The Corporate Recruiter’s Guide to Competing with Agency Recruiters

This article originally appeared January 17, 2007.

Agency folks tend to see the corporate world as bureaucratic and slow to make decisions; more specifically, they see most corporate recruiters as lacking the requisite skills and bare-knuckle tactics required to make things happen.

On the other hand, corporate recruiters tend to see agency people as mercenary, often unable to be trusted, and as slick salespeople who just want to close the deal.

As someone who has been on both sides, I smile as I write this, as I can assure you that both perceptions are, to a great degree, correct.

Many corporate recruiters want to compete with their agency brethren, but this lofty achievement is akin to losing weight; so very optimistic for the first few days but ultimately not doable because losing weight is so very hard to do.

Sadly, so is competing with agency recruiters, because you have to think differently if you want to be different, and most corporate recruiters will have to be very different to make this transition.

For openers, I urge you to consider the following concept as it relates to money, the ultimate driver of our behavior. If it makes you shiver to the bone, consider it your introduction to the agency way of thinking and doing business.

Article Continues Below

Forget the comfortable paycheck. There is no meaningful check to speak of, so let’s think on terms of a pay-cut to the tune of 75%. You must close deals to get paid, because you are no longer in the business of trying to make hires; you are in the business of getting it done, because that’s how agencies make money. No deals equals no money; no money equals no food. (See “Eat What You Kill: Using the Sales Model to Improve Your Recruiting” for further insight.)

Now that compensation is out of the way, consider the following tenets, presented as two categories, Attitude/Mindset and Action/Task, as tools for the change required if you really want to make this transition to more effective recruiting:

Attitude/Mindset: Change How You Think

  • Push hard. If you want to compete, come to work on fire every day and be the driving force behind moving every deal forward as far as possible; every? single? day because a deal that sits is a deal that dies. If you are not making a hiring manager a bit crazy, you are probably not pushing hard enough. (Believe me, they will not fire you for getting people hired, but they just might if you don’t! Agency people make placements first and friends second! If hiring managers are not responsive, see “8 Secrets to Dealing with Non-Responsive Hiring Managers”.)
  • Reject “I don’t know.” Hiring managers must know, because you can’t do your job of getting people hired without their direction. An “I don’t know” means no forward progress, and that is not good. If you want to compete, find out what the candidate is thinking as fast as possible, and then do the same with the hiring manager. Catch them both right after the interview; they are busy but so are you. I often wonder why recruiters act as though the time of the hiring manager is more important then their own. (See “Recruiters as Business Builders”.) Ask the hiring manager, “Can the candidate do the job?” If the candidate can do the job, you should be talking with the hiring manager about moving forward. If the candidate can’t do the job, determine why and adjust your recruiting as it relates to future candidates.
  • Turn “I don’t know” into “I do know.” Some hiring managers simply do not know and never will until it is too late, so these folks need your help. (Ever have one come to you a few weeks after a candidate has practically died of old age asking if they can make them an offer?) Not knowing is incongruous with the reality of business, as they are managers and as such they are running a business and making decisions is part of their job. (Think Gates or Jobs can make decisions, or do you think they just mull things over for a few weeks?) However, if they really do not know, help them. Use the line I use: “Ok, let’s go through this together.” Sit with them for awhile and go over the requirements they laid out in the position profile, asking whether that person has that skill and to what degree. Next, look at the experience they requested and go over the candidate’s background from that perspective, one type of experience at a time. Lead the hiring manager in this way and you will help them to think things through in terms of what they really need, and help them to come to a decision on what to do with that candidate. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a totally different search profile, but do not be disturbed either, as it might be the first time anyone helped the manager to think through what they really need in the candidate you are trying to locate.
  • No sleeping. The answer, “I just need to sleep on it for a few days” makes me nuts. There’s little to gain from sleeping on it. On the other hand, if the hiring manager needs more information to make a decision, that’s acceptable. Have they used JAVA Beans in financial applications? Did they design comp packages in a team or alone? Can they speak Chinese? What version of SAP do they use? It does not matter what they need to know; get it and get it fast. Before you run out the door, ask the hiring manager, “When I get you this information, will you be prepared to make a decision as to a next step?” If the answer is yes, get the information. If the answer is no, ask the hiring manager, “What other information do you need such that when I come back from my conversation with the candidate, you will be able to make a decision on the next step?”
  • When talking to candidates, understand that “no” simply means “maybe.” This bullet alone can fill multiple articles and most books on sales will back up my statement. No is a normal reaction to the unexpected call from the recruiter. No is simply what the candidate says when they have no idea what else to say. Frankly, no is not a word I can relate to. How can you decline if you do not even know what you are saying no to in the first place? “No” is an invitation to listen, probe, and continue the conversation. Getting to “yes” is part of every salesperson’s job and the first “no” is just the starting point in the process of meaningful dialogue and the presentation of a great opportunity.

