Crossing Over to Corporate Recruiting? Not for Me

In a recent discussion on ERE, one commentator felt that great third-party recruiters would become corporate recruiters if they could make the same level of money as a third-party recruiter. I suspect, however, that most corporate recruiters do their jobs well for reasons other than money, and it is the same for many third-party recruiters. I’ve been in sales since the early 1980s, and yes, the money attracted me to it.

During the early 1990s, however, I found my way into headhunting and surely what must be the most difficult sales job going. I no longer do it just for the money and I cannot imagine being in any other profession. The money for me has become a by-product of doing a good job. The quality of the job I do must come first. My golden rule is this: “You’re only ever as good as your last assignment.” If money is your main motivation, you will eventually fail, because this recruitment game takes a lot more than financial greed to drive you to be good at it. It needs passion, commitment, patience, tenacity, and above all professionalism.

Money cannot buy these things. It comes from within. This business, more than any other I have been involved in, has its good times and bad times, its up and downs. These ups and downs are more likely to put an independent recruiter out of business than any other reason. They not only test your own strength of character, but they also have a major effect on cash flow. With bills to pay, it’s not always easy. That uncertainty is a good reason perhaps to consider working as a corporate recruiter, along with job security, a package that includes benefits, and a chance to work for an established employer. So what is it about being a third-party recruiter that makes me get up early in the morning to talk to people in Europe and sit up late into the evening working and talking with colleagues from the United States? Here’s why I do it.


I’m passionate about doing a great job, and the biggest kick for me is when a new client gets a candidate who turns out to be a great success, and the client uses me again. It’s also just as satisfying to put the candidate in a position that takes their career forward by matching their expectations with the best company and opportunity for them. One word of warning: If you’re not passionate about this job, whether as a third-party or corporate recruiter, it’s not for you. Without passion you will not succeed; with it, you cannot fail.


I’m talking about working with different clients on different opportunities in different countries at different levels with different benefit schemes and so on. No two days are the same. Today, as I write this, I have visited one client in person and spoke to four others on the phone. I have pitched a number of candidates about four different companies in three different countries.

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Flexibility and Knowledge

I work in the telecommunications industry, and represent several global companies in this field. Over the last 10 years, I have probably recruited for most of the leading players in this sector. As a third-party recruiter, I get access to the inner minds of many companies, meaning that when I talk to a candidate, I can talk knowledgeably about the whole industry in an unbiased and independent way. I can give the candidates different options in different companies. Only by being independent can I truly gain this inside information of all the companies, be in the position to offer the candidate the best option for them, and advise my clients of what else is going on in the industry. If I dislike working for any one client, I can easily find another. If I disagree with how any of my clients operate, I can find another the next day.


Finally, I return to my sales profession. Being a third-party recruiter is a 100% sales job. We carry sales targets and we produce revenue for our company, against which we are paid commission. We are sales professionals by way of the recruiting industry. Corporate recruiting is a recruiting profession that might use sales techniques, but I have met many corporate recruiters on ERE who do not have a sales background, don’t consider themselves to be in a sales profession, and have no wish to be in sales. They are professional recruiters. Our purpose might be the same, but the journey is very different. The two professions are different. Rather than compete, one should serve as a valuable tool to the other. To do that, we must first understand the differences rather than trying to find any similarities. With any sales profession, you expect a value-added service, and the good third-party recruiters can offer this. I know I do and that’s why I do it.

Tony Haley has been a headhunter since 1993 and has run his own business since 1996. As a director of Fenton Chase International, he has been responsible for helping some of the biggest names in the global telecommunications market to successfully expand their organizations throughout East and Western Europe.

Contact her at


13 Comments on “Crossing Over to Corporate Recruiting? Not for Me

  1. Some people have the ability to ‘smell’ a deal and others do not, it is an innate sense. The thrill is beyond most other life’s pleasures.

  2. Well said Anthony! I spent 20 years as a third party recruiter – aka – sales person, and for the past 2 years I have been in corporate recruiting. You are right – the difference is sales. I made the switch because I didn’t have the drive to sell anymore but I do have a passion for recruiting. As all recruiters know, making that perfect placement is a big rush. In a corporate setting, you get to watch a person’s career a little more closely and when my placements are successful or get promoted – I get a sense of satisfaction. I am fortunate in that I am responsible for a wide variety of positions and each hiring manager is a different client for me so there is still plenty of variety. Sure, you will make more money in third party recruiting but the sense of a job well done is the same in either arena. I especially appreciate that you did not slam the corporate recruiters – we can be very passionate about our work as well.

