Are External Recruiters Better Than Their Corporate Counterparts?

I’m concerned that most corporate recruiters don’t understand what it really takes to recruit passive candidates. In three minutes, I think you’ll agree. If you’re looking for candidates where the demand for talent outstrips supply, the ability to recruit top passive candidates will now be more difficult than ever. Those people with good jobs will hang on even tighter, and recruiters will need to use every technique in the book to pry them loose.

In the first article in this series I defined six skills that a recruiter must possess in order to effectively recruit passive candidates. Collectively, they’re called the 6Cs. While all are important, some are more critical than others. Here are the results of a recent poll we took of corporate and third-party recruiters asking them to define the most important of the six skills. Here’s the link to the poll so you can participate yourself. You might want to do this before you read the rest of this article. This way your responses won’t be biased.

The top three vote getters in this poll were the need to articulate a Compelling message, the ability to quickly convert your job opening into a Career move, and the Conviction that you won’t give up despite candidate reluctance to move ahead. The least important — at least according to the poll participants — were the need to Control the conversation, the ability to develop deep Connections, and Closing the deal, without money being the primary driver. If you’re a third-party recruiter you know this is upside down. Controlling, Connecting, and Closing are the most important. Without these, Compelling messages, Career opportunities, and Conviction won’t get you any more hires.

I’ll give the corporate recruiters who took the poll a break here since I didn’t define the 6Cs other than using the description shown on the chart. So let me better define and demonstrate why Controlling, Connecting, and Closing are the most important.

Why Control is #1 on the 6Cs Hit Parade

When first approached by a recruiter, passive candidates make a quick decision to engage in a conversation based on a few core pieces of information.

These generally cover factors like job title, company, location, and compensation. However, when candidates actually accept an offer, or even seriously consider one, the factors used to make this assessment are not the same. In this case they focus on job content, growth opportunity, chance to make an impact, the hiring manager’s leadership qualities, the team, and of course, compensation. But even in this case, compensation is somewhere in the middle of the list, rather than at the top. There is where “Control” comes into play and why it’s so important that the recruiter understand it thoroughly (article).

Control allows the recruiter to bridge the gap between the criteria the candidate uses to first engage in a conversation and those used to make a career decision after having a full set of information. It requires a combination of appropriate questioning, the ability to smoothly address concerns, and the ability to instantly shift the conversation from short-term to long-term. This is an essential skill if you want to increase the number of strong prospects in your candidate pool. If you want to either recruit passive candidates or network with them, you must start with a thorough understanding of the 6Cs, but be a master at Control.

Why Closing the Deal Is in the Top 3 of the 6Cs

One could argue that closing is more important than control, and should be the #1 of the 6Cs (article). Consider that if you can’t close the deal, everything else you do is a waste of time, effort, and resources. Let me be perfectly clear on this point. Closing encompasses the actual negotiation with the candidate, getting the person to accept the offer on reasonable terms, and making sure the person considers your offer on all critical short- and long-issues. Making matters more challenging is the idea that the person was not looking for a new opportunity until you called. Under this scenario that person will likely get a counteroffer that’s more competitive than what you’re offering, or worse, the person will immediately start looking and find something else better. Under this scenario, the ability to hold the deal together and close effectively takes center stage.

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The fact that only 3% of those taking the poll considered this ability most important dumbfounds me.

Why Connecting Deserves to Be in the Top Three of the 6Cs

Most of you know I do a great deal of work training corporate recruiters to optimize their use of LinkedIn’s talent suite of products through networking (article). What surprises me is that corporate recruiters still think of LinkedIn as a flat list of 120 million names of largely passive candidates. For an external recruiter, it’s a 360° interconnected 3D map of every single person in the U.S. (soon the world). The idea here is that rather than finding your ideal candidate directly, consider instead contacting someone who might know the best candidate, and then provide a referral. For example, I called partners in CPA firms to identify great controllers they’ve worked with in the past. I connected with buyers at major retail chains to find out who the best salespeople they know are. And I’ve contacted product managers to find great engineers they’ve worked with on launching new products. Getting a referral like this is even better, since these people they call you back right away. And even better than that, these people are all fully qualified, since this is how you initially got their name.

So stop calling people you don’t know as a primary means for finding passive candidates. Instead start networking with everyone you do know and have them give you two or three names of the best people who are directly connected to them. If you start doing this on every call, pretty soon you’ll realize that connecting is really how you source passive candidates. (We’re holding a series of webcasts in the next few weeks demonstrating how to take connecting to another level and why you should give your TPRs a hug, rather than banish them.)

The 6Cs are the quintessential skills for any third-party recruiter who expects to survive and thrive in the current economic environment. Corporate recruiters need to think and act like TPRs if they expect to have success finding, recruiting, and hiring passive candidates in any significant quantity. While corporate recruiters might have the ability to deal with passive candidates, I’m not sure they have the hunger for it.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


54 Comments on “Are External Recruiters Better Than Their Corporate Counterparts?

  1. What a great call out article, Lou! Part of the reason for the disparity between the expected Control, Close, and Connections results and the actual results could be found within the history of recruiting itself. For decades, recruiting has been about candidates coming to the recruiter, bringing in massive candidate pools, and picking the “best” of the pool. Third-party recruiters have understood the art of actively recruiting passive candidates, but I’d guess that a large portion of corporate recruiters (myself included) have inherited a system that focuses on passively recruiting active candidates. The game is changing, for sure, especially as GenY moves into the professional community. I’d love to see the difference of ranking results between those who are involved in third-party recruiting and those who are corporate recruiters, Lou.


  2. It’s really an apples and oranges comparison when you’re talking about corporate vs agency. A contingency recruiter can regulate how many reqs they work to maximize returns, not taking more than they can reasonably actively recruit. A corporate recruiter doesn’t have that option. The load is decided by someone else, usually an executive team that decides how fast they want headcount to grow without any evaluation of how their one or two recruiters can fill the positions. If anyone thinks an internal recruiter can proactively go after passive candidates (that by definition are not looking) for 50-60 openings at once, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. I used to have a huge agency bias since I came up in the industry on that side of the fence, but working inside a couple of times has provided a little more perspective on the differences between inside and out. Neither are easy.