Action/Task: Change What You Do

  • Ask pointed questions. It is the job of an agency person, after an interview, to find out whether the candidate is “up” or “down.” Up is ready for the next step; down is no longer under consideration. Let’s assume that the interview is over, you have spoken to the candidate, and they are interested in moving forward. That means the candidate has made a decision and now it is the responsibility of the hiring manager to do the same. To determine the next step as it relates to the candidate, ask about their reaction, the next step, and what you should tell the candidate. If they do not have the answers right after the interview, that is okay, but they need to have them within a day or two. John F. Kennedy once said, “Not to decide is to decide.” Please do not let this be your fate.
  • Play take-a-way. At times, the managers will simply not be able to make a decision, and as a result, you are stuck. To get unstuck, tell the hiring manager, “I have an idea: let me give the candidate a call and tell them you are not interested.” Then get up and head to the nearest phone. If the manager agrees, you have saved a ton of time and grief. If the manager balks, there is your decision. It may be forcing a decision, but at times, it simply must be done.
  • Send fewer but better candidates. In my days in the agency business, you sent three qualified candidates. More is not better, because the hiring manager begins to forget which candidate did what and loses the ability to put a face with a name. Give a hiring manager 20 great candidates and it will be a long time before you see a decision or a placement. Provide three great candidates who can do the job, and be done with it.
  • Get on the phone. I know you’re tired of hearing how in the old days we had no shoes and ate catsup sandwiches without bread. But trust me, there was no Internet and no computers. As a result, we became great on the phone or we left the business. Agency recruiters are running and gunning all day long, and the phone is a big part of how to make things happen. You connect on the phone, form relationships, share a laugh, convey urgency, and establish trust. Your phone line is your life line and link to the candidates you need to reach. That will never happen in an email.
  • Learn to source passive candidates. It is hard to get on the phone if you have no one to call so I strongly suggest you take a workshop to become a Certified Internet Recruiter.
  • No more meetings (almost). In my days in the agency business, aside from weekly training, we had two meetings per week totaling approximately 60 minutes. First, we met Monday mornings to discuss who on the team was going after what new accounts. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, we discussed candidates in play and next-step strategies. (Heaven help the agent who had nothing new to report.) Of course, it is good to spend time with hiring managers in short meetings, but the rule of the day is simple: if the time spent in the meeting does not support coaching on recruiting issues or closing deals, you should be using your time on things that support filling positions.
  • Do a great interview. Read “10 Things Recruiters Should Know About Every Candidate They Interview”. The more you know about the candidate you are representing, the more things will fall into place.
  • Forget active or passive candidates. Learn to think in terms of candidates who are qualified or not qualified. Your job is to find the best candidate for the job and close the deal; great candidates come from many different places.
  • Give great service. I tell clients they can call me anytime, and I do mean anytime. Respond instantly to hiring managers, always knowing the when and what of the next step in the process. Then, make that next step happen.
  • Know the process or develop one. Everything goes better if there is a process in place because it removes the unknown for the candidate, gives the hiring manager a road map to follow, and helps you maintain some degree of control. According to Scott Weston, author of HR Excellence, “Having and articulating a hiring process means the recruiter needs to act as a project manager; be able to establish a rough timeline with a series of milestones for each stage of the process. This makes the process clear for everyone involved, sets reasonable expectations, and encourages joint accountability with hiring managers.”
  • Sell the company. Agents start selling the opportunity and company as soon as they see that the candidate is viable. You need to do the same because if you do not create a dramatic value proposition, there is no reason for the candidate to change jobs. Read “Selling the Company” for more information.
  • Be up on changes in the candidate’s life. If you think that the candidate will always volunteer this information because you have a “great relationship” with them, you are in for a surprise. Read “What Has Changed Since Last We Spoke?” for more information.
  • Control the offer. Pre-close the candidate before the offer is made, and do all that you can to be the one to make the offer. If you can’t actually make the offer, try to understand what the offer is before it is made. Hiring managers will, for reasons that are all over the board, do things such as lowball candidates or change titles. This might not bother you, but to those who are sensitive to these considerations, it can kill the deal really quickly. You have probably worked far too hard to lose a deal in the 11th hour. Control the offer and you increase your chances of a successful placement. (See “Close the Deal and Land the Candidate” for added insight.)
  • Prepare for counteroffers. There are few things more painful than getting that phone call on a Sunday night from the candidate declining the offer. It is even worse when you know that you did not fully prepare for the counteroffer. Honestly, it is a debilitating event that can send you spinning. Read “What Great Recruiters Do to Prevent Counteroffers” to get the full story.
  • Say you’re sorry. If you are as successful as the best agency people, you will at times step on some toes in your attempt to make things happen. In the event that anyone might be miffed, tell them you are sorry if you drove them crazy. Explain that making hires can be stressful. Soon, the new candidate you hired will begin to do great work and make the hiring manager so happy they had you to make this hire happen. Bottom line? They will get over it.