  3. Anthony,

    Hats Off to you! Thanks for putting very eloquently into words what I feel everyday. Here’s to the challenges that lie ahead. The Passion, The Variety, The Sales the Ups and Downs. Here’s to moving people and organizations to the next level!

  4. Nicely said…

    But tell me again the difference between a corporate recruiter and a TPR? I just dont see it…There might be a part about the unbiased being true.. but if your on a search for company A, your more likely to promote company A over company B regardless of how unbias you are.

    The part about being a salesperson, I’d endeavour to say that most of the TPR recruiters out there dont come from sales, they come from all industries / professions. The differentiator is the passion.

    Any good recruiter is passionate, any good recruiter knows their industry (who are the players, what are they doing, what will they be doing)any good recruiters SELLS (the job, the candidate, the company…)

    You think there’s job security in corporate recruiting?? Where have you been for the last 5 years?

    I say the last in the most light hearted manner but that and everything before that with utmost sincerity…

    Nice article though, not too much hysteria or malice 🙂



  5. Anthony, this is a homerun [?Fair and Balanced?]

    No one last long as a [headhunter] unless they have: (1) the natural talents, abilities, and competitive tendencies, that one must have to succeed in sales; (2) the initial and ongoing training required to both understand and improve skills and capabilities required in this business; (3) the fortitude to keep making things happen [overcome constant rejection]; (4) operationally sound [ability to juggle a lot of balls]; and (5) [as you said] a PASSION for the business.

  6. You missed something critical!
    There are more then just 2 professions…

    1.) Inside (corporate)
    2.) Outside (TPR)
    3.) Hybrid (consultant)


  7. Well well said. A little while back I had the feeling that the TPR route was no longer in the cards for me and I figured why not explore and truly see if the grass was greener on the corporate side. It ain’t. I would have been found dangling from the highest girder in the building after one week. Maybe I have ADD/HDD but once you on a track to recruit on the third party side, it sure is tough to get off. Vive la difference. I am sure the folks that are on the corporate side think we need to have our heads examined also

  8. Eamonn, it?s not about promoting one company over another for a TPR. It would be hypocritical to even go there. Why? Because we represent many companies and might visit the same candidate with 2 or 3 different opportunities over a period of time on behalf of different companies.

    Can you imagine their response if every time we said ?Hey, actually this company is also better than yours and better than the last one I mentioned, so take no notice of what I said last time?…?

    I wouldn’t go down the ‘this company is better than your company’ route because I would only be questioning their personal judgement and besides, we all know it’s only really a matter of opinion.

    It’s better to just focus on selling the benefits of the opportunity and the company we are representing at that particular time. The candidate will either be interested or not.

    If a Candidate I approach is happy and firmly believes that they are better off where they are, I wish them all the very best in their career and ask for a referral. I would not waste any more time trying to convince them otherwise. They will only drop out later in the process. By respecting their view point I have also just added another contact to my network than I can go to in the future.

    Do I believe in the Companies I represent? You bet, otherwise I wouldn?t represent them but are they better than each other? I leave that bit for my clients to sell to the candidates. My job is to interest the candidate in the Company and the opportunity and to get them in for an initial meeting. The Client can do the ?We are the best routine? if they feel it?s relevant.

    That?s why the candidates will get an unbiased opinion from a TPR.

  9. Jeremy,

    Unless I missed something, Anthony offered perspective regarding consideration on a one-way trip from from TPR to Corp. The reverse trip could only be explored in a competely seperate missive. I look forward to reading that point of view.

  10. I agree; not for me either. However, after spending many years on the TPR side, I decided to see how the other half lived, and took a 3 month contract recruiting assignment which ultimately stretched into almost 2 years. I recommend it to any third party recruiter, as a unique way to understand how our clients work. My hat goes off to the corporate recruiters I worked with. They are asked to attend interminable meetings, write endless reports, endure low status among the hiring managers and field constant phone calls from TPRs, employees, managers and anyone else who the switchboard happens to send to them. Oh, and also fit in a little recruiting, too.

    I discovered that, as much as we TPRs think we have no control, the corporate recruiters have little more. Hiring managers often don’t return their calls, either. And they can’t make things happen any more quickly just because we call them about it constantly. Go figure.

    The experience profoundly changed the way I market and perform my services,It has made me a much better recruiter and service provider because I understand now how the system works. Walk a mile in your client’s shoes, friends, and you will gain a wealth of perspective.

  11. Everyone’s situation is different so I am not going to go the better vs. best route with my opinion because it is what it is…

    I did want to share that you can cross over from 3rd party executive search world to corporate in today’s market with success. It truly is a difficult decision though, and making the switch requires some self reflection before you can make such a move in your career.