  3. Good point Yuri. But then it would follow that corporate will never do as good a job as outside third party at bringing “the almighty passives” to the table. Sort of undermines their reason for being there…other than cost containment.

    Just an observation…both will continue to co-exist…

  4. Lou, you are highly regarded as one of the best in our industry. Actually, third party recruiters need to be more like corporate recruiters BECAUSE recruiting is and has been and always will be relationship driven.

    The 6 C’s are catchy, it’s great presentation material but in the real recruiting world you can’t box it all up when it comes to recruiting passive candidates – especially among external recruiters.

    Here is the truth for External Recruiters. They tend to use more job boards and their database; however, the relationship between recruiter and passive candidate is shallow or no longer exists when the recruiter leaves.

    Truth about Corporate Recruiters: They tend to “wait” for internals or referrals. But they are better at building that relationship with passive candidates.

    Truth about Passive Candidates: They tend to shy away from ANY recruiter because they don’t know them. However, a passive candidate will take a call from a “peer” before they take a call from a recruiter much less an agency recruiter.

    The REAL Truth about Passive Recruiting: It’s building long term relationships in communities. It’s not LinkedIn, It’s not job boards, boolean searches. It’s about people. It’s about the bond between the candidate and recruiter. Just like you and your doctor, dentist, real estate agent, financial planner and etc…
    Corporate Recruiters build better relationships with candidates they need to hire or will hire.

    On another note, I think External recruiters are built for speed, placements, and are better at finding candidates than corporate recruiters

  5. Not better, just a great deal more focused. Our livelihood is on the line here. We don’t have endless meetings, reports, statistics, politics, etc. to deal with. We are able to keep our eyes on the prize… closing the deal and cementing the relationship with the clients and the candidates.

    It’s pretty simple.

  6. Not necessarily, Don. A company doesn’t HAVE to overload their recruiters. Adding enough manpower to maintain reasonable loads would give the internal recruiters enough time to actively recruit passive candidates rather than only maintain an automated funnel. Although that entails higher costs for the internal recruiting team, the cost trade off between inside and outside is large enough to make it worth it. This is where the rubber meets the road for all the companies that talk the talk about recruiting/people being their “top priority.”

  7. Good article and I like the survey, however, there is a HUGE difference between agency and corporate and it comes down to one thing; money. The 7th “C” on the list should be “commission”. That changes the game. Of course control would be the most important C for an agency recruiter. It was for me when I was a 100% commissioned recruiter as well. Now that I’m on the internal side, I can appreciate the relationships and the conversations about career potential with these candidates because my conversations last longer and are more informed. Candidates are more willing to put their trust in a corporate recruiter and faster. There is a great need for both sides of our business but comparing them in a survey by a respected agency recruiter will always be biased.

  8. Lou, another well-presented, thought-provoking article. The follow-up comments are great, too. If the goal of all the info and exchanges on this board is to improve recruiting overall, and the relationship among recruiters on both sides, this is certainly a rare step in the right direction. The missing element in the discourse is, as usual, those who control the efforts of corporate recruiters, and who make their jobs so difficult by not letting them focus on what they are really supposed to be doing, and by not giving them the tools that will help them accomplish it. Endless meetings, demands for constantly decreasing cost-per-higher, vague/unrealistic forecasts of future growth or retraction, and job descriptions with twenty “must-have” qualifications all create a situation in which the corporate recruiter simply cannot do what they are really there for. This, in turn, creates friction between corporate recruiters and TPR’s, who are more free to do what they must to be successful. So, how do we take this message to those who really are at the heart of the problem?

    As an aside…Michael, you are on a slippery slope as soon as you say, “Here is the truth…”. To follow that up with, “..for External Recruiters. They tend to use more job boards and their database; however, the relationship between recruiter and passive candidate is shallow or no longer exists when the recruiter leaves.” This would generally indicate that you had little experience as a TPR, or were not very good at it (neither of which may be true, I agree). TPR’s who are successful at what they do, year after year earning six-figure incomes, do not rely on job boards, and use their database solely as a way to expand their reach to passive candidates. Furthermore, that successful TPR stays close to their passive candidates, placed or not, year after year. Your statement is far from “the truth”.

  9. Great topic and read for today so thanks, Lou.

    I’m not sure it’s easy to say categories of recruiters are “better” than others. I’ve seen externally trained and experienced recruiters take corporate jobs and immediately begin floundering to the point of failure. I’ve seen corporate recruiters do the same when going to an external agency. So it’s probably not so much a question of who’s better as who adapts best and which skillsets you’re most capable of using.

    Successful recruiters in both environments probably are that way when they have Control, but not in the way defined in this article. Control is literally beging given the ownership, resources, and ability to guide and shape the recruitment process. External recruiters have an advantage in this regard because hiring managers really can’t dictate everything to them. Hiring managers would never tell an external recruiter “send me all the resumes you receive.” That’s probably the number 1 thing they do with internal recruiters – even the very skilled and high-performing ones.

    Here’s one thing that cannot be overlooked – a lot of companies create internal recruitment teams and processes not because it can be done better internally but instead to control expenses. I’ve rarely seen or heard of an internal staffing team that wasn’t cost-justified into existence by comparison to costs versus external recruiting costs. Even then, it’s usually not a precise cost argument because too many variables (like total external agency costs) aren’t properly accounted for – who wants to include those % of total salary costs for executives into the equation.

    I’d argue that effective company recruitment probably needs both internal and external recruiters to some degree.
    But having run an internal staffing group and done recruitment externally, I find the real question is — Why is everyone following the same model of putting the more expensive recruitment placements out with agencies and tagging the high-volume vacancies with internal recruiters?

    I could very much envision internal recruiters really finding the right C-skill mix with a different scenario. However, I can see that happening mostly likely when internal recruiters handle more of the positions most commonly sent to external agencies. I’m not even touching on the fact that sometimes external recruiters also have the advantage of focusing on a more narrow field or type of candidate. Corporate recruiters often get stuck with a mish-mash of jobs that external recruiters often aren’t even asked to consider.

