No Fences!

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

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

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

And then there is the negative side to this comment.

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Hutsell is a member of the management team at Southwestern Business Resources, Inc. The firm launched in 1982 and since then has provided high caliber talent to a select client list ranging from Fortune 500 to Fortune 100 companies as well as serving the emerging small and medium businesses both nationally and internationally. Visit them at He leads a team at SBR specializing in the attraction, recruitment, and placement of "A talent" IT professionals in various markets throught the United States. His entire career has been focused within the IT industry. He combines previous technical experience with 10 years of recruiting experience to offer the unique value proposition of an IT professional performing IT recruiting. Contact Chuck at 615-391-2714 or


28 Comments on “No Fences!

  1. What a shame. When I started reading this article I was hopeful that it was going to be a genuine exploration of how there can be an effective relationship between corporate and agency recruiters. Alas, it turned out to be just another us vs them review without really exploring the benefits that can be obtained by having great working relationships.

    What really annoys me about this article is he simplistic view taken by the author that there are of course “legitimate reasons” for agency recruiters moving inhouse……and then goes on to state only one possible reason I.e. a stable income. I have been working in internal recruitment for over 10 years and can tell you right now that a “stable income” rates very low on the list of motivators. Having a strategic impact, contributing to the development of an organization and getting to see the long term fruits of my labour are some of the key reasons I choose internal over external.

    To me, this whole article is not much more than a thinly veiled swipe at corporate recruiters; that some how they are not as good as agency recruiters and all on the premise that “if they were any good they would be making tons of money as an agency recruiter”. The author bemoans that there should be no fences, and then in his second last sentence states “The reality is that if you aren’t a client, you are probably a source.” – yep, that’s the way to build trust. Work with me or I’ll hurt your organization.

    Both corporate and agency recruiters have a place and if either party thinks otherwise, then I would hazard a guess that neither is being as effective as they could be.

  2. Shane: I appreciate your comments. No, this was not intended to be a thinly veiled anything at all. In the article I do point out that we both want the same things – what I listed are very similar to the additional reasons you listed.

    The premise you derive from the article I wrote is yours, not mine, I assure you. I know and work with many corporate recruiters who are every bit as good as I am. Some are better than I could be at what they do.

    As for a desire to “hurt” an organization: Nope – not me sir. First: I lack such power; Second: I have no motivation to do so. I was simply trying to state a reality of recruiting. I would assume that when you work a search for your company, you often call candidates who currently perform that role with one of your competitors. It would be presumptious, and most likely incorrect of me to suggest that your primary motivation is to “hurt” your competitor.

  3. I agree with you Shane, and I hope you feel better, Chuck for taking a swipe at Corporate Recruiters.
    I too have been on both sides, Trained and worked with Danny Cahill, the best in the business. I learned all those thoughts you had when I was an angency, such as, HR is just in the way, etc. If you ever do gain the experience of the other side you would be far more tolerant and would have perspective that would help you become that big biller. You may want to try it for awhile, then write another aritcle about how well we work together and how successful this relationship can be. Remember, while you are feeling like we are putting you down, and we aren’t, we are also enjoying strong relationships with the third party recruiters we rely on.
    Now that’s the side of fence you need to get to.

  4. Why do you go to HR or the Corporate Recruiter in the first place? If you start at the top (or at least VP) to present your candidate, you are much more likely to get a positive response, or at the very least a more clear idea of the needs of the company (or department). Some corporate recruiters feel that if they use a 3rd party, management will think that they can’t do the job. Rarely do they have a clear and concise idea of specific needs and “hot buttons” of the hiring manager.

    This, certainly, is NOT rue of all corporate recruiters/HR managers. Many more look at us as a partner/extension to help them look good and do a more effective job for their in-house customers.

  5. “Corporate” recruiters and “Agency” recruiters truly are pursuing the same goal: We both want to identify, attract, recruit, and place the very best candidate for the position we are working on.

