Your Internal Competition

During a conversation with renowned industry maven Bill Vick, he mentioned that the landscape of the recruiting business is changing dramatically because of the increased proficiency of the internal recruiting staffs. No longer is the recruiting task relegated to the new kid in HR or to good old Ralph who’s been delegated the job to keep him out of harm’s way until his retirement.

In some cases, the recruitment function has been taken away from HR and placed in the Sales or Marketing departments where bureaucracy is at a minimum and creativity is at a premium.

So where do these internal recruiting hotshots come from? Mainly from our business! But rest assured that very few search superstars are grabbing the counterfeit corporate brass ring. Most were mediocre producers in our business and happy to have a steady paycheck. There are, of course, a few exceptions but they are few and far between.

Many have become AIRS certified and most have attended other seminars on the recruiting process. But becoming a superstar recruiter is about more than an ability to crank up your Boolean knowledge, log on to a few job boards or other websites and attempt to fetch those who seem to fit the talent requisition.

I’ve spoken with quite a few of the search research freelancers who are utilized by the internal recruiters. One told me, “I’ve produced dozens of ‘perfect’ candidates for several clients. Unfortunately, my recruiter clients didn’t have the moxie to take them to the hiring table and I suspect it’s because there’s no fee awaiting them at the end of a successful fill.” Some get a bonus for successful hires but, even with the extra performance money, there is still a wide gap in earnings compared to an above average third party practitioner. Internal recruiters drop the ball with much more frequency than the third-party folks, often for the goofiest of reasons.

Another freelance researcher told me, “It looks like American companies are dumbing down the caliber of talent they hire through their internal staffs simply because they think it costs less to hire B’s and C’s than the A’s they really need to outperform their competitors. One high-level hiring manager said he is appalled at the pedestrian level of competence he’s being subjected to by the internal recruiting staff and he’s being pressured to hire second-raters just to justify the money that has already been invested in the recruiting department and their technological crutches.”

No one objects to companies using internal recruiters to hire run-of-the-mill chair warmers or to fill slots with barely adequate candidates. For a lot of jobs, that’s all that’s required. In today’s work ethic, they’re here today; gone tomorrow . . . and are easily replaceable by just harvesting another clone from Monster or any of the hundreds of other job boards out there. Third party professionals have never felt that companies should pay a fee for someone they can attract on their own. But there are some openings within every company that require A+ players – top-notchers with a demonstrated record for intuition, persuasion, resourcefulness and the courage to pursue their visions. These almost always work for a direct competitor and it is often politically inappropriate to steal them directly. More than a few lawsuits have resulted because of direct poaching activity.

Internal recruiters frequently look at their job through a different prism. I know because I used to be one. So did attorney Jeff Allen and he made some salient observations to consider:

• In-house recruiters are paid regardless of their effectiveness. Surveys show that the average in-house recruiter is paid around $60,000 per year. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce calculation, up to 36% more is spent on record-keeping, bookkeeping, cash flow management, payroll taxes, paid holidays, paid vacations, paid sick leave, paid insurance and paid everything else. Using this figure drives the number to $81,000 per year. Crank in ads, phone calls, meals, recruiting trips and other ‘incidental expenses,’ and you’re easily looking at well over $140,000.

• It may seem that a direct employee is more accountable to management. There’s actually an inverse relationship between being accessible and being accountable. Still, in-house recruiters are on site every day, and are usually paid for time rather than results, and there is a tendency to defer formal communication with them. Further, since the priorities of various job requisitions can fluctuate minute by minute, status reports are reduced to justifications as to why jobs remain unfilled. Of course, changing priorities, writing memos and addressing meetings just reduces the time available to fill the openings.