    Most organizations don’t get that “passive” candidates really aren’t all that passive. There’s aren’t many “passive” candidates that aren’t networking, doing something to gain attention without directly expressing that they’re seeking employment, or taking calls from recruiters and agencies. I find that most companies don’t understand that from a true talent-focused recruiter’s perspective, EVERYONE is in play. It’s just a matter of how to spark an individual’s awareness and willingness to explore.

    To illustrate how it’s more than the actual recruiters, I once asked some executives to allow me to bring in sales training expertise to reset the minds and actions of a corporate recruitment staff. The staff was willing. The leadership was not. Needless to say, more than 10 years later that same company is among the many who are still senselessly trying to assemble the right recruiting function. New executives and new recruiters – same unresolved recruitment issues and gaps. It’s not always the people.

    Sometimes, the system is the problem. Almost every example I can think of with a good system leads to better recruiters and better results. In that regard, companies have totally missed out because they often have technology and people resources that external recruiters never have. Yet most companies never capitalize on it.

  10. Great Topic

    I must say that this a broad statement because like myself and most of my team, we are corporate recruiters who started are careers as external recruiters. In our case, we are stronger because we are able to detect the tricks that some external recruiters use. Example: resume rewrites to fit our job descriptions, over preping of candidates to make them more appealing etc. In my head hunter days, I made my money with corporations through out working the corporate recruiters. I work hit the boards early mornings, weekends, and nights. I also created relationships with the hiring managers in a effort to bypass the corporate recruiter. Now, as a internal recruiter myself, I still use my aggressive approach towards recruitment and I go that extra mile to recruit candidates. I also see recruitment as a competitive sport. We are all going after the same candidates and visability is the key to any good recruiter. In my case, corporate recruiters are better than external recruiters.

  11. Jim,
    There was a time when Agency recruiters made piles of cash (read my post on :

    But, do you really think Agency Recruiter has time to mess with Passive Candidates?

    Would you like to interivew 30 Passive candidates to make 1 hire OR interview 5 Active candidates to make 1 hire?

    Agency recruiters are all about speed. Who can get the candidate there the fastest to the client. Small, big, and even Mom-Pop agency shops know this is the number #1 rule.

    Nothing against agency recruiters, I know some really good ones… But, they don’t have time to search and interview Passive Candidates like Corporate Recruiters.

    Of course a lot BIG agency recruiters boast about how they pull “passive candidates” from competitors, their “proven” screening methods, and the good ole meet-each-and-everyone-personally blah blah blah.

    In the end the agency recruiter with 5 (quarterly) hires from passive candidate recruiting efforts gets second prize to guy who placed 15 from the job boards.

    Truth is external recruiters are a lot faster, they go for the quick fill.

    The corporate recruiter invests more in passive candidate searches. Plus, they have to build relationships with the folks in the verticals they support – which is where they get their leads..

  12. My 2¢ – I don’t consider the “send a resume and hope one sticks” as too classy an approach – however, in some cases it does work. So I wasn’t referring to this model when I made the comparison. I was referring to retained recruiters and high-level contingency recruiters who work on an exclusive basis to maximize quality of hire. When compared to this standard – since both groups have the same hiring manager relationship – corporate recruiters struggle with recruiting top-tier passive candidates. Part of this is workload, part of this is not understanding the difference between top talent and good talent, and part of this is lack of training. Based on this and some of the comments, my opinion still holds – great external recruiters are stronger than their corporate counterparts. Working hard isn’t the difference maker here – working smarter is. I’m hosting a workshop on Sept 8 titled “Why You Should Hug Your External Recruiter” aka “Why You Must Let Your TPR Talk to Your Hiring Managers” aka – “Why Too Much Control Can Prevent Your Company from Hiring the Best” – Here’s the link –

  13. I train corporate recruiters on hiring passive candidates. Have done agency and onsite contract. Michael I think you have several false premises. If you are at all niched in a segment you have a pipeline of candidates. Also referrals from people you’ve placed from your goodwill. So passive and active comingle. its timing for both. This us vs them is getting very old. Corporate recruiters have responsibilities agency people don’t. There is a place for both. The trend is toward bringing all but the unique positions in house for hiring.


    It is and always will be about supply and demand.

  14. The argument between internal and external resources seems to always have an underlying assumption that external recruiters are better than internals. It’s this underlying assumption that creates an inherent logical fallacy in your conclusions (that being recruiting must be outsourced).

    This argument typically relies on the comparison of strong external recruiters to weak internal recruiters. In my experience working with and hiring recruiters there are far more poor external recruiters than your article assumes. The turnover of recruiters on the agency side has caused me way more headaches over the years (a new recruiter/ “account executive” every 6 months) than help (i.e. hiring a stellar candidate). I won’t disagree that there are a lot of weak internal functions that rely too heavily on HR generalists doing recruiting. These generalists typically only know post and pray recruiting.

    However, a well managed, strategic internal function can run circles around external agencies when measured against overall impact on an organization…hands down. Specifically, internal functions can leverage employment branding, long term relationship building (candidate and hiring manager) and cost per hire in a way that external resources never can.

    I think external recruiting resources should be leveraged in one of two ways: High niche areas (‘niche’ does NOT include, for example – RN’s, help desk analysts, .NET developers, financial analysts, etc) or quick ramp up projects (RPO is a great help here).

    I know Lou and others on expound about the death of corporate recruiting at every turn. I agree that corporate recruiting at most companies needs to be improved, but the solution is not outsourcing….the answer is stronger recruiting leadership at the corporate level.

  15. @Matt – you’re comparing apples to widgets – we’re not talking about weak agency recruiters, we’re talking about good agency recruiters vs. good corporate recruiters. In fact, you prove it yourself with this point “Specifically, internal functions can leverage employment branding, long term relationship building (candidate and hiring manager) and cost per hire in a way that external resources never can.” – If a TPR works with such a distinct disadvantage and still delivers better results, I’d say the race is over, TPRs win. My big point is that corporate recruiters don’t need to recruit, they can advertise – and if they are really improving quality of hire, that’s okay. But that’s why the poll results are skewed – corporate recruiters over-value the less difficult aspects of recruiting.

