What Drives Me Nuts About Staffing Agencies (and How They Can Work as a Better Partner)

(Editor’s note: With so many new ERE members coming on all the time, we thought that each week we’d republish one popular classic post. Here’s one, below.)

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 all responses to this point.

“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 rebuke, I will concede there are notable exceptions to this point, but overall, it’s correct.

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.

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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.

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 http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattlowney


157 Comments on “What Drives Me Nuts About Staffing Agencies (and How They Can Work as a Better Partner)

  1. Excellent points! I’ve spent some time on the HR side of the fence within corporate recruiting for a couple of large investment banks after I’d been in search firm recruiting for 10 years, and it was appalling how many pitches sounded identical…and the ones I rejected all ended the same way with “Give me your hardest job and I’ll fill it!”

    Really amazing, the level of cluelessness.

    The flip side is that some of the people I’ve worked with on the corporate HR side of the fence are so burnt out from listening to pitch after pitch that they no longer want to listen when someone has an actual (Marketing 101 here) point of differentiation…sometimes the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.

    Still, you make some great points and I think both experienced and new recruiters alike would be well-served to take note.

  2. I agree that most of the staffing agencies do most, is not everything you describe in your article, EXCEPT US.
    I am open to debating our process and our firm, Talener Group, anytime, anywhere, because we are truly, not like everyone else. If you are interested, let me know.


    Michael Dsupin
    Managing Partner
    Talener Group

  3. The biggest differentiator for search firms we believe is WHO exactly is doing the candidate calling, screening, and most importantly seeking to convince a qualified candidate that the opportunity being presented is a great fit for them. A junior recruiter/associate or the search partner/professional?

    The second biggest differentiator we see is a search firm that actually understands the industry and roles by having IN DEPTH KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE in that specific industry.

    The third biggest differentiator we believe for an executive search firm is having a recruiting process that INSISTS on having the hiring manager speak directly with the search firm, getting candidate feedback in a timely and valuable manner, and meets with the hiring firm’s team to better understand their culture and assess fit.

    Other thoughts?

  4. Phew: fair but scathing!

    So lets go with the counterview: What Drives Recruiters Nuts about Clients….

    a)Assigning 10 or more agencies to fill the same role forcing us to compete with every Tom Dick and Harry in the region……..Want a relationship? Sign up just one or two agencies: see the service then!!

    b)Providing Job Descriptions that effectively dont exist: mainly because they are composite roles: that two or three people used to do before recession times…….and then demanding the candidate be expert in every category to be considered

    c)Tossing out candidate profiles: because they dont like the last Title they had: while saying: We dont want people who are obsessed with Titles: we want them to just want the opportunity at hand

    Cant tell you how many times I have heard that one: while aat the same time saying: Declining Titles means the candidate is going backwards in their career.

    d) Demanding Senior level candidates with degrees in fields that have only existed since the year 2000: even though the candidate has worked in the role for 15 years anyway

    e) Not hearing from the client for 3 weeks after a resume has been submitted:….meaning we have to chase and chase for a response..and are often just ignored……..leaving both us and the candidates hanging as to level of interest
    ……the candidate we worked hard to sell drifts away to another opportunity and we have to start all over again

    f)Firms that take 3 months to get to 3rd interview and 4 months to hire……..meaning we have to hold the candidates hand the whole time to assure them there really is a job opening…….and its worth pursuing…….as by then the candidate is feeling as if the firm isnt really eager to hire them………that behind the scenes communication with candidates that is endless is something clients never see…….

    g) Working on contingency: meaning no cash: for 6 months to find candidates only to be told: the firm doesnt think they are going to do any hiring after all……WHAT????

    h) Hearing the usual: We only Hire the Best: We are a Unique Firm that needs Special Creative People…….and then they provide a job description that looks like someones last Will and Testament…….and end up hiring the VPs best friend anyway.

    i) We want to hire for Cultural Fit:……so What is that cultural Fit?…..with the inevitable: Focus on Customer Service…..Hasnt everyone got to give excellent service nowadays to survive?……blah blah….

    All the Corporate Speak garble…..just tell us exactly what you want……want young techie dudes?…..want senior sophisticated luxury reps?…..

    If clients want partners: they need to treat their agents that way….with courtesy, clarity and finally: actually hire people to make the relationship mutual.

    Ok guess thats enough from this side of the fence…….

    Cant live without clients 🙂

  5. From the view of a 13 year search firm recruiter who has really good relationships with his clients (friends) and gets to hear the “horror” stories of what my colleagues do on a daily basis… I would stand and applaud this post but fear it would annoy everyone in this coffee shop.

  6. Matt,

    You know the joke “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results ever time?” In my experience you can usually find 1 or 2 firms that you can work with. Cultivate those relationships and tell the rest of them to bug off. Stop wasting your time.

  7. Matt- This is a “fair” article from a CR perspective… I appreciate your willingness to explain the “pitches are the same.” (This helps me understand your/others subconscious assumptions @agencies) I believe “niche” is the key in TPR effectiveness, and track record of results.

    Would you consider working on agency side? (just curious)

    Best to ALL…

  8. For technical positions – in depth technical screening is one of the key factors. Most of the staffing firms do not have good technical resources to screen candidates. If you are hiring a Sr developer or Architect, you really need someone better than these to screen. Some agencies use external services, but thats also tricky. In my experience, most of these have a pre-defined set of questions for each type of position, which is easily defeat-able by candidates. Software consulting firms who also do staffing, are probably the best companies to deal with for technical positions. They usually have resources to screen, and most of the time, they have verified candidates on some of their projects.

  9. Respectfully, you are both right AND wrong all at once. The third party recruiting process is a soft skill, not a hard skill. You want things quantified, the truth is it can’t be. we do everything all once. We all have data bases. Almost all of us advertise. All of use technology. What makes one of different than another is whether our client actually takes the time to teach s how they want us to evaluate and assess people, not anything you think we do as process. If you treat us like we provide spam, we will give you spam. We can’t help it; we don’t read minds.

    Yes, some of us change jobs. So do some of you. Why are we always talked about harshly for trying to improve our circumstances, just as our corporate brethren do.

    So what makes one recruiting firm different than other? The person you’re speaking with. Period. Can you trust them? Can you respect them? Do they have access to resources. Can they learn what you teach them.

    They won’t be perfect . . . and frankly, most people in corporate demand perfection rather than excellence from their recruiting vendors, holding them to a higher standard than they expect of themselves and others.

    But that’s the way it is in our universe. We are criticized no matter how effective we are because we cannot satisfy everyone all the time.

    Best wishes

    Jeff Altman
    The Big Game Hunter

  10. As a staffing industry veteran it hurts to hear this, but sorry to say it is dead on and valid points made. Note to agencies: many of you are hiring newbies, recent college grads, give little or no training or same old same old ho hum rhetoric to give to clients. Hiring managers and HR know they are dealing with inexperience. You get what you pay for.

  11. Odd isn’t it that everyone expects truly unique, ground breaking, mind blowing, ‘I’d have to be insane’ type of reasons to differentiate recruiters?

    Matt has some good points but most of them indicate the complacency in the recruitment industry towards good training and development.

    I was lucky that the first business I ever worked for spent a fortune training me in-house and externally on how to present, how to close, how to identify my clients needs, desires and challenges and how to tailor a presentation to address those needs and work with my client in a consultative capacity. This type of investment in trainee recruiters is now very rare, simply because clients invariably just want a numbers approach, they have very little if any desire to brief a recruiter, to discuss their strategy, the impact of the vacancy, why they even have a vacancy. They just want CV’s and let’s be honest any monkey can advertise on Monster, set up some keyword screening process and submit CV’s!

    Unfortunately today many clients have predetermined ideas about how they want their recruitment support to service their needs. The rise of Preferred Supplier Agreements / Sole Supplier Agreements with the introduction of automated job notification systems and Applicant Submission / Tracking Systems and so forth have rendered a truly consultative, innovative, adaptable and flexible recruitment consultant redundant. Most clients want as little contact as possible, with the minimum investment but the same results.

    For example there is a very large US (Fortune 500)Solutions company who use Taleo. To comply with their PSL agreement as a recruiter you have to submit a minimum of 5 applicants for every position (measured across a 12mth period) through Taleo to an unspecified recipient. You have no communication with any hiring manager, no resource to challenge or to suggest alternative methods or means of sourcing or identifying candidates, cannot present more expedient or accurate solutions. You simply get an email from Taleo advising of a vacancy, you go to Taleo and review the spec and submit applicants who meet the minimum criteria and then sit and wait, and wait, and wait (whilst being bombarded by candidates wanting to know what is happening with their application)!

    It does beg the questions? Why bother presenting a unique approach? What value does or would any differentiating recruitment, sourcing, screening or interviewing process represent and how would it be realised? Does it really matter if you as an individual recruiter has a 100% success rate or that you have never had to replace a candidate or never lost a candidate to a counter offer? The short answer is no it doesn’t.

    Basically many large corporate organisations have gone above and beyond to sterilise the recruitment industry and how they deliver. The odd thing is that they themselves are guilty of precisely the same mundane sales processes and delivery and service processes themselves.

    Matt works for a Healthcare Services provider. As a test invite 6 in to discuss the provision of healthcare as a staff benefit and see how many really Wow you with their unique, explosive, mind blowing and almost ‘insane not to use me’ presentations!

    Then do the same with Accountany firms, insurance firms, IT solutions, Legal services! You’ll be asleep before the 3rd one is through the door!

  12. The chord that struck me in your article is your opening sentence, “Over the last several years I’ve sat through no less than 100 staffing agency “pitches” in person or over the phone.”

    100…really? Why so many…why don’t you trying ignoring the talk and let the results prove themselves. Then from there, identify and parter with 1-3 staffing firms you trust and keep a long term relationship with them. Then each time another one calls, take the call and let them know you are not interested and have an existing relationship. That easy.

    Seems to me you are chasing all these staffing firms for something like lowest fee or even just like having them in to entertain you.

  13. Very great Matt!!!

    I will say you missed one thing in your “suggestions” area that I believe is the most important item. One needs to ask about your pain, e.g.: What are your biggest recruiting challenges?” or “Where are you having the most difficulty?” It’s from there that you can actually have a valuable conversation.

  14. Seems like you struck a nerve here! As a 15 year veteran, at the same company, of the IT search and consulting industry I see both sides of the desk. The problem is that the search and staffing industry has to fight the perception as a commodity. Ever since the advent of job boards, anyone can go out and search for candidates and may get lucky. Prior to these boards it was all about recruiting and it takes real skill to do real recruting, something that is missing in today’s marketplace. Matt I don’t eveny you as I am sure you get tons of calls from the newbie recruiters who have to make X amount of calls a day but there are those of us out there that take this career seriously and not as a stop over to something greater in the future. I suggest you find two or three of these firms and work with them not against them. Get buy in, make them as accontable as you are but give them the access and responses they need to be sucessfull.

  15. Michael Silcox makes a number of valid points as does Paul. I think it is us veterans who take exception. Then again it is probably us veterans who are still interested and passionate about our industry and hence follow the exposure it receives!

    Anyone else here remember their first training course on Spin Selling or Build the Pain? Who here from the recruitment industry remembers having to research your competitors, ask your clients about your competitors and so on?

    I still to this day ask candidates and clients who else they have used, who really stands out, why they are different.

    Back to basics I’m afraid. But most large corporate recruitment firms have forgotten the basics.

    On a final note, a consultant I know recently complained that they had never sold a retainer. I asked them why, and they said because none of their clients did retainers….

    Negotiation! They can’t even do that effectively these days!

  16. Matt is right on target. Having been in the corporate recruiting manager chair for over ten years, I echo his sentiments.

    If you are an agency recruiter and feel you need to be defensive about his comments, he is talking to you. Don’t fight it… read and learn what your customer thinks.

  17. Come on guys: I think Mat was using a bit of humour to poke at our industry: and I poked a little back at him.

    Lighten up here!!…..

