For Corp Recruiters: How best to evaluate third-party agencies? What worked/didn't?

After a long stint on the agency side of the house, I'm now working on the corp side and seeing what happens "behind the veil" so to speak.

Our company gets constant pings from agencies looking to do business with us and part of our process is to whittle down the list that we have and take a hard look at any new ones that come across.

As a former agency recruiter, I have my personal network of contacts but don't want to be biased either.

Some things that folks have mentioned to evaluate include:  

  •  Areas of expertise
  •  Size of talent team
  •  Methods of sourcing and recruiting
  •  Years of overall/mean experience
  •  Prior experience with placements
  •  Guarantees on hires, if any

For anyone who's done this (or does an annual review process on it), what's did your company look at?

And how well did it work?

Thanks in advance.

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I know it's assumed, but I'd also focus on "ethical behavior".

Some search agencies are blatant for unethical behavior, e.g., embellishing qualifications on resumes; hitting on your hiring managers and key line staff; etc.  Most professional recruiter networks can alert you to them --  but some are stealthier. They change their names and resurface as some new entity. The only way to ferret them out is to leverage your professional networks. In this "high tech - high info" world you can sort them out down to the individual players.

For example, I had a nationally recognized search agency contract with me in one facility and rip us off at another. When I confronted them they denied it, stalled while “they checked it out” --- and finally had the audacity to cancel our contract saying they made more money taking candidates than giving them. 

Our legal department worked out some settlement with this agency who naturally denied any culpability.

Having also spent 15 years on the agency side but the past 6 on the corp side I find your blog spot on. I also get about 2-3 calls daily from agencies wanting to do business with me most of the calls being annoyances as they have not researched my company , company needs, etc.


I look for those that have done their homework and know my needs and know my company. I look for those willing to take on the hard to find hires (as I can handle all the typical hires and most of the non typical).


I look for those who candidate market "real candidates" not thise that are just there to spark my interest and gain business but are magically now unavailable. I look for those that actually source candidates and not send resumes carbon copy from Monster (as many sadly do).

Finally I look for those whose first line is "I am willing to offer a fee of 15% for my services much less than my competition". This is an immediate turm off for me as I want quality and am willing to pay for it. Those just looking to catch my attention with low fees I find are not even worth the low fees. Have confidence in what you do, deliver what you promise and fees will not be an issue.

"I look for those willing to take on the hard to find hires (as I can handle all the typical hires and most of the non typical)."

As a 32 year Contingent Recruiter when asked what the biggest challenge and change I've seen, what Ron Kubitz said above is it.  Previously you could market a good candidate in any field, make enough calls, and place them.  Today, that's more of what Ron describes a "typical hire" from what I experience.


So when receiving those "hard" assignments it becomes a question of are they just hard, unrealistic, or impossible?  Often a corporate recruiter won't know, or won't tell you.  As a TPR you're at risk with your time, thus money, so the pressure is on you that you'd better decide right.   No one is looking out for your time spent best interests.  This decision is, perhaps, the toughest one I make.  Do I accept the assignment believing it's ultimately "fillable," or not?

But Ron raises valid points, specially the sourcing aspect.  I maintain if I work the same why corporate recruiters do working the Internet finding the same candidates they do, why would they want to work with me?  Forcing me to adapt finding candidates working differently than they do.

I'm a corporate recruiter and completely agree with Ron. I'm curious though- why not be biased to your personal network? If you know and trust them, plus they can get the job done, why not?

@Amy He just said that so we dont lynch him for giving work to his buddies, of course he's doing that!  

@Amy - I do have my personal preferences to do business with but am really wanting to get some objectivity to the selection process.  This list would be used by many more people beyond me so I want to show how/why these companies were selected.

@Dan, no lynching necessary.  I actually prefer to be on the up-and-up with this company, esp being a new employee.  But to your comment, yes, I can easily see having a crony list set up and then 'partner' with the chosen few.

lol @Dan so if another agency wants to work with him they should be his friend!! :) In some places, this is referred to as "building a relationship". I'm totally kidding please don't take me too seriously. :)

@David - forgive my ignorance - do you work for a massive company? I'm wondering why so many people would be involved in the recruiting process that you'll have a large number of people potentially connecting with the companies on this list.

I just don't see any value in having a giant list of "vendors" that any manager can pick and choose from to bring on contingent staff. In looking at your initial list I would say area of expertise and quality of hires are really the only two that matter. If I'm sending a position out to a search firm it's probably because I need specialized help (CCIE Network Engineers, for example). It's probably a position I don't usually recruit for. I also want to know if a new agency has successfully recruited for my competitors or at least similar companies. I hope so. I don't want to be the company that a newbie cuts their teeth on because recruiting for a VAR sounded like fun.

The company has had tremendous growth in less than ten years.  Some of the smaller vendors made sense when it was a small operation but as we get larger may not be able to handle the load as we move to a new corp structure.  

I'm with you on not having a large list of vendors either.  Thanks for your input!

@David - How long have you been with the company? Have you already seen certain trends and/or issues in the recruiting and hiring process? If so, those would be the first things I would examine when trying to determine if and what changes are needed. We recruit for several very large companies that have high volume/hard to fill (or both!) positions and don't seem to have problems filling them because of the size of our agency.

I prefer small mom and pop headhunting firms over the giant ones. I feel the larger agenices are all about numbers and not about quality.


@Amber - It hasn't been too long with them (<90 days), and still reviewing all the different processes in place.

@Tiffany - I don't discount the small firms at all. Especially if have they longevity in a particular niche market.  Ditto with your comments on large agencies as well.

Great discussion.  I appreciate all the information provided.  We are a smaller, quality controlled firm and would like to grow in the future, but not at the sacrifice of quality.  We have found that our fees coming in much lower than many companies has been beneficial to our growth.  Over time, we have discovered that focusing on a couple of specializations is easier and more productive, than staffing for anything that is being thrown at us...nothing like being an expert in your industry!

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