• There is some basis for the argument that an in-house recruiter is more aligned with management. All things being equal, they know company philosophy and idiosyncrasies of hiring authorities better. But this knowledge can also perpetuate the tunnel vision that really makes the difference between an order-taker ‘recruiter’ and an objective, creative consultant. Added to this is the dependence of a salaried employee that prevents them from being too forceful. If hiring authorities knew what they needed, it could work. Unfortunately, they don’t even know what they want! If you compare your last job order to the background of the employee hired for the job, you’ll probably find less than 20% similarity between them.

• There is no way an in-house recruiter can have the resources of a consultant. In fact, they’re agoraphobics, sitting in their cubicles looking out the window at the same part of the street day after day. The same employer, same openings, same job boards, same crazy supervisors, same pitch to candidates, watching the same clock. Bo-r-r-r-r-ing. Increasing the number of ads or Internet postings, obtaining more directories and adding more interviews are like putting on binoculars. You’re still inside the cubicle looking out the window at the same part of the street day after day.

• How many in-house recruiters would jeopardize their own jobs to fill another? That’s what they do when they court referral sources, call into competitors, and when they’re too candid with candidates. Your employer can lose its reputation and lawsuits that way. And you can receive shock treatment for your agoraphobia.

• How could anyone get charged up about the same 9-to-5 drudgery of personally interviewing an endless parade of low-powered marchers for the same jobs? It’s so repetitious. Commissions have been and always will be the only way to tie rewards to success. This has been an accepted fact of motivation for time immemorial.

Several serious thought leaders have mused that the reason for the mediocrity of the in-house ranks, both captive and contract, is that they focus more on process rather than results. There are, of course, exceptions. Back in the dark ages (before computers, Monster, et al, and before personnel people became human resourcers), most of my placements were made through cooperative and friendly personnellers. Those days, unfortunately, are long gone. The ‘do-it-yourself’ era has arrived.

We asked several readers to anonymously comment on their experience with corporate/contract recruiters. Good thing since over 96% of the comments were negative and many of those were so profane as to be unprintable.

Jen Bernasconi, who now works in our business for David Molnar of National Register Columbus, Inc., was a corporate recruiter for five years at one of David’s clients. Her comments are illuminating and set the benchmark for the ideal corporate recruiter.

“Although many companies are trying to change their staffing departments into true recruiting departments, most are still falling short. However, the internal/corporate recruiter can be an ally for external recruiters when trying to make placements with a client. As an external recruiter, you need to assess whether the corporate recruiter you are working with is truly skilled in recruiting. A strong internal recruiter will demonstrate the following abilities:

– Responds quickly to resumes and has a sense of urgency to fill the role
– Provides timely and thorough feedback regarding the interviews with your candidates
– Manages the overall interview process and is seen as valuable resource to the hiring managers
– Is skilled at interviewing and understands the importance
– Can quickly (and thoroughly) answer questions regarding the position, hiring managers and company (culture, direction of company and history)

Quickly identifying whether you’re working with a strong recruiter will be critical. A weak recruiter will dictate your energies be spent building a direct relationship with the hiring manager but a strong recruiter can help you expand your business in the following ways:

– Engaging and attracting your candidates to the opportunity
– Assisting in negotiating with your candidate and closing the deal
– Providing you with the NSO (not so obvious) or more global reasons to join the company
– Assisting you with navigating the Accounts Payable process
– Giving you a gateway to work with other managers in the organization

The internal recruiter should not be automatically bypassed when you are establishing relationships with a client company. If they are a true recruiting professional they can help to increase your business rather than hinder.”

We thank Jen for her comments. They express the ‘ideal’ and mirror what my experience used to be when I was in the trenches as a full time endeavor. A good internal recruiter was a dream in those days and the few bad ones were a nightmare. But that was a different time and clients had different agendas (other than penny-pinching to make the next quarterly earnings report look good to stock analysts). The current attitude seems to acknowledge that almost EVERYONE they hire is viewed as a temp. “Long-tenured” employment is about three years. Companies know it; employees know it – and everybody reacts and responds accordingly. Why invest big bucks in an “A” player when a “B” or “C” player can be snatched by the ‘internals’ off the Internet. As the pendulum swings back in our favor and as the results from Monster (and the others) continues to prove the law of diminishing returns, the attitudes of the ‘internals’ will most likely change. Sooner or later, visionary CEOs will decide to split from the herd and charge ahead with the realization that they can’t so it with just chairwarmers. At least, that’s my hope.

