Keeping Your Enemies Close …Turning Agencies Into Allies

As a long-time corporate recruiter, I have developed a very bad habit of being animalistic in marking my territory, meaning that for me … I hate to turn over reqs to agencies. It can sometimes feel like defeat, failure, and lack of control to admit that you need to look towards the outside help of a recruiting agency.

Having worked both at an agency and now internally for the last eight years, I can tell you that there seems to be some industry bad blood between the two parties. It took me several years of beating my head working on niche reqs that I didn’t have the network or expertise in before I really learned the true value of partnering with agencies. When partnered in the right way you can turn what may have been an agency enemy into a very impactful recruiting ally for your business.

Here are some ways that I have learned to stop peeing on positions and loosen up the reins.

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  1. Pick the right positions — Just because you use an agency once, doesn’t mean that you are no longer good at your job. Be strategic in the jobs that you do decide to outsource so that you can better manage your time and allow yourself the success of filling the positions you are most comfortable with. For example, I wouldn’t use an agency to fill a sales position in my current role; this is my sweet spot and I’ve been filling these at volume for years. That being said, I haven’t  worked on a business intelligence tools developer role in quite some time. By me using an agency that for a harder technical role that would entail me sourcing for weeks given my lack of connections in that space, I have freed up my time to fill several sales openings.
  2. Don’t hoard information — As a corporate recruiter, I think secretly in the back of my head I am still hoping that the agency fails and that the hiring manager will come crawling back begging me to work on an opening again, but it’s typically not the case. If your manager has taken the time to enlist an agency, or if you’re at the point in a search where you’ve been so exhausted that you’ve reached out to one yourself, don’t hoard information to make it unnecessarily difficult for them. You are using company dollars in hopes of filling the role quickly. If a hiring manager is using an agency that you don’t know, reach out to them proactively to give them the lay of the land and educate them on overall company culture. If it’s for a niche job, no matter how awesome your company is, this agency will need to sell your opening, so make sure you are giving them the information they need to do that.
  3. Don’t make the mistake that this is a one-time thing — So, you think, “I have to use an agency just this one time” … wrong! Unless you have the most amazing workforce planner of all time, you never know what kind of positions are going to pop up, or what senior Java developer might give his notice. If you’re working with an agency, no matter how temporary it might be, make sure to build that relationship so that when an unexpected opening occurs, you feel comfortable having a short list of agencies to call.
  4. Assume they know everyone — Because agencies typically have multiple recruiters working on each position, and have databases that are being filled daily with active and passive candidates, they are more likely going to be able to reach more people as a team than you could alone. Not only could they have a stronger volume of candidates, but they are also most likely working with other companies looking for your same profile, giving them better insight into the market for that position as a whole. Their networks aren’t only one sided either. Yes, we want them to use them to find our new hire … but what if we are ever on the market looking for work? Is an agency really a bridge that you want to burn by having a bad relationship with them? In the future they might be your best resource for finding employment.

I still hate to admit that I need help when it comes to recruiting, but we all want our internal business partners happy and the companies we work for to be successful. Agencies are another resource that need to be valued and used in order to find the best talent for our openings … even if still I mutter under my breath and have a shaky hand when dialing that resource.

A workshop leader at the March 2012 ERE Expo, Cassie Roe (previously Cassandra Denny) is a graduate of the University of Washington where she studied psychology. She has been recruiting since 2004, hiring for companies like Concur Technologies, Cobalt, Vertafore, and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Her recruiting has encompassed a wide variety of positions especially in software, hardware, and IT. She is a recruiting manager, author, and speaker on the topic of recruiting optimization, time management, and sourcing.

In her current role at A Place for Mom, she is responsible for corporate recruiting, mentoring, and training others, putting in place recruitment strategy and processes, as well as integrating passive sourcing with social media and attraction plans. She is extremely passionate about using technology (applicant tracking systems, social networks, and marketing campaigns) for talent identification. Her goal is to help others instill a corporate recruiting culture at their current companies and also create leadership interest around sourcing and passive recruiting.


9 Comments on “Keeping Your Enemies Close …Turning Agencies Into Allies

  1. Playing on the animal theme:

    Compare the relationship between the corp recruiter and the agency rep to the one between the lion and mouse in Aesop’s fable. Replace the Lion with the corp recruiter and the mouse with the agency rep. One is more often than not around at the right time ready and willing to rescue the situation. That right time is often when the other feels helpless.

    I have been on both sides of the fence and it is a wise move for both parties to stay close in good times and bad.

  2. There is no reason to feel defeated, even agencies use agencies!
    For many years I worked for an agency that specialized in placing Agency Recruiters, Account Executives, Branch Managers, etc..
    Everyone has a specialty, the problem is, not everyone is great at it.
    I’ve been on the corporate side for a year, and it’s clearer to me now more than ever that knowing which firms to partner with and when to partner with them is part of setting a winning strategy.

  3. Cassie, thank you for such an insightful and candid piece. While I have not had an opportunity to work inhouse, I have been on the agency side for 16 years, including a stint with Heidrick & Struggles and a local boutique firm, prior to launching my firm in 2007. I have always been of the mind that internal recruiters/HR should be our allies, yet unfortunately, most agencies teach their staff to avoid these partners at all cost. There is so much we on the outside can learn from internal experts about the culture, politics, and hot buttons of an open position, and likewise, we on the outside have an obligation to provide guidance and market intel to the internal team. Our firm focuses on placing sales & marketing professionals and just as I am committed to fostering better communication between these two silos, I also endeavor to build strong bonds with internal recruiters and HR. At the end of the day, we all come out ahead and the business is able to attract top notch talent.
    Ken Schmitt, Founder/President
    TurningPoint Executive Search and the
    Sales Leadership Alliance

  4. I never understood why people would consider agencies an enemy? As an in-house corporate recruiter who spent years in agency recruiting, I’ve learned that if I work with the agencies I can more effectively control them (and costs).

