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: 22370

Comment by Ron Kubitz on December 11, 2012 at 10:12am

Wow great piece I could not have said it better myself. Having been an agency recruiter for 15 years before moving to the corporate side I agree 100% with these sentiments. I know for a fact that because of my agency background I can out-recruit 95% of all recruiters out there and certainly 100% of those that did not cut their teeth on the agency side.

I would also add that the sourcing skills that I was trained on and became well versed with on the agency side are also a big factor that set me apart from the crowd.

great read and thanks!


Comment by Pritesh Vaidya on December 11, 2012 at 10:28am

Hi Mr. Thomson,

Every post of yours comes out to be an inspiration to me and I believe to all the young recruiters like me...

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and guiding us.

Please keep up the great work

Kind Regards

Pritesh Vaidya

Comment by Will Thomson on December 11, 2012 at 10:50am

Thank you Ron & Pritesh!  Agency recruiting has shaped me into the person I am today. I truly believe that anyone who has worked for an agency is successful at anything they do in the future because of their work ethic.  I appreciate the kind words!

Comment by Amy Brown on December 12, 2012 at 9:43am

Agree 100%, Will. Agency world is a great place to cut your teeth and learn. Thanks for the post!

Comment by Will Thomson on December 12, 2012 at 10:10am

Thanks Amy!

Comment by Ian Millar on December 12, 2012 at 3:46pm
Some agencies instill bad habits that are counter-productive to good corporate recruiting.
Comment by Steve N Odell on December 12, 2012 at 4:35pm

Ian- I am curious. Which bad habits are counter-productive to good corporate recruiting in your opinion?

Comment by Moe Hutt on December 12, 2012 at 4:52pm
I typically enjoy your posts as they are positive and thought provoking, however this article made me cringe. Any time I hear someone make the statement a candidate “must have this background” I immediately think you are limiting diversity and inclusion. I have worked with many agency recruiters that espouse the characteristics you mentioned and with a few who have turned their competitiveness into a fault, stealing candidates from coworkers. I have also worked with recruiters who transitioned from engineering or finance roles or those who have spent their entire careers in corporate recruiting and there were good in bad in both lots. I think a broad perspective of experiences and backgrounds make the most successful teams.
Comment by Will Thomson on December 12, 2012 at 5:18pm

Thanks Ian & Moe for your comments.  When you write a blog like this you typically open yourself up to potentially a lot of criticism.  I have worked on both sides of the desk.  Ian- you worked with me :).  I am no longer on the agency side and most of it has to do with the competitive nature with other co-workers.  I survived it though, most of the unethical folks weeded themselves out.  

If you want to be a recruiter, to start out in the corporate world can be a bit daunting.  People who start in the agency world realize what they have when they make the transition.  Recruiters can feel a bit lost, and a lot of the training is not available to people who start in the corporate world.  

Life is funny, what I got out of agency recruiting is an extremely strong work ethic.  I think I can say that for most.  After you have had the experience in the agency world, you take the good things you learned and ditch the rest.  Agency does give you the foundation though that you would not otherwise get.  

"Must" a harsh word?  Possibly.  I think the success rate of those who don't have the agency experience is lower than those with it.  

Comment by Steve N Odell on December 12, 2012 at 5:19pm

Moe- With all due respect, By saying you "must have this background" doesn't sound like it is limiting diversity. It is limiting folks that don't have the background. Correct that you will see good and bad in every organization, even outside of recruiting. A good owner/mgr would never allow anyone to "steal" coworker's candidate. It is possible that 2 recruiters call the same person unknowingly, but there is a way to make it right. That's why we have a systems and procedures policy manual. It is either black or white to solve the problem. I can promise you it would not happen in my shop. Creates bad moral.


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