10 Reasons Every Recruiter Must Start With an Agency

It was 1995, I had just graduated from Ole Miss, the Harvard of the South.  I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a career.  I was considering moving to Memphis, Tennessee, but I had no leads, so I packed my things and moved back to Austin, Texas.  After all, I was 22 and I had no money what- so- ever. 

I had met with most of my parent's friends, and considered every career path from selling cars, selling insurance, and working at Enterprise Rent- A- Car in their management program.  Nothing seemed to sound like a promising career.  I then received a phone call from my fraternity brother who worked for a company in Memphis called Aerotek.  Truth being told, I had no idea what they did.  He told me he would get me an interview with the manager in Austin and I was thrilled.  

When I interviewed for the role, I was terrified.  I was shy, unconfident and completely unexperienced.  I worked at Fuddrucker's as a bus boy in Hilton Head, South Carolina and helped my father's business in the summers, but other than that I had no real work experience.  Somehow, they decided to hire me.  My manager at the time, Matt Burke, told me the reason he hired me was because he liked my integrity.  Whatever the reason, it has shaped who I am today and am grateful that my first job was a recruiting job.

Here are 10 things I learned at Aerotek and why you MUST join an agency if you are considering a career in recruiting. Everyone I know who has worked at Aerotek, Robert Half, Kforce, or other agencies have the best work ethic I have ever seen.  Whether you stay with an agency is your choice, but you have to start here if you want to get anywhere.

1.  A Sense of Urgency-  From the minute I was hired at Aerotek, I realized that things could no longer be done on my timetable.  When you get an order from a company, you must work harder, longer and be more creative than anyone else.  The only people that are successful are the ones that have a little more skip on their jump, and can act on a dime.  Think of a medical emergency.  Seconds can make a difference in someone's health.  If you instill this attitude, you will become extremely successful; if you don't, you will fail. An agency environment will give you all the tools you need in recruiting and you can apply them to any other industry.

2.  Competitive Nature-  Let's face it, recruiting is competitive.  Agencies are competitive on so many levels.  You are competing against other companies, your peers, and the other corporate recruiters.  It is not easy, and only the strong will survive.  Good recruiters will weed out bad recruiters quickly.  This will make you better at whatever your career path becomes.  You are always trying to win.

3.  A Can-Do Attitude-  It is engrained in your head the second you walk in an agency.  You can and will do whatever it takes.  Whatever task I am given in life, I have the attitude that failure is not an option.  Sometimes things happen that are out of your control, like a requisition being cancelled or put on hold indefinatley, but you will know you will have given everything you can to get the job done.  You make the impossible, possible.

4.  Interviewing Skills You may think you know how to interview, that is until you join an agency.  You will be required to have a set number of onsite interviews a week.  This will teach you that people are people.  People lie, people extend the truth, and there are some people we just don't need to hire.  There are also gems.  You will also make a network from these interviews.  I am still in contact with some of the onsite interviews I had back in 1995, and I am able to connect them to roles when the time is right.

5.  Networking Skills-  Everyone starts in an agency, not everyone stays in an agency.  Make personal connections with everyone you work with and you may be able to help them in the future.  Aerotek is one big fraternity, as are most agencies.  I worked there and we all worked really hard, and all of us know the hours and effort we put in, so we are more than willing to lend a helping hand when needed.

6.  Dress and Appearance IS Important-  This may sound a bit ridiculous, and times have changed, but one thing remains the same.  The better you dress, the more important you feel.  The more important you feel, the more confidant you are and the more you will succeed.  Not many people wear ties in Austin anymore.  Other cities may be different.  That being said, personal hygiene and clothing make a big difference.  If you wear a tie and suit, make sure your shirt is pressed.  If you are dressing business casual, have a nice polo and khakis that aren't from the Gap. Go to Jos. A Banks and spend some money on clothes.  Remember also, stay in shape, people notice.

7.  Perception IS Everything-  In a small cubed open environment, everybody sees your every move.  If you work hard, you have nothing to hide.  If you don't, people will notice.  If you don't attend company events, aren't involved with others within the agency, they will advance far more quickly than you will.  If you choose recruiting as a field or not, this is important to know.  If you spend half the day on Facebook, people will take notice.