The reality is that not all corporate recruiters will be able to make all of these changes. If I were not an agency recruiter in the days when my kids needed shoes, I might not be able to do it either.

However, all of us can become better to one degree or another, and I do believe it is worth a try if you really want to compete with those in the agency business. Besides, if you get good at this, you can always go over to the agency side and at times, double your income.

Regardless of where your career takes you, it is nice to know you can compete at a higher and more effective level.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at


25 Comments on “The Corporate Recruiter’s Guide to Competing with Agency Recruiters

  1. Howard,

    You forgot to mention two things: How do we overcome the large volume of hiring needs at any one time (see: give great service)also, how do we overcome the amount of tedious admin associated with corp recruiting.

    Apart from those two questions, what a truly great article.. change your mindset, change the world. I thought that your comments about pushing hard on managers was apt, but sometimes can get you in heaps o trouble… ah well, upwards and onwards.

  2. Eamonn is dead-on — this is an outstanding article, but from my own experience (having been on both sides of the plate as well), what really trips up corporate recruiters are the volume of openings at any given time and the administrivia that is required by the corporation. Of course, this all comes back to doing what’s best for the business. If handling too many openings and not having administrative support are keeping corporate recruiters from being productive, they absolutely must make the business case for why things need to change or be doomed to taking the administrative back seat in the hiring process.

    On another note, I’m always a little peeved that articles like these tend to focus on what’s wrong with corporate recruiters and how they must do all the changing. There is a pervasive atmosphere on ERE that corporate recruiters equals bad recruiting. I simply have not found this to be the case. In fact, I have seen and worked with just as many bad agency recruiters as corporate recruiters. ERE — how about an article on how the agency recruiters can change to help make the hiring process go more quickly and smoothly??

  3. As a TPR (Third Party Recruiter), I enjoyed reading everything in your article except the title. A better choice would be ‘The Corporate Recruiter’s Guide to Partnering with Agency Recruiters’ or ‘The Corporate Recruiter’s Guide to Learning from Agency Recruiters?’ As ERE recently purchased the Fordyce Letter (The industry bible for Agency Recruiters), it’s time to finally recognize that the Corporates recruiters are not my competition, they are my CLIENT. Get it?

  4. Karen:

    Agency recruiters are, for the purposes of the article, the default standard for success in recruiting. We don’t have a higher example, even though many of us are far from perfect, we are the best there is. No amount of ‘buts’ will change that, no argument, no system, no methods.

    Self-supporting and self-directing, agency recruiters have a freedom of action unknown in the corporate world and so, can change without petition,supplication or sacrifice.