    The bigger point of the article, which Matt points out, is that a combination of high-quality corp and high-quality TPRs should be employed depending on the strategic importance of the position.

  16. Lou,
    You made the distinction between “retained recruiters and high-level contingency recruiters who work on an exclusive basis.” and corporate recruiters. By definition, the retained/contingency recruiters work within a narrow field or industry and often at a specific career level within there chosen fields. Because of this, they are able to build deeper more far reaching networks and relationships with passive candidates more than the internal corporate recruiter can. The internal recruiter very often has the responsibility to recruit across a very wide range of skill levels, industries and fields. Literally, nothing is out off limits when it comes to a position that they must fill. They have to be able to fill a new college grad position one day and a senior level executive the next. With the scale and scope of positions that they are responsible for, it is no wonder that they do not have the same in-depth networks for every position that they get, that a retained/contingency recruiter might have for their positions.

    I would also argue that both types of recruiters have “the same hiring manager relationship.” That is too much of a blanket statement. It takes a long time to generate a solid relationship with a hiring manager. Both have to prove themselves to each other before that relationship can fully mature into a trusted relationship. There is no guarantee that either of the recruiters will automatically have a trusted relationship with their hiring managers.

    I am also not sure that I agree with you statement “great external recruiters are stronger than their corporate counterparts.” While I realize that this is just your opinion, I feel that a great corporate recruiter is every bit as good at what they do as a great external recruiter. We just have to realize that while the positions are both called recruiter, they are very different style positions.

  17. Some of the best recruiters that I’ve met are external recruiters like Shannon Myers and Glenn Cathey. They have both presented at SourceCon and really know their stuff.

    Shannon once told me that hiring managers dont care where you find resumes. They don’t care if you spent your time targeting passive candidates, they just want to hire the best qualified person. It took me a while to accept this.

    External recruiter better than their Corporate counterpart in passive candidate recruiting? I disagree.

    The corp recruiter has far more advantages (read all the comments) when it comes to passive candidates.

    External recruiters historically move on to the next client after a few submissions if there isn’t any “traction”.

    The fact that hiring managers don’t care where the resumes come from is interesting…


    It’s a paradox that TPR’s make more money on number of placements than quality of placements. Recruiting passive candidates is a lengthy process.

  18. We are all created equal…

    This (recruiting)is a conversation about playing ball in the MAJOR leagues vs. playing in the MINOR leagues… (Both great accomplishments)

    I am AMAZED anyone would object to a recruiter who trains internal/external recruiters, as well as hiring managers, and has “personally” made over 400+ external/recruiter hires… (GOD herself is impressed!)

    EnJOY your weekend ALL…

  19. @BKJ – I didn’t understand everything you said, but it sounded great!

    @all – the inital question posed in the article wasn’t necessarily who was better, but rather why did CRs value the 6Cs differently than TPRs. No one answered that directly. From the poll I inferred that CRs don’t really recruit passive candidates. No one has put together a reason why this conclusion is wrong. All of this other stuff – relationships, branding, etc – while important in addressing the differences in performance, are answers to a different question.

  20. I think this is a compelling article but I think times are changing. I’ve been in recruiting nearly 15 years agency and corporate and am currently looking for a new position. What I have heard in my search is corporate recruiters who work for federal contractors which is nearly every large, publicly traded company are no longer able to recruit passive candidates. The management and counsel believe this will lead to disparate treatment or preferential treatment and eventually lawsuits. Corporate recruiting positions seem to be turning into very customer service focused, (hiring manager and candidate) compliance driven, reactive positions. In a few interviews I have discussed passive search strategies and the individual interviewing says we can’t do that. We respond to our applicants or use agencies for passive assistance. I believe that is why many companies are outsourcing recruiting.

    I worry true corporate recruiting is a dying profession.

  21. “While corporate recruiters might have the ability to deal with passive candidates, I’m not sure they have the hunger for it.”

    Overall I think this is a fair assessment, many corporate recruiters are more “process” oriented than “target” oriented. However, many of us “CRs” are headhunters who have been hired by former clients, and we understand our business better than externals and know how to target and/or close passive candidates. FWIW I have a headhunter working with me who has billed at least $360k so far this year, directly with us, because he follows instructions, learns our business, accepts criticism and has learned how to partner. I also have a list two pages long of executive search firms who have wasted my time and theirs submitting candidates with no hope of being placed because they were, presumably, too lazy to do the work involved in earning a 5 figure placement fee.

  22. @Joel Gilbert… EnJOYed reading your response… I agree there are way too many LAZY externals… After nearly 14 years, and over 275+ placements as external, I still make cold calls everyday into passive candidates, because I LOVE a challenge, and I LOVE helping people advance their careers, and I would be a LIAR if I did not enjoy 30k+ fees that I “earn” in the war for talent.. (Phone or F2F + Influence + Relationships/Caring = Recruiting Success!)

  23. I’ve worked on both third party and corporate sides of the fence. I’ve hired over 25 people since I joined my company in February. My jobs are hard to fill. Most of my candidates have been passive. I had one extremely difficult to find position. The manager wanted to engage a third party recruiter so we did. They showed us one candidate, and it did not impress the manager. We ended up hiring my candidate. That being said, there are a lot of great third party recruiters and a lot of great corporate recruiters along with a lot of bad ones on each side. I think I have the pleasure to work for a company and with a team that I would put up against any third party recruiter.

  24. @All – I think you’re all correct. To paraphrase Marc W, “there are a lot of great TPRs and a lot of great CRs, and a lot of bad ones.” Based on which group your comparing your group to, will get you any result you want.

  25. The six skills you mention are spot on. However, the biggest issue that I’ve seen corporate recruiters grapple with is bandwidth. You cannot recruit passive candidates in any qualitative way if you are juggling some 50 reqs. It simply isn’t possible.