8.  Everyone is on a First Name Basis-  Being 22 and calling Dr, John Thomas, John is not an easy thing to do, but we are all people.  As I said in an earlier blog  we all put our pants on the same way.  We are all on this earth together and we can all help one another.

9.  A Requisition IS a Requisition-  You have to be flexible. It is great to specialize in one specific area, but times are changing.  You have to be a generalist.  In the Aerotek days, we would gather as a team and we would recruit any requisition that was "Hot".  I may have not recruited a C++ Engineer at the time, but I knew enough buzz words and was creative enough to find the individuals.  I learned more about the roles by asking the candidates specific questions, and learning about what they did.  In recruiting, nothing prepares you better for this than an agency.

10.  You Won't be Penalized for Being Overaggressive-  This goes back to the competitive point.  If you don't take risks, then you won't be successful, and you will never know what you could have achieved.  I apply this every day.  I call people who probably don't want to be bothered and are content in their current situation.  I may get chastised, but I wouldn't have any result if I didn't put myself out there.  Agencies take you out of your comfort zone.

If you are contemplating a recruiting role, please do yourself a favor and join an agency first.  If you have been an agency recruiter, and now are a corporate recruiter, you know exactly what I am talking about.  As stated earlier, you may not be an agency recruiter forever, but the foundations you learn will separate you from the pack. 

If recruiting isn't your field, you can apply these 10 lessons to anything you do, and you will be more successful than the average person.

Will Thomson lives in Austin, Texas, and works for Rosetta Stone as the global sales and marketing recruiter. He has been in recruitment and sales for 20 years. He has recruited some of the most sought-after talent around the globe, and is a regular blogger for the recruitment industry.  You can follow all of his blogs at Bulls Eye Recruiting.


Views: 22379

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on December 14, 2012 at 3:30pm

Ok, so Martin, you essentially run what we refer to as an agency. Which is exactly our point - that's precisely where in-house consultants should start, in our opinion. You can start cold in an agency / third party or as you call it executive search company. That's not what we're talking about. :)

Comment by Raphael Fang on December 14, 2012 at 7:30pm

In conclusion, Martin started his recruiter career with an "agency."

Comment by Ian Millar on December 15, 2012 at 12:32am

@Steve N Odell the truth is that agencies in general have a bad rep. Albeit because some leaders are very bad apples, who will lie, cheat and swindle clients or candidates for an extra buck.

  These are the most typical bad-boy behaviors: 1. Some agencies promote unethical habits of submitting candidates who have not been vetted, nor have been informed of the job (to get in first) - or worse of fabricating data on resumes. 2. Other agencies promote lying about actual earning potential or true job descriptions, or of the candidate's actual intentions. 3. Some just have sloppy habits of not getting clear job descriptions and so therefore just waste the client's time with inappropriate candidates. 4. One of the worst habits are the agencies that train their people just to make repeat calls without a defined purpose - it drives the clients and the candidates insane [I can't track all the times I have heard candidates or clients say how they loathe the constant barrage of ignorant calls]. 5. Bait and switch tactics, claiming to have a job or a candidate that is not actually available, just to get someone engaged in the process.

  Frankly, there are some agencies that I would never do business with, because I know they deliberately teach these kinds of behaviors to undercut the competition and I would never hire a recruiter from them unless I knew that the recruiter has developed good habits somewhere else. 

Comment by Kerry Skemp on December 17, 2012 at 1:19pm

This is great stuff! As a vendor (full disclosure!) I'd be interested in hearing about this from a technology perspective. Do you think agencies are ahead of the curve or behind it when it comes to adopting new tools that can help your search?

Comment by Paul Alfred on February 16, 2013 at 1:58pm

Great post Will ... I also started out as an Agency Recruiter and have managed  Recruiters in an agency environment and now I just contract my services out to Corporations ... I will say this however ... Not every agency recruiter can cope with the political environment of a Corporation.   The lets go attitude is sometimes lost to the Corporate Recruiter as they at times wheel very little power in the hiring process ... 

Comment by Will Thomson on February 18, 2013 at 11:00am

Hi Paul, Thanks for the comment.  You are correct.  Some recruiters prefer the agency side of things, but as a corporate recruiter, I feel that the experience I gained as an agency recruiter has shaped me into a much better well rounded recruiter.  I took the good, and ditched the rest.  


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