    So,given that condition, what would we, as a body, change?

  5. Great article with excellent advice for a corporate recruiter. The adjustments you recommend are often difficult due to the tunnel vision of most corporate management when it comes to recruiting. The precarious belief that recruiting should be ?lumped? into the HR department is dangerous. It is a specialized function that requires a dedicated effort by focused and highly trained ?recruiting? professionals. It unfairly positions a typical HR professional who is often more of a generalist with numerous demands on their time. Additional, corporate recruiting departments need to take a lesson from their brethren in the marketing and finance groups. They identify strengths within their respective fields and regularly outsource specialized work to business partners ? i.e. the use of Public Relations and Accounting firms.

  6. I certainly agree with Howard that there is some truth in both sides’ perceptions. There were a few statements in Howard’s article that helped underscore some of those different perspectives to me:
    ‘Agency people make placements first and friends second!’

    ‘If you are as successful as the best agency people, you will at times step on some toes in your attempt to make things happen.’

    As a generalist who handles recruitment for state agencies, I’ve got to give a lot of consideration about the attitude and behaviors in partnering with my hiring managers – because after all, I WILL be working with them and their new hires in the future. As an agency recruiter, you really don’t deal with the days to day internal issues….employee relations issues from a poor hire, departmental issues related to new hire’s interpersonal or communication style, etc. You’ve led the person to the corporation, they’ve decided whom to hire, and that’s the end (I am simplifying this – I know that good hires result in continued services for the agency recruiters.)

    I agree that in a position like an HR generalist, the multiple focus does not allow the time necessary to cultivate recruitment efforts VERY successfully. You certainly can be successful – but SO much more is out there. I definitely appreciate ERE articles and agency and corporate recruiters responses. It substantially helps me in creatively operating within the government structure I work within.

    Thanks for the article!

  7. I totally agree with Karen Price, Director of Staffing at SAIC. The Corporate Recruiters on my staff, who mainly perform direct source, cold call Recruiting for the most part came from the Agency world and were highly qualified and successful in that realm. Yet, for some reason, field managers seem to give more credibility to external Agency Recruiters. Part of the reason is that an external agency Recruiter can focus on one employer at a time, and can present the same candidate to a number of different employers. Internal Recruiters, due to severe time limitations, can rarely do this.

    The perception field managers often get is that internal Recruiters do not spend enough time on THEIR openings, while external Agency Recruiters are focusing all of their attention ONLY on a particular manager. We who have been in Recruiting for quite a while realize that this is a false perception. The reality is that a limited staff of Corporate Recruiters have many openings to fill for a variety of different managers. The reality is also that Agency Recruiters (if they are fortunate)have many job orders to fill, but often for a variety of companies. Their time to assist a particular manager in a targeted company is also very limited, but when they are focusing on a particular manager and company, they often do a good job of making that manager feel that he/she is the only client they are working with and that they have all the Recruiter’s attention. A final reality is that managers get calls from many Recruiters and agencies, and that somehow leaves them with the underlying perception that agency Recruiters are more attentive and on the ball, and contact them more often than internal Recruiters do regarding manager recruitment needs.

    Somehow we have to get the word out to line managers that our Corporate Recruiters are every bit as competent as their Agency counterparts, but simply stretched too thin when it comes to supporting hundreds of managers on a national scale. Also, until staffs of internal Recruiters can be built to sufficient levels to effectively support field management (which for cost overhead and other reasons will likely never be the case in any Corporation-even in one as excellent, people-oriented and recruitment-savvy as GMAC Mortgage), it will be important for field managers to continue their critical role as part time Recruiters and perform a majority of the recruitment duties themselves, using internal Recruiters, and occasionally, at a high cost, external Recruiters as a support and adjunct to their own recruitment efforts.

  8. This is a great Conversation, and Bill, really did want to address your comments

    Recently I have been asked to have my own recruiting talk show.. we are not advertising for a few more weeks; Anyways, I have done several interviews with several of the Gurus of this industry, Howard included, there has been a consistent message that they all seemed to have a consistent belief and agreement on –

    If TPR?s or corporate recruiters don?t take a personal look at our industry, and become accountable for our behaviors we are really going to have some problems in the future. Companies will be demanding more from us than just candidates. They will start demanding more accountability.