  18. Matt’s words are true. Having sat on both sides of the desk, doing in-house recruiting and vendor management, as well as being the recruiter and sales person calling in to companies, I can tell you that he’s right. We all need to do better.

    Commenters also are hitting on some truths…. We’re all responsible (both sides, in chicken-and-egg fashion) for the commoditization of staffing–but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for that. One thing that I haven’t seen anywhere in this thread is the need to build deep relationships with candidates. The best staffing agencies have a big-picture view–not only of their clients, but also of how the other piece of the puzzle–the candidate–fits into the relationship. I love it when a vendor has a known candidate, and can provide real references, and speak truly to the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses! No more pushing paper, no more throwing something over a wall. It’s a real person, and a real job/career we’re talking about here, folks.

    Get to know your candidates. Screen them deeply, and understand their strengths, desires, needs. Get technical yourself, and get technical with them. Know what you’re selling, and who you’re selling to. That alone will be a differentiator. **Meet every candidate you present.** I know, it’ll take longer. Some candidates won’t come in to meet you. You need to sell THEM on your ability to partner in their career search, too, and there are a ton of people who would love a partner trying to solve their unemployment or job hunt. But they need to believe that you care (if you do….), too.

    Vendors are looking for clients that are true partners, and shouldn’t settle for any numbers games, or faceless VMS systems. There’s some business you just don’t want. Clients need to invest the time in staffing vendors, helping them honestly build relationships and an understanding of our needs and realities. And candidates (what we’re all here for, after all!) want meaningful contracts or careers that will help them grow… to be better contractors or employees! Let’s make that happen, together!

  19. Thanks for the engaging and thoughtful conversation on this topic! A few folks commented around VMS (or similiar) issues that don’t put a face on the relationship between vendor and manager. I would actualy prefer my vendors and managers to have a real relationship, so I would agree that a “hands off” VMS solution doesn’t work for anyone. I don’t think contractors (or anyone for that matter) should be treated as a commodity.

    Morgan – Thought I’d address your question directly. I ask my managers to refer all vendor solicitations to me directly so I can manage those calls and also give external vendors the same feedback. I will meet with them if they have a good relationship with manager or is referred to me by someone I know/ trust directly.

    Also, would like to reinforce my goal with this article was really aimed at giving feedback to agencies to improve their business…not just bemoan the traditional agency challenges all of us on the corporate side face.

  20. @Matt,

    In all fairness a good article that has prompted some interesting response. I certainly think it served it’s purpose and it is good to see that there is still some passion, belief and a desire to do things right so that all parties from employer, recruiter and of course candidates are engaged as professionally and ethically as possible.

    Thanks for the original post.

  21. I agree with your points in this article. The importance of listening to what our clients want can not be overstated. Too often I see recruiters trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in order to “fill a position” rather than filling it well. In my article “Recruiting Your Recruiter” I disucss finding the best resource to aid you in your job search to avoid this problem. http://www.turningpointsearch.net/resources/articles/page/4/
    Ken C. Schmitt

  22. Think the bottom line here: where everyone gets best results is down to one word: RETAINER.

    Client selects best agent for their needs and pays them.
    Recruiter has massive incentive to keep client happy.

    Its contingency work that creates the less than stellar feelings on both sides of the asile……at the end of the day: clients tend to get what they pay for…..

    Pay nothing…….fill in the blanks as to expected results.

  23. Add to the list: “I have candidates in my pocket ready to go” – ALWAYS a fail in my experience. I’m in that situation right now – an agency called the hiring manager promising the world and has so under delivered it’s depressing. I’ve wasted so much time screening candidates who didn’t have the basic qualifications that were discussed in the kick off call. It’s not that hard, I’m great to work with, give fast feedback, don’t drag it out..why isn’t this working?!

  24. As a contract recruiter, I believe that contingency and retained recruiters should be used when required to provide services that can’t be done effectively elsewhere, should be paid 30% or more fees, and should earn more than $100k/yr. The problem is that much recruiting that uses 3PR agencies could be done quite effectively for MUCH less:
    1) Instead of paying a big or “wannabe” agency 15-25% to find a typical mid/sr.-level person, pay $75 for a board search on Monster and CareerBuilder.

    2) You need names of passive candidates? Use a $11/hr virtual phone/internet sourcer, or if it’s too difficult for that, pay $40/name.

    In summary: companies should use 3PR rarely and do so only for difficult searches for which they expect to pay a premium for high-quality service. 3PR firms that “burn and churn” large numbers of poorly-paid, poorly-trained newbies hoping a few will succeed, and relying on clients too ignorant/lazy to use lower-cost alternatives can expect to moan and groan all the way to the bank….Like it or not, the lazy and sloppy way still frequently works quite well (unfortunately.)


  25. I have been in the same situation as well and it can sometimes get exasperating but i figure everyone is trying to make a buck one way or the other and can’t fault anyone doing that. Some are valid points and the others are over the top.
    Even if someone gives a very good value proposition, sometimes the gut instinct might be sinking the prospective conversation.
    It’s the old adage, we love to buy but hate being sold.

  26. Potent dialogue from seasoned veterans – clearly passionate. Since we are being honest, let’s address the client side of the equation… Clients lock in on price, thanks to staffing firms shooting each other in the foot. Until clients base their decision on the most qualified provider (and not price) service and quality will suffer. Too many bottom feeders sell on price and reel in less than sophisticated buyers (usually HR). Compounding these challenges is that many staffing firms are doing NOTHING new – most still send Word docs to rep candidates. 42% of all interviews in 2011 are being done with a webcam, yet staffing firms are stuck in the dark ages. Our industry should be leading this idealogical shift – no chance the paper resume is the future (unless you still own an 8-track tape player). Dawson Resources, based in Columbus, Ohio was the first TalentRooster client – they market all candidates with video. Guess what? They are having record years despite a horrible Ohio economy.

  27. @Carol Maybe so, we don’t use agencies often at all and since we don’t babysit the phone calls coming into our leadership, we can’t control who reaches out to them promising to have better candidates than I can source myself. But that having been said, my point still stands. Over promising and under delivering is a huge issue in the 3rd party space. At least in the current market, in my experience.

  28. Well since I am already out on a limb today: may as well dive in:

    Lets assume for a minute the agency you are using doesnt suck………they really are wonderful.

    What could the alternate issues be?

    a) the comp. levels of your firm arent competitive: at least not enough to entice someone to quit their job and make a lateral move to your firm

    b) the comp. levels dont match the skill set the firm is asking

    c) the job title and description lacks excitement: read: sux……doesnt inspire candidates in the desired age category……

    d) the firm has a really bad reputation: believe it: happens all the time: candidates hang up when they hear the firms name

    e) the skill you want is in very high demand: just because the overall unemployment rate is high: doesnt mean it is for your role

    f)the firms criteria for candidates is excessive: like refusing to look at unemployed but with the required skill set: or MBAs for small store managers for example:

    Agencies are under constant pressure from clients to “send me something”…..

    …..No recruiter wants to share the bad news with clients:
    that no one that they approached who really does fit the requirements actually wants that job………

    but the endless pressure to “send me someone” often results in Ok Here is what I have so far…….not: Here is exactly what you want!

    Believe that if a recruiter has a top candidate: they arent hiding them in their databases: they are eager to share.

    When that process fails with a good agency:
    its usually the request to hunt for the Lost Kings of Egypt:……..it can be done: but not so quickly.

    There probably isnt an agency that wouldnt welcome the question from you:

    Whats wrong that you cant find candidates?

    just be prepared to hear the answer: and dont shoot the messenger.

    However if your agency just sux:
    well: the senior members here could advise on best steps in selecting an agency thats right for you.

    Ok now I better DUCK!

  29. @Suzanne – all fabulous points, thanks! I guess if that’s the case, my expectations would be that the agency would give me that feedback. I’ve asked pointedly if there are issues and they are blaming it on the fact that I’ve already spoken to their candidates – I sourced them myself. Well, sorry – you supposedly had new untouched candidates, not ones who were actively out on LinkedIn looking – that’s who I found easily.
    I admit that we are pushing on them harder than I prefer to, however if they had been honest about their candidate pool, we wouldn’t be needing to push, IMO.

  30. @Stephanie: I absolutely agree about the over promise/under deliver problem. I’m not trying to be combative, but if your staff is doing a bang up job delivering top talent to your management why are managers even taking calls from agency recruiters in the first place?

  31. Sounds like you did bring them in late into the game: after the “best” pool was already tapped into by your own efforts.

    Thats probably a signal that the job itself needs repositioning: title, pay and job description……


    that the criteria shifts slightly.

    Give you an example:

    One of the hardest roles to fill in Montreal is a Retail Director of HR….why? …..there arent many retail head offices there.
    …..and they all know each other.

    such a search might take 6-9 months to place someone:

    so who will do it on contingency?…..

    However: I suggested:

    Why not do a few things to change the search:

    a) lets search outside the geography: lets actually recruit from other cities and pay the moving costs…..Why? an empty role for 6 months costs 4x the salary of the missing person…….still cheapr to pay relocation

    b)lets up the Title: titles dont cost anything: but they give candidates a sense of “moving Up” rather than moving sideways.

    Find me a xxxx candidate:
    really means
    go steal me one…….a lateral move 9x out of 10

    Firms forget: if you live in a nice 3 bedroom home on Apple Street: and I come along and say: how would you like to still live in a 3 bedroom home further down on Apple Street……..the response is probably going to be next to nil……

    Often its the job descriptions and titles that have no appeal: no sizzle……

    I have candidates who have made lateral moves simply because one firm offers intensive upgrading and training courses pre-start……….

    they would have to do it anyway:…..as part of the orientation…..but they make it a sales feature

    Perhaps in your case you do need another agency
    but if you are running through agencies with the same results

    there is often a reason your “house isnt selling”


  32. Great advice! I think part of the problem is that we have become so saturated with staffing agencies (mature stage). In greater Boston alone, there are about 200 agencies; all jockeying the same businesses (myself included). However, now is a great time for us to step back and re-examine ourselves and figure out a plan that will make Placement Experts, Inc. stand above its competitors.

    Maurice Smith

  33. Well written, Matt. Many staffing vendors claim that “they’re different” than their competition then give an explanation as to why their different. Ultimately, it’s the same explanation as their competition. I would like to hear a fresh approach.

  34. @Matt i had to laugh at this article because it is all so true. As a 35 year vetern of the TPR world i will tell you that i have been hearing this same thing from the corporate world since the first cold call i refused to make. Yuck on cold calls. Nobody likes them on either side.

    My question to you is, why keep interviewing for a job that is already filled? If you have several recruiters who are on the same page with you, “get it” and you like the way they work and deliver then your TPR job is filled until somebody moves, quits or dies. If you are getting baby recruiters rotated in and out as your contact. Serve notice on the firm owner that you are not going to train each newbie they stick on the phone and find another agency who will guarantee you the same person will handle your account unless the firm closes.

    You are being kind and trying to pacify your hiring managers and being nice to every idiot who cold calls you by talking to every idiot who gets your name or the HM’s name off Linkedin.

    Introduce the recruiters you like to your hiring managers and let the HM’s know that if they don’t like them or don’t think they are delivering you will find others who will and please to let you know. Explain to your HM’s that you would not ask them to interview every idiot who wanted to work in their department because they called you so let’s dance with ones who brung us until they can’t or won’t dance with us enjoyably for both partners.

    Recruiters all do the same thing just as companies do the same thing unless they decide to manufacture or sell a different product. It’s not a matter of being different or a fresh approach. It’s simply a matter of who you can work with effectively. If your TPR jobs are filled quit interviewing. You wouldn’t keep interviewing for a CFO if you had one who was there and doing a good job. You might have an eye on some potential recruits if he moved up, quit or died so save yourself the pain of listening to the same old tripe about “we are different”. They aren’t so pick the ones you like and turn on the music.