    Wrong, Chuck! My motivation is not money; it is building cohesive teams and organizations using a strategic focus. Agencies cannot possibly do the same work that I do; you do not share the same priorities as us ‘corporate’ recruiters.

    I truly respect ‘agency’ recruiters; I did work in that field for a few years and understand how difficult it is and I cannot do my job without them. However, don’t ever think that, in the end, we are pursuing the same goal! Not by a long-shot!

    This is defintely not a ‘thinly veiled swipe’ at corporate recruiters; it is a misinformed rant of a sales person holding a grudge. I only wished I could get back the 3 minutes of my life it took to read this article.

  6. agency recruiters are better, in general.
    You have to be better, by necessity, as Chuck points out or you don’t get paid.
    I would happily debate this with anyone.Your motivation and sales skills are much better, they have to be.

    I worked both sides of “the fence” for fifteen years.
    I once worked for a “Director of Global Recruiting” for a large software company, and wss certain she could never make it in the agency world, based on my observations.She really had no clue how to recruit, and was afraid of the phone. (what?)

    One thing I always ask a corp recruiter if they ever worked as an agency rec. then i know whom I dealing with.

  7. Chuck; thanks for the article, looks like it has sparked a healthy debate.

    I also worked your side of the telephone, for ten years in fact, at a boutique financial services & data processing search firm in Chicago. I did very well there, surviving the 1981-82 recession, the 1986-87 recession and the 1991-92 recession. However I have been on the corporate side for the past 20 years; I left because I wanted to be a part of a team working toward common goals and building a business from the inside. I have had the privilage of leading recruiting teams as small as 2 recruiters and as large as 96 recruiters and I found it much more rewarding than working in the search field.

    After I retire I may well hang out the shingle again and do selected searches on my terms because I love search, but I have found the corporate side much more rewarding at this point in my life.

    Chuck; thanks for writing the article!
    Dan Boyd

  8. The concept of no fences is a great one — but I must agree with many of the comments here. As one who has worked as a contingent, corporate, RPO and now retained specialist recruiter, I’ve felt some of all of what has been said. But now that I have my own firm, I find that my understanding of “all sides,” helps me partner better with my clients – and yes, that often means the internal recruiter or HR leader. Because our goals are the same, the relationship I build with the internal recruiting team CAN be as important as my relationship with the hiring manager/VP. Obviously, there are those corporate recruiters who do view outside firms as “the enemy,” and I simply choose to spend my time elsewhere.

  9. one more thing,

    biggest difference, agency recs. represent passive talent,

    corp, recs, react to postings, internal referrals, etc.

    they simply dont have the time to do what we do

  10. I have been a Corporate Recruiter, a Contract Recruiter and a Contingent Recruiter… I have to say I prefer being a Contingent Recruiter all the way.

    As a Contingency Recruiter I work on the positions I want to fill. I am choosey about my clients and I don’t work a regular schedule. I have not stepped into an office in over 2 years.

    All I have to do is make ONE placement a month and I meet my needs… Two and I have a great month. 25% of $150,000 salary is a nice pay check.

    Thanks but I will be a Contingency Recruiter any day.

    DoD / Intel Recruiter

  11. Excellent article and great follow up comments. With over 25 years of contingent and contract recruiting experience I have experienced much of what has been discussed. I personally do at least one in-house recruiting contract a year to keep my perspective on what the Corporate Recruiters deal with on a daily basis. I find it helps my contingent recruiting by having this understanding and not just a ‘us vs them’ mentality.

    The best corporate recruiters I have worked with tend to have an agency background but don’t feel a need to start every conversation with ‘I used to be on your side of the fence’. They understand that due to internal meetings and other obligations associated with being internal, they can’t fill all critical needs and it is not a crime to ask for outside help. The ones that do start with this statement are not very confident in their abilities, and quite frankly are not very good recruiters regardless of where they are working.