    Your comment struck a chord with me – Is there a Default standard to recruiting? is there really a lack of information for recruiters to really become ?better? in our functions in how we work with Clients and Candidates? No, I don?t think so.. We have excellent code of ethics for the individuals who chose to find it. Just like there is excellent knowledge, education and training.. But, the problem is.. who is looking?

    Recruiting is like any business, and with any business there comes Common Standards and Etiquette on how to treat people and work together.. Yet many of us who do this job seem to bring an arrogance into this industry that is like a big Pink Elephant in this industry. We feel that because we are recruiters, and Just doing our job certain rules don?t apply to us.. No, because we are just trying to earn an income..

    Here is a catch 22 for this industry hen we talk about ethics, standards, and the value of excellence in our work — We are darned if we talk about it, and we are darned if we don?t. The moment this conversation gets going, and starts about ways to improve, the quicker it will disappear..

    Talk about ethics in this industry and Wow, the assault will follow.. Talk about treating our clients and candidates with more honesty, candor, and respect.. and the bulls will rage

    There are two sides to this coin, agencies and corporate. There are many on both sides of the coin that have a lot to learn about their industry.. The problem is, how does one convince another there are better ways? How do we come to grips that companies that we are teaching those companies to start expecting more, than just the shoving of paper, and the creation of databases? But, more instead on quality, not quantity?

    Doug Beabout recently did a podcast with Jim Stroud and I, this is available to download, and he mentions some of these issues.. it is worth the listen.

    Howard, this was an excellent article..


  9. I love ERE!! I love the interaction that takes place between a large and diverse group of professionals who are all just wonderful and helpful people here to impart their knowledge on others in order to make our world work better, smoother and more successfully……Having said that…… I guess my 2 cents worth would be simply this. Agency Recruiters are from Mars and Corporate Recruiters are from Venus! I’m sure most of you can appreciate the statement…Men are men and women are women, we will never know what it’s like to have a baby and they will never know what we go through either…we can only rely on the others description and accounting of the experience??It applies to this partnership of necessity as well. It would require everyone (and I mean absolutely everyone) to walk that mile in each others shoes to even begin to understand the complexities of the others world….and even if that were possible (it’s not) it still wouldn’t address the plain and simple fact that the two just don’t operate under the same conditions, rules or time frames. Howard stated ‘If I became a corporate recruiter tomorrow, I would do the following things, from avoiding meetings to using the phone more than email, to start me on the road to being as effective as an agency recruiter.’ Personally, if I were to become a corporate recruiter tomorrow I would be too busy grasping at floaty things as they passed by so I could keep from drowning! I’m pretty sure they would be doing the same. Maybe it would be an excellent practice, or experiment if you will, to require a swap of duties for a month whenever a contract is signed!!?? I know…not even possible. Point is…some things will never change and that is one of them…we’ll always be from different planets, needing each other desperately, trying to please the other with out knowing what the other one is really thinking, some establishing good relationships, some bad, all tenuous at best. The single most important ingredient in order for the whole thing to work??? Communication, Communication, Communication…It’s all such an interesting parallel don’t you think?? 😉

  10. You are absolutely 1000% right!! I have worked as an executive recruiter and as a corporate recruiter and manager. They are completely two different worlds — doesn’t mean one is ‘better’ than the other or even more successful than the other. A TPR friend of mine took a temporary assignment as a corporate recruiter and told me it was the most eye opening experience he’s ever had. Partnership and true, honest communication between the two sides are what will ultimately make the difference.

  11. Howard,
    In reading your articles is reminds me that there is definitely no ‘perfect environment’ Whether on the inside or outside, the frustrations seem to be the same. I have learned most of what you share in the first 5 years, but pulling your hair out and not letting the stress get to you can be a challenge. I use the same priciples (‘Give ’em two (resumes) and see what they DO), I use the CPP (Consistently, politely persistant) method of process movement. I used to think that my job as a recruiter was to help companies find people and people find the right companies. But when I realized (shortly after the 1st year) that my TRUE function was to aid managers too busy to do the job function that would benefit them the most (having more employees to get the work done, although more reviews and administrative tasks) and interrupting the life of a too busy candidate to walk through the unfamiliar terrain of an interview with a company they probably have not dealt with before, the job got easier. My real task is to manage a hiring process and to be a ‘nudge’ to get both sides throught the process. That said, you sound like you have really ‘paid your dues’ and I hope the rest of the efforts are paying off handsomly, you deserve the break from the insanity of the recruiting world after a 20 year stint. :). Tim.

