Staffing Agency Pitch: “We’re Different.” Employer: Yawn.

Over the last several years I’ve sat through no less than 100 staffing agency “pitches” in person or over the phone. At this point these meetings have begun to all sound very similar, so I’ll bucket agency sales pitches in to these three areas.

“We’re Different.” Almost every agency says they have a special/unique process for reviewing resumes, sourcing candidates, and access to candidates that sets them apart from their competitors. From my experience I’ve not really seen the impact of their “unique” process in the candidates they’ve submitted. Additionally, most agencies don’t appear to have a thorough understanding of their competition. At some point in almost every vendor meeting someone says that they don’t push paper like “everyone else.” I would encourage vendors to have a much more in-depth understanding of the competitive landscape before they make such broad sweeping indictments of their competitors.

“We Build Relationships.” Every vendor I’ve ever sat down with has said they build meaningful relationships with managers and they “get” our business unlike any other vendor in town. As a result they tell me they have the ability to make a cultural fit for our organization. To this statement I like to ask: “Give me an example as to how you screen for cultural fit.” I’ve been underwhelmed by the answers I get.

“We Have a Proprietary Database.” I’ve heard this one a million times. Vendor ABC has a database of millions of qualified/ interested candidates at their beck and call to fill contract needs. I don’t doubt they have a long list of former contractors they’ve placed, but in my experience most contractors don’t feel the same level of loyalty to their staffing agency. Most contractors are more interested in the type of work, the end client, and compensation. And before you rebut, I will concede there are notable exceptions to this point, but overall, it’s correct.

You’re Nothing Special

Overall my experience is that candidate screening is indeed not that different; that staffing agencies do not have a special candidate database (why, then do I get the same candidate submitted by different vendors all the time?); and your partnership with me is not that strong. In fact, too many vendors treat me as someone to work around than to work with.

Here are my suggestions:

Talk about your recruiting process: In the end, aren’t we hiring a staffing partner to do something we aren’t/can’t do internally? It drives me nuts to see agencies post client requisitions on job boards. This is NOT a value-added partnership. I can purchase a CareerBuilder posting and screen the candidates who apply. More recently I’ve really pushed vendors to talk in depth about their recruiting process. The responses are truly varied. I will absolutely select a staffing vendor based on the depth of their recruiting process.

What actually makes you different? In 15 seconds tell me why you are a truly different partner (without emphasizing any of the three items I mentioned above) and why I would be insane NOT to work with you as a staffing partner. Give me a truly compelling case. If you can’t, then you aren’t any different than the other 10 agencies that will be calling me this week.

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Don’t over-promise: Not a lot more to add to this, but on my side of the fence, this is a continually painful part of vendor interaction. If you can’t fill the role, or it’s not something you’ve worked on before, tell me. I’ll respect your honesty, and in the long run you’ll get more work.

Turnover: I want to deal with the same person each and every time I call. Additionally, I do not want to have to re-train my account rep every six months because you have retention issues.

This leads to a second challenge: too many newbies. Most recruiting agencies fill most of their recruiting positions with new college grads and then do not support their development appropriately. In short, these new recruiters don’t know how to recruit OR maintain relationships (reference my previous challenges). As a result, I now ask to meet everyone who will be working with my team to fill external needs. I want to meet the manager, account rep, and recruiters that my managers will be talking with.

We do value relationships (on our terms). My last point, is that I truly do believe staffing agencies can add tremendous value to the talent acquisition landscape of organization. I value true experts who do real recruiting and respect my role in the process and organization.


Matt Lowney is the CEO of Practice Recruiters and The Recruiting Call Center. He was previously the EVP of talent & operations at The Buntin Group, Tennessee’s largest advertising agency. Prior, he was director of recruiting for HealthSpring and recruiting manager at DaVita. Connect with him at


9 Comments on “Staffing Agency Pitch: “We’re Different.” Employer: Yawn.

  1. Well said Matt – nice glimpse to the other side of the phone line. I get the best results when I know that I am marketing to someone in my search niche. I recruit Mechanical Engineers into medical device manufacturers in 5-7 geographical markets. My pitch is simply that I worked in the industry for a leading manufacturer then started recruiting in the same industry 10 years ago.

    I hate to own it but I do remember making some of those calls about being different and having proprietary databases – bad memories!!

  2. Thank you for your brutal honesty. I need to carefully think through what I say on the phone so that these glib phrases don’t slip out.
    One thing that you pointed out was a big encouragement to me: how important it is to be able to talk with the same experienced recruiter month after month, year after year. My recruiting associates have been with me for over 5 years. That is a valuable thing these days.

