Keeping the magic alive: how to nurture the relationship with your recruitment agency partner.
So you’ve been together a while. Although the initial frisson of excitement you experienced when you first met has dissipated, you are faithful to them (for the most part) and they have really met your needs. They know you better than anyone - even better than you know yourself sometimes - you trust them to give you honest advice. Your relationship has settled into comfortable companionship.
And then…you stop communicating as much ("there just never seems to be enough time"), you both start taking your relationship for granted and before you know it, the spark has gone out. You are left feeling, well….dissatisfied.
No, I’m not moonlighting as a marriage counsellor; I’m talking about the tenuous relationship between you, the Client and your recruitment agency partner! Given that it can be so hard to find a recruitment agency that you like and that can actually deliver for you (let’s face it, you have to kiss a lot of frogs…), it is worth both sides making the effort to make it work.
So what can you do to ensure you get the best out of your preferred agency and don’t have to go back on the market?
Spend some quality time
It is often the case that you meet an agency initially to establish the relationship and rarely feel the need (or have the time) to follow this up with regular meetings. As an in-house recruiter or hiring manager, you will be constantly asked by new agencies if they can meet you to introduce themselves in the hope that you are sufficiently convinced to give them a go. There is no question that looking at the ‘whites of someone’s eyes’ will tell you more than any glossy website about how they operate - values like empathy and integrity and ultimately how they will be representing your brand in the marketplace. However with the best will in the world, your packed diary will mean it is near impossible to meet on an ad hoc basis unless you are actively looking to brief new agencies with work.
However, there are some really good reasons why it is worth investing time in update meetings with your existing agencies. Firstly, it reaffirms your commitment to the partnership. You are saying "this is more than just a transactional relationship. I am investing time in you as a trusted supplier so you understand the needs of the business. In return I will expect you to deliver results". Secondly, it will move your relationship forward. It is incredibly hard to build a strong, intuitive relationship over the phone. Face to face meetings tend to facilitate more open and frank discussions. This can be useful to you if you need to renegotiate terms or deliver a sensitive or confidential assignment. It also builds trust on both sides which ultimately makes for better results.
An update meeting is also a great way to ‘refresh’ a brief for an on-going assignment. The fundamentals of the vacancies may not have changed however, chances are the consultant will have been working on it for a while and, particularly if you have struggled to provide detailed feedback on rejected CVs; they may have lost their initial momentum. By meeting the agency again to let them know what the business is now focusing on and what profiles are likely to work best, you will renew their enthusiasm to attack the assignment with new vigour and also increase the likelihood of you both getting a result.
As an in-house recruiter, you can find yourselves in difficult situations and under intense pressure. You are at the whim of the wider strategic decisions taken by your company which inevitably affect recruitment: restructures, redundancies, new store openings, new business wins. All of these will affect your job flow in a positive or negative way leaving you to adapt accordingly. When recruiting directly, you will need to inform your own candidates of any change in order to protect the candidate experience and the employer brand. When using agencies, you will need to inform them of cancelled vacancies, delayed processes and changes of brief. This can be really difficult, particularly when you know an agency has been working hard for you over often a significant period of time. You also have to manage the expectations (realistic or otherwise) of your hiring managers and will need to educate them about the challenges and opportunities presented by the current recruitment market. Being able to influence internally is one of the challenges faced by in-house recruiters and one which is often under-estimated by those on the agency side. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved and by communicating issues you are facing internally, your agencies will at least understand the context of decisions and be able to communicate these to candidates in an appropriate way. One thing a good consultant responds to is open communication – even if it means that they won’t make their fee, being informed will help them deal with pressure on their side. This is also an interesting test of an agency’s commitment to your business. If they have a tantrum when faced with a cancelled brief or rejected candidate and never call you again, this tells you all you need to know.
To err is human, to forgive divine
However strong the relationship and however well the agency has performed so far, you can bet your bottom dollar that at some point, a mistake will be made. Recruitment is a sensitive business and this, combined with the pressure many consultants work under and the time restraints imposed, mean that errors do occur. Chances are it will be unconsciously done or a simple case of human error and of course, it depends on what the consequences are, however it is rash for a simple mistake to wipe out the positive history you have together. This works both ways and the agency should be equally magnanimous if the mistake is made on your side.
Push the right buttons
Knowing how recruitment agencies work, how consultants are managed and what therefore motivates them will help you get the best from them. They will have a range of vacancies to work on and the truth is that they will focus on those vacancies that give them the best return – this may mean ease of fill or revenue. That said, when there is a positive relationship with a client, most consultants will genuinely want to help you. However, when negotiating terms and conditions, it is naïve to think that you will get the best result if the role is non-exclusive and at rock bottom fee rates, irrespective of how strong the relationship. It’s about making a commitment on both sides and, by ensuring that the agency has an incentive to prioritise your vacancy, you will get the result you want. When cost is an issue as is so often the case, give a period of exclusivity. Commit to interview dates in advance or facilitate a meeting with the hiring manager so the briefing is thorough. Remember, when working on a contingency basis, the agency will only get paid if they get a result.
A gentle stroke…
Real recruitment industry professionals want to be successful. This isn’t just about making as much revenue as possible (yes, let’s be completely frank – we need to make money, just like everyone else!) but it is also about feeling that we have supported our clients. That, because we did our jobs well, your job and that of your hiring manager will be just a little easier. Most of us are genuinely passionate about our clients’ businesses – we learn a lot about you and spend a lot of time selling your business to the wider community so we actually get a real sense of satisfaction from placing someone with you. Getting acknowledgment of a job well done is also an effective way of rewarding loyalty amongst your supplier base.
Honesty is the best policy
If you are really not happy, then let your agency know. So often, relationships break down because of a misunderstanding or an assumption made on either side. Most people would agree that the worst thing is not knowing – if we know what we have done wrong or what you aren’t sure about, we can try to fix the problem. Recruitment people are very think skinned – we can take it!
Tie the knot
Working on a retained or project basis is another effective way to get results. By paying a proportion of the fee up front, you are paying the agency for the work they are doing along the process – particularly important if you need them to add greater value by conducting detailed screening interviews or if a full search methodology is required. The total fee paid is the same, however by agreeing to work in this way, both sides are demonstrating their commitment to filling the role. The pressure is very much on the agency to deliver. Furthermore, I always found the biggest benefit of this approach was only having to talk to one consultant about a particular vacancy – no multiple briefing, update or feedback calls required!
I would be interested to know about the best agency relationships you have and what makes them work?
I wonder what the longest lasting client/agency relationship is in the industry?
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