  12. Kudos Howard.

    These two groups will likely remain dichotomous for eternity. While each shares a portion of their title, the differences emerge rather quickly.

    In the armed forces, there is a similar dichotomy between the infantry and non-infantry. Both have the same end in mind, but both go about achieving it in vastly different ways.

    I read your article and footnoted articles, as well.

  13. If we went to the advertising department or PR departments of a corporation, rather than the staffing department, would we see articles discussing corporate vs agencies? I doubt it. What company of any size does not have advertising people on the payroll? But that same company has at least one advertising agency on contract. In fact, the staffing department probably is working with an advertising agency as well. The corporate recruiters could write their own ads, development their own advertising plans and concepts, and place the ads themselves. But I never see an article like Howard’s regarding advertising agencies.
    Although Howard makes some excellent points, it seems to me,
    the article would be better served if it discussed how corporate rectruiters could make better use of TPR’s, and how TPR’s can add value to their clients.
    Corporate recruiters have many tools to use to fill openings. The key for them is to use the correct tool for each opening. No one tool is correct for all openings. The key to that job is mastering the correct use of each tool, not trying to replace each tool themselves.

  14. As I said before, the one thing that I sense from Corporate Recruiting agencies is a sense that they ‘know it all’ or ‘are the best’ (they don’t need help of any kind) which clearly is not true. Some organizations believe their corporate recruiting function is so well functioning that they don’t need outside assistance of any kind – assistance ranging from external agency support or external training. Inevitably some are, but not ALL. Regarding the admin work, if too much of the job is ‘admin’ oriented then the department should review whether hiring a support person is warranted. This strangely makes more of a case for engaging external agencies also…hm?

    It is worth noting that many corporate recruiting teams were formed/comprised by people who came out of agencies originally! The attitude that the external agencies compete is off-base to a degree, I believe that depends on the company.

    Like Marketing where people flow between agency positions, independent positions, and corporate, this does NOT mean that external support isn’t to be invested in. Corporate marketing departments outsource certain support functions for cost, specialist, time, and quality reasons. Corporate marketing turns to external agencies that have a niche to help produce the end product required for overall departmental success. Training is something that marketing folks at both corporate and agency level invest in to keep up with changing environments AND promote development. Those who do not build skills or adapt accordingly, do not stay in the profession.

    I view the recruiting function similiarly. Many corporate recruiting folks need to change the, ‘arrogant’ mindset that they are the best, most seasoned, top – because many, many corporate organizations (and many within the same industry) say the same thing. They deny themselves the competitive advantage of surpassing others by engaging the right external agencies or developmental consultants.

    Kudos, on the other hand, to those corporate folks (and there are many) who DO bring in external help when needed (in a partnering fashion) and provide on-going training and development for their staff. These are people that will continue to grow and succeed in their profession and help their employers succeed in the ever-competitive environment.

  15. I never quite understand why Corp Recruiters dont manage recruiters like they would any resource. If you have many openings to fill I would rather take the approach of being successful filling them all with all the tools available to me, then trying to fill them myself only or with little outside help. As a business owner I would reward a person for getting their job done, more than slowing down a critical process.

  16. I find that I both love and hate this article each time I read it.

    I have worked as both an Agency Recruiter as well as a Corporate Recruiter (still do in fact). There are merits and maladies aplenty within either role which are highly dependent on the individual and the culture in which they work.

    I think what troubles me the most is the very notion that there is an either/or approach. Someone made mention of the ‘default standard for success’. I suppose I could accept that the agency recruiter is the model on which the article is based, however I can’t agree that it is the ‘default standard for success’.