  3. Matt,

    You sound like someone who used to be a headhunter and couldn’t make it, so now you’re working in the HR Department, um, excuse me, “Talent and Operations Department” of a regional ad agency. My W-2 will be north of $250K this year – how ’bout you, Matt?

  4. Matt, I found your article very interesting. I guess the only thing that differentiates me, is that I never pitch for new business. All of my new clients come from recommendations.

  5. For $60 hr market pay you guys offer $30 and want a unique recruiting process and all bells and whistles…. bullSh#

    1. You are right.
      Corporate HR sometimes have unrealistic expectation. and the main thing is that they don’t even share what is their expectation. Recruiter keep sourcing and they keep rejecting on the basis of experience or sometimes salary, age, etc.
      Sometimes I so amazed that a normal recruiter rejects VP Finance/VP Marketing on technical ground, can you imagine this? Now when we tell the candidate that the recruiter have rejected you technically, they are like “wtf? they do’t even know Finance/Marketing and I was rejected technically?”
      Second thing comes on stability of the applicants. When Corporate HR looks for the candidates by themselves, they don’t care about the stability of the applicant. But when the similar candidate is shared by the Recruitment agency, they will never accept them. They just keep them on their database(as we all know that when agency sources candidates, it will be considered agency’s sourcing for a period of 6 months and after that it would be company’s candidate) and contact back to them later. I came across these kind of incident thousand of times.

  6. Hi Matt,
    I enjoyed your article. I have both recruited and managed teams of recruiters in 4 different agencies from the worlds largest to smaller boutique companies. In my experience regardless as the agency your recruiter works for the only point of difference that your agent can offer is their personal ethics, their depth of knowledge about your role/company/industry, How well networked they are and the endeavour they are prepared to put in to fulfilling you brief. Matt, none of these things are a function of the firm that recruiter works for. Asking what makes their agency different is a nonsense question designed to put the recruiter under pressure. There are certainly some poorly managed companies who hire the wrong calibre of candidate but in the main from agency to agency there is no significant difference, the difference lies with the agent.
    I was a client before I was a recruiter and so I entered recruitment thinking that it would be easy to do it better. The fact is working in recruitment agency-land is not as easy as you think. Clients have high expectations but won’t tell you what they are. Instead of partnering with you to telling you what specifically they expect from you, they ask you and 20 other recruiters to sing for your supper. The clients are looking for wow factor and intangibles???
    Matt better you should choose and agent that you feel is a cultural match for your business and then tell that agent what your expectations are. Have an agreed call cycle, and put a service level agreement in place. Meet once a quarter to provide feedback as to where they have met expectations and what areas you need them to improve. Your commitment to them will see them commit to you and ultimately they will get better and better at making matches and filling briefs in a timely fashion. When they miss the mark provide feedback. Partnership is a two way street. If the agent you choose doesn’t meet your expectations after you have persisted for a time then let them go and choose someone else to but don’t abandon the plan.

    Happy hiring!


  7. I’m very late to this discussion because Matt just posted an article (about his decision to leave corporate recruiting and run a third party firm I believe) and linked to this. I actually think there’s some great truth to this article and his recommendations shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. I’d add one very important one: focus on our submission to interview ratios. There are many different terms for this and many different ways to measure it (phone interviews, in person interviews, etc), but a rapidly growing number of companies have the ability to measure this ratio and use it as a measure of headhunter quality.

  8. Damn straight I want to get around you in your old role. You’re a “gatekeeper” and those of us who are good at this know to go directly to the hiring manager, even in cases when you’re “NOT ALLOWED!!!” (Goldman Sachs) to speak to a hiring manager.

    Why on earth would I want to pitch anyone but the person who is going to make the ultimate decision to be put on the list? It’s a waste of time, a waste of energy and you will never, ever get “it.”

    You’ll get the same resume because that’s who is on the market. Sometimes they’ll be best in class, sometimes they’ll be from the crappy recruiters who still send job board candidates and sometimes, at one point, those best in class guys will have put their old resumes on job boards, gotten calls over the years from several recruiters they liked and sent updated resumes.

    As an IT recruiter, I know you know NOTHING about the job, and that’s what it’s all about, the ability to fill that first role. That’s my ticket in, not your approval. I’m a salesman, but I’m also a skilled recruiter who is trained in how to get the best in breed from their current job into a seat at your company. So selling you is kind of like talking to the girl’s mother at church instead of hitting on the girl.

    No offense.

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