  35. Dear Suzanne…I am out on the limb with you.

    What makes us different to stand out amongst the competition? I guess one could ask the same question to the Client who has asked us to find the talent. To Suzanne’s point, we (us 3rd party recruiters) need to understand what a person needs to do in the role to be considered a success. If you had a crystal ball and could look down the road 12 months from now… what deliverables would this person accomplished to have been a success! Break those 6-10 deliverables into more specific objectives with action oriented timelines…would make the search more interesting to present AND a better roadmap to identifying talent for submittals.

    It is very difficult to try to find “The perfect candidate” when you are given the obstacles of;

    1) Not allowed to speak with Hiring Authority (For me this is a deal breaker and we will not work on an assignment)
    2) Competing with countless Agencies-It’s a race for the resume. (Most importantly, more often than not, it sends a negative message out there to potential candidates when you are the 11th recruiter who has called him/her on that opening)
    3) A job description that merits nothing to what the Manger WILL in fact hire (just send me some resumes)
    4) Rely on the message from the Client “I’ll know it when I see it!” Yeah but will I? (know it when I see it)
    5) NEVER return important calls or respond in a timely manner to email. (I know, I know you are busy, so am I. I am not calling to waste your time I am calling because I have important information to deliver and/or need feedback on candidate submittals/interviews. This happens with both HR and Hiring Managers.
    6) Speaking of feedback-Timely feedback on resume submittal or interview. I know everyone is busy but I would rather professionally release a candidate than to have them hanging on for days even weeks only to be told no. I truly do not care if it is a “yes” or “No” answer just please provide me an answer.

    I know I am rallying against the client here, but the article got my attention (like so many other 3rd party recruiters) how we need to step up and provide something different and unique. Or as you stated that we need to actually offer something that does make us different, don’t over promise and deal with turnover. Well, if I was to speak on behalf of other agencies out there…we have yet to see companies out there provide us something different or unique, not make us “race for the resume”, retain us for the services we provide, and listen to what the outside recruiter is saying (as Suzanne stated)when we explain that the money you are offering is not enough…or there is only three people in the US that have those exact skill sets, or as many have mentioned “there are negative rumors running wild out there about your organization”. We do this crazy role (3rd party agency stuff) because we truly like the hunt in finding talent for an open role. We love that we found the top 2-3 candidates and we are excited when one is hired.

    I know there are “bad staffing agencies” and “bad companies”, if each side can treat the other with professionalism, I am confident the “3rd party agency vendor” will be able to provide the services of staffing to any organization.

  36. Great to have company in the deep end Shawn!…..seems like I have unleashed the dragons.

    From the recruiters point of view:
    every order that crosses our desk is one for

    Brad Pitt and Angelina Joli….
    to perform at Teds Esso next week for $10.00 hour…..

    and if you dont bring me back what I asked for:
    you are another dumb &(*( recruiter.

    There is an entirely human side to all recruiters:
    we here the pain of rejection when we have to let someone down
    whose family needs that job……

    We hear the joy when they get hired and their house will be saved…….

    We hear the anger from candidates trying their hardest and facing continual rejection.

    We are the one that breaks the news that after 3 months of interviews: the company isnt going to hire anyone at all.

    We are the ones who have to figure out how to tell someone: No: you just dont look or act like Angelina Joli: you arent a “fit”

    Or tell a new citizen: You dont have North American experience……..

    No: the clients are spared all this.

    A year ago: I was recruiting for a chain of stores just entering this market: never before in our province: the chap didnt get the job because he answered one question wrong:

    Do you want us to help you develop your team? He said: I appreciate all input. The correct answer was: No I will do it myself. Thats all it took to lose that job.

    But I believed in him and I put him forward for a next role: better paying than the first.

    He interviewed: but they offered him a lesser store….and he was insulted and hurt again. He refused.

    He was feeling very low. For him and for my client: who badly wanted him…
    we exchanged many many words: I was able to show him that taking that job was right for him at this stage.

    Finally he agreed. He wrote to me at Christmas saying: Thank you so much for making me see sense. I took this lesser store and turned it around:
    so much that the VP came to visit:
    as this store had not made budget in 5 years….

    Now I am the man to beat! and I have a great future ahead of me…….well:

    that was nice.

    But a few months later he sent me a card:
    You changed my life:
    because I took that job: my wife and I can finally have a child……..and that child was born this summer.

    Yes HR: thats also part of a recruiters job:

    to deal with the carnage left behind
    and help people find their best spot in life.

    Is that just pushing resumes?
    Is that just a $40 name?

    No: thats relationships.

    …with people we may never place..or be paid for.

    Recruiting is the ultimate human job:
    we are dealing with peoples lives, homes and futures.

    They trust us to send them to good firms…who will treat them well.
    They trust that there really will be a job if they invest their time.

    We arent a job board. We are people with a passion for finding the best outcomes for clients, candidates and the Almighty willing
    get paid often enough to take care of our own families.


  37. One of the ultimate compliments as a staffing head i received was to get invited to a wedding (they are very personal as you would know) and referred to in the bridegroom’s speech and then later get even honeymoon and baby photographs.

  38. Great article and great feedback to hear. This is something I’ve seen as a significant struggle throughout the industry…what does make one company different from another? It seems to me the industry has largely become commoditized. Generally what I’ve seen are:

    1. Longer retention guarantees – in my view these are largely idiotic as a business practice since it’s guaranteeing something that is largely outside the control of the recruiter (management has much more to do with retention than anything the recruiter can do, especially since the manager ultimately approves every hire, and great companies get penalized by having to pay for the failures of poor company, while poor companies get subsidized by such practices)

    2. Cheaper fees – mostly I find if companies need someone and are willing to pay for it a few percent here and there don’t make a big difference in the mix so it makes little sense to compete aggressively on this, the determining factor is usually “do you have the right people?” much more than “are you 2% cheaper than your competitors?”

    3. Databases – this is helpful when it comes to speed, if a company needs to source someone fresh that’s invariably slower than going into the database with a quick search and making a direct phone call…but then the competitive advantage is speed not the database, the bigger question is how do you quantify the value of this to the client and what’s it worth paying for?

    4. Screening techniques – mostly I find these are a farce for two reasons: first it’s too expensive for most recruiting companies to spend a lot on extensive screening so they tend to opt for lower higher efficiency levels of screening especially since the industry is driven by submitting people quickly much more than screening them well, after all if agencies are competing it’s the one that submitted first, not the one that screened first or screened the best that gets paid; second it’s almost impossible for an outside agency to really know enough about the internal dynamics of a company to make effective screening decisions, this is in part because of how the industry is structured with hiring managers and department managers often not having a lot of time to spend with recruiters (And vice versa) and partially due to a lack of good metrics (performance management is weak in most companies to say the least) as well as simply not being close enough to the situation and culture of the company to make effective evaluations

    All of this raises the questions of what can agencies best do to differentiate? Quality is tough to guarantee in most of the contingency world. If you guarantee speed and don’t deliver then what’s the point of delivering at all? (In other words speed needs to be a reputation not a guarantee). The best I’ve seen are different structures of pay, but perhaps other people have seen better, a bunch of examples of companies that do a genuinely great job of differentiating in a compelling way?

  39. @ Michael R: Well said.

    @Everybody: one thing a 3PR company can do as a differentiator is to provide the client with a 2-way Service Level Agreement spelling out what services the agency will do for the client, and what the agency expects from the client (apart from payment terms, etc, and including the opposites of what Shawn and Suzanne mentioned above). If they don’t agree to the terms of the SLA, don’t work with them (unless you’re desperate).


  40. I think what many people forget in the recruitment industry is that everything you do as a recruiter, reflects positively on someone, somewhere within your clients organisation! It is your job to make sure that it reflects positively and enhances their reputation in the business. If you do that consistently they will adore you, you enhance their career status, promotion prospects and general standing, why wouldn’t they?

    Something I have done for years now which helps ensure the above is produce a unique assignment outline document. I do this for retained and contingency recruitment.

    Basically it summarises the entire process in a very straightforward manner including sourcing, advertising schedule, search mandate (target companies, sectors are listed), timescales for my screening, interviewing style (how I will qualify candidates for example), timescales for client process and so forth. Even down to a very simple explanation of costs (I often cap fees, this way I find clients are more open to flexibility on salary).

    This document also itemises any amendments to standard T&C’s. For example payment terms, if there is no retainer I invoice on acceptance of offer for example.

    I also issue a seperate set of T&C’s for each assignment. Both parties sign both documents. This provides a yard stick for me to beat the the client with (or internally for them to beat line managers, or line managers to beat HR and so on) and of course for them to measure my performance against.

    I am currently working an assignment for a £75K RSM role, I agreed to deliver a short-list within 3 weeks due to the clients availability to be in the UK. I agreed to send a report (one page, couple of paragraphs) outling progress every week.

    I’ve put my money where my mouth is, if I miss a deadline a any stage they get a discount!!! But I got the job for a 7% increase in the margin over my next competitor.

    Make it as clear and simple as possible, put your neck on the line, commit yourself to delivery points and get your client to commit as well. It works.

  41. Well- this is just plain rude and offensive.

    Ok- So here is the issue, recruiting is hard enough, without somebody adding fuel to the fire by branding that “we all say the same thing”. Of course we all say the same thing we’re in the same industry. Ask a stationary company who canvass’ you to tell you something different to the other stationary companies, they won’t. They’ll tell you they sell pens, just like the rest of them.

    Here’s the story, basically our job is made 1 thousand times more difficult by all the red tape in place, preferred suppliers lists and just the arrogance of some people. I’m a contingency consultant, and I have a degree in the area I specialize in recruiting for, I’ve also worked in that area for 5 years previous to myself becoming a recruiter, yet I cannot work on certain positions because my name is not on a peice of paper. It’s not going to cost anybody anything to send me a job specification and at least give me the chance to work on that job. Luckily that’s what I’ve started telling clients, and they agree and laugh their PSL off. You won’t know what you’re missing until it’s put in front of you. So let the consultants show you by doing, not saying.

    The truth is we aren’t going to tell you anything different because we all have a database, we all have rebate periods, we have all placed people.

    Give them all one chance, the man/woman who places the candidate wins.

  42. Your picture is worth a thousand words. Lighten up. The missing point to your rant is that you work in the Human Capital business, these are people. I do not do “staffing” but have recruited and coached many of their groups, as well as the ranks of HR I might add. They, very often see you as your picture displays.

    As a long time,”headhunter”, I have often wonder why some HR folks gets so wound up. Your job is amazing. The people you meet, the work that you do, you know, the search world; wonderful people one and all. The Stress, the distrust, the lies, the righteous indignation of it all. We work with people you and I and I am pretty sure you might agree that sometimes for reason beyond our wildest imagination, they don’t play it our way.

    So for the staffing agency’s that truly want to do business with you; maybe that one in a million can do what you can’t. You are talking to them aren’t you? You invited them to your office didn’t you? Maybe their Database is unique, and yes maybe they would like to find an HR person out there that does understand that people are people. Relax, you set the appointment, hear them out. Have you thought about asking the Who, the How, the Why, of these wanting to please you people? It’s easy you know. Choose your appointments wisely!

    Now for my rant….you have said that you have sat through 100’s of staffing presentations! Now my thoughts on that are that you must be new to this business. Most of my HR friends have chosen from years of interviews and working relationships (yes relationships) to have the “chosen few”. They do venture out from time to time to give others the opportunity to live up to their presentation. My suggestion is that you seek the assistance of other, more highly trained HR leaders and find out how they do it. You know you could get out of our business. The world is wide open.

    It is called “relationship” building” and you aren’t their yet. In this age of Social Media and all the tools for candidates to present themselves, why can’t you find them yourself? Don’t answer that, I think I know the answer. If you need help, call a professional or get trained.

    HR, staffing groups and Executive Recruiters have worked successfully together for years, it is a Billion Dollar Business, that’s with a B, after all. People for the most part are who they say they are if given an opportunity to show you. Guess what, if they fall short, do a postmortem….why did they fall and who or what is truly to blame.

    Lighten up. Smile…is that really you in the picture?…can you spell anger management. We love you and truly want to build a relationship with you…maybe!

  43. All – Thanks for continuing the dialogue on this topic…fantastic to see everyone’s interest! I’ve received an additional 70 comments directly and am working to answer questions as I find time.

