so I can glean additional understanding. And the other people on your recruiting team, so I can be sure to maximize the synergy between our organizations. And how about your boss, so I can get a better flavor for your company’s corporate culture and management style – the door swings both ways here.

“We do value relationships (on our terms).”

Not sure “relationship” is the right word here – aren’t there two parties involved?

“My last point is that I truly do believe staffing agencies can add tremendous value to the talent acquisition landscape of organization. I value true experts who do real recruiting and respect my role in the process and organization.”

This is good to hear, but given the nature of the post – and the nature of the responses that were received to it – it is clear that many perceive the relationship between internal recruiting and third party recruiters to be an adversarial one.

Third party recruiting is (many times) necessary despite third party recruiters being replaceable, and corporate recruiters add necessary value and control to the hiring process. The unfortunate fact is that until everyone accepts their limitations, the relationship between internal and third party recruiting will remain dysfunctional. But with a little 2-way understanding, we can make great things happen together.

I hope that the last two articles can help shed some light on where we both have areas that need work. Like I mentioned earlier, this is not a one-way street. We agency recruiters need to own up to our shortcomings just as much as our corporate counterparts do. Let’s start mending some fences and remember what we’re all here to do – place great candidates into great roles with great companies. (And collect great fees, of course!)

image source: J E Theriot

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