    It has been my experience that if my client (the hiring manager) gets a great candidate, they don’t care where it came from and they usually forget they paid a fee after the check was sent. What they remember is that I got them the right person, no matter if it came from our ATS, a Vendor or I sourced them myself.

    If I work with the Agencies, building a good relationship, I will not have them trying to go around me and calling my clients or my manager daily. I can hand out req’s to the top firms and give new firms an opportunity to win my business. With the competition, I can negotiate fees resulting in lower costs. If you aren’t using your vendors as a strategic part of your talent acquisition strategy, I believe you are hurting your ability to provide the best possible service to your customers.

  5. @ Tim: “I never understood why people would consider agencies an enemy?”
    I can’t speak for “people,” but for “internal recruiters” (either FT or contract)- unless we’re there to manage the process and the client/employer explicitly states they don’t care where the people come from, using 3PRS makes us look ineffective/incompetent, and sometimes if we get per-hire bonuses, IT COSTS US MONEY.

    Next question, please….


  6. @Keith: You just highlighted a huge issue. You’d rather fail at filling something then to pay a fee. What does that cost the company while you try to look effective and competent.

    Recrutiting and HR is a service to an organization. If you have a hard to fill req and can pay a firm a fee to get it filled in 4 weeks as opposed to 9 months I argue you are providing a great service AND saving the company money.

    The firms will know about the positions you aren’t filling because your managers will eventually take their calls. I’d rather own the relationship, own the process and manage the vendors. Most likely you aren’t getting incented with per hire bonuses, if you are, I understand your reluctance. In my region very few (if any) companies incent internal recruiters that way.

  7. @Tim “You just highlighted a huge issue. You’d rather fail at filling something then to pay a fee. What does that cost the company while you try to look effective and competent.”

    You’re assuming a rational judgement on the part of the people observing Keith. Sadly, most people would rather see their internal recruiter bash his head against a wall to the tune of $40K rather than fill the position for $20K with an agency and be done with it. Keep in mind, most companies in this world are small to medium sized businesses, without much access to data, or the ability to understand it even if they do have access. The cost of their internal recruiter is largely unseen outside of salary, and subsumed with everything else they’re handling, recruiting and non recruiting related.

    As for the bonuses I’m of two minds on the issue. On the one hand it’s a great incentive. On the other, if I’m chasing commissions, might as well chase good ones at an agency rather than the paltry ones usually offered to corporate recruiters. Plus, corporate recruiters often get pulled into tons of non recruiting related activities and projects, and for all practical purposes that’s unavoidable. And, it becomes a hard sell to entice them with a bonus possibility when they are being pulled away on the regular to help with open enrollments or other employee relations issues, which hinders their ability to recruit and get said bonus.

  8. @ Tim: “You’d rather fail at filling something then to pay a fee. What does that cost the company while you try to look effective and competent.” No, I’d rather maximize my income by keeping my job through making my boss look good to HER/HIS boss, and if using a 3PR helps out with that, I’m game.

    “Right person” is an incomplete term. It should be “right person at the price we’re willing to pay in the time we’re willing to take to get them, if we aren’t so terrified of making a less-than-perfect hire that we never hire anyone at all”.

    You know, much of this would be simplified by having hires treated just like any other deliverable hiring managers have: they need to be good hires, on time, within budget, and no excuses. Recruiters would be part of the tools they use to accomplish that, and as the saying goes: “It’s a poor craftsmen who blames his tools.”

    Though not often since the various recessions, I have been incentivized on a per/hire basis a number of times. When a company was serious about using that to encourage hires and not just low-ball my rate (I’ve had that, too), everybody did well, except the 3PRs…

    @ Richard: Thanks again for the reality check of “People (and hiring managers) aren’t as rational as they claim.” Here’s a second-hand story on that: BITD, a friend of mine was working to put contract recruiters into a potential client. He had all the numbers show that they would be an efficient and cost-effective alternative to 3PRs, saving considerable sums of money. However, while the decision-maker agreed with the figures and the analysis, he declined to use the CRs, instead preferring to keep the 3PRs. Why? If they’d used the CRs the cost would have hit one cost-center HARD, and with 3PRs the fees would be scattered across the organization. Here’s an example of being irrationally “penny-wise and pound foolish” or maybe it was the WISE decision for the decision-maker to make, if it made him look good in the eyes of HIS boss…


    Keith Halperin

  9. @Keith
    My guess would be he had more responsibility for that unit that would have been hit. Someone once said, “The cynics are always right.” I’d recommend a book for you, I’m definitely liking it: The Dictionary of Corporate Bull*&%$. It’s good for a chuckle, and has more truth in it than most corporate meetings I’ve been involved with.

    I can understand people’s frustration when observing such things, people wasting money for seemingly irrational reasons. But I think the root of that kind of behavior is the same that drives people to hold on to any belief which is demonstrably wrong, and the same as that which leads people to repeatedly engage in any obviously counter productive behavior. People are only rational in the weak sense, meaning we are goal oriented. We have an end in mind, we do not have perfect information on how to get there, nor are many people even open to receiving and acting on merely adequate information. People tend to form beliefs and act accordingly to reinforce them, and hold on to them even more desperately when they are challenged, and so unproductive, counter productive, and even harmful behavior persists in every system regardless of the best intentions of those involved.

    So if someone sees agencies as the enemy, even if they would be more cost effective in certain circumstances, they will be sidelined in favor of in-house recruiters.

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