    There is a critical competency that I didn’t see mentioned — one that is essential to the success of any recruiting engagement. Passive candidate recruitment is informed by research, starting with a target list of candidates. Far too frequently, that list is random and fails to identify the best and brightest. Ironically, given the vast number of “names and titles” available to us on the Internet, more often than not top talent can be found hiding in plain sight amidst hundreds, if not thousands, of other potential candidates. In this, the Era of Too Much Information, it takes real research acumen to find the shortest path to the best and brightest. It takes research, that through analysis, is transformed into intelligence. A great way to test whether you’ve achieved that level of research competency is to consider how you would answer this question from a hiring executive, “Are these the best people available?”

  26. Krista, assuming you are aligned by functionality. You have Long term and Short term recruiting. Networking with candidates produces passive and active candidates. The passive candidates need to be marketed to. The active a bit more sold.
    Actively listen to both and they’ll tell you alot.
    And controlling the process is critical.


  27. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison as, although we are talking about recruiting; it is two different worlds. I used to think the along the same lines as you when I was on the agency side. Now, sitting in the internal side of things, it is a whole different ball game.

    Not only are external recruiters not bogged down by internal red tape, compliance issues and internal client expectations – they have the freedom and flexibility to work on orders they want to, prioritize them, fire clients, etc. Internal recruiters do not have this luxury. In most large company environments, internal recruiters are working on 30+ reqs at any given time which does not allow one to spend the time conducting an exclusive search for a passive candidate.

    I say your 6C’s are right on the money and a great approach. I also think however, you should know your audience and how it works before calling them out in such a manner.

    A lot of companies are making the moves to become more aggressive and build relationships in order to attract passive and active candidates. However, one cannot account for previous relationships and also the facts of recruiting. Passive candidates, for the most part, are smart. They want representation and in most times rather work through a 3rd party recruiter than work directly with the organization.

    But overall while your methods are on track, I think you are not making a fair or justified comparison.

  28. Many interesting points made and I just want to make an observational comment regarding how agency recruiters engage with recruitment teams within a multinational like ours. 1st of all they really need to re-invent the range of services that they could offer a team like ours. The amount of calls we receive froma agencies on a daily basis claiming they advertise here, we have a candidate database of this size it’s the same blurb I used 12 years ago when I first started out. We all know recruitment has moved on and that in-house recruiters have the same tools if not more than some of our agency counterparts. One of the previous points made was around time/quality. I have never received a call from an agency recruiter saying I know your competitors, I know where they sit, I know this person is open to a career move, how does RIM define a quality hire? what schools did your top hires attend? what subject did they sit? etc etc NOT one call. I am not trying to be snobish or belittle anyone’s job or do I admit to knowing the answer, but maybe a little more understanding of some of our challaneges and coming up with some new unique suggestions will open up our doors ever so slightly more.

  29. Interesting article, but I personally disagree with almost all of it. For me it is all rather one-sided and lacks balance.

    The fact you place ‘closing’ so highly illustrates the point – you are talking about sales. Internal recruiters don’t have the sales monkey on their back – they can advise and influence with the aim of ensuring the best possible hire is made – something an agency-side recruiter has no interest in. The agency recruiter wants to place their candidate, regardless of whether they are the best.
    Further, I take issue with the very concept of closing. As a recruiter, I haven’t had to ‘close’ an offer for a long time. The entire recruitment process should be one of removing objections and ensuring the right fit – on both sides – so by the time we get to offer stage it’s more a case of agreeing the fine print than ‘closing’. Closing implies selling and if you are doing this at offer stage then you are too late.

    I also don’t think that most agency recruiters are spending much time engaging with a passive candidate community. They say they are, but then they are sales people! They need to make sales, which drives them towards reactive work. No sales manager will accept an agency recruiter that consistently fails to put numbers on the board because they have spent their month networking with passive candidates. Agencies aren’t built to invest this kind of time and money. This is why they are so worried – end clients can, and increasingly are, starting to do this very effectively.
    It’s a good thing. It will push the industry forwards and the old fashioned agencies will fail and be replaced by a new breed that genuinely engage with communities of candidates.

    On the flip side, I have worked with in house recruiters that shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves recruiters. They are CV administrators, moving candidates around, slowly, and adding nothing apart from bureaucracy. These people do as much damage as poor agency recruiters, if not more. The bottom line is that there are some exceptional in-house recruiters, some average and some poor. Just like in agencies.

    Agency recruiters and in-house recruiters need each other. Writing articles like this which demean one side or the other are fine to stimulate debate, but that’s about it. As always the truth is somewhere between the extremes.

    I think the more interesting debate is this: what are agencies doing to remain relevant in the modern recruitment landscape? Agencies are seeing their business eroded on all sides – RPO’s, in house teams (full of their ex-colleagues with the same skills as them), freelance recruiters, Linked In, social media, the pressure on budgets brought about by the economic situation, and a maturing industry. I have been meeting agencies as a prospective client now for 12 months. Probably about 20 agencies and I have asked them all about what they are doing to find candidates that I can’t do myself. I am still waiting for an answer that will genuinely add value to my business. There’s something very wrong with that state of affairs, and this is where the industry will change. Likewise, the useless internal recruiters who add no value need to die out. So I think there are going to be huge changes on both sides, and both need to up their game!

  30. These are all great comments – but very few actually answered the question. The underlying premise was about “passive candidates” e.g, people who are not looking, and are TPRs better at this than CRs.

    @Paul said he never had to close a candidate since it’s too much like sales. Well recruiting passive candidates is sales, and closing from first contact to the start date, is sales. And being good at it is essential. Therefore I have to conclude that Paul is not talking about passive candidates, and while his comments are accurate, they’re not appropriate for this debate.

    To me if a TPR is only presenting active candidates then they don’t deserve a full fee, unless they’re so well networked that they get the first shot at the best people when they come on the market.

    The value of a TPR should be that they can find and close top, or better people, than their corporate counterparts. Nowadays this means the person is passive or just entering the job hunting market. In my mind the 6Cs are essential parts of this. If they don’t achieve this better or best objective, than they are not better. On the other hand, they should be better since they have distinct advantages over a CR. For one they can be more deeply networked, they can be subject matter experts in their field, they can use a broader range of assessment processes, and they don’t need to work on as many assignments. If they can’t differentiate themselves on these factors, then I would argue that the CR is superior.

