Be Prepared: Here’s What You Can Expect At Your Next Client Meeting

Article main image
Jan 18, 2013

Search for talentEditor’s note: The following article was written for corporate recruiters, but it is equally useful for agency owners and account managers. It first appeared on our sister site, The author is currently a corporate recruiter. For most of his career, he has been an independent recruiter and an agency owner,. He recently opened a new search firm.

As an in-house recruiter or HR professional, have you ever been in a meeting with a recruitment supplier and been very impressed with their pitch and excited about the results that are going to follow, only to be completely let down by their performance? It won’t surprise you to read that you’re not the only one.

We all know that for every good recruiter who walks the earth, there are others who don’t quite make the grade. Many sell a value proposition that isn’t being followed up with action — recruiters who purport to headhunt and cold-call top people in the market, but actually only advertise their clients’ vacancies. As a client of these external recruiters you need to be in a position to make an accurate assessment of their worth — not just by what they tell you, but what they actually prove.

Many contingency-level recruitment firms haven’t evolved their value proposition as technology has evolved over the past 10 years. As in-house recruiters have been able to catch up with doing direct sourcing through job boards and social media, external suppliers should be getting more sophisticated in their approach to maintain a value proposition worthy of the fees that are charged — mapping out competitors, gathering referrals, building expertise and relationships in their chosen niche, for example. Too many contingency firms are still charging 15% to 25% for doing nothing more than advertising a poorly written or cut and pasted job spec; that’s just not good enough.

Vetting Your Agency

So here are some questions to ask your suppliers next time you invite them in for an update or suppler appraisal.

Prior to the meeting, in addition to the normal data you ask for, ask them to bring with them the following:

  1. Two recruiters who actually source for the roles and not just the senior executive who has  been well briefed by the researchers and recruiters. The senior exec is not out in the field talking to the market and making the approaches to the candidates. You want to know how your company and your roles are represented by the recruitment firm. What message are they taking to market? Are they in a position to attract the best candidates in the market by the way they present your business? The only way to find this out is to speak to those individuals doing the day-to-day work.
  1. A report on two of the assignments they’ve completed for you detailing who they approached, what companies they came from, and the result of the approaches. This report, or lack of one, will show you exactly what they’ve been doing to find your people. This will range from bad or made up to very thorough, or somewhere in-between. This will show how well they know the market and your competitors (it may be different companies for different skill sets, of course). It will also demonstrate their approach to managing their data. If all data is recorded in the correct way on their ATS, this report should be easily generated and representative of a well-run recruiting firm from a data perspective.
  1. A copy of two job ads they’ve posted for your company and the original specs relating to both jobs. If all they’ve done is re-posted the spec, that’s not good enough. They should be creating ads that sell the company and the role, not changing the facts, but creatively communicating what is good about the role and the company. Re-posting your spec is just lazy. That’s not what you’re paying 15% to 25% for.

Typically in these meetings the pitch will have been well rehearsed, and sometimes the truth may be embellished in terms of how candidates are sourced. With these three items and the following questions, you will now be in a position to make your own informed conclusion.


When we give you a role, what is your sourcing strategy?

For a 15% fee, for them to do put a $50 job ad online is not good enough. You can do that yourself. A recruitment firm that has evolved in the past 10 years, even at contingency level, should be using LinkedIn (as an example) to put together target candidate lists to call and headhunt from. When headhunting candidates, a recruiter can gather so much market intelligence and, more importantly, they are fishing from a talent pool far greater than represented by those candidates actively looking for work.

If the recruiter tells you about their headhunting approach, call them on it. If they say they’ve done direct headhunting they should have a file for each search detailing which companies they’ve searched from, what candidates they approached, the outcome of the approaches, and so on. So call them on it if they say they’ve headhunted. As the two recruiters who have come along to the meeting such questions as:

Which companies have you headhunted from? A good answer here will be your competitors, but perhaps they also have some creative thoughts. For example in the IT field, other target firms may be consultancies that the recruiter knows through their phone research are supplying your biggest competitors.

