Here's a thought. Less is sometimes more. Everyone nods their heads sagely. Of course, sometimes less is more. It is a cliché almost to say 'less is more'. Well if it is so blindingly obvious why do so many companies think that 'more is more' when it comes to recruiting?
What do I mean? Well . . .when companies engage an external recruiter to help them with those tough-to-fill bits of headcount that their internal recruiter can't manage why do they think that engaging with multiple agencies is better than working with one good one?
Let's look at the facts: These roles (the ones where an external recruiter is likely to be engaged) are not easy to find candidates for. We know this because otherwise the internal recruiter would have filled them already. So these roles are usually ones that require some kind of specialism. This is where the specialist, niche external recruiter can help. They know the market well, have an extensive contact database in the domain or geography and can get to the candidates other recruiters (internal or otherwise) simply can't reach. Now when a company comes to me - and it is usually that way round - and asks me to help them in these kind of situations I like to know how long the headcount has been open (i.e. how long the internal recruiter has been working on it) and if they have previously engaged with any other recruiters for the same role. This is where sometimes the internal recruiter or HR person starts to get vague.
"Well we did have a company looking at this but they didn't send us any good CVs."
"OK how long did they work on the assignment?"
"Oh I can't remember. Not long."
"Do you have any other recruiters working on this at present."
"Just one other."
"OK so let me summarise. I am effectively the fourth recruiter you have used to try to fill this role?"
"Well I guess if you put it like that . . .anyway is this something you are interested in?"
"Why? Business must be good for you if you can afford to turn things down!"
"Well, think about it. You have just described a wasteland to me."
"How do you mean?"
"Well there have been four recruiters trampling all over this jungle for four weeks now, hacking at it with their machetes – one even had a flamethrower which was great at clearing the undergrowth but unfortunately it burnt a few half decent candidates to a crisp in the process! With those dark goggles on that you have to wear when using a flamethrower the recruiter just didn’t see them – bless him! And you still haven't found anyone. To précis: they will have all trodden the same routes - and on each other's toes - and some candidates - particularly the really good ones - will have been contacted multiple times. The candidates will now most likely be pretty unimpressed as a result and the chances of me persuading them to talk to you have consequently been significantly diminished. Your company’s reputation has been sullied as if a candidate is contacted multiple times it makes you look desperate and even if I get them to talk to you they will know that they can pretty much name their price if it gets to trying to hire them. Am I making sense?"
“Well I guess I see your point. But I have heard you are a specialist in this area. Surely you can find us some candidates who have not been contacted?”
“It is possible, of course, but there are only so many candidates and the problem is even the ones that haven’t been contacted probably work in the same companies as those who have and that reputation thing will be an issue again.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well these guys talk to each other and you can be pretty sure that this role will have been batted about between a few of them in a company – “Hey Jo, Widget Software is looking again. I had three recruiters call me in the last week and the last one was a bit of an arsehole and I am just too busy but I dunno – thought you might be interested.” Anna then chips in, “Is that the Widget Software spanner polisher job?” “Yep that’s the one.” “Oh I had two guys call me about that – you are right the second guy was a complete idiot!” Even if Jo is interested, the role has been devalued by their colleagues’ rejection of it.
“OK – well if you reconsider let me know.”
“Well I won’t but I tell you what. Next time you get a role that looks like a tough one to crack – and you should get to recognise them after a while. Call me before you do anything else and we can have a chat. I can even maybe point you in a few directions if you want to have a go at it yourself first. Or if we think it is something that is in my sweet spot I’ll make sure we fill it while you get on with other stuff that’s on your desk. As you can see from this conversation you can trust me to be upfront and honest with you.”
“OK. Thanks for your time.”
Now the conversation above is, of course, fictitious but trust me it is based on reality. Of course the HR/internal recruiter in this scenario is unlikely ever to call me again as they have me marked down as ‘difficult’ but I am not too bothered as I don’t want to work for companies who simply don’t think their recruitment strategy through. It becomes a self-qualifying exercise.
Don’t get me wrong this is not another external (TP) recruiter v internal recruiter ego trip. Of course companies should use internal recruiters. They have many advantages. They are cheaper than constantly using externals and once you have the volume of recruitment to merit hiring one it makes sense to do so. They also understand the company’s culture from the inside and, if they are any good, will know their hiring managers’ intimate wants and needs when looking for headcount. But the best ones understand that building relationships with specialist external recruiters is vital to them achieving their goals – i.e. filling the headcount they have as effectively as possible within budget. As with most things in life you pay for what you get and while external recruiters can look expensive when you add things up they can save you money too.
Factor in the time that the internal recruiter has spent unsuccessfully filling the job and wading through inappropriate CVs from scatter-gun external agency recruiters, and the fact that the open headcount is costing the company money in lost revenue and HR and internal recruiter salaries and benefits and a decent head-hunter who knows their business can start to look like a really valuable asset.
So my advice for anyone out there staring at a brief for a role which makes you even begin to think, “Hmmm I am not sure where I might start with this one.”, is get hold of a decent external recruiter and develop a partnership with them that sees you get your headcount filled in a timely and – trust me – cost effective manner.
“But how do I know if the external recruiter is ‘decent’, Dyll?” Well that is the subject of another blog. “Ten things to ask your recruiter before you engage them”. Watch this space. . .