  31. Lou – thanks for the bringing the question back into play. I believe both groups have populations of great recruiters and populations of those who need serious training and/or do not possess the right skills to be in such a business. Many (not all) of the comments above have great truths to them. Over the years I’ve witnessed the debate between the two groups but have always adopted the philosophy of “can’t live with them (the junior TPR recruiter just pushing paper who waste valuable CR/hiring manager time) but can’t live without them (the more seasoned TPR with a strong rolodex, good business understanding, reputable, possessing relationships with talent that a CR does not have who add great value to a CR)”. As you are well aware, many TPRs go in-house to become a CR – which is a personal preference so I don’t believe one is always better than the other. One thing is for sure, becoming a CR often results in less time actually recruiting & building relationships (meetings generating reports, etc.) so one could argue TPR could often produce higher quality.

    I couldn’t agree with you more…..Recruiting is Sales. Successful sales people work to understand a potential customers’ business problems and bring a solution to the table. Successful recruiters often take the same approach – which is a skill and I believe both groups have people with such skills.

  32. Yeah, nothing like starting out an article insulting corporate recruiters.

    I have worked in both agency and corporate environments, in both HR and Recruiter roles (now in corporate recruiting) and get really tired of agencies trying to tell me how to do my job, that they can do a better job than me at my own job (especially the ones who’ve never met me!). I’ve had some great partners in agencies, but they are a supportive function, not a replacement for a strong CR.

    Unfortunately, many agencies end up acting like they know the job, the company, the culture, better than I do. And considering agencies often hire recruiters who are either salespeople or admins or customer service reps, I don’t consider someone with only agency experience and no HR or Corp Recruiting experience consistently reputable. It’s a case-by-case basis, and I can tell quickly who’s the snake oil salesman and who’s the business partner.

    Agency vs corporate recruiting, like one commenter said, is apples and oranges. When I was with a major tech staffing firm, I had 30 reqs. THIRTY. I would never have had the audacity to tell someone inside corporate that I knew better than them. It’s a partnership when it’s at its highest form – and I was successful because I partnered with HR and their hiring managers, not trying to snake around HR like many agencies do.

    If a corporate recruiter does not know how to source candidates for their company, that’s a Performance issue, not a job description issue. The problem is, not enough employers think of Recruiting as an actual profession – kind of like all of HR in general (I was an HR Generalist for years before narrowing in on Recruiting). If it’s respected, they’ll find the best at what they do and not consider it an administrative task.

    As a CR, I spend MORE of my time recruiting passives, and as an agency recruiter, LESS because my goals were filling reqs and making my goals. As a CR, my focus is on developing an incredible pipeline for MY company, and most folks I know at agencies were more driven by numbers than pleasing a particular employer. This can at times result in having a broad network, but not necessarily a strong pipeline.

    Recruiting is not Sales, it’s Relationships. The worst recruiters (of either kind) are the ones who are trying to Sell a candidate rather than Partner with a hiring manager. Just because you have 500 in your LinkedIn doesn’t make you well-networked, it’s like saying those with 500 on their Facebook have more true friends!

    Paul’s comments are spot-on, the article really shows a lack of understanding of the depth and complexity involved in quality talent acquisition.

  33. I don’t know why some CRs are afraid to think that recruiting is primarily a sales function. If it weren’t for sales, companies wouldn’t be in business.

    Regardless, I’m now more convinced that Tony is spot on since his comments are balanced and objective vs. Aimee’s, whose aren’t.

  34. No Lou, sorry but I believe that you are wrong. In your world (as I understand it you train agency recruiters), recruitment is all about sales. This is because the agency wants to maximise revenue, that is it’s raison d’etre. Profit.
    In the CR world, the primary objective is to achieve the RIGHT placement, not just any placement. Hence, for these people, it is not all about sales.

    Agencies have adopted sales tactics as a way to maximise revenue, but recruitment itself is about so much more.

    Look in the dictionary:
    Sales: The exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent; the act of selling.
    Recruitment: The process of identifying and hiring the best-qualified candidate (from within or outside of an organization) for a job vacancy, in a most timely and cost effective manner.

    Yes there is some common ground here – good sales people know how to ask open questions, how to probe, how to build rapport, etc and so do good recruiters. But that doesn’t mean the two disciplines are the same.

    I honestly believe that the old sales mentality that so many agency recruiters have is increasingly out of date in the modern landscape. The industry needs to move forwards.

    You ask above why CR’s are so scared of seeing recruitment as a sales based role. Flip that around – why are you so determined that it needs to be? And why aren’t we all more focused on finding out what that brave new (post aggressive sales) world looks like?

  35. @Tony to your comment:

    “One thing is for sure, becoming a CR often results in less time actually recruiting & building relationships (meetings generating reports, etc.) so one could argue TPR could often produce higher quality.”

    I AGREE with you about CR spending a lot of time in meetings, and reports….


    Put the kool-aid down, bro…

    You have to be in recruiting fantasy land to think TPR “could OFTEN” produce higher quality than a CR.

    Look, if a CR doesn’t produce quality, they usually get fired. Yeah, hiring managers constantly hammer them over quality…

    @Tony Maybe you do outperform other CR in quality hires. Maybe you drink a lot of red bull, lift weights, and drink protein shakes before you jump into your massive pool of candidates and close them with Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage Macho style technique.

    But seriously…Staffing is very plain and simple.

    If a TPR doesn’t have hires, they get fired. Zero Hires = Fired. I’ve been in the “Pit” rooms, we had a bell, we had dry erase boards with recruiters in the “lead”….

    @Tony @Lou… TPR better at recruiting Passive Candidates??? Puh-leaze, let’s come back down to earth.

    Come on guys, really? I mean really! I got some Recruiting to do. Besides, you need to make you’re 400th and something placement.

  36. @Michael

    This rhetoric right here underlies the constant disconnect between CR’s and TPR’s.

