As an agency recruiter for 6 years, I thought I knew a fair bit about recruitment and I admit, I shared many of my colleagues’ frustrations about the role of the In-House Recruiter: difficult to contact, process driven rather than commercial, a barrier to building relationships with Line Managers. It was only when I made the move to an In-House role myself that my eyes were opened – so many things made sense and I couldn’t help but think "if I only knew then what I know now"!
As in all relationships, there are two sides to every story - for what it’s worth, here’s my view on how to build a fulfilling client relationship.
Plenty more fish in the sea:
The number of recruitment agencies operating in the UK is staggering. Many are mediocre at best but many are excellent. The In-House recruiter is literally spoilt for choice – if one agency fails to deliver, they can easily give a new agency a try or brief one of their other proven partners. The only differentiating factor is the service you deliver. This isn’t just about providing candidates for the vacancy (candidates are rarely exclusive to one agency and most are easily accessible on Linkedin, providing there is the time for a direct search). What they want is a Consultant with a professional and genuine approach, who respects the process and can source the best candidates in the market which they themselves will struggle to find.
Size really doesn’t matter!
Take heart, boutique agencies everywhere! The days of winning business by flaunting the size of your, ahem, database and the number of national offices is long gone. In my experience, size rarely influenced my decision about which agency to engage. My most successful working relationships were with smaller agencies who were true specialists in their sector, had genuine networks and who really wanted our business. They also had the added benefit that I could work with the same person on each assignment without being referred to another office depending on the geography of the role. Consultants were often experienced with a mature approach and so conversations were direct, open and honest and any issues were solved quickly with the long term relationship in mind.
Play by the rules:
If the client asks you to upload CVs onto their portal, just do it. Love or hate these ATS systems (a view often shared by the in-house teams themselves), they ultimately enable you to stake your claim on a candidate. Most in-house recruiters will operate a first-come, first-served policy when it comes to duplicate applications. Yes, it will take longer than flinging a CV on an email and will require adding extra supporting info on your candidate (but shouldn’t you have this info to hand anyway?). By not following the process, you cause extra hassle for your client and to put it bluntly, for every agency that doesn’t use the system, there are plenty that will. Enough said.
Nobody’s perfect. I found myself on several occasions giving inadequate interview feedback, cancelling interviews at short notice and putting whole processes on hold for months on end – the very things that I had complained about when on the agency side. Even the most professional companies will make mistakes and let you down; such is the nature of recruitment on both sides of the fence. I really valued the consultants who would take this on the chin and move forward. I relied on them to communicate positive messages to the external market and as a result I was confident that our brand was protected. Consequently, I had real trust in those agencies and would fight their corner internally to ensure they were briefed on vacancies in the future – often on an exclusive or retained basis.
The volume of emails can be crazy so if you don’t receive an immediate response from your client, bear with them. Make emails as clear as possible, get to the point and be courteous. An email sent in frustration with a tone to match will not be well received and will certainly never be forgotten. Also, make sure your auto-signature appears on each message, including on replies. Keep file sizes low if possible.
The Blind Date:
A good in-house recruiter will be open to strong speculative CVs providing they are sent to them in the first instance and providing they are pre-qualified by the agency (a well written email to accompany the CV is easier to forward internally). Equally, they will be unlikely to respond well to unsuitable, blanket ‘specs’ sent with the aim of hitting the target stats for the week (I was monumentally unimpressed by an agency who sent 16, yes 16, spec CVs on one email, causing my Outlook to reach it’s limit at 5pm on a Friday afternoon when I was about to send my weekly reports!). There is nothing more likely to induce a "Dear John" email or a black mark on the PSL than indiscriminate speculative approaches.
The best agencies will be honest about what they can and can’t do. Your client should respect you for turning down work if you genuinely feel you can’t do it justice – this will save everyone’s time and build confidence that when you do accept a brief, you will deliver a result.
Any decent agency trains their consultants to show empathy with their candidates, encouraging them to understand their motivations and uncover their reservations in order to build the relationship and make the process easier when it comes to landing an offer. Rarely however do they talk about empathy with clients. Until I did the role, I had no idea about the challenges faced by in-house recruitment teams. There is pressure from all sides: demanding Line Managers, HR Directors (often with different agendas to the hiring managers), internal politics, existing agencies and new agencies trying to get access to roles, administrative duties and the practicalities of managing email inboxes which frankly beggar belief. And that’s before they even start recruiting directly to reduce costs and increase the ROI for recruitment systems and Linkedin Recruiter licences.
Clearly, while the in-House Recruiter remains pressured in this way, they will rely on their trusted agencies to support them however, having an understanding of the politics and bureaucracy that often accompanies the role will enable you to offer the supportive service required.
Making a commitment:
So many agencies are purely transactional. They are only interested in specific briefs and when the going gets tough, they move on to work ‘closer to the fee’ with clients who will move quicker. I understand the commercial pressures for an agency consultant however by taking a long term view and sticking with your client through thick and thin (recruitment freezes, restructures and cancelled vacancies) you will really stand out from the crowd. Often the in-house recruiter is as frustrated as you by these setbacks and will really appreciate the agencies that stay in contact when things are quiet. Undoubtedly, when things pick up again, you will be the first person they call.
So there you have it – if I think back to the agencies I really rated during my time In-House they all had one thing in common – they kept it simple, did the basics well and delivered quality not quantity – surely the key to a long lasting and mutually satisfying relationship!