    @ Daniel H – I wanted to address your commentary directly. Clearly you misinterpreted my article as a “rant”…it is not (please read my closing point again). This article and following conversation was never an ‘us vs. them’ perspective. I was merely providing a prospective that most (reference the other 49 comments) took with the positive light in which it was intended. The picture was tongue in cheek so I would encourage you to take it with the humor with which it was intended.

    It obviously struck a chord which is fantastic, but your rant is your own. The fact you felt the need to personally attack my background, recruiting skills, experience, relationship building skills and say I have “anger management” issues is disrespectful and without need in the context of this conversation.

  44. Matt- great article, I thought it had a great sense of humor much needed in the HR world.

    Daniel…you asked Matt if he could spell anger management. I would like to know if you know the difference in “there” and “their”?? Your statement that he needed to ‘learn to build relationships and wasn’t “their” yet….LOL!!!
    How can you try to insult someone’s talents when you can’t correctly use the grammar needed to do it?

    Have a great day!!

  45. @ Luke- Thanks you actually reminded me to get on the phone, you’re very right.

    @ Daniel- Completely agree, nice to see somebody has a similar view on this. However I think recruiters and HR members will forever be sparing with each other, until they end up working together and low and behold- they get on like a house on fire.

  46. @Everyone – great discussion but it is in danger of deteriorating into one of those Linkedin type discussions (usually started by candidates who have an axe to grind).

    Anyway, what I have found really interesting is that there is such a huge synergy of shared sentiment about this subject regardless of geographical location.

    Great stuff, thoroughly enjoyed reading many of the comments.

  47. Everyone has great points and here are my 2 cents! I’ve been on the corporate side as an HRD and now doing agency recruiting.

    #1 problem with a service vendor not meeting your expectations is because they simply are not the best fit for your business/industry. Solution: better screen vendors before you hire. Once you hire, commit to working with them (maybe for a pre-determined time frame) and work on building a trusting relationship.

    #2 problem why your vendors are not meeting your expectations is because you have TOO many vendors. This is a huge discouragement to your vendors. Don’t think your vendors don’t know or can’t find out how many you are already working with. Vendors are connected in the industry, and their candidate will tell them how many others have called regarding the same job. No vendor will spend too much time on your reqs for long. Think about it. Would you recruit for your company? It doesn’t take long for your vendor to realize and see little value in working with your firm. Unless you retained the vendor or pay a set fee to keep working with them, they won’t put the best guy/gal on the job. Why would they? There are many companies that hire TPR and build a solid relationship with just a few. Let your vendor grow with you and you will have friends there to catch you when you fall. Build a true win-win relationship. Companies get loyal vendors, top resources working on their reqs, and vendors get fast response/hire thus can add more to their team to provide even better service as your company grow. Solution: Create a true win-win situation. Hire just a hands full of vendors and commit to them. Your vendor will always, always put their best recruiter on their biggest opportunities. And if your company is not their biggest opportunity, then you will likely get the sub par service and candidates.

    #3 problem is, yes, again companies are using TOO many vendors and thus vendors have TOO many reqs. Everyone is busy, busy, busy, all working on the same reqs. A lot of duplicate efforts and thus slower response overall. Solution: read #1.

    Bottom line is recruiting is a two way street. Companies do not have absolute control. Although companies pay the bill, it’s the recruiters who will work their butts off to bring in the top notch candidates.

    More companies need to have a better understanding of this important relationship.

    Often companies expect their vendors to put the best recruiters on the job but don’t forget your vendor is not going to do that unless you are one of their “best” clients (best in this case is defined as quick response/feedback on candidates, shows commitment to vendor, hiring managers are awesome people, your company has great PR and offer competitive compensation packages).

    As with all relationships, outstanding results will only derive from committed parties.

  48. I think this is a great article. A job seeker who heard me speak recently shared this article with me. A lot of recruiters do pretend they are different, but it is all just a facade. Recruiting is an art form.Below are a few things I do to give back to my clients, candidates and the community.

    One way I differentiate myself from my competitors is by leading free workshops for both my clients and candidates on things such as utilizing social media, effective interviewing and resume writing.

    In addition, I personally prepare each candidate for 30 minutes prior to each interview.

    Finally, my company donates a portion of our proceeds to charity at the end of the year and our clients get a say in where the money goes that was generated from their business.

    I hope this gives other recruiters ideas on how to make a difference and give back. This business is not about making money, it is about making a difference for people in these challenging times.

  49. Companies buy from people not their company’s sales pitch. I agree that honesty and execution is key. My company does use very powerful databases but if you don’t use it correctly it doesn’t help you. If you can’t look a client in the eye and be honest, then you aren’t building a long term relationship. I have been in my position/same company for almost 5 years and I sell my tenure and technial background in the industry I support everyday. But even when I was a newbie, I didn’t always have the answers and this honesty helped me gain their respect. And five years later, they still partner with me. Be yourself, and not just another sales pitch.

  50. Thanks for a great post Matt and to all comments posted from all sides of the fence. I tend to be late with comments and as most is already said, hence I put a different light on things.

    If this post was in 5 years time, it would be discussing different differentiators and the participants will be those that have been prepared to evolve from the very transactional model we currently debate today. Save for some exceptions, this current model is based on static databases, the ‘find first’ rush and actual sourcing is mostly via broadcasting one way to the talent commodity with little or adjacent means to engage fully – and then the en mass responses, being only from the narrow space of the actively looking. Result = poor candidate / end client experience. Then onto the next job.. and so on.

    Enter now the opportunity to put the conversation and listening back into the recruitment stakeholder party and move the static CRM to the Social CRM where the commodities become communities of engaged talent pipelines, then that will be a true differentiator of value.

    It won’t be about finding people nor wholly transactional ~ but engaging with people. KPI’s will not be just rear view stats of performance related ‘activity’ nor even time or cost to hire – they are for inventories and dusty drawers. Performance (and management of performance) will be more akin to forward resourcing expectations and needs, matching oncoming requirements with network strengths. Inbound attraction performance to the same, will be the leading indicators. The best people will be engaged with brand and subsequent supply model before they are even looking!

    Every V.1.0 supply model from singular to clunky framework between client, hiring manager, recruiter and candidate – whether direct sourcing, permanent, interim contract hire, search, VMS, RPO etc., cannot come into the future in its current format given the candidate is the actual currency and that currency is shifting fast in recruitment V3.0 digital and mobile. I know some are starting to evolve, but don’t wait for an invite from the president to innovate!

  51. Thanks so much for the post Matt. As someone relatively new to recruiting I found this discussion very informative. I really appreciated everyone’s candid overview of the challenges faced by professionals on both sides of the aisle. Thanks to all who went a step further and offered solutions.

    Recruiting for IT professionals on the agency side is a fast paced environment and one can easily forget that although it is a numbers game, being a great resource to candidates and clients is paramount if you are planning to stay in the game long-term. I was especially glad to read comments from true agency professional s who are invested in providing excellent service on the client side while being caring advocates for candidates, who are after all the life blood of our business. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is no easy feat, when your paycheck is based solely on placements and relationship building and being a good ambassador for your firm (which takes time!) only counts as long as you are bringing in the bacon. Coming from a consultative sales background, making the extra call, staying on a few minutes longer and being a mini mentor whenever I can comes naturally for me. However, I can understand how the pressures of this job can lead others to see candidates as numbers and HR professionals as necessary evils instead of partners.

    Seasoned professionals sharing information in a candid, respectful way makes sites like LinkedIn and this one priceless. Thanks again to all from one newbie that was listening!

  52. @ Stephen: Could you re-state your comments more simply and directly; I’m afraid I may not be smart enough to get your points otherwise…

    Thank You,


  53. Forget the “proprietary database”, promises of being “different” and “uniqueness of relationship building.”; it’s all the same recycled nonsense.

    There are only a few KEY reasons why a client should absolutely partner with a staffing firm in today’s recruiting climate. I’m happy to discuss these reasons with any client that is interested in contacting me.

  54. I wrote this several years ago on my BLOG…..very relevant. Enjoy.


    I often hear recruiters talking about the things that drive them crazy in working with clients, the talent they represent, and the process they face in day-to-day recruiting and client development activities. I realize it isn’t fair to write an article on these subjects if we don’t also examine the things people hate about recruiters.

    Perhaps more importantly, in examining the areas we recruiters are failing, we will be able to improve our service with clients and the people we represent. Those that truly wish to improve in anything need to take a hard look in the mirror on their own faults.

    I am going to briefly discuss the major “GRIPES” that I hear from people about recruiters and I encourage readers to also discuss the TOP 3 things that they hate about recruiters as a discussion forum on the topic. Maybe we can later rank them in order as a TOP 10 List to be submitted to Letterman?

    10. “Recruiters don’t seem to truly understand the role they are recruiting for or that much detail about the clients needs.”
    9. “I am not sure if the post-interview feedback is honest or I don’t get feedback at all.”
    8. “Recruiters don’t want to help or talk with me if I am not a perfect fit for their open search assignments.”
    7. “Most headhunters don’t return my calls or acknowledge that I applied for a job.”
    6. “As a hiring manager, I hate when recruiters sling resumes at me and don’t take the time to understand my needs.”
    5. “Dishonesty about a position, company, or the requirements for a role”
    4. “Some form of discrimination or even reverse discrimination”
    3. “Recruiters seem unethical and will do anything to make a placement; their tactics to recruit or develop accounts are dishonest.”
    2. “I feel like job postings are not real jobs some time, the Bait and Switch.”
    1. “Recruiters are only working for the company and aren’t looking out for my best interest through the Offer Stage.”

    As a professional recruiter, I am very concerned about the ethics of our business. There are too many recruiters out there that give the industry a bad name. I only hope that most people have the opportunity to work with a truly great recruiter at some point in their career. A great recruiter can add value to client’s and those seeking to improve their career or quality of life. A great recruiter is a career counselor and seeks to help everyone that they come into contact with even if it is a simple referral to a more appropriate resource.

    I hope to hear from the readers on the things you dislike about past interactions with recruiters. Lets discuss the bad recruiting stories as well as the best recruiter stories that you have. We have all had bad service and bad food at a restaurant, but we don’t chose to never eat out again do we? What is the morale to this story?

    I believe people can achieve great success in working with great recruiters. Companies, hiring managers, and job seekers should do their homework when selecting a great recruiter to partner with. Ask about their history, their success, and ask about their partnership with clients. Ask friends in your industry about which recruiters they would recommend. And sometimes you have to go with your instinct in working with a recruiter that you trust and have established rapport.

  55. It’s hard to label ALL recruiters as frustrated Gym Teachers, but you’re spot on in that many recruiters aren’t taking the time to become industry experts in their fields.

    Too many recruiters are buzz-word matching paper-pushers. However, if you ever get the opportunity to truly work with a GREAT recruiter, I think you may see the following:

    1) Industry Expertise – some recruiters really can speak your language.

    2) A Top 5% recruiter in your industry probably has tenure, great ethics, excellent C-Level relationships, and can add tremendous value.

    3) A Top 5% recruiter may have a retainer, exclusivity, and direct communication directly with Director, VP, and C-Level within “A” companies.

    4) GREAT recruiters offer tremendous value in interview preparation and understand “why” the role is open, “how long” the role is open” and the “challenges” the role and organization are facing.

    5) GREAT recruiters help drive process ensuring your resume isn’t in a black-hole of doom.

    6) Excellent recruiters ensure that you and the client are not wasting your time and help get you a GREAT offer that you’ll accept.

    7) By building career-long relationships with EXCELLENT recruiters in your industry, you’ll know about phenomenal opportunities before others!

    Disclaimer – even GREAT recruiters sometimes look bad because we only help “facilitate”. Many of the things that upset people occur because of things outside our control from the client-company, hiring authority, or HR.