    As an agency guy I usually encounter a good amount of resistance from CR’s. Especially ones that were brought in specifically as a cost containment measure by upper management.

    They look to control spend, minimize agency usage, etc…So naturally, the war is painted internally in HR depts. as us vs. them.

    CR’s are by nature penalized when going with a TPR hire. In this scenario, the CR controls the job. These are usually situations where you have an overabundance of qualified candidates, some unemployed, some just underpaid.

    When a hiring manager is faced with a pretty even candidate field, of course they are going to go with the CR’s candidate, 9 times out of 10. They will save 15-20k on the fee by doing so.

    This plays into the CR’s hands…I don’t care if you are managing 2 reqs, 20 reqs, or 50 reqs…Your placement is assured! Timeline could take longer, but you are holding the keys to the hire.

    On our side of the fence, we have to create value for clients…A lot of the CR’s on this thread have noted the weaker TPR’s…Well I have news for you, 90% of those guys/gals are now out of the TPR game…This economy has weeded them out.

    What’s left are TPR’s like myself, who are niched in a specific industry and generate a nice living as headhunters. We are by nature HEADHUNTERS…Don’t forget this term…Most CR’s (99.9%) are not headhunters…It’s the old ‘hunter’ vs. ‘herder’ analogy.

    When you are constantly hunting, you are touching on a candidates potential hot buttons, closing them through a process, dealing with the problems/obstacles that inevitably occur, and overcoming them!

    I feed my family off of this skill set…Your paycheck is guaranteed every pay period…I need to make placements, or else my 2 year old starves…That’s the mentality that successful TPR’s have.

    You think it’s hard filling 25+ reqs where you control the process on the client side??

    Come on!! Try stepping in my shoes and placing 30-40 candidates per year where you have to get clients to shell out 10-30k per placement!

    We (the good TPR’s) don’t just throw paper at the wall to see what sticks. We target your companies’ competitors, and go after their talent…We engage them, we tickle their hot-buttons…We get them to see the value in coming over to your company…It is a very complex sell (can’t fathom why anyone on this thread would even question that).

    Candidate control is so important throughout this process…I don’t want to understate that in this post…If anyone takes anything away from this thread (either a CR or TPR), know that candidate control is the #1 thing you need do as a recruiter…When you have candidates backing out on you on the day of interviews, that’s a control issue…When you have a candidate not returning your calls, that’s a control issue. I don’t believe that you need to be up a candidate’s butt, it’s a delicate balance, but you definitely need to have their respect.

    That respect is gained by having an intimate understanding of the candidates’ industry…Knowing the companies, products, landscape, etc….This is where you start to see that divide between CR and TPR. I am out scouting this market nationally everyday, the CR is siloed in Company X, only discussing that company and doesn’t have a finger on the pulse of what is going on.

    Really good TPR’s will always have value to companies in this market, now it’s just the smaller companies/start ups that haven’t gotten so big as to use all these cost containment measures. They want top talent, they use top recruiters, simple as that.

    In the meantime, this debate will rage on…But the distinction to note is you have the TPR – Headhunter, and you have the CR – HR.

    That’s the divide, and I applaud Lou Adler for sparking this debate, I have a lot of respect for what you have done in this industry, and enjoyed reading this piece…Got the juices flowing.

  37. This is actually a pretty cool debate. If we zoom out a bit, and think not who is better, but rather why is there such a disconnect, we might better understand the brouhaha.

    My semi-official take is that they are two fundamentally different jobs and rather than compete, we should think how to complement. Developing a sequenced sourcing strategy that triggers events based on candidate flow, quality, and cost, might be a good start. Then when a CR can’t find a strong enough person they contact a well-connected TPR who has demonstrated a capability for finding top people in a targeted market.

    Right now the debate is about who is better in a head-to-head battle. The debate should be when is a CR better than a TPR and vice-versa. Obviously a bad CR or TPR should not be part of the discussion, but it seems that’s who gets picked-on to validate an position. This is a fundamental logic flaw – asserting the consequent – which is why using this as a basis for anyone’s viewpoint invalidates the balance of the person’s argument. We’re only discussing good CRs and good TPRs (contingency and retained)and we were initially only discussing this in the context of passive candidates.

  38. Very interesting set of comments on Lou’s article. I could write an article in and of itself dealing with just the comments.

    @Matt: The answer is NOT stronger recruiting leadership at the corporate level. The answer is aligning talent strategy with business strategy. Without that it won’t matter a bit how good recruiting leadership is.

    @Aimee: You tell em’. TPRs and CRs can co-habitate if there is mutual respect, understanding and communication.

    There are great CRs and great TPRs. In my experience those are the exception. There are far more low quality recruiters out there, period. I worked with a very small number of great CRs when I was in practice for 16yrs and I’d work with them again. I worked for a firm for 9 yrs with recruiters who made great money who I wouldn’t hire to do work for me. Point is, the entire conversation here can be summed up in 2 words: It Depends…

    Anyone wanting to learn about RPOptimization (the aligning of talent strategy with business strategy) can see me in Florida at the ERE Expo next month.

  39. Lou, great dialogue, and pleased that you’ve arrived at recognizing that the jobs differ and let’s maximize the value we each bring to complement the position/industry. We are driven to succeed for the client, internal or external, for the best fit or fast fill. We each offer value. I agree that many could benefit from working with a strong leader, and more extensive training. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  40. Lou – Intriguing article as always. These articles always get people hyped up around “us” vs. “them” and I am better than you are always dangerous given I have seen firsthand both individuals on both sides of the equation excel at your 6 C’s but to make a blanket statement that internal vs. external is better is an argument based in futility given generalizations do not hold true universally and at best maybe they do directionally in some cases.

    Let me give you a leadership response on this. In my leadership roles over the years one indelible fact holds true in both Corporate and Agency recruiting. When you ask executive leadership what is the primary aim of the function, it comes down to four simple things (but always more difficult to execute):

    1.Cost = Lower Cost Per Hire/Cost to Serve
    2.Speed = Reduce the Time to Fill
    3.Quality = Hire me someone who is in the top % of hi-performers of an organization. Or to quote Bill Gates…..”I will take 1 great Software Developer over 200 Average ones”
    4.Velocity = Hire me more people to meet my business demand

    These 4 things are like gravity. You cannot argue that it does not exist and you cannot fight against it, and if you do it expends a lot of energy.