Here are some of the comments we received:

“I am a single person office, working Quality and Operations Management, some finance, etc. for the food manufacturing industry. For the most part the internal recruiters with whom I have contact are with the larger companies. I have found working with them extremely frustrating. They will say they have a need, and want to see multiple candidate resumes, but won’t take or return your calls or respond to emails when you try to follow up. Three to Six months later I will get a call that they want to talk to the candidate.

Another situation – I sent a candidate to a company for an opening six months ago. She didn’t respond to any of my follow ups back then. She called two days ago and wanted to phone screen my candidate the next day. I called the candidate, (he is still interested – wants that location) and I emailed the recruiter with the interview time. The recruiter then responds that before she will talk to him he has to fill out an application. So that has to be emailed to me, then to him, then he has to fax it back. So, why didn’t she say that to start with? Even if this person was swamped, she should know the proper procedure.

I also have a hard time getting a signed fee agreement from them. (I won’t release a candidate’s phone number or contact information without one.) My tasteful reminders are simply ignored. I don’t know if they don’t have the authority to sign and don’t pass it on to the person that does, or if they are told not to sign one.

I have one client recruiter that I have worked with for years – I have had a very good relationship with her and she will occasionally do an exclusive with me. If not exclusive, she will give me a heads-up before posting. She gives me immediate candidate feedback, and is very good about doing an initial phone interview in a timely manner. I have placed many people with the company. However, over the last year, I have ‘sensed’ a change – nothing concrete, but maybe a lack of enthusiasm for what she’s doing – like she is just going through the motions and doesn’t care anymore. I send only very good people (but it’s like she’s looking for reasons to rule candidates out, rather than in) and after phone screening she passes my candidates on to the hiring managers, but they don’t call the candidates in a timely manner. Several weeks or even a month can go by before they get around to it. Recently I feel like I am wasting my time with them.

Company recruiters have become the gatekeeper. I have had great candidates who meet all the requirements, not even get a phone interview, and no one else sees the resume. I have also had a candidate prevented from interviewing with the actual hiring manager because the recruiter was going on vacation, and ‘no one talks to anyone else here until I do so first.’

I also find that when the company recruiter wants to interview someone, it’s on their (recruiter’s) time schedule – with little flexibility to consider what time is best for the candidate. They are unwilling to interview outside of their regular office hours.

Overall – The majority of my experience with company recruiters is that they are inconsiderate brats who expect the rest of the world to jump at their snapped fingers. They cannot and should not be trusted. Sad situation! I hope other people have had better experiences. It might motivate me to try again.”

“Although more apparent with the large corporations, contract recruiting is growing in the small to midsize organizations as well. It is amazing to me that on the intelligence chain – the top being humans, the bottom being amoebas and parameciums, that the contract recruiter could fall below the amoeba. Although only half kidding, contract recruiters are a poor version of bad HR staff.

The reality of life in the search industry (in most industry segments) is that there are more jobs than candidates. These contract recruiters make us look good – they only use Monster like programs, they have no selling skills. They are robotic, territorial, and process focused. They rarely fill their positions on their own and need us even more. Like HR, you need to show them that you can make them look good if they utilize you properly; good communication and fast feedback, access to hiring managers, and let them know that you can give them an education in an industry that you have mastered.

The majority of contract recruiters have HR experience but not true recruiting experience or industry experience in the areas in which they are asked to recruit. To be even handed, we do work with one or two quality contract recruiters and they are extremely beneficial to making deals happen but for the most part it is real challenge to success.”