    “Don’t shoot the messenger”

  56. @ Jeremy: Well said.
    If I may use your information to come up with a “rule-of-thumb”:
    Employers: use the top 5% of contingency or retained recruiters to fill the top 5% most difficult positions with the top 5% of candidates, and expect to pay 30-35%. Don’t waste their time or yours using them on other kinds of searches, and if it isn’t worth 30-35%, don’t use a contingency or retained recruiter. I’m calling it the “5-5-5, 30-35 Rule”.



  57. “In fact, too many vendors treat me as someone to work around than to work with.”

    Why is that? Maybe they sense condescension and/or the ennui that comes from someone doing the same thing for too long? Hey, our eyes glaze over too.

    Matt, if I were your 101st “vendor” come a’callin’ I would feel like Elizabeth Taylor’s nth husband: We both know what to do, but how do we make it interesting?

  58. Matt, good article. I’d also add that it would be productive for a client to consider search company bandwidth. Maybe you meant this under the “Don’t Overpromise” segment. Client’s usually ask about capability (“can you do this job?”) but rarely ask about capacity (“do you have the time to do this job?”). I guess they assume it but I’ve had to turn away business this year to other firms becase I tick marked the box on the first question but not on the last.

    On the differentiation front for recruiters, understanding the actual client business to a level where you can effectively recommend ancillary services or products (and in so doing, connect clients with potential clients of their own) works pretty well as has getting placed candidate and client recommendations.

    It’s really not “about us” as recruiters. It’s about what the people we place accomplish for our clients. Capture this information and the candidates’ accomplishments become a differentiator.

  59. Staffing has become commoditized, by large clients. Large clients have basically squashed the smaller firms by awarding more and more contracts/preferred vender status to the large firms. This is because the trend in the US for the last 10 years, has been, bigger is better in every facet of business. The issue therefore becomes: Guess how large recruiters, recruit? Hire inexperienced recruiters (to accompany lower margins for perm and contract work the big firms demand), churn them in and out, allow them to directly submit to a client without having an account manager review the resume and it is a garbage in/out scenario.

    Suggestions: Want better recruiting?
    1)Hire smaller firms. They really do care and deal with their top people who don’t leave the company. Only allow contact with one person at each recruiting firm, not ALL their recruiters. This will ensure continuity and that quality of presentations is maintained.

    2)Don’t allow recruiters (experienced or not) direct exposure to a client, period; that’s an account manager’s job. After all, every recruiter thinks their candidate is the best, right? “He or she is a really good guy” How many times have I seen that, and the person be way off base with the client.

    Basically, clients get what they have asked for. A commoditized recruitment industry, which should never have been commoditized in the first place. People. commoditized. Something is very wrong with that picture. But hey, the “industry” has spoken and have very much created their own problem.

  60. HR on the corporate side need to ask themselves – am I a client, a customer, a potential customer or a source company for the contingency search firm. This “designation” will determine the LEVEL OF SERVICE you will receive from most small TPR’s.

    What is the difference?
    1) A client. This is the company contact, that when they call the recruiters drop everything and say “What can I do to help!”. They work with you, are responsive, give you insight into the need and why it is open, let you speak with the hiring manager (at least once, the best clients set that meeting up for you) to get a real feel for the role and what the issues have been if finding the right mix of talents. They give great feedback so we can fine tune our efforts and then actually hire the talent needed when we find them.

    2) A customer. They give you job orders but fail to respond in a timely manner, don’t give good feedback, don’t allow the account manager to speak with the hiring manager (you know the one that is feeling the pain) and only use you as a comparison to their own efforts.

    3) A potential customer. Someone that will talk to you but always say “I have it handled” even though the requisition has been on their website for months. “Go ahead and send a resume if you think you have a possibility.” but don’t give you the needed information to narrow down the field of potential candidates so you are working without direction

    4) A source company. They refuse to take your calls, if you do get lucky and get them on the phone they are rude, condescending or worse. These are my favorite places to find talent, if HR is like that, then that normally filters throughout the organization and people there are willing to listen to better opportunities. Included in this are the bigger organizations that think we can work for reduced fees since we are just a commodity and some bigger agency will be happy to take it for 15 or 20% (see post above from John).

    We are a service industry, and we only get paid IF we perform. Pay us fairly and work with us as partners to solve a hiring problem and we will bend over backwardss to make you happy.

    But maybe that is just my view from 33+ years of contingency recruiting, I could be wrong.

  61. Good article, Matt. It highlights the struggle we all face when trying to differentiate our services in an increasingly commoditized industry.

    My question for you is simple and I hope you’ll take a moment to respond: since it appears none of the many, many companies you spoke with delivered the magic incantation, on what basis did you determine the vendors with whom you should work? Since presumably you had no “relationship” or track-record of performance to reference, how did you choose?

  62. I like Suzanne Sears comments and will add:

    vendor, vendor, vendor……..thats what I read. you want a partner, but want to treat that partner as a vendor??????

    “our committment mirrors your committment”

  63. I see a lot of magnanimous salutations and posturing here. So, I will be a knife to cut through this pie… As soon as “Cheap” and “Budgetary” and “Fresh (as in no experience)” are mitigated in dialogue for placement of Human Resources (People), and terms like “Experience” and “Talent” and “Energy” return to the discussion… this ridiculous rant might be relevant. And “Budget” is likely position number one on every brief or job response/request. Why? It is all I’ve heard for 18 months. So, keep of filling slots with zero-talent/zero-experience 23-year-olds – you Agencies will lose your client base. And the cheap companies asking for these no-skill NewBs will lose their quality, then their revenue… Attention! You are all earning a big “FAIL” across the board. Please chime in if any of you folks have seen or heard “budget” and “cost” as the primary topic on a very important decision. I hope I am just some freakish isolated case. (I bet I am not). John Sale

  64. Maybe you should look at a Recruiters profile and see their experience before you partner up with them. Also allowing a Recruiter to speak to the person that the candidate would report to and who actually wrote the description would help you out tremendously. Sometimes corporate recruiters are working on so many requisitions that it is hard to manage and understand each req. Sometimes the hiring manager is unrealistic with their expectations, sometimes they take too long and lack the follow up skills we need to do our job and keep our candidates excited. We need to understand each position we work on thoroughly in order to do our research and entice currently working, happy people to have an interest.
    It seems like you talk to way too many recruiters. After Recruiting for 15+ years I have seen so many leave the industry due to the economic circumstances a good recruiter is one that has been able to survive the past few years and still make a good living due to the relationships they have with their clients, the communication and end result finding the top talent that thier clients seek. Just a few ideas, there can be frustration on both sides but it’s called communicating.

  65. @John Sale: Right on!

    @Nancy C: Your points are very valid. The problem is that experience alone is no indicator of quality. There are recruiters I worked with for 9 years before hanging up my own shingle that I would not hire..

  66. What makes companies different is how educated the account executive is with the clients needs as well as an understanding of what the company is buying. As mentioned every company will blow smoke on how they are different but in the end a wheel is not being reinvented. Everyone has a database of candidates, sourcing tools, job boards,networking and the list goes on. What I have found that works is that a smaller company does a better job of qualifying candidates then a large one. Reason is that the larger ones have more politics and they throw more crap against the wall hoping it sticks . Does the recruiting manager like the account executive ( if not resume flow will be minimal no matter how big a client is) Smaller companies are looking to grow and will take pride in the product they are putting forth.That just my thought

  67. @gary

    most of the time the great recruiters start their own firms and understand quality is why they have clients……and they don’t “throw stuff against the wall” as you stated because they have a manager to answer to. They have less politics and meetings and more time to focus on the client. There is no true recruiting partner for a huge company looking to integrate their recruiting efforts with an outside firm. The best approach is to take the type of positions they are looking to fill and be specific as to who the best recruiters are in those fields….and yes a lot of times those are small firms.

  68. @Carol, ok that makes more sense – I was thinking is this lady nuts : ) best of luck to you!
    You know its really like any profession in the world- there is bad and good.

  69. As an agency owner AND human resource professional, I agree with most of what’s stated in this article. However I do believe that some of the responsibility does fall to the employer.

    If you’re planning on utilizing a vendor agency, why would you not interview that agency by addressing your pet peeves prior to accepting a meeting? If, for example, the answer to the question about the relative longevity of an agency’s recruiters is that the recruiter in place for the longest duration has been there a mere six months . . . clearly NOT the agency for you, move on, find another and do not take the meeting.

    Also, references. If an agency can’t provide you with references, same deal . . . move one, find another agency, do not take the meeting. Put the same amount of research into your vendors that you would when you make a major purchase. This is a relationship you’re developing here. Put some effort into it before you start it.

    And lastly, Suzanne Sears (see her post below) might be my hero! Every employer and every agency should read that post!

  70. @Suzanne I did read your post upon Karens advice and you nailed it, that is what it is all about at the end of the day. I love what you wrote and I agree with your thoughts! Cheers to you!

  71. I’m an interim management consultant so I engage with agencies from both sides of the fence.

    I’m approached when I’m available for new assignments and when I need more resources.

    Having been in business for 25 years, I’ve become tired of 95% of my agency experiences. The 21 yr olds just out of school who don’t know the difference between a project and a programme. The used car salesmen who would sell their mother to make a commission, speak “at you” at 100mph and don’t listen. The hunter who lets you think they have something for you but whose only purpose of calling is to sniff out new opportunities. And the occasional professional, who you only hear from when they smell business.

    I used to push a lot of business to agents, but the appreciation is just not there so I gave up being that kind long ago. I once helped an agent make many £1000’s and a promised bottle of wine (which never arrived as they didn’t have time to deliver it) was the thanks I got. And they never had any business from me again.

    I have my own JobServe & LinkedIn accounts to recruit and with the help of an admin, I usually find who and what I need. My network, which I give heavily to, feed me with opportunities.

    The more people learn to network better, whether looking for resources or opportunities, the less recruiters will be needed. The ‘database’ of candidates is now available to the world via LinkedIn. It no longer has its gold dust value.

    The minority of agents who do a terrific job and treat everyone with respect are a credit to themselves and their industry.

    I must admit that it’s as a candidate that recruiters have most alienated me. But most forget that once in a new role, I am the hirer and any agent who didn’t act in the professional manner that “I expect” as a candidate, will never get any business from me when I am a hirer.

    Anyone can claim “but we are different”, but I’ve never really seen any differences that make me enthusiastically pick up the phone and call a recruiting agent.

  72. As the Director of HR with a major metropolitan consumer goods company, I cannot believe what I’m reading. Would you buy a car from someone who says “we’re different?” Would you buy office supplies from a sales person who calls you multiple times in a week and promises you gifts if you purchase? Would you buy a computer from the store that has a new manager in place every two weeks? Do your homework! Shame on all of you. As with any other vendor, when used appropriately and after proper vetting, agencies are valuable resources. THEY have incentive to find the appropriate person, and quickly. For goodness sake, if you’re not hiring their person, you’re not paying them. If you’re using an unsatisfactory agency, it’s your own fault.

    Human resources departments are the customer service departments who serve the current and potential employee population. Have we forgotten this? Upon arrival at my current employer, I was brought in to overhaul the talent recruitment process, which functioned as follows:

    Step 1) online application
    Step 2) 60 minute online assessment
    Step 3) one 45 minute telephone interview
    Step 4) one 4 hour interview with a “committee” of managers (HR and non-HR)
    Step 5) upon 100% agreement committee members referred the candidate on to department manager
    Step 6) one 2 hour meeting with the hiring manager
    Step 7) one 3 hour meeting with the applicable departmental team
    Step 8) one final return to present a PowerPoint presentation to the original “committee” on why you deserve to work here

    This process was in place for temporary, contract and permanent employment, entry to v-level positions. I was brought in when every attorney approached for the CLC position declined when faced with this four month “hiring” process. And regional talent had gotten whiff of this ridiculous process and stopped applying. We had 245 open positions with no prospects of filling any of them even with the resources of our 32 person HR department. A more self involved and self important HR department NEVER existed. As this process is becoming more and more comment, frankly, it’s a credit to the agency members of this group that THEY aren’t posting comments about the ridiculous HR people they deal with on a daily basis.

