Leaving the dark side – how agency experience benefits the in-house recruiter.


Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment - Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development

They say doctors make the worst patients – is the same true for ex-agency consultants who move in-house? Sometimes, certainly. Take a recent case when one of my colleagues drove to the other end of the country (a 5 hour drive) for a client meeting scheduled at 4pm. This was a new client, there was no history, good or bad and so this should have been an amiable introduction to form the foundation for the relationship going forward. Instead he received a frosty response and a grilling for 40 minutes where he was tarred with the same brush as the agencies preceding him and left with little or no inclination to work on the account. The client was an ex-agency consultant, full of bitterness about the agency world and rather than leveraging her background to build rapport and influence the agencies to deliver for her, she has taken the other path – looking down on the very industry that trained her.

This is a rare case however and I strongly support the view that the best in-house recruiters will have some experience in the agency world.

That said, it doesn’t follow that every consultant can make the move in-house. I know that there is a widespread view that in-house recruiters are failed agency consultants:  (those that can, recruit; those that can’t recruit in-house etc…) however in my experience of the industry this is certainly not the case.  Those making the move in-house generally do so for positive reasons – to find an environment where they can better employ their skills.

I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t the best agency consultant. I had colleagues who were more tenacious, competitive and better sellers. However the very skills which weren’t recognised in the target-driven agency environment were skills which I think made me a good in-house recruiter: relationship management, diplomacy, candidate control, communication skills, attention to detail and time management. Combine these ‘softer’ skills with a strong work ethic, a sense of urgency and a commercial outlook and this works really well in a challenging in-house role which can be highly pressured.

Some of my former colleagues just wouldn’t have cut it in-house – they wouldn’t have had the patience to deal with the internal politics and bureaucracy which forms the back drop for many resourcing teams. In an in-house role there is nowhere to hide –you can’t take a commercial decision not to work on a role if you feel it isn’t worth your while and your internal ‘clients’ are often high profile and incredibly demanding. This is a test of your influencing and communication skills - you need to be able to maximise your internal ‘brand’ in order to have some control over the hiring managers who left unchecked, have a tendency to hinder the process rather than expedite it!

There is increased pressure to source directly for obvious cost reasons however there is often little time to do this properly so you become adept at focusing your efforts and using agencies only on those roles where you really can’t do it yourself. There is also a massive difference in how you organise your time, driven by the incredible volume of email communication you receive in-house. Agency consultants are quite rightly encouraged to do everything on the phone and this is at odds with a corporate HR department where by definition, you are encouraged to keep an audit trail of absolutely everything.

Coming from an agency background was extremely powerful when working in-house. I knew all the tricks of the trade and so I was able to challenge agencies (in what I hope was a humorous and positive way) and ensure that our process was followed. I took a direct approach and tried to treat the agency consultant how I had hoped to be treated when I was in the same position – communicating openly about issues and time delays and trying to respond as quickly as possible to ensure they were able to manage their candidates’ expectations and therefore protect our employer brand in the market.

There were times when I could visualise some of my agencies mentally throwing darts at my Linkedin profile when I was forced to postpone an assignment due a corporate restructure or cancel an interview at short notice. It was embarrassing as I knew the work that the better agencies would have put in and the difficult position they would be in letting the candidates know.

Experiencing the ‘other side’ made me realise that there are some appalling practitioners in our industry but equally that there are some excellent recruitment professionals out there and I really enjoyed the relationships we made with these companies. I was genuinely pleased when they made a placement with us and was vocal in championing their brand internally.

My agency training enabled me to control the process and manage candidate offers effectively, negotiate to get the best commercial outcome for the business and, I hope, build genuine relationships with agencies based on mutual respect rather than disdain.

Most importantly, I never forgot what it was like to make that business development call and receive the inevitable frosty reception – this didn’t mean I tolerated the really poor sales approaches but it certainly made me treat consultants courteously and with respect.

I am interested to hear your opinion on this – what, in your view, is the best background for an in-house recruiter? Is it necessary to have experienced the agency world first-hand or are other backgrounds equally relevant?

Sophie Mackenzie

Views: 10613

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on December 11, 2012 at 8:42am
Absolutely agency experience. Recruiting never stops being a sales job. While in house we don't have to "cold call" our clients, we still have to influence them. The candidate relationship isn't all that different aside from we only have one company (although possibly multiple roles) to present them to.

I have worked with great corporate recruiters w/ agency background and mediocre internals with - you guessed it - no agency experience. Agency teaches you to hustle.
Comment by Noel Cocca on December 11, 2012 at 1:08pm

I think to be the best in house/corporate understanding how the agency recruiters work is a HUGE benefit.  

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on December 13, 2012 at 4:33am

I agree.

I also think that the 3rd party sector will start to evolve again when some of those inhouse recruiters move back to the agency side.

Then more recruitment agencies will be able to have more grown-up conversations with their clients about how to solve their hiring issues.

Comment by AdMore Recruitment on December 13, 2012 at 5:05am

Thanks for the comments all.

@Mitch, I agree, it makes a huge difference to our approach as we have a number of ex in-house recruiters working for us. I do also think in-house is a far different playing field than 4 or 5 years ago, with recruiters more interested in building long term relationships with us agency recruiters, rather than seen as a necessary evil!

Comment by Jacob S. Madsen on December 13, 2012 at 5:07am

Sophie. You put it so right and spot on, great post. What is the true difference and in addition to already made comments is the ability to thoroughly understand and interact with what is often a highly commercially driven business It is about making the connection between a business need/demand and a solution in the form of a candidate/person. It is about understanding the impact this has, what it difference it will make, and then going and finding that solution. Very few agency recruiters have the chance and or ability to get that deep inside knowledge and understanding, why their services can only be transactional. With that in mind and as ex agency recruiter myself, it about how you bridge that gap and make the agency recruiter understand all those things that they would not know or see. It is about the in-housers understanding that if they wish to engage agencies, then to enable them to be the best they can be, through well documented briefing documents, well written JD's and even questionnaires and supporting material. In-housers sitting on a high horse and playing all high and mighty have not understood a thing, and rather than create a divide, they should try to have some empathy with their agency brothers/sisters. We are talking two different worlds, but two worlds that often need each other, and for that reason their need to be a mutual understanding and attempt to make it work. I have as in-houser agencies with whom I have outstanding working relationships, that act as my extended arm, that do exactly what I wish them to do (and often more) who deliver not just 100% fit but 120-130% fit. I depend on them, I rely on them and we have outstanding relationship.

In summary all it takes is sitting down in a quiet room for 30 mins thinking it through and then coming up with the solution you want, it can be done and the result in my experience are very good.  

Comment by AdMore Recruitment on December 21, 2012 at 3:13am

Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. Really like your Prezi on your website (the whole site is great!) Something we are playing with at the moment, what has been the reaction from your clients?

Comment by AdMore Recruitment on December 21, 2012 at 3:43am

Thanks Chris, we are talking to a marketing agency here that are all over it for 2013! We plan to use for pitches next year, seems easy to use, once you get your head aound that is isn't Powerpoint!


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