    On the agency side, the recruiters that understand corporations don’t need your help on every need and treat corporate recruiters as a business partner, instead of an advisary tend to be the most sought after.

  12. I too was hoping this would be an article regarding true partnership but oh well, the rodeo will continue.

    I must take exception to Mark Lally’s comments though. You assume that no corporate recruiting department is capable of sourcing passive candidates and that is simply not true. It is how you manage your req load in order to make time for cold calling. It is possible as we do it every day. The two biggest producers on my team come from an agency background and the desire to build a business within an organization and be able to watch the people you bring into the company grow and make a difference is very strong. Not everybody is motivated by the mighty dollar and that does not mean that a corporate recruiter is less capable. I am actually finding agency recruiters to be less impressive and capable than they were even 5 years ago.

  13. Nancy: Whoa! I wasn’t trying to take a “swipe” at anyone. I truly do get the comment I reference in the article every day. I believe that most of the corporate recruiters I know, and all of the ones we have successful working relationships with, appreciate what we do. I most certainly appreciate all that is asked of someone in the corporate recruiting world.

    I was simply trying to get both the positive and negative aspects of this comment out on the table. Believe it or not, some folks who make the comment about “the other side of the fence” are doing it for very negative reasons. You would not be one of those, to be sure, but there are some out there.

  14. Bill Gallop proves my earlier point: the primary motivation for agency recruiters is money, pure and simple.

    And to Mark Lally’s assertion that corporate recruiters don’t seek out passive candidates: wrong! I pride myself on my sourcing skills and find that many of my peers are very active and terrifically successful in hiring and, more importantly, in building organizations with a strategic focus (something that I have yet to see in an agency recruiter) by using primarily passive recruiting.

    Please don’t insult us by saying that agency recruiters represent passive talent and corporate recruiters don’t.

    (one more thing,

    biggest difference, agency recs. represent passive talent,

    corp, recs, react to postings, internal referrals, etc.

    they simply dont have the time to do what we do)

  15. Paul… Damn right I do it for money. Don’t tell me you do it for charity purposes.

    BIG DIFFERENCE… I do it to make a living. I am aggressive and I LOVE what I do. I don’t suffer fools and HR Wonks… that’s why I am a Headhunter.


  16. I am a Corporate recruiter that has worked “both sides of the fence.” 13 years in the Agency side and nearly 5 years on the Corporate side. I have also had the PLEASURE of PARTNERING with the Author Chuck Hutsell from SBR. I agree with the premise about no more fences (I would like to substitute WALLS as a fence you can see through Walls are more solid) even though I have used that Term…. My use of the term is more to say I know where your coming from(I know the frustration you are experiencing etc),rather than to say I am superior in skill to anyone you have on your team.
    In having a successful partnership with Chuck Hutsell where SBR supports my recruiting Effort in the Hosted Managed Services Division of Wipro, I have had many conversations with him that allow me to understand the Tone of some of his comments written in the article that others may have taken differently than Chuck intended. I will add that he made some huge generalizations in the heart of the article about why People become Corporate recruiters. Bottom line Different strokes for different folks. (Hey Chuck where can I get one of those 10 hour day jobs…. as a corporate recruiter YOU KNOW I am pulling 12-14 hour days currently 😉
    There are good Corporate recruiters and bad corporate recruiters, just like there are Good Agency recruiters and bad. To every person on this thread there are different views on the qualities that make them a rockstar or the cream of the CRAP (slingers)in corp recruiting and Agency recruiting.
    Generalizations as a whole are the baine of society and and the Recruitment industry as a subset of that society. Generalizations divide an industry that can coexist if we just focus on building RELATIONSHIPS with Our Customers (internal or external) Candidates, and Partners. Are there Corp Recrutiers that think that they are superior to Agency recruiters….sure. But are we all that way? so goes it with the Agency side (as we saw with Mark who was also guilty about making HUGE Generalizations that widens the gap between corporate and Agency recruiting).