Why did you choose those companies?

How many (for example) C# developers did you identify in each of these companies? Once you’ve asked this kind of question to a few different recruiters, and cross-referenced it with candidates you hire from these companies, you’ll start to know when you’re hearing the truth.

What makes you sure that’s the number? They should confidently be able to say something like, “Well I know for sure there’s 12 .Net developers there because I’ve spoken to five of them and cross-referenced this information.”

What percentage of the C# developers working in these companies have you identified and contacted? If they tell you it’s five, for example, ask to see the evidence.

How many of them did you proactively call versus email? What was their feedback on the role and the company? You’ll know from their answer here how much insight they have. If they have been calling candidates and building up their knowledge, they’ll confidently give you articulately delivered anecdotes they’ve gathered from candidate discussions.

Another good question to ask the recruiters who have come along to the meeting:

Tell me what you know about (our company) and why it’s a good company to work for? They should be able to give you a very clear and succinct answer to this as they should have this practiced for when they make headhunt calls. If they can’t do that articulately and convincingly, what hope do they have of winning over the candidates? If you can’t do this articulately and convincingly, the same applies!

Unless, among all the agencies you’re using, you are confident that most of your competitors for a particular skill set have been covered and approached, then there’s still work to do. That’s not necessarily bad news — at least you know you have a recruiter problem rather than a market problem. Recruiter problems can always be solved!

If you follow-up with each agency and ask the same questions, you may find that one of them stands out and is at least marginally better than the rest of them. If that’s the case you could go back to them and simply instruct them on what to do (see below).

If they haven’t been doing all you expect, the meeting may be quite an uncomfortable one for the recruiters involved. That’s not a bad thing though. Give them some guidance on what you expect moving forward. You can follow up with an email or a letter of your expectations, and good recruiters who maybe just got lazy will come through and deliver the next time if you give them a second chance.

Setting Expectations

  • We expect you to keep track of these skill sets in the top 10 (or a relevant number) companies we compete with for these skills (it may be different companies for different skill sets), and include direct headhunting from these sources as part of your sourcing strategy. We expect to see evidence of these approaches in our next review meeting.
  • We expect you to be able to articulately deliver a compelling pitch to candidates about working for our company. (This may have to come from you initially. If you can’t articulate this, how can the agency working on your behalf?)
  • We expect you to do more than just post job ads, and we will seek proof and cross-reference with the candidates we hire through your firm.

Tracking Candidate Source

When candidates come in for interview you should be tracking how they heard about the role. You can simply ask them at the interview, “Were you approached by phone or email, or did you respond to their job ad? Who approached you from this firm/who did you speak with?”

Tracking with whom they spoke will help you understand who is out there recruiting on your behalf. Is it the recruiters who came along to the meeting? Did their names feature at all?

It’s not a bad thing that some respond to job ads, but if not one single candidate was headhunted, you can’t believe the recruiters’ claims about doing so. If you get into the habit of tracking this information, you will come to understand more about the claims your suppliers are making.


If you’re building an organization with talent sourced only from job ads, you’re doing a disservice to your  employer. If you’re using external suppliers and paying them more than a job board posting fee to find you people, then you should be getting more than what a job board provides. You should be getting recruiters who are building up talent pools of candidates, mapping out your competitors, and cold headhunting the best talent in the market, not just processing the CVs of the best candidate on the market.

Ten years ago it was more difficult for recruiting firms to get a head start on a target list unless they were genuine niche suppliers. Now it’s easy; start off with LinkedIn, call the people, get referrals, and build out your list from there.

By being prepared to cross-reference and qualify the answers your suppliers are giving you, you can be in a position to more accurately assess them, see where they fall short, and give them guidance on your expectations.

With this sort of quality control and cross-referencing, you can be in a position to help your suppliers to help you build a company with the best talent in the market, not just the best talent on the market.

For suppliers reading this article, if you’re not already doing so, this is a great opportunity to assess yourselves before your clients do. Better quality service means better business for everyone.