    I interviewed six regional agencies, brought 3 in and hired 2. They filled all 245 positions within 4 months and we moved on with our lives. No one offered to buy me a present, no one hounded me, no one “sold” me anything.

    Sadly and while you all may think this is the anomaly, my peers tell me that this grand scale, long cycle recruitment is becoming the norm. I completely understand the need to validate ones existence in these times, but not to the degree where you implement self important procedural processes that cost your employer good candidates, time and money.

    Ask the next unemployed candidate you meet to tell you a story about a recent interface with an human resources professional. We need to look within our ranks and not blame our vendors.

  73. @ James Marcus He’s the type of HR person we bend over backwards for and put in 14 hour days. Because like some have said…yes the good recruiters “smell” the money. The bad one’s do the check in calls, get into competitive bidding with other agencies courting dysfunctional HR departments. James knows what he’s doing, should be applauded and is a rare bird.

  74. @James: Good for you. You’re a rare bird. I would like to ask, of the 245 hires how many are still with your firm 1, 2, 5 years later and how many of the 245 would you look back on now and refer to as “top talent”?

  75. I mostly agree with Mr Lowney. It was my experience with Diversity recruiters that caused me to stop using them. We developed our own advertising and print media, established over 400 points of distribution in the area and augmented with social media and a website targeting our niche talent pool.( This was for an internal need that was ongoing) We stopped using local papers and national recruitment websites. Shortly thereafter we began receiving requests to assist our industry peers recruit top bilingual talent, English/ Spanish. This lead to developing our own recruiting firm with a very specific focus. Our rates were tied to performance metrics, ie if your turnover objectives were not met then we would drop the bill rate to reflect a markup that only included legally mandated taxes and workers comp, until we reached the desired outcome. In other words, if we did not do a better job for you than you could do for yourself than you did not pay a markup and we had no business assisting. Needless to say, we toppled many large accounts in our area since many staffing firms care very little about their clients needs or understand their industry. Our margin was tied to the business objectives of our clients. For one client we saved them over $1Million in the first 12 months.

  76. @Carol – we are three years into the trunkation of our recruiting process and I’m happy to say that the above-referenced process was discarded and will never be put back into place as long as I’m here. I just pulled figures and we lost, nationwide, just under 2% of the original 245 hires. Most due to relocation and non-returns from maternity leave. 45% have been promoted within our organization, another 20% are slated for review and possible promotion fiscal 2012. I have to lay credit where it’s due and that’s with the two vendor agencies who found us consistently high quality candidates, and my staff who (after some considerable resistance) adjusted to our new protocol.

  77. In reference to the comment about “building relationships” I don’t disagree that you’ve heard it from everyone. It’s part of the reason I’ve found success in this industry… but this is definitely a “get what you give” scenario. Your best friend likely didn’t become your best friend off your first meeting, and your significant other probably wasn’t significant off a cold call. Developing a relationship that means something requires an equal commitment from both parties. I’m good at this recruiting thing, but only because the clients I work with know me and I know them.

    I don’t stand a chance of filling an open position if I haven’t met a hiring manager to learn what matters most to them, been to the job site so I can accurately describe the position, and interacted with the individuals who are currently working there so I can provide a realistic preview of their potential next job. I wouldn’t expect someone to provide me with potential recruiters for my company if they didn’t have that same information.

    In regards to understanding a client’s business, that’s definitely a two way street too. I may not be an professional in accounting or injection molding, but I am a professional in the staffing industry. Why not partner with your vendor to get a real time understanding of the current climate in the labor market? Why not allow them to work with you on alternative delivery methods to fill difficult positions? I would pose the question to anyone currently using a 3rd party to fill their openings, how well do you know my business? Are you familiar with the industries I support? Do you know how many successful placements I’ve made or my office/region/company has made this year? What do you know about our financial forecasts or performance history? I make a concerted effort to know this about the managers I work with. If I’m the one providing you with people that are contributing to the success of your company, wouldn’t you want to know a few things about me and my company?

    @James Marcus – thanks for the backup.

  78. At the risk of providing a comment that just seems like a plug…

    I find myself thinking and feeling this way about many vendors (outside of the search domain) who serially over promise and under deliver — so much so that vendors can become outliers simply by doing what they promise and nothing more. Don’t they listen to themselves? As consumers, will we always need to expect and settle for less?

    Fortunately, there are signs that change is in the air within our domain. Executive Search is ripe for disruption and some of the catalysts are found within the confluence of social media/technologies, hiring manager and job seeker social behaviors, economic conditions and the need to align talent with reality and strategy, and high expectations of leaders such as you.

    Let’s expect more value, deliver more value, and get more value. We are committed to nothing less.

    Chris Simone

    Treeline Inc. / DADO

  79. What struck me about this article is “why is someone interviewing 100’s of ‘agencies’ in the first place?”

    Most of my clients have a discussion, then once IRES is selected from a small, select group of semi-finalists, the relationship lasts for 2-3 years on average until their “hiring spree” is taken care of.

    A number of our clients have worked with us for 10 and even 20 years filling tens of millions of positions responsible for billions of dollars of corporate revenue.

    They a) will not continuously talk to ‘agencies’ (would be a waste of their time b) make it clear to those that call they have a strong relationship in place c) won’t even consider, sit down with, or give the time of day to any competitor unless my search firm (IRES) screws up and fails to deliver or develops a pattern of missing deadlines.

    This served little than allow someone to vent who doesn’t have a good system in place for whatever reason. Great catchy title with viral appeal but little else to offer.

    When I choose any professional, A law firm, landscaper, housecleaner, graphic designer – I go through the “decision making” process ONCE then stick with the relationship for many years.

  80. I know I’m tardy to the party, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I have worked 18 years on the agency side, and now 5 years on the HR side. Yes, I cringe when I receive a call from a staffing company, and yet I feel for them because of the commoditization of the industry. I miss the days when it was all about relationships and trust. Everything that Jeff, Suzanne, Darren, Morgan, Michael S., Sandra, Shawn, Michael R., K Diver, Daniel, and Lisa say is true. I worked for only three companies in my 18 years in staffing, and we had some outstanding people with relatively low turnover, but it became so frustrating because of the lowering margins. There was always some agency (nationals often) who chose to compete on price alone. I got sick of clients dictating mark-ups, trying to renegotiate fees after the deal was done, converting our people to another agency for a few more pennies per hour savings, etc. Yes, we did it to ourselves. Just know that when you ask your TPR to work on very low margins, you will not get the attention you desire. Everyone in the office will be overworked and frazzled because the company can’t afford more people. Now, when I call a company, I call a person, someone I know and trust, and I don’t shop around for fees. AND, I introduce them to the hiring manager and let them take it from there. I don’t ask about their markup and I don’t ask for a parade of interviews. I am upfront if we are also recruiting on our own. AND, if my manager wants to hire a temp full time, I agree that we should pay a fee. It’s the right thing to do. It’s amazing when you are an easy to work with client how much better it can be.

  81. Being a veteran recruiter or “headhunter” I believe both parties are correct on these postings or should I call some venting(s). Recruiting is a high turnover burnout kind of business, the larger firms have one heck of a time keeping their desks filled. So why not try the independent recruiters, they do it all and if they are good – they survive a long time. A recruiter can only be as good as the client is at giving them the amount of information required to do a good job and the authority to work WITH hiring mgr. So if done right, the recruiter can make the HR professionals look even better.

  82. This is one of the biggest problems in the staffing industry. A client wants an expert in a very specialist domain. Many, but not all,staffing agencies then run the DB and email every tom, dick and harry whose resume had some combination of words in it. Example, I did COBOL at university many years ago and never used it since – I used to get offered for COBOL gigs. Not these days as I removed this from my resume!

    Then they advertise on DICE, of run a search on LinkedIn etc.

    Then, and this is the killer, they ask the respondents what rate they want. If they have say 6 responders that want from $80 – $160 an hour and they have ‘budget’ from the client of say $180, guess whose resume is NOT sent to the client. So the client often does not get presented with the best person.

    Before all the good agencies, And I currently am engaged with one of them, responds this is common practice with a good number of agencies, including some very large household names.

    How to solve this problem!!
    Clients – ask the agency what their markup is and get a firm written commitment that this will be an open rate policy between the client, the staffing agency and the consultant. A percentage markup ensure the agency makes a fair living and the client gets exposure to the very best of consultants.

    As the agency makes more $ on the best consultants they will send the top candidates to the client. Strike a deal with the agency to reduce the margin for volume – if you have 50/100 consultants via the same agency then that is fair game.

    The client can then evaluate the resumes, interview and decide what level of rate they want to pay for the best fir to the needs of the business.

    Clients tell the agency that you will only accept their top 3 consultants and thus the agency will now do their job and filter out the spam. If the agency is going to send 30/40 resumes then save your money and check LinkedIN yourself!

    I’ve personally had experience of agencies marking up a rate by $90 an hour for a 6 month gig. Everyone has to earn a living, but this model is bad for the clients, and bad for the consultant who is now expected to ‘walk on water’ and can never meet the high expectations they set for the high cost involved.

  83. I wonder how many businesses would disclose profits on every widget they sell. I, personally, have on problem doing this because most people have no idea just how expensive it is to employ someone. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, in New York State, that $90 per hour contractor would cost an additional $27 per hour for just the basic required insurances, Social Security match and Unemployment Insurance. Medical insurance would be an additional $600.00 per month. Add to that costs for my own staff, my rent, my own operating costs and payroll costs and we’re now up to a base cost of $90 per hour plus about 45%, just in basic costs, no profit, before corporate income taxes. At this point, we need to determine how much profit per hour I’m entitled to because like all of my clients, like all employees, we are doing this to make money.

  84. I should have clarified that I refer to corp to corp, so most of these costs are at the risk of the consultant. In a corp to corp situation it is merely your added value costs. And yes you should make a living, of course, but staffing firms need to earn it like most others.

    However the costs are fixed, so add $60 a hour to the rate or whatever is a fair return for the EFFORT involved. The point is the cheaper consultants are often the one passed to the client to maximize margin.

    I’ve worked with 3 successful models in the past;
    A) for permie roles a small agency charged a fixed 10% of first years salary with a cap of $10k and was very successful with clients retained for many years.
    B) where an agency had 100+ consultants at a large bank and had a fixed markup of 15% (corp to corp), and
    C) where I have worked with the agency to agree a $50 an hour margin on my rate.

    I have excellent relationships with all of them.

    On a 6 month gig, $50 an hour equates to $52,000. Once set up the only costs directly involved with the gig is accounts and that should be automated these days based on approved time by the client. With good technology there is little ongoing work to do.

    So, is $52,000 a reasonable reward for what is often is a few days work? If a GOOD recruiter can place 3 consultants a month then there is an income stream of over $3.7 Million PA. What the agency does with this income is of course their business.

    And of course many gigs run for 12/18/24 months – so again little work for the recruiter.

    Thus to markup $90 a hour on a corp to corp is bad business for the client and the consultant. And I appreciate that I’m talking about the medium to top end of the market place.

    The point is what is a fair return for the effort involved.

    If the widget maker makes too much of a margin then the client will find anther widget maker eventually, but get burnt in the meantime.

  85. Hello Matt, Hopeful your rant is helping you make decisions going forward with your recruiting relationships? Talking to 100’s of recruiters? If anything, please consider taking a vacation from your expressed stress!

    There is an abundance of great feedback on your topic. Very helpful to read/meet others of a similar mindset regarding quality recruiting and placement.

    After ‘smiling and dialing’ for 22 years and owning my own firm for 13 years I know well the experience from the search firm side. It takes me from 7-10 calls into HR to begin the ‘relationship process’ … Then going forward …the challenge to obtain all information to handle a search successfully can be tough. Then being phenomenally flexible with the multitude of changes in the process. However, I’m passionate about making great matches so I continue.

    Most importantly, there is a trickle down effect of how a person will be treated once they become an employee. It all begins with HR! Yes, you are the face of the Company!

    It is my pleasure to represent a variety of very successful laboratory and biotech companies in the US.