    Perhaps therein lies the biggest problem. As a profession, there really is no definition of the default standard. We lack a harmonized standard of measure so common in other professions (think CPA, , CFA, CLU, or any other recognized Licensure or Certification). If we fail to set the standard of success, then it is easy to justify (often read rationalize), all manor of behavior. I think the number one reason we choose not set set that professional standard through licesnure of harmonized certification is the fear of fees and taxations. I think a close second is that this would require a codification of acceptable behavior – and that opens the often venomous debate of ethics in conduct. Really not going there today.

    Another issue for me is the notion of competition between Corporate and Agency Recruiter. As I see it, we share a common goal – get the position filled with the best talent to solve the business needs as quickly as possible for the client. For the Agency Recruiter that means getting your billings, for the Corp Recruiter it means keeping your job (and getting strong performance ratings), and in some more progressive companies, it means bonus/incentive dollars.

    If we engage an Agency, we are not competing with them – we are inviting them to partner with us to provide a solution. If we don’t engage an agency, there is no competition because the agency is not involved.

    I can agree that we might be competing to land the best talent for our clients. That said, when I am working with an Agency, I am the client, so there can be no competition (see above paragraph).

    There was also the question of what could/should Agency Recruiters change. How about not going outside of the client’s process when that includes working through HR/Corporate Recruiting? The Corp Recruiter as a professional, should make access to the HM easier, smoother, and often more consistant for the Agency Recruiter. How about partnering with the Corp Recruiter on communicating compensation, benefits, etc. so that no unrealistic promises or expectations are created in the mind of the candidate?

    As a manager of other recruiters, when I look to add to my team, my ideal candidate has experience in both worlds.

    I have more thoughts (thankfully), but perhaps I should simply put them into an article on how Agency Recruiters can better serve the needs of their clients.

  17. Todd,

    ‘I think a close second is that this would require a codification of acceptable behavior – and that opens the often venomous debate of ethics in conduct. Really not going there today.’

    I’ll go there today … 🙂

    Is it possible that recruiting in general would be brought to a screeching halt if an enforceable code of ethical conduct were somehow put in place?

  18. Good article. The corporate recruiter has two advantages over agency recruiters. First, they are INSIDE and have direct and easy access to the hiring manager. Second, if they fill the job there is a serious cost-avoidance of the agency fee. This article does a good job of describing what the corporate recruiter needs to do to compete. But, to win the competition, the corporate recruiter needs to MAKE THE AGENCY RECRUITERS..AND THEIR FEES…UNNECESSARY. That’s the only way to win. Remember, the prime directive is to FILL THE JOB. The hiring manager often does not care how the job is filled..and sometimes cost is not a consideration. Results count..not effort.

  19. Benton,

    I would add (in the IT world I live in) that MOST of the time nowadays, the IT manager does in fact care about the cost consideration- since we as managers are now running our own P&L’s and are being compensated based on EBITDA,
    and the profits associated with running a profit center as oppossed to running a ‘cost’ center.

    As a manager who ran several large ERP implementations in the past this is what I had to balance when using TPR’s, especially if I hired 2-3 people in a month for ‘projects in the sales pipeline’ (I used to call them pipedreams)and the effects of not just the salaries and compensation, but the bench time and the recruiting ‘costs’ which hit my bottom line at the end of the month.
    This is a cycle that is not for the faint of heart and one that must be managed so as to not blow out the ‘budget’

    I have several large clients where even the internal HR and corporate recruiters (at least up the food chain anyway) are looking at this as well, and those of us who have been around for awhile will remember that HR was viewed many times as a ‘cost center’- ask any AP person as to what ‘bucket’ HR and recruiting usually is paid out of- and this will help define the relationship.

    So, if you ask this simple question up-front- ‘Does your team run a P&L?’ (or the end user manager you are working with) then you have a whole set of reasons to understand whether YOU as a recruiter add value to the ‘bottom line’

    Especially if the position you are recruiting for ADDS to the bottom line (i.e. new product development that is running behind in a publicly traded company where shareholders want to know when product X is being delivered, a back-fill for an implementation that is running behind when the daily rate is NOT being recognized to the bottom line, etc…)

    I wrote about this way back in the early 2000’s and was covered by InformationWeek, but I can only write about the IT side of the house, and yours may be completely different.

