Crossing Over to the Other Side – From Agency to Corporate

cartoon_mt_1Hiring technical recruiters or sourcers with agency background experience has always been a trend. Why is this? What are the skills that agency recruiters and sourcers have that make them appealing to leaders of corporate staffing teams? Also, if you do work on the agency side but want to break into corporate, what do you have to do? Do you possess the skills that will make you marketable to a staffing team on the corporate side?

Of course, just because you work at an agency doesn’t guarantee that you are instantly awesome. You still have to be good at your job. Here are some of the transferrable skills that are needed in order to cross over to the other side. And why corporate staffing managers should pay attention.

Skills to Pay the Bills

If you have a good agency recruiter or sourcer who is on your doorstep applying for a job, then here are some the skills that will be of benefit to you:

  • Time management — Recruiters have to be good at time management. But agency staffers have to source, recruit, and submit candidates for new jobs opened that day. Sometimes within a couple of hours!
  • Competitive — Everyone in staffing is competitive. Companies are all vying for the same top talent and there is only so much to go around. But in the agency world, you are normally competing with 30 or so staffing agencies on the same job. You can bet agency staffers are competitive and fast. Their ability to identify, qualify, and submit candidates quickly is their livelihood.
  • All around technical knowledge — Most corporate recruiters and sourcers work within a single vertical or group. They usually have 5 to 10 open reqs they are working for the length of their stay at the company. Agency staffers receive multiple new reqs each day from a wide variety of clients. This means over the course of a few days, a recruiter could work on an IC Design Engineer, a Software Validation Engineer for a biotech company, then move on to a Techno-Functional Oracle ERP implementation consultant, tackle a DevOps engineers with cloud platform experience, before finally wrapping up with a Finance Manager who has EFT / ACH systems experience.
  • Ability to work without hiring manager req intake meetings — Because many agencies are RPO, VMS, or contingency-based, they oftentimes have no contact with the hiring manager. They do not typically get clarification, job insights, or what’s written between the lines of the req. Because of that, agency recruiters and sourcers must use their experience, instincts, and research skills in order to figure out the correct angle when working a req.

For Staffing Managers

Staffing managers, directors, and other leaders should pay attention to these agency types. Some of the traits I listed above can carry over quite well to your corporate staffing team. Here is what you can expect:

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  • Time and speed — Agency recruiters are used to a fast-paced environment and that can help give your group a shot of much-needed energy. Keep them engaged and keep challenging them to find different ways and angles when working their reqs. Turn that potential into energy.
  • Major phone skills — Agency recruiters and sourcers spend all their time on the phone. This is what they do all day, sometimes making 100 calls a day. For corporate staffing managers who are afraid that their people are not on the phone enough, this will help get the team to not be afraid to cold-call and hit the phones.
  • Persistence with hiring managers — In the agency world, recruiters and sourcers can count themselves very lucky if they get a chance to listen to hiring manager feedback or req intake meetings. They do not take this lightly and use every single shred of information that is given. If given a chance to work on a corporate team that has hiring manager access, they will use it. They will constantly try different types of candidates, different sources of candidates, and they will push the hiring manager to consider alternative profiles. I’m sure some people think this is a negative, but professionals who are good at their jobs can only increase the organization by pushing each other beyond their comfort limits.

Even if you’re a staffing manager and you can’t find any “good” agency recruiters, you can still implement the good parts of that agency instinct into your corporate staffing team. Treat reqs like they are time bombs. Research the job reqs as well as the candidates who were previously hired. Dissect search strings and candidate screening questions. Push along the hiring process, from req takes to manager feedback, to interview feedback. Realize that every candidate is not readily available on the Internet.

Most importantly, get on the phone. All day! If you feel like the team dynamic and energy is low, then try a shot of agency caffeine. You might be glad that you did.

Mark Tortorici is a training, recruiting, and sourcing manager who has been providing expert-level training for sourcers and recruiters since 1997. He is also the founder of Transform Talent Acquisition, which specializes in training for high technology computer concepts, advanced active & passive sourcing techniques, and full life-cycle recruitment process. He has created and delivered robust training programs for companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Ebay.

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7 Comments on “Crossing Over to the Other Side – From Agency to Corporate

  1. Bringing people over from an agency setting should come with some caveats as well. I’d say also cover these points:

    Make sure they’re okay with HR duties. No matter how recruiting oriented a corporate department is, you get pulled into employee relations and other such HR issues. Some agency types will not be okay with that, you need to find a way to buffer that and/or manage their involvement to the point that it doesn’t kill their initiative.

    Not all corporate cultures are amenable to agency methods. Agency recruiters need to be prepped to help them deal with some of the process oriented issues they’ll be going through. For example, at agencies background checks usually fall on the client, and depending on the depth of the checks they can lead to delays. Familiarizing them with the average and potential timelines from decision to actual hire date is good prep, and can head off frustration.

    Further on that point, some company cultures are very hostile toward agency timelines and methods. Working for a non profit for example is way different, and the hiring process at one of those usually tends to be incredibly paperwork intensive and over wrought. Whether your organization can benefit from some agency blood is one thing, whether or not it will allow itself to benefit or adapt to tighter timelines is another. Sometimes the cultural inertia is too much to overcome, in those cases carefully picking battles is the way to go, and in those cases once again setting expectations up front with the recruiter is key.

  2. You’ve highlighted the positives very well, but a balanced approach is needed to fully estimate the ROI of hiring someone directly from an agency.