    I started doing C-level executive search and 3rd party recruiting exclusively for some pretty major corporate investors and venture capitalists in high tech about the same time the planes crashed into the World Towers until Jan of this year.

    I learned A LOT!!! It was a tough time to be a 3rd party recruiter and I jumped in with some pretty big players that you would have thought… WOW…lucky break!!! It was tough to play with the 800 lb gorilla’s venture group for 5 years…

    Primarily hiring CEO’s for early stage start-ups with their first round of venture funding in their pockets was not as glamorous as it sounds. Not during the time period I did it for… the economy dictated a very different set of rules and pricing for executive search and being relatively new playing with the big boys…. ahhhhhhh yikes…

    My personal life also was a major factor for my decision to be executive search during this time too. I am a single mother with a daughter who had just survived a bone marrow transplant so the flexibility of work was key to my life at that time. The freedom to work from wherever… The decent commissions when I had a placement… the ability to work the way I wanted too all factored heavily for me.

    But as time went on getting the clients and doing the searches on a consistent level financially was hard to manage. Dealing with the whole one man band show began to wear on me hard too. I was working ungodly hours from home, no balance to my ‘freedom’ and running my own business was difficult from an overhead perspective. Flying here and there to meet with clients and investor’s who may or may not in the end use you, marketing yourself, keeping in the loop to gain new business and manage your existing relationships … doing the searches and managing the candidate relationships became 2nd to finding and managing the clients.

    I had to look at my job and present lifestyle and make a decision… What part of the business did I really love, what part of the job was I really passionate about. I love LOVE LOVE relationship recruiting at the executive level. I really didn’t have the patience to be a client developer like I needed to be. This began my path to go back into corporate recruiting.

    It took a very LONG time to find the right setting and company to make such a transition but there are companies out there that want headhunters in house. My company has 60,000 employees and knows it takes a certain type of person to pull happily employed top producers from their current jobs and pitch a new opportunity to someone who isn’t looking for a job… I took a job with Countrywide Home Loans that gave me all the best of both worlds. I have an amazing boss who knew making the transition from old life to new life would be a bit of process and he has been very supportive in the on-boarding and re-acclimation into corporate… My job gives me the freedom that I like to do the kind of recruiting that I love to do. I have a region that I am responsible for and I have 80 ‘clients’ that I get to build relationships and recruit for. I am chasing the top producers of my industry and I have the backing of a great company that makes recruiting ‘the mufasa’s’ [lion king} to my company a great gig.

    Adjusting to going back to an office everyday wasn’t as bad as I thought. I still work til the job get’s done but there is work/life balance now. I have a salary but the bonuses make me very aggressive to hire the top producers because this will dictate my salary and total compensation at the end of the day. I have great benefits. I have the company university where I get on-going training to enhance my skills and continued education opportunities. I am encouraged to be very relationship driven with my clients so I get to travel to my region at least once a month. I have an expense account, vacation days, TECH SUPPORT, if my computer crashes all I have to do is call someone and poof it is FIXED!! I have the capital to buy the resources and sourcing tools I need to do an effective job recruiting and finding candidates. I am not a one man band any longer. I am responsible for 147 open rec’s, 28 branches, report to 80 managers who are looking to partner with me to hire quality people for the state of Colorado and Wyoming.

    All my talents are being tapped and used in a corporate setting very complementarily. It wasn?t easy to find such a great role that really served my needs and desires so well and sometimes I miss working in my p.j?s some days but? for the most part I am thrilled to get up and come to work and I can honestly say I LOVE MY JOB as a SR. Production Recruiter with Countrywide.

    Oh yeah I have a career path again too, I eventually would like to do training and with my company this is a career goal I can realize within the company. They are even helping me develop a goal and steps to accomplish timeline to realize this goal

    Yes, you can cross-over if you want too.

    There are companies who realize that executive recruiting is a different animal from regular recruiting and it requires different skills. A 3rd party recruiter or a headhunter can be a very valuable asset to corporations in-house, if they understand we are a different animal and the recruiting requires different tools and approach.

    I am lucky I found the perfect balance of both worlds and only 8 minutes from my home? I am a very lucky ex-3rd party recruiter doing her magic in the big corporate fish bowl these days successfully!!!

  12. Brandon,

    Call me after 4/6 & I’ll give you that point of view you refer to below: 949.872.2328


    posted by Brandon Ebeling
    Unless I missed something, Anthony offered perspective regarding consideration on a one-way trip from from TPR to Corp. The reverse trip could only be explored in a competely seperate missive. I look forward to reading that point of view.

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