Mar 28, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

“I used to work that side of the fence.”

I get that comment at least three or four times a day when I am making my business development calls. It is consistently one of the things someone in the corporate recruiting or talent acquisition group seems compelled to say. Why? What does it mean, really?

Perhaps they are trying to “identify” with my world. You know, let me know that “they’ve been there.” The positive side of this comment (and there often is a positive side!) is that the individual will go on to let me know that they truly appreciate the level of effort required to be successful as a professional recruiter. In this regard, the comment is and should be taken as one of respect for the value we had in the overall recruiting (or talent acquisition) equation.

And then there is the negative side to this comment.

These are the individuals who use this comment as a weapon to degrade our effort. There is no intent to convey respect on the part of these individuals. They seem to think that by uttering this phrase, they have somehow put me in my place of inferiority.

It is a statistical fact that 9 out of 10 individuals who attempt professional recruiting fail. That’s right: 90% failure rate. Most of us work on a contingent basis, which means we are working for free unless we make a placement. Let’s stop and define “work” in our model: I’m talking about 50+ calls a day and 3-4 hours of talk time minimum. Not to mention preparing candidate profiles, updating applicant tracking systems, industry research, returning emails, sending emails, and dozens of other necessary tasks. I’m talking about 10+ hour work-days all the while consciously aware of the measured risk that you will not make a placement on every search you work. And the compensation plan is always weighted heavily on production. It is just an absolute fact: if you don’t produce (make placements) in our business, you will not make any money in our business.

There are some very legitimate reasons why corporate recruiters are now on the other side of the “fence.” For some, it is because of life changes that have very economic realities. They need the stability of a steady income that the life of the corporate recruiter provides. They have evaluated both occupations, and rightly so for their circumstance, chosen a stable income. They can, in good conscience, forfeit the chance at a much higher income which some “third party” recruiters will make. But there is another reality, too — and we might as well call out the elephant in the room: Some choose corporate recruiting because they just weren’t that good at third party recruiting. They didn’t make very much money. They got tired of putting in all those hours and not making any money. They lived the truth of the recruiting firm’s profession: “Mediocre = Broke.” So they run to the other side of the “fence” and promise to take shots at every third party recruiter that ever calls them wanting to do business. They are now empowered with a false sense of superiority because they are the gatekeeper to what we need in order to survive — the beloved job order!

Personally, I wish we would all abandon the entire phrase: “I used to work that side of the fence.” Fences have a useful purpose on farms and in prisons. I really don’t believe they serve a useful purpose in recruiting. “Corporate” recruiters and “Agency” recruiters truly are pursuing the same goal: We both want to identify, attract, recruit, and place the very best candidate for the position we are working on. There is room in the field for both of us. The reality is we both need each other. The “fence” only divides us. It potentially prevents the best candidate from getting the absolute best job for that person. It can prevent the company from hiring the best candidate the market has to offer.

There is no written recruiting law that says a third party recruiter can fill a position better than a corporate recruiter. I would submit however, that if you subscribe to this notion of “fences” in the world of recruiting, then perhaps you are implementing some type of guarantee that only corporate recruiters will fill the jobs. It’s a false sense of security really. Your fence won’t keep me out as a recruiter. The reality is that if you aren’t a client, you are probably a source. You see, I just don’t believe in fences!

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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