“I have had both positive and negative results. On the plus side, old friends help me get into new accounts and I’ve made money because of it. On the negative side we are in competition with some of the contract recruiters. One spent part of an interview asking a candidate how we hooked up. The candidate told her that his resume was on an Internet resume service. The next time I spoke with the contact recruiter she told me that she had subscribed to the Internet resume service and didn’t want to see any candidates from me from the Internet resume service. The candidate also said that the interview was very weird because the contract recruiter had nothing good to say about the company.

In a discussion of benefits, when the subject of a two week vacation came up, a European candidate mention conversationally “Oh, in Europe we get five weeks” which stopped the entire process because, according to the contract recruiter, the comment demonstrated that he didn’t have the strong work ethic required at the company! That was in August and the job is still open in January and the contract recruiter is still working on it!

The stories above are about different jobs with the same contract recruiter. Needless to say I’ve moved on.

An hourly contract recruiter has no incentive to fill a job. As long as the job is open and the clock is ticking the contract recruiter is making money.

I can sometimes avoid them by going directly to the hiring manager but that can backfire depending on how entrenched the contract recruiter is at the company. I have lost an account when one of my employees tried going around a contact recruiter. As it turned out the contract recruiter became a fulltime employee.

As to their general level of competence – Some good and some bad and the bad ones have blown placements for me.”

“I’ve had some experience with them when clients are going to such a program to reduce recruiting expense by replacing expensive ‘outside recruiters’ like us! The ones I’ve run into have been failed ‘outside recruiters’ themselves who have sold themselves as a lower cost method of acquiring the ‘same talent’ as we deliver.

They have viewed us as competition who they will control out of the process to justify their existence! I’ve walked on such situations because trying to work with them is a waste of my time – time that can be used to work on profitable accounts.

We rarely have to deal with internal recruiters. In fact, I don’t remember the last time we worked with one. The one I remember was quite competent.”

“I don’t have to deal with them often. When I do, I bow out. Their level of competence is poor but they seem to be a necessary evil in large firms where they insist on our working with HR. They don’t have the connections they need to be successful and don’t have the power to push the hiring manager when needed.”

“It’s rare for me to work with them; they either totally replace my services or they don’t work directly with me; relegated to working on the large fulfillment projects for the company; admin, finance, labor, etc. If my services are required to go through them, I rarely end up with that company as a client . . . either their fee requirements are onerous, or they simply don’t regard independent recruiters as a suitable solution.

As to their general level of competence, I think they do very well for the large staffing positions; mostly non-exempt roles. I feel they’re fairly poor at management positions and positions requiring industry-specific talent; unless they can find them from job boards.

They are an impediment and have derailed deals for me. They’re resume readers and net surfers, so it’s difficult to explain my value to them. Most are modestly compensated and they’re worth what they’re paid.”

“I have had to deal with both kinds in my first year in this business and do not plan on working with companies who use them if at all possible. In some ways they are worse to deal with than HR folks.

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1) Most of the internal/contract recruiters are those who were not able to handle working a desk. Therefore, they are jaded by their own personal experiences with the industry. Most have come from the personnel agency mentality whereby they believe that you have done little more than scan one of the job boards to bring a slate of candidates for consideration. Accordingly, their perception of the value we provide is reduced, no matter what you try to tell them otherwise.

2) Internal/Contract recruiters have sold themselves into their positions by showing their value as opposed to using third party recruiters. This is an easy sell because when employers write enough checks to third party recruiters, they easily justify hiring internal/contract recruiters. And so Internal/Contract recruiters do their darnedest to disprove you on every level and reduce you in the eyes of their employer, similar to insecure actions taken by HR people.

3) Internal/Contract recruiters don’t have a stake in the game and are even more disconnected than members of the HR department. For this reason alone, the timeline for presentation/interviews/placements causes lost opportunities time and time again.
For these reasons, I will do my best to avoid internal/contract recruiters.”