    So if we bring in Agency recruiting organizations into this mix when an Company already has an internal corporate recruiting function, then from a leadership perspective the decision to engage an agency is also based on can they do any of the four principles better, faster or cheaper than the existing internal corporate recruiting function.

    I could probably write a book about this subject given the things I have seen and the data/metrics I constantly have tracked throughout my career on Active vs. Passive vs. Proactive vs. Reactive and Conversion/Through put outreach metrics, but I will leave you all with a little story that might help put this into perspective IMHO.

    One area of a corporate recruiting function was reliant on agency hires that it equaled over 100 hires a year. I went through an exercise where I looked on a major Social/Business Network (you know who) to see how many of the 100 Agency hires/candidates actually had a profile on this major Social/Business Network. Other parts of the same corporate recruiting function had less than 1% agency hires and over 10% from the same Social/Business Network

    ………… So what do you think that % was in the above scenario with the 100 Agency hires?

    Answer = over 70%

    So what is the morale of your story here Rob. Simple:

    1. Good on those Agencies for finding talent where I would have looked myself.
    2. Bad on Corporate Recruiting function for not looking there themselves in the first place (bigger discussion on the why here)
    3. Cost avoidance = if the corporate recruiters could have found, contacted and hired those 70+ candidates themselves…You do the math and if you were an executive leader what would you think 🙁

    Lesson learned to apply against one of the 4 principles. Train the corporate recruiters on how to identify and how to have an engaging EVP and how this would save the company big bucks !

    To close, once again some Corporations have internal recruiting organizations that get it and can execute on it better than an external Agency recruiting function can and some can’t and visa versa. Same applies to individuals that I have seen in both Corporate and Agency functions. My job, and the same applies for most recruiting leaders is to build and execute on the 4 principles that produce the best results be it leveraging internal, external, outsource, offshore or a combination of all.

  41. Hi Rob – maybe I’m missing something, but just because a person has a profile on LinkedIn, doesn’t mean the person is a candidate. The person still has to be recruited using the 6Cs. And the whole point of the article is who does this better, a TPR or CR. Since soon everyone will have the same names of everyone else, the key to hire these people is who has the best recruiting skills.

    Separately, I think quality of hire should be the primary differentiator. An external agency (retained or contingent) can only justify its fee if it produces stronger candidates. Secondarily, speed should be next, since this impacts business performance.

    In your equation, cost is being used as a tactical driver, not a strategic driver. This is backwards to me. If if were a strategic driver the decision to use an external firm would be based on an ROI evaluation, which would depend on quality and speed. If a company intends to maximize its quality of hire it should be based on strategic considerations, not tactical ones.

    Regardless, on how you measure it, performance should be measured, at every single step.

  42. Lou – you must have missed where I said… “Lesson learned to apply against one of the 4 principles. Train the corporate recruiters on how to identify and how to have an engaging EVP”

    Agree that once they engage the candidates the 6 c’s apply regardless what hat you have on.

    My point is if a good CR can do this at a sub 5k per hire vs an agency fee at 20k a hire, then you do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out which is more cost effective.

    Next time I bump into my CFO I will have a conversation around if he feels my math is backwards on cost avoidance, but I already know his and other executives reaction when I say we have identified areas to lower the cost to serve.

    I am not suggesting that TPR’s do not have a place in the model, but rather if strategically engaged where a CR cannot go (bandwidth, skills, etc), then the ROI might make sense. I measure performance at every single step by source, and yes, in a some cases TRP = better throughput quality ratio’s.

    But once again saying that TPR overall can do better passive recruiting than CPR is just taking a position to stir the pot on the discussion. Some can, some can’t.

  43. Rob – I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just expanding on how you convert Gates’ comment – ”I will take 1 great Software Developer over 200 Average ones” – into a metric.

  44. Ar Lou – the holy grail of metrics…..Quality of Hire.

    I have not cracked the code on that one (still trying) and not sure who has.

    What I am trying this year is building off our competency and performance model to see how the assessment of talent can be tied to future hi-performers (Top 10%) as the baseline of new hires (first few years of performance). Can recruiting create a methodology that moves the needle on quality = performance.

    There are so many variables that come into play as we all know once a candidate is hired beyond the control of recruiting that impact Quality of Hire, so as we all know this journey is fraught with many landmines 🙂

  45. Lou, after reading your article and all the comments, one thing that most people are missing is the candidate. You can never get all the 6 C’s if you do not have a candidate to start. Having been on the outside and now on inside, where I have always been to beat the external recruiter is they will answer my call and listen in the beginning. Majority of passive candidates do not take external recruiters calls cause they are tired of the games, the lies and misinformation they provide. I am not putting all external recruiters in that category, but because some have in the past, many passive candidates do not have trust with external recruiters. When I call or other large corporate recruiters we represent the prize at the end, no middle man needed. When we call we represent a job that is ready now, we can get them in front of the hiring manager faster and close the deal quicker. A technology engineer will answer the call from Google before they do ABC Recruiting firm. I still liked your 6 C’s and can find them useful either external or internal.

  46. Mark – I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but your comparison is against “bad” or weak recruiters. The point of the article was: given equally good recruiters, who is more efficient and effective when dealing with passive candidates. My experience has been is that passive candidates would rather deal with an external (retained or high-quality contingency) recruiter since this person can present the candidate at multiple companies. These same passive candidates are also much more frank and honest when dealing with a external recruiter since the conversation is naturally more open. But again it goes back to the core assumption of two high quality recruiters, one internal and the other external.

  47. @ Sean: It looks like an interesting tool. I’d be interested in finding out more.

    Bottom line:
    If a recruiting activity isn’t worth paying someone$50+/hr, $40+/name, or a 30% fee to perform, it usually can (and should) be no-sourced, through-sourced, or out-sourced for $6.25/hr or less.


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