    If we may be of service to you, please let me know. Wishing you the best, Lisa Peterson

  86. One of the more helpful, interesting and entertaining articles and threads I’ve read this year. Appreciate the input of all who participated…thanks to Matt for the well balanced article and the level rest for the level of discussion. I’m asking an online ERE panel I’m moderating later in November [17]- Third Party Placement VS Corporate Recruiting: Competitors or Partners? https://staging.ere.net/webinars/third-party-placement-vs-corporate-recruiting-in-2020-competitors-or-partners/
    to read this column in prep for a lively discussion. Hope some of you will join in.

    One observation is that most of the discussion is in support of and addressed by ‘veterans’… who have all established their ‘bona fides’ (or else they would not be veterans). The credibility of someone who has 10year’s experience isn’t at issue. One problem not addressed is that the entry into 3rd party recruiting is so low that huge numbers of wannabes enter the business each year only to exit 6 months later- and yet they bombard nearly every firm vying for the time and chance to prove themselves.

  87. I spent years recruiting in the corporate world in jobs that also required physical labor.
    When my back went out in 2002, several clients suggested I either start my own agency or work for one. Long story short I applied at the supposed top 3 in the Portland market as if I wanted to be a worker for them. I found they treated everyone with at best guarded contempt and treated their staff even worse. I ended up going to work for a small “Mom & Pop” that was bought out 3 years ago, but I will say that they have always allowed me to treat all of my accounts as if they were my only account and my temporary and permanent placement recruits the same way!
    If you really want a clients business, never and I repeat never make them have a need to call anyone but you. If you tell your clients and recruits that your phone is on 7 days a week from 6:00am to 10:00pm, mean it, and answer it! This is how I get personal referrals and have every client that I do business with allow me to use them as a personal referral.

  88. I respond, somewhat belatedly, only because Suzanne Sears succinctly highlighted some of the barriers that recruitment firms must overcome. Questions that firms should be asking during this discussion:

    1. why is the position open,
    2. how long have you been looking,
    3. has the position been approved and budgeted and
    4. what are the steps ( how many interviews/people that must approve) from the time a candidate is first interviewed to the time an offer is extended.

  89. I respond, somewhat belatedly, only because Suzanne Sears succinctly highlighted some of the barriers that recruitment firms must overcome. Questions that firms should be asking during this discussion:

    1. why is the position open,
    2. how long have you been looking,
    3. has the position been approved,budgeted and added to the plan and
    4. what are the steps ( how many interviews/people that must
    approve) from the time a candidate is first interviewed to the
    time an offer is extended.

    I have been seated in both chairs, corporate and agency, and can see and understand that both sides will need, under certain circumstances, to need to work cooperatively to make all happy.

  90. Great, the weekly I hate working with agencies rant from a “talent acquisition director” who couldn’t handle it in the big leagues. We value you on our terms. Translation, you see our profession as order takers. I don’t and that’s why I avoid if at all possible dealing with the “talent acquisition” team. I see myself as a consultant who is helping and advising businesses on how to hire top talent. As soon as I hear the phrase “vendor list” I automatically make that prospective client a source. Why? Because you don’t value my service and I’m just another pain in the neck to you. Give me the client that will answer my phone calls, provide immediate feedback, allow me to speak with the hiring managers, keep me in the loop and only work with me and possibly one or two other recruiters, and I’ll make you and your company look great. Put up walls, don’t answer calls, don’t allow me to properly prepare the candidate by not providing me information and you’ll be frustrated. What are you doing to keep maintaining the relationship? As an agency, you can’t be afraid to fire clients. You are not the only client out there. I don’t need your business and with the attitude you portray in the article, I don’t want it.

  91. This is a great article, and as another reader has written – Matt’s nailed it! Having been in the recruitment game myself for a long time, I have also sat opposite hundreds of clients selling a recruitment service. I always found that as long as the client was honest with me about why they were different, what their culture was really like, and what the turnover was genuinely like, then we would work very well together.

  92. MY .02 cents. I have been Recruiting for 12 years and its really not as complicated as this article is making it . We are service not people , people are the bi product of our service. If companies feel that they are not getting the right results the reasons are either
    – You didnt bring on the right PARTNER to fill the role ..NOT the right Vendor
    – Your paying a LOW fee thinking you are going to get a deal–The desperate or new Recruiters will take that fee..a 10% -30% fee is still the same amount of work .
    – You have hired 10 recruiters to do this –Well if someone comes across my desk Ill send but you will not get the effort needed to fill this and if all 10 recruiters have the same attitude I do ..you wont fill it
    – You dont communicate or respond–RED FLAG I stop recruiting until I hear back

    I can go on and on but , the bottom line is the market is Red Hot and getting work is not the hard part so its really up to the Recruiter to decided where they want to dedicate their efforts on a C-B Job Order or an A. The challenge is finding the right candidate, this could take 100’s of calls but most companies think we just reach into our Database and pull out quality candidates who are waiting for our calls. Companies really dont understand what a REAL recruiter does all day .

    The article is well written but all of this is just a smoke cloud hiding the underling cause on why Client cant fill positions. I dont believe that your pitch is really going to make a big difference when you are the 6th recruiter to call, you BETTER bring something to the table other then your process and expertise…Something that will solve there problem..Your process dosent solve anything .

  93. Neither myself nor anyone on our behalf has ever picked up the phone to call any potential clients. 100% of our business has been inbound and after reading this, I’m going to keep it that way!
    Good read.
    Thank you,
    Phillip @ Phlebotek Phlebotomy Staffing.

  94. Matt, Your Suggestions and my comments:

    1. Talk about your recruiting process: In a contingency search contract, how does it matter? You pay us only when we are successful, right? Or are you going to pay us for the process ?

    2.What actually makes you different: Though clients treat us & the candidates like commodity, we love what we do and put in sincere effort in screening each candidate we have or get. Ask our candidates about our relationship with them. It is a lot of hard work to keep our candidate relationship going strong.

    3.Don’t over-promise: I agree. But like what Suzanne has said above, please deal with only two or three vendor partners to have a mutually beneficial relationship. Don’t circulate your requirements to 100s of vendors so that you get a FREE PR job done. It would actually have the opposite effect, if you do.

    4.Turnover: I agree. With us, you deal with only me, the founder director of the company.

    My suggestions to you:

    1. Feedback: Please provide feedback on the CVs we submit, preferably within two days. We will not be able to hold on to the candidates beyond that time frame.

    2. You vacate the requirement: Meaning, you or your recruiters should not work on the requirements that you have given us. Else, it would be counter productive. In retained search, you appoint us for a cost upfront to work on your requirements. In contingency search you do not pay us until we are successful. In the model I am suggesting, you get best of both the worlds.

    3. Duplicacy of resumes: Please do not go to job boards and search for the names of the candidates we have provided and then tell us it is a duplicate. That is Unethical. We are not GOD to create candidates out of thin air and provide you UNIQUE candidates. Whatever headhunting we do, we finally find that those candidates have their profiles in Job Boards or in Linkedin for sure.

    4. Treat us with respect: That would motivate us.

    5. call us once in a while: Why is it that only we should call you and be behind you for everything? Is it not a mutually beneficial relationship ?

    6. Pay us for “Candidate Engagement” and not for “finding” candidates: I seriously hope that this happens sometime in the near future.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Kannan Kasi, Gyanagni Consulting, Bangalore, India

  95. Because I love it, I am re-posting James Marcus’ post from last year. I feel it gets to the heart of both matters:

    James Marcus – September 2011

    As the Director of HR with a major metropolitan consumer goods company, I cannot believe what I’m reading. Would you buy a car from someone who says “we’re different?” Would you buy office supplies from a sales person who calls you multiple times in a week and promises you gifts if you purchase? Would you buy a computer from the store that has a new manager in place every two weeks? Do your homework! Shame on all of you. As with any other vendor, when used appropriately and after proper vetting, agencies are valuable resources. THEY have incentive to find the appropriate person, and quickly. For goodness sake, if you’re not hiring their person, you’re not paying them. If you’re using an unsatisfactory agency, it’s your own fault.

    Human resources departments are the customer service departments who serve the current and potential employee population. Have we forgotten this? Upon arrival at my current employer, I was brought in to overhaul the talent recruitment process, which functioned as follows:

    Step 1) online application
    Step 2) 60 minute online assessment
    Step 3) one 45 minute telephone interview
    Step 4) one 4 hour interview with a “committee” of managers (HR and non-HR)
    Step 5) upon 100% agreement committee members referred the candidate on to department manager
    Step 6) one 2 hour meeting with the hiring manager
    Step 7) one 3 hour meeting with the applicable departmental team
    Step 8) one final return to present a PowerPoint presentation to the original “committee” on why you deserve to work here

    This process was in place for temporary, contract and permanent employment, entry to v-level positions. I was brought in when every attorney approached for the CLC position declined when faced with this four month “hiring” process. And regional talent had gotten whiff of this ridiculous process and stopped applying. We had 245 open positions with no prospects of filling any of them even with the resources of our 32 person HR department. A more self involved and self important HR department NEVER existed. As this process is becoming more and more comment, frankly, it’s a credit to the agency members of this group that THEY aren’t posting comments about the ridiculous HR people they deal with on a daily basis.

    I interviewed six regional agencies, brought 3 in and hired 2. They filled all 245 positions within 4 months and we moved on with our lives. No one offered to buy me a present, no one hounded me, no one “sold” me anything.

    Sadly and while you all may think this is the anomaly, my peers tell me that this grand scale, long cycle recruitment is becoming the norm. I completely understand the need to validate ones existence in these times, but not to the degree where you implement self important procedural processes that cost your employer good candidates, time and money.

    Ask the next unemployed candidate you meet to tell you a story about a recent interface with an human resources professional. We need to look within our ranks and not blame our vendors.

  96. I find it absolutely fascinating (and indicative of our current market) that people ares still posting commentary here one year after the original publication. Must be some kind of record. I would like to point out that Suzanne Sears, Darren Ledger, Shawn Smith and James Marcus all make valid points and I would urge everyone to read or reread their very insightful comments.

  97. I see a lot of truth from both sides being posted here. Like a lot of recruiters, I started out on the agency side but went in-house after a while, the last 7 years as a contractor. Some of my observations:

    Like Matt, I’ve received calls from countless agencies over the years pitching their services, and after a while they all sound the same. Far too may talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. If you’re interested in building a relationship with my company, why can’t I get you to come meet in person? You say you’ve filled positions just like the one I’m working on, so why can’t you provide me a specific — and recent — example? If you thoroughly screen the candidates before submitting them, how come the one I like that you just submitted not only has never heard of you, we interviewed him ourselves just last week?

    Companies and hiring managers have their own eccentricities, too. They all say they want to hire “A” players, but fail to recognize that there are only so many to go around. If you want to hire “A” players then you have to provide them with A-level opportunities. That you have free snacks and a foosball table in the break room is NOT a big deal to most people.

    Technology has become too much a crutch and less of a tool, too. Keyword-driven search agents and bots used by agencies reduces recruiting contacts to mass-mailing and spam, a thousand e-mails automatically sent out based on the number of keyword hits in a resume database search in the hope that the odds will deliver a couple of actual prospects. It explains why I regularly get e-mails telling me they’ve reviewed my resume and think I’d be a great fit for the tax manager, QA analyst, marcom specialist, or other equally-irrelevant position.

  98. good comments all around.

    Referrals people, referrals. As a seasoned recruiter you should not have to make cold calls, rarely even warm ones. The market is great, and as long as you do a good job….the GOOD clients do drop your name or give you referrals virtually without asking.

    If your on the client side setting up 10 firms to interview…shame on you. You should be able to narrow it down to a short list before picking up the phone unless your just trying to fill your schedule. That and MOST if not all of the top producing recruiters will not or just don’t have to go through that process. They have plenty of work…maybe even recruiting your people.