“I think the quote ‘80% of everything is crap’ is usually attributed to the mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal. I went to look it up again and could only find a reference to Sturgeon’s Law which is named after a science fiction writer who said ‘Of course, 90% of science fiction is crap. 90% of everything is crap.’

This really does seem to be true in our business and in many other areas of life. There is no reason the Internal/Contract Recruiter folks in general should not be viewed this way. I can think of 2 right now who are great assets to their companies, work well with us and other firms and do a great job of using mixed sources for finding new staff.

Most of the rest with which we have had contact are indicative of the reason you’d bring up such a fun topic for feedback. Our market is so underserved that as soon as we determine a new internal recruiter does not play like (call them) Chris and Kate we simply move on to another firm which is either too small to have a recruiter or has a manager who buys into the idea that we need to speak the same language without an interpreter.”

“When I run into them, I use ‘technobabble’ to get around them. I ask questions that they cannot answer as a means to get into a discussion with hiring authorities, invite them to ‘listen’ in, and attempt to lead the discussion to show the hiring authority my knowledge and the value I can bring with direct communication. Their level of competence is very limited and for the most part they are useless. There are a few that are very competent and good to deal with but, generally, they greatly impede the hiring process, cut off lines of communication and often presume that they are, in fact, the hiring authority. We have been given really bad ‘guidance’ which has been way off the mark when talking to the hiring authority directly and we have wasted a lot of time on searches that had no possibility of success.”

“I avoid HR like the plague. In general they add ZERO value to the process and have no idea what we really do.”

“Some internal recruiters are not bad (say 20%). Contract recruiters are terrible and I won’t even work with them.

We have to deal with internal recruiters for the mid-sized companies – I’d say 30-40% of the time for mid-sized companies we deal with internal recruiters. For small sized companies we deal jointly with hiring authority and HR, (small size companies have not learned how to be inefficient, arrogant or generally a pain – they need to get things done).

We do not do business with contract recruiters. We drop them quickly, even with established clients. Contract recruiters are on an ego trip and generally have the intelligence of single cell protozoa. Good internal recruiters are an asset but they are rare. Generally do not add a lot of value. Used as a screener for a gazillion recruiters who don’t have a clue.

If you don’t do business with contract recruiters they cannot derail deals. We have closed some nice deals even with internal recruiters.”

“More companies are going to Contract Recruiters, some of my best clients, and it has not impacted my business. They are professional and responsive. My business continues at the same level. Not sure their purpose. They phone screen 95% of my candidates and rarely reject any of my submissions. It seems like a duplication of what I have done. My question would be directed to the employer. Why use contract recruiters that duplicate the independent agencies?”

“We don’t deal with them as often as asked! We tell the principals we choose not to be one of the herd. They are generally incompetent and created 2 legal actions this year where the recruiter (internal) forgot who caused the placement. Both clients paid in full. I understand why companies might want to use internal recruiters, but they are ineffective.”

“I have to deal with them about 20% of the time but I usually avoid them by asking more questions than they know the answers to and they ultimately turn me over to the hiring manager to get the answers. (And, by being friendly.) Some have been great (former contingency recruiters; however, they sometimes cop an attitude), but most are just generally incompetent and an impediment the majority of the time. I think the contingency recruiters that go into contract recruiting are typically better than the contract recruiters coming out of HR or just being a contract recruiter with no experience . . . at least when dealing with contingency firms like us.”

“I try to sell around them when I am working with the company. I don’t deal with them at all. My personal opinion is they are often recruiters who were not very successful in the ‘outside’ world. I don’t attempt to work with them because I know that if I am not dealing with the hiring authority I am not going to be doing very good business. If I am not dealing with the hiring authority then I am shooting myself in the foot, so to speak.

I usually ask the companies ‘Do you let your accounting clerks do your company taxes?’ (Answer is always NO!). ‘Then why would you let internal HR clerks try to find the talent that will build your future company?’ They very often get my point.”

“With regard to internal recruiters, it is a real mixed bag. They are anywhere from totally impeding progress, to very helpful in the process.