  20. With all due respect – Being ‘on the inside’ alone does not an advantage make. I know of many ‘inside’ corporate recruiters who lament ‘I can’t get that manager to return any of my phone calls Frank’

    Yet, they are on the inside. I know why they’re calls are not being returned – but unless they are willing to hire me for $4,000 to provide a a full day training session – I’m not about to bother to even begin to explain their problems to them for gratis.

    I know of one company that recently tried to ‘centralize’ its recruiting function from what was a ‘regionalized’ operation.

    That previous structure included highly skilled recruiters with ten and twenty years longevity with the company that knew the internal dynamics, strings-to-pull and how to get things done.

    All those ‘regional recruiters’ were fired for cost cutting purposes. As their replacements, the company hired about 30 twenty-three and twenty four year old recruiters at salaries that are probably $40k each with barely one or two years experience each recruiter. I got to see a few of the ‘new recruiter’s’ resumes. One had a degree in zoology and 1.5 years of IT recruiting and as a failure in the staffing industry she was now hired to fail on the corporate side.

    Did they save money? No. Not by the manager’s feedback I’ve spoken to.

    What used to be routine searches moving from start to finish in 3-4 weeks are now taking 3-6 months.

    This means less accounts and greater stress induced upon the existing management as they try to serve clients.

    Costs are not limited to search fees. Loosing clients valued at hundreds of thousands per year is another ‘cost factor’.

  21. Dear gentlepersons,

    We have always divided the world into two spheres:

    1.clients and

    2. providers.

    Our gold mines (providers) are those firms who do not co-operate with us. We love them and need them almost as much as we need and love our clients.

    Good hunting,


  22. Benton, wow . . . your conclusion is extremely strong.

    ‘But, to win the competition, the corporate recruiter needs to MAKE THE AGENCY RECRUITERS..AND THEIR FEES…UNNECESSARY.’

    Let me say what shocks me most about this comment: it’s from the Director of Staffing for Siemens ICN. Again, what surprises me most is not as much the levity of the comment, but rather the source.

    When I see terminology and language like this coming from appointed leaders in the Staffing space for global organizations, I must admit that I am very surprised.

    I’m not going to bear in on how exec search firms and internal recruitment should partner, but if I may recommend a book, please see ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ for a new concept on developing competitive advantage. I would truly recommend it for any business leader out there – it’s a wonderful read. Viewing business as a competition is not the answer in the new economy, especially for a global organization such as Siemens.

  23. John,

    Forgive the lengthy delay in responding. I am personally not convinced that recruiting would be brought to a screeching halt. No doubt there would be screeching…of that I am, most defintely, convinced.

    I hate to answer a question with a question, so I will answer it with 4: Did Real Estate transactions stop? Did stock transactions stop? Did the practice of Medicine stop? Did the practice of Law stop?

    In other words, setting standards around a profession does not preclude activity/business/commerce within that field of expertise.

    Now, back to the screeching, wailing, gnashing of teeth and other noise that would ensue…

  24. From Todd Noebel:

    ‘Did Real Estate transactions stop? Did stock transactions stop? Did the practice of Medicine stop? Did the practice of Law stop?’

    No, but in all those other areas it seems no matter how effective they might be, unethical and unscrupulous practitioners are frowned upon.

    In stock scandals like Enron and Worldcom, people go to jail. If doctors perform blatently unnecessary operations, they lose their licenses. Even lawyers can be sued for malpractice.

    But it seems, at least in some corners of the profession, the more unscrupulous a recruiter you are, the more encouraged you are.

    There are user groups out there where there are videos circulating with people cackling about how to make absolute fools out of shipping and accounts payable people to get phone lists.

    I’ve ever heard tell of companies where they give recruiters extra bonuses if they can manage to get a candidate to come down on rate AFTER an offer has been accepted and the applicant has turned in notice to his previous employer.

    Yes, there are unethical doctors, lawyers, politicians, and even plumbers – but why is it, or so it would seem ofttimes, that only in the recruiting industry are the sleaziest the most celebrated?

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