  99. The problem is the law of averages. All clients want A+ recruiters and A+ candidates. All recruiters claim they can deliver both, and have A+ strategies and A+ track records. The truth is few companies offer a package good enough to attract an A+ candidate, and what defines that differs on an individual basis. And, few recruiters have A+ strategies. Because most of us, and I’m not exempting myself, are NOT A+ people. There’s a bell curve for everything and most of us fall right in the middle of the thing. The compensation/benefit/opportunity package being offered isn’t good enough to get the people you want; the recruiter doesn’t have the perfect set of contacts and past candidates to draw on to deliver the people he wants to deliver.

    This is called life, or reality. Take your pick. What would do most companies and recruiting agencies a load of good is to do a reality check on themselves and align their goals with what they can actually achieve, and then look to improve results over time.

    One of my favorite examples of this is my current company’s past obsession with ‘passive’ candidates. I asked one simple question that put it to be, which was, “Can any of you show me one single study or piece of evidence that shows passive candidates are overall better performers and longer tenured than ‘active’ candidates?” No one could. No one who I have met in this industry can. But it’s the buzz word of the day. Which of course means corporate side recruiters like me get forced to try and ‘network’ (aka, take the path of most resistance) for positions that often never materialize, and when they do need to be filled three months ago, and don’t offer anything particularly special in terms of salary, benefits, or opportunities.

    Thankfully a few people in my company are more reality oriented and realized if we don’t have any planning in terms of future positions, then a blitz of both active AND passive efforts AFTER the job has been solidified is the best option and use of our resources. What’s more, we now have a reality based assessment of what we can offer and how it compares to the market and therefore what level of candidate we can expect to get.

    If both corporate side recruiters and agency recruiters would just be honest with each other instead of endlessly pitching BS back and forth, maybe they could serve each other better. I use two external agencies, and I’m brutally honest with them about everything in the company, and I don’t let them take REQs I know are going to evaporate or change ten times before they’re settled. I help them, they in turn offer me candidates that honestly have a good shot of thriving here where I work, and an honest layout of their strategy and how they’ll execute.

    You can’t build a relationship on lies, less ‘selling’ and more honesty from both sides on this issue would go a long way. If the hiring manager the agency is going to work with is a flake, they need to know this. If the job description is an amalgamation of positions that will be hard if not impossible to fill, they need to know, AND they need to know what the priorities are. Likewise if you’re on the agency side and you’re going to advertise and don’t have the passive pipeline for the position I’m presenting, I need to know. If you’re account rep changes very three months, I need to know, AND I need to know why. If you do have a different process, lay it out and give an honest assessment of the advantages it confers.

  100. Fun response Jenni ~ you made my day.

    We really ARE all in this together and we have it right our relationship is a partnership instead purely a vendor-client one.

  101. An interesting post and I agree that many staffing agencies still don’t get what truly makes a good recruitment partner. As a UK staffing company now operating in the US we’re succeeding where others have failed because we absolutely do ‘get it’.

    Our recruitment process is simple – our recruiters are specialists not only within an industry – but also a vertical market within that industry – so they really know their stuff. We also have 360 degree consultants so that the person who the client interacts with also sources the candidates, manages the process and closes the deal. We don’t and won’t work with everybody – which means we can often source talent that our competitors can’t – how can you genuinely source talent for a client if you are also on the PSL for three of their competitors? If you ask any (good) recruitment consultant what value they can add to a hiring organisation, the answer should be their network, their knowledge of your sector and business and their ability to come up with solutions. Good recruiters – those with a truly consultative approach spend a long time building networks – and that means developing relationships, not databases. It also means that they are delivery and solutions driven – not sales people looking to put bums on seats before moving onto the next job order.

    Proprietary databases are irrelevant – and you’re right they just don’t exist. What we believe you should be looking for is a consultancy that has a network of talent that they have tracked over a number of years – that’s how we source talent that you can’t find yourself.

    We have never recruited a graduate trainee and are different in that we only ever hire experienced recruiters. We also pay salaries and have packages with holidays and benefits rather than draws which provides more job security and everyone becomes a share option holder on the first anniversary of their tenure which encourages a long term view and loyalty. We also invest in continuous training and have a strong culture embedded through core company values. Consequently we have a very low staff attrition rate compared with the industry norm.

    We also focus on repeat business and 64% of our annual revenue comes from our top 20 clients. Finally – the proof – we have a 185% compound annual growth rate on an international level – so what we are doing works.
    Perhaps we should be talking 😉

  102. I liked this article. I’ve been selling contingency/retained/contract staffing for many years now and what Matt says is true.

    I disagree with one thing though. Even if you are the best recruiter on the planet, you’re not going to prove it in 15 seconds.

    I think the real issue here is that the recruiting agents don’t have much credibility as a species. And why not? In my experience, there are some recruiters who have been trained by their bosses or trainers that they are only responsible for making placements, and not responsible for the integrity of their firm or the value of a fair exchange with their customer. Basically, they’ve been indoctrinated into being irresponsible, money-driven, liars. Sorry to sound harsh… but it’s those folks that ruin it for the rest of us. That’s why clients need longer and longer guarantees, and even after that, they automatically don’t believe you’ll honor the guarantee so they won’t pay you until the end of the guarantee period, and they don’t want to even check your references anymore, they want to see you do all the work of recruiting first before they sign even a contingency contract, etc.

    At the end of the day, the only way to cut through all the NOISE and have an honest conversation with a client, is to STOP SELLING and ACTUALLY LISTEN.

    There’s your differentiator right there. And the only way to prove it… is to do it.

  103. Matt, after reading your post this morning, I came to this post and really LOVE WHAT YOU HAVE to say!
    I’ve always thought that the better sales people get the clients but the better recruiters keep the clients.
    As a one person company, I don’t even sell any of the points listed above. So this is validation that I’m doing the right thing.
    Thank you so much!

  104. I think the only way someone can truly differentiate themselves as a recruiter is to explain to the client why it’s in their best interests to only use them to fill that particular job. It’s the difference between selling ‘maybe’ and selling ‘definitely’.

    Once that’s done, all that’s left to do is negotiate the amount that the client pays upfront.

    The type of job or salary is immaterial.

    NB…I never buy stationery from people who tell me they might be able to deliver the products I need.

  105. Perhaps the problem is in the eye of the beholder. If you don’t know questions to ask agency recruiters then you put yourself in a position to simply have them dictate the same old lines, etc to you. I own a staffing agency. I am different. I show specifically how we are different. But if you are ignorant of the right questions to ask me, you still may not believe.

  106. In over 20 years of contracting I can count the number of truly honest recruiters I have encountered on one hand. Most are fast talkers right off the used car lot with a list of resume search terms their “clients” are looking for and a collection of nebulous openings. For the most part I fail to see the value they add to the human resource equation and see a lot of people that couldn’t make it in their vocation or profession so they recruit for it. Many hiring decisions seem to be based on certifications instead of demonstrable successes, mainly for CYA in that HR people can always say: “well, he or she is certified.” It is time for corporations to look at the person again. Finally, I hear corporations complaining about not being able to find high quality, experienced people. Yet, most thirty-something hiring managers won’t consider people over 50 in the IT world. Besides the obvious legal issues associated with this unwritten policy they are screening out the most knowledgeable, experienced segment of our society.

  107. Pretty sad statement that quite a few responses are poorly veiled “Pick Me” attempts at a Sales pitch. That in itself is a major part of the problem with our industry.


  108. Frank Risalvato: Tens of millions of placements? LOL You should maybe do the math friend that would be 80K placements a month. Not hardly on this planet or all of them together. You have some good points but your exaggerations seriously hurt your credibility.


  109. Every naperville staffing agencies must read this article. I must admit that most of you mention above scenarios are really happening. Most dilemma of companies is to find a good and trusted recruitment agencies which can provided experts or at least well trained individuals to a particular field/job. And it is true, most agencies are not providing proper training to their recruited agents. Some of them are giving simple briefing about the company they will work on. So I can’t blame companies to reject offers from many recruitment agencies.

  110. Staffing agency’s are a good choice IF you want your wages lowered to 1978 levels while you of course have to pay 2015 prices. Forget any decent benefits too. Good luck making that work. Their answer when asked is “that’s what they’re paying.” If you pay for MOP & BROOM experience then that is what you’ll get. The agency’s I’ve dealt with around NH are a bunch of incompetent fools who don’t even read and comprehend your resume.

  111. Staffing agencies are nothing more than middlemen. Your wages take a permanent turn for the worse. They want people with experience but only PAY for mop&broom experience (9.00to12.00) if you’re lucky. I used to earn 19.00 an hour but was laid off. It took YEARS to get to that wage. At a staffing agency you AGAIN spend years climbing the same wage ladder OVER AGAIN. They give that info (that you accepted mop & broom pay) to the employer,and the employer imagines it means you’re willing to accept it. IF,,, they finally hire you it’s for a lousy buck more than the agency paid. Unfortunately you somehow have to pay 2015 prices at a wage from the early eighty’s. 9 to 12 dollars an hour now is worth a LOT LESS than it was then.

    1. Not to mention every staffing agency i’ve dealt with even the big ones sucks. Send you on a interview that’s cancelled but not inform you. (this is the largest company too). Take hours of prove it tests then vanish to never hear from agaiin. Take a week or 2 to reply to calls or emails. Have a 15 dollar an hour job fall through and offer you a 10 dollar one. Have you come in for interview where you fill out all the 30 pages of paperwork then say will call you if anything comes up. It’s all a hustle.

  112. Screw staffing agencies. Mop&broom pay for 20 years of experience. I’ll stand barefoot and starving in a snowbank before I let them pay me through a beanblower.

  113. i have been told from one staffing agency that “i have the right to know the company” where other agencies tell me “i wont disclose that information” where can i find information of any laws and regulations stating the 2?

  114. What general rabble is saying is the very thing that everyone tries to push off on millenials.

    Nobody who has a degree plus skills wants to work for your crap staffing company wages.

    Pretty bad that staffing companies try to get me to work for 9 bucks for a QA tech job when I made 10 an hour 10 years ago as an intern.

    Yeah, I can go work as a barback lugging kegs for 25 hours a week and make more than your 9 buck an hour with manditory 50-60 hours a week and be less tired.

    Call me when you have a real wage in mind.

  115. I see the unions are well represented here. This just in, not all staffing companies are temp agencies, some merely recruit as a service to their clients and only have full time jobs that pay well.

    Keep your head in the sand though.

  116. Sure, I agree with the points made. Seems to me you’ve been working with some crappy, cookie-cutter firms out there. I have 1 problem though, and that is the bias. You do realize that not all corporate recruiters are gold, correct? I work with a lot of them who are either overly arrogant and assumptive in their interpretation of skills required, have no clue themselves what they are actually looking for (technical recruiter here) and no understanding of the technologies/skills required, and can’t qualify a job with their managers to save their lives. Want a true partner? Someone who can fill the roles? Got to have some give and take. I need information to do it, not red tape and restrictions. Want me to make your roles a higher priority? Be more flexible and give me the ability to ask the horse what he/she needs, not a regurgitated mess of poorly qualified skills. Want me to help with your cultural fits? Honestly sell me the culture of your corporation so I can sell my candidates…don’t just assume I know it or direct me to your website. If you can’t sell it to me, how can I effectively sell it to candidates?
    There is an unspoken battle between firms and corporate recruiters, and it starts with pride. Swallow it, and let me help you fill your role. Controlling me with tone or your abrasion will not help the situation, create a relationship, or fill your position. It will only make me want to turn your organization in to a “source” rather than a “client”.

  117. I certainly do appreciate where you’re coming from when you identify that companies often use the same type of terminology, however, in no degree does this represent the quality, professionality, or ability of the company. I say this literally as I’ve had a great experience with a particular company, and actually came across a similar article which somewhat goes hand-in-hand with what you’re talking about: https://www.ljdoulton.uk/blog/contingency-why-it-just-doesnt-work-in-recruitment-anymore/

    If somebody claims they value relationships, this shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing on the simple grounds other people state this, for it could indeed be true. We should determine the success of a company based on our personal experiences, and their skillset.

  118. There are some staffing agency who are trustworthy and honest that can truly help you to find a job. And some are you can really rely on and you can trust with. For me staffing agency are very helpful.

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