    Yes they have phone skills and are tenacious. But let’s not forget the time it takes to groom an agency recruiter to be able to operate sufficiently in a complex corporate environment.

    In my estimate it takes 6 to 9 months to polish the rough edges that a sell-side recruiter brings with them, just by the nature of being in a sales environment.

    You mention that agency hires tend to manage managers better, in my experience this is not the case. If you mean they close them and keep the hire on track then I can see this. What I find that agency recruiters find difficult to understand is how to control and really own managers above the transactional and they can often get railroaded on the bigger stuff. In their eyes the client is always most likely right, they want to at least please the manager or have spent their previous career siding with a manager in comparison with HR who they see as policing and to be avoided.

    I realize it’s all subjective, but spending nearly six months holding the hand of a recruiter in order to make sure they don’t go off piste, or back into agency mode, needs to be taken into account when selling the ROI of hiring a street-fighter..

  3. And in terms of in-house teams, they should be run much more like agencies, I agree with you totally here and training is definitely needed to install agency work values into corporates.

  4. @ Matthew,

    “In their eyes the client is always most likely right, they want to at least please the manager or have spent their previous career siding with a manager in comparison with HR who they see as policing and to be avoided.”

    Good point, and one that needs to be taken into account. It’s not that HR is the enemy, it’s that the hiring manager ceases to be a customer and becomes a partner, as does HR. On the agency side the customer is always right even if what they’re asking for is probably not a good idea. When you’re dealing with internal partners their success is what matters more than keeping them happy, so you need to be much more ready and able to call out bad decisions when you come across them. Nor can you drop a client in the corporate world. The hiring managers and their openings are the ones you have, period. You will prioritize openings, but no matter how frustrated you get, or how frustrating to the process an out of control hiring manager is, you’re with them for the long haul. And if they’re in the good graces on their and your higher-ups, you will be less able to affect changes until you have equal or greater credibility, and even then it can be an issue depending on the competency of the people involved. At a privately/family owned company this problem can be extreme because the ‘hiring manager’ may also be the owner’s brother or son, or a long standing family friend with ‘credibility’ you’ll never be able to match. Also, because of the limited ‘client’ set and positions available, it’s no where near as easy to market a candidate based on skill set because you can’t manufacture a roll for them as easily as you can at an agency. So all those candidates which might be great but for which there’s no spot right now are likely to sit longer and get stale and disappear because the time frames tend to be longer.

    Adapting an agency approach to the corporate environment isn’t a bad idea. People just need to understand that it can be extremely different in some ways, and as such not all practices can or even should be adapted.

  5. I am a fan of hiring people with an agency background, but I always look for someone who most recently has had at least a year or two of corporate experience. As others have pointed out, there’s a significant ramp for agency recruiters coming into a corporate environment. The most important piece of experience I find is often missing is the ability to be consultative with their hiring managers. While a rare few agency recruiters achieve this externally, it’s challenging to develop the kind of relationship with a hiring manager that strong internal corporate recruiters do. Most often when I interview agency recruiters, they lack experience driving changes in an organization’s hiring practices or even having tough conversations with their customers. Another huge pitfall I’ve had with hiring agency recruiters in the past has been their lack of structured approach. It can be all urgency without much planning or tracking (and sometimes no attention to detail), and many of those I’ve worked with struggled with adapting to the more structured processes of internal recruiting. In the corporate environment you often have to build a business case to drive change or justify expenditures and it’s important to follow enough of a process that you can reliably report out on a team’s productivity and challenges. I think the easiest transition is often from agency to a startup, where they have less structure and more opportunity to figure it out as they go. My first corporate role outside of agency was an early stage startup and it was the perfect sandbox to try out all of those corporate talent acquisition concepts and define myself as a corporate recruiter. To that point, one of the other things I look for in someone coming out of agency is evidence strong desire to learn about talent acquisition strategy and principles – if they’ve taken it upon themselves to look at the big picture of the industry and not just focus on the world of agency recruiting, that’s a good start.

  6. I’ve covered this topic in so many ways on my blog at glennlist.com and I will post another one. I am in the recruiting trenches. I’ve done agency and corporate recruiting. If it’s a trend to hire agency recruiters based on the principles above, then it’s a huge mistake. The corporate world is consistent and steady. Agency is stop and go. Corporate is a mixture of situation and transactional recruiting. Agency is almost entirely transactional. To imply speed and competition are traits in agency world are good traits for corporate world is laughable to me. All corporate recruiters are far more competitive than agencies. And if you mean speed, then do you mean how fast an agency can email job board candidates to their clients, then yes you are correct. They are good at that.

  7. Michael, I disagree with your statement that corporate recruiters are more competitive that 3rd party recruiters. You get paid a salary whether you produce or not. When you work on the contingency side of the equation, if you don’t produce, you don’t eat. As to Mark’s comments reqarding not being able to speak to the hiring manager when a search is being conducted is ridiculous. In the 30 years I have been a recruiter, if I do not have the opportunity to speak with the hiring manager, I don’t work the assignment, regardless of how much urgency exists, or what the size of the fee is. IF the hiring manage is not intimately involved in the process, any statement of urgency is a pipe dream, as is the expectation of recruiting a top performing individual. The probability of making a placement is zero. I do not post jobs, use job boards, or consistently use social media to recruit top people in industry. As a leading global provider of top talent for my client companies, “recruiters” who do so in, my opinion, do not provide value to the client companies they work for. Companies who want to avail themselves of the best available people rather than the best people in their market can do those things themselves, they don’t need a 3rd party contingency or retained recruiter.

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