    I go to partners when I need to because of Volume of openings or quite frankly there is a position that I just want another set of eyes on it who may take a different approach. That is not me saying I am not at good as they are…. it is utilizing the resource that my company allows me to go to get the job done… I can partner with an organization Like SBR or the small handful of other Partners I work with.

    Tear down the Wall and build partnerships plain and simple. Avoid the Generalizations. Just because one Corp recruiter is that way does not mean they are all that way (Gate Keepers sounds so negative, but accurate as it is our costs we need to manage so you need to go through us). Just because Some Agency recruiters think they can recruit circles around a corporate recruiter does not mean that all Agency recruiters are pompous that way.
    Put your self in the shoes of your counterpart in that partnership…. I can do it easily…. because just as I started i will finsih….. “I have worked both sides of the Fence.” …. but I wont build or support walls.

    Have a good day all

  17. As a corporate recruiting manager who has also worked in contingent staffing, I read this article hoping that the author would put forth a compelling vision of how corprate and agency recruiters could better partner to deliver great talent quickly.

    Unfortunately this isn’t that article. Instead it seems to be focused on stating how much harder retained/agency recruiters work, how much higher their risk/reward is, etc.

    As a recruiting manager who manages the contingent and direct hire relationships for our company, I work hard to build great partnerships with the select few agencies we work with. Everyone on my team has worked for an agency in their past; it helps us better vet out who will be successful in working with us and know what they will deliver.

    A shame to hear someone on ‘that side of the fence’ write such an article…because it adds zero value to this dialogue other than perpetuating the ‘us vs. them’ stereotypes.

  18. Oh, and Mark Lally:

    With the widespread adoption of tools like LinkedIn Recruiter, I guarantee you that corporate recruiters in many industries (including mine) long ago abandoned ‘post and pray’ recruiting. We’d never fill jobs if that’s all we did. 65-70% of our candidates come from passive sourcing, employee referrals, etc.

  19. Kumbaya

    The grass is always greener.

    I’m sorry but I have a gate, a fence, hedge, wall, boundaries, what ever you want to call it. BUT I help those I prefer to do business with around, through or over. I have these because there are unfortunately renegades, the company requires me to have them and a host of other reasons.

    I’ve swam in speedos (agency)and boardshorts (internal) and love both. I was only very average in speedos, but seem to be doing well in boardies. The opportunity to directly impact an organisations bottom line, influence talent strategies, and see the fruits of your labor are indeed very rewarding. For me, more so than the $$$. Not to mention accountability. I have no wear to hide.

    I admire most recruiters, those with integrity who understand and respect boundaries and I in turn provide them with opportunities.

    In the end you are selling and I am buying. Regardless there will always be a boundary. Thats business. Relationships overcome those boundaries.

    Have a successful day to the agency recruiters and corporate recruiters.


  20. @ Chuck: Thank you. “It is a statistical fact that 9 out of 10 individuals who attempt professional recruiting fail.” Where does that figure come from? What is it based on? What is “professional”? What is “failure”?

    @ ERE authors, commentators: If you come up with a thing like this: a self-claimed “statistical fact” without attribution and I catch it, “I will get downright STATISTICAL on you’ as*! “

    @ Everybody: This argument gets boring- we hear it again and again… Here’re my thoughts/opinions (I’m a Contract Recruiter. BTW) We need EVERYBODY, but need EVERYBODY at a high-level of quality and ability.
    Any recruiting work that you wouldn’t pay $50+/hr for someone to do should not be done onsite-perm-in house. It should be no-sourced, through-sourced, or out-sourced for $6.25/hr or less. What’s left: if it needs to be done on an ongoing basis should be handled in house, if it’s on a temp basis it should be handled on contract, and if it requires very special contacts, knowledge, closing skills, etc., should be handled contingency/retained for 30% fees.
    Now, can we talk about something INTERESTING for a change?



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