Most of the there actions I do believe are a reflection of their upper management and their attitudes toward recruiters and regardless of whether they are contract or permanent (just stay a little longer then temporary). After that it just really depends on the internal recruiter’s background and ability.

I can sum it up like this. Aside from internal recruiters, if you cannot communicate with the hiring manager you have very little chance of being successful and whether you can communicate with the hiring Manager depend on many factors. First, the Corporate philosophy and the manager themselves and their attitude toward us.

Basically I stay away from them and if a Manager sends me to them, I do believe that they are telling me that they don’t want to deal with recruiters and in that case I won’t even call the internal recruiter.”

“I have to deal with them about 10% of the time. If they are contract recruiters who are screening resumes, I can avoid them. I simply tell the client, ‘Do you really want your contract recruiter racking up the hourly rate by screening what you know that I have
already screened?’

However, there are some contract recruiters who are truly trained on certain interview processes, (i.e., DDI’s Targeted Selection) – and, on contract, they fill in and actually do the client’s HR portion of the interview process. If they are actually part of the formal interview process, you have no choice but to work with them (especially if they are doing the first level interview for the company, which I do find some contract recruiters
doing).

**TIP: If you have to work with a contract recruiter, have yourself introduced to the contract recruiter from one of your high level contacts – when the VP of HR introduces you as, ‘This is our external recruiter, you will be working with him to fill this position,’ it sets you up as someone that the contract recruiter will be afraid to derail. Also, set up a
conference call between you, the contract recruiter, and the hiring manager.

What is their general level of competence? Most are young, especially those functioning in “resume screener roles.” Many are flunkees of our business. Sometimes, though, I will run across a contract recruiter with 20 plus years of HR experience, and very competent when it comes to interviewing.

The second I find one to be incompetent, I go back to my client contact, and seek an immediate resolution. When they become an impediment, I first try and resolve it with them, using the angle of, ‘Hey, you and I both have to get this job filled – we can make each other look good, or we can make each other look bad.’ If that does not work, I go back to my hiring client and tell them what is not working.

I have never had a deal derailed. In the end, the contract recruiter has to answer to their internal client, and that would be a tough thing for them to explain to the hiring manager.

Overall, most are not bad, and will not work against you. My advice with contract recruiters – work with them, but not completely through them. They do not have the ability and experience level to cut through the issues, and relay feedback correctly/timely. Appreciate their need to know what candidate is where in the process. Get them to appreciate your need to be in the middle of the process, directly with the candidate and hiring manager. I simply promise to never cut them out, and to never forget to copy them on correspondence.”

“We do have to deal with them more often. The best way to avoid them is to deal with the hiring authority and keep them in the key informational loop. Most are not close to what is needed to doing a professional job of understanding what’s needed and recruiting. Instead, they are more interested in controlling the process. Rarely are they helpful, but are usually more available than an HR Manager. On balance they are more of an impediment than a help to the search process. I have lost several placements where I recruited someone for a specific position only to have the inside recruiter claim they had talked with someone several months before and though they had not moved forward the candidate was still under consideration, although, in both cases the candidate had not been informed of such status. They will not replace what a professional recruiter provides.”

“We have to deal with them only at bigger companies. We avoid them by working mainly with smaller companies. If a company has them, you are always forced to go through them. They are 99% incompetent. If they were good recruiters, why would they be working on contract somewhere? Generally have failed in our business and go inside to survive. Huge chips on their shoulders about successful outside recruiters. They have not derailed placements because the best candidate wins but they have certainly thrown up huge roadblocks to attempt to derail us. Hate ’em!”

“We never work with them. We found them to be impossible to work with and to get away from clerk-mentality recruiting. We switched specialties where our service is needed and valued. From our standpoint, they are totally useless. We could find no gentle words to express our opinion of people who are counterproductive on all counts – cogs in the wheels of progress. ‘Nuff said!”

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.

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