Why You May Not Be Getting Great Candidates From Your Agencies

How many times has this happened? You open a job to your agencies and they begin submitting candidates. One by one you review the résumés, separating the candidates into “yes” and “no” piles, but quickly the flow of applicants turns to a trickle and the quality of candidates seems to stagnate--or even worse--decline. Your boss and HR is pressing you to fill the position and you throw up your hands, saying, "I need better agencies.” Your first reaction may be to put the job out to more agencies, but there may be something you haven’t considered... you!
As soon as the opening is in the hands of the agencies, too often the employer goes dark, or at least dim, but that’s the wrong approach. In our two years of research, what we’ve learned is that employment agencies will take almost any job order, placing the job into one of three buckets. We’ll call them Buckets A, B, and C. Here are the criteria: 
Bucket A: The agency has direct communication with the hiring manager, the job expectations and salary range are believable, and the job has been out less than a week.  
Bucket B: The agency has direct communication with the hiring manager, and the job requirements and salary expectations are believable. 
Bucket C: It’s an open job, with a pulse.  

A new client opportunity will almost always push any job to the A bucket, but only temporarily. Agencies prioritize, giving their highest attention to Bucket A, and will reevaluate on a weekly basis. Do you get it yet? As the employer, if you are not giving the specific feedback your agencies need to find your candidate--if you're not part of the process--if you don’t help them help you, then the job will go to Bucket C. And you do not want to be in Bucket C!  

Bucket C is the like the Island of Misfit Toys, where job orders go to die.  To avoid this, when giving agencies rejection feedback say what was right with the submittal then use the “Why, Why, What” method.


  • First Why: Reason for the rejection (i.e., “Candidate is not a cultural fit.”)
  • Second Why: Follows on the first (i.e., “Your candidate does not have experience working in a startup.”).  
  • The What: What you are looking for relating to the rejection (i.e., “We need someone who can be a part of a close-knit team and can change course quickly”).  


Good agencies are the ones who ask lots of questions up front and throughout the process. Let the agency know you’re approachable by engaging in a dialogue with them. Anytime you get a question, give the most complete answer possible and then invite follow-up questions to ensure they’ve got it. Put everything together and well-done feedback will look like this:

Technically you're right on, but this candidate is not a fit culturally because they do not have experience working in a startup.  We need someone who can be part of a close-knit team and can change course quickly.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Views: 1366

Comment by Terence on April 12, 2012 at 7:15am

Amen !!

Comment by bill josephson on April 12, 2012 at 9:16am



Bucket C is also reserved for the jobs I now mostly are given by corporate Recruiters......extremely difficult/unfillable.  And when they give them to me, they don't honestly know which of the two it is.


They just know they can't fill it.

Comment by Vaughn Welches on April 12, 2012 at 9:16am

I will join Terence in that Amen! corner.

This kind of feedback will certainly keep this search in the "A" bucket.

A new client once came to the phone, told me that I would be his new hero if I found for him . . . . .

and he gave me a very detailed description of the position he was desperate to fill.  I moved his search to the top of my priority list, found someone who matched his need very well, and within 48 hours.  Sent the resume then tried to contact him to discuss the candidate.  He would not even come to the phone to acknowledge receiving the resume.  I tried several times to reach him, then out of frustration I told his secretary that my time was just as important to me as his was to him, and that I really needed to speak with him.  Well, he finally called me back, only to scold me for what he called "harsh words" I had used.  I apologized to him (Only out of professional courtesy), but we never spoke again and his company was in bucket "Z" for us after that.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on April 12, 2012 at 11:43am

I think when it comes to staffing and using agencies or even in-house recruiters managers would do very well to take a Jerry McQuire attitude of "help me help you".  So often they want to send off a document with a few particulars which might or might not be valid and then expect someone to show up for work in a couple of weeks.  Staffing takes time, it takes the recruiters time, the candidates time and the manager's time.  If managers can't give their time it can't happen

Comment by Ben McGrath on April 12, 2012 at 2:46pm

@Vaughn - Is bucket Z the one that you recruit out of. Sounds like you now have a new source of candidates.

Comment by Vaughn Welches on April 12, 2012 at 2:51pm

Ben,   Very good thinking!    And I'll admit it would be so easy to recruit from that bucket.  But, haven't had any positions lately that would create a demand for them.  But, I still know where to find them!

Comment by Will Branning on April 12, 2012 at 3:42pm

Good article! I also suggest to clients/potential clients that they give individual jobs to one recruitment firm exclusively for 1-2 weeks and if results are not good, add another...if I am given exclusives with hiring manager contact and good feedback, that is a top priority for me...and my clients generally are happy with the results if they do their part :)

Comment by Nancy Ford on April 12, 2012 at 10:39pm

Excellent post.  Went from Exec Search to Agency Recruiting - far different and at times maddening. 

Comment by Jason Perry on April 13, 2012 at 5:20pm

Nice post.  And problem exists as much here in the UK.  Think you've summed it up well by suggesting is the client as so many clients have not grasped their relationship with an agency is key to their success.  Is so often more effective to have one or two close agencies with special relationships, than aim for low cost and diversity of many suppliers.  How we as an industry persuade the clients of this is a challenge, but guess that's why much of the market is moving towards flat fee online recruiters.

Comment by Andrew Hanneman on April 13, 2012 at 5:57pm

Nothing more annoying than the inhouse contact telling you this is an urgent need and then going radio silence when you have a great candidate.  I almost always a few hours after taking a job order send an email about a possible candidate I'm working with who may be a fit etc etc and ask some question to which a reply is required....and wait and see how quickly I get a response.  The speed at which I get this response is how I dictate which bucket this job goes into......  


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