Internal vs. External: Who’s Best?

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Oct 13, 2015
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Fast growing companies have a lot of positions they need to fill. I’m often asked if it’s better to hire an internal recruiter to focus on all of their hiring needs rather than using external recruiters who specialize in one particular area. I’m biased of course, but here are my honest thoughts on the matter.

The Pros

1. Ability to establish meaningful relationships through daily interaction.

Internal recruiters have the benefit of being there every day, which leads to deeper relationships with hiring authorities. They begin to sense what a leader is looking for in a candidate. Keep this in mind if you’re working with an external recruiter and be sure to communicate exactly what you need.

2. Ability to establish a thorough understanding of the company’s hiring requirements.
Knowing the in’s and out’s of a company’s HR policy takes a while. An experienced internal recruiter has the time to get familiar with its unique details.

3. Ability to position the company as desirable.
Everyone knows that an interview is a two-way street. You’re selling your business to potential candidates; everyone is seeking high performers. An internal recruiter who can present your firm in a unique and intimate manner is a huge asset.

4. Ability to work closely with HR to craft offer letters and coordinate responses.
Once the decision is made on a particular candidate, there is usually a frantic telephone game between HR, the recruiter and the candidate. That process can be seamless if the recruiter works with HR regularly.

The Cons

1. Inability to focus on one candidate search at a time. 
My experience as an external recruiter suggests that companies require internal recruiters to work multiple areas like IT, accounting, sales, etc. Often, internal recruiters attempt to source, screen and help fill roles for multiple departments every day, which dilutes their ability to focus on finding the best talent for any one position.

2. Inability to specialize in one discipline. 
I’ve learned that establishing trust with candidates and being able to relate to them are critical skills to successfully acquire the best talent. The communication skills necessary to do so are vastly different from one type of position to the next. After 30+ years of successful executive search experience, I have developed an expertise as a specialist. That expertise wouldn’t necessarily apply to a technical IT candidate search. The opposite is true as well.

3. Lack of appropriate incentive to fill a specific requirement.
Personally, I believe this factor trumps all. Here’s why. I was just told by a senior software sales rep I placed that he really appreciated my treatment of his candidacy. We were fortunate to have a good fit with interests that aligned beautifully. But the reason the candidate complimented me was because of his concurrent experience with the firm’s internal recruiters. He said in each case, the experience he had was unsatisfactory. There were a number of complaints but it basically boiled down to being treated like a number instead of a candidate of value. You want a candidate to feel important, and that’s difficult to do if an internal recruiter is expected to multitask and fill several interview slots for hiring authorities within your organization.

Like any other profession, there are exceptions to all of the above. The internal recruiters that I’ve worked with are excellent facilitators, while the top producing headhunters tend to be driven, results-oriented achievers. But for a truly critical role that demands a “can’t miss” hire, the top search professionals in the niche are the best recruiters to use.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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