Having spent almost a year in my current in-house role I've started to reflect back on where I came from. I took a look at my previous agency experience and compared what I did there to my current responsibilities and realized that although accidental, the format of my last job prepared me very well for what I was walking into.
The setup was such that every recruiter had one skill set within which he or she was to become an expert. The thought was for each recruiter to become fluent in the recruitment of a specific type of individual, build a talent network, and have candidates ready to draw from at a moment's notice. I understood the theory behind it, but something about it didn't sit right with me. Luckily enough for me, the sales team did not bring in enough requisitions within my skill set, so I was allowed to dabble in several different areas. I was still mainly focused on gaining expertise within my area and considering the low volume of work quickly learned the value of a strong network.
Everybody else there seemed to have a very good handle on the networking and talent pooling piece of the job, but I realized there was a serious downside to this style of recruiting. Some of the recruiters were so specialized that while they could place people within their skill set in no time flat, they almost never had success going outside of their comfort zone no matter how long they had to work on the job. I never really gave it much thought at the time, but looking back it makes perfect sense for a few reasons.
Although some recruiters still did a little sourcing here and there, most did almost none. They relied on the database of people they had built and did all of their recruiting and networking from there. This was not necessarily a bad thing when the volume of work orders was high, but if oddball requests came in, or work in a skill area was low, these recruiters looked like deer stuck in headlights trying to figure out how to creatively source candidates.
While it seems relatively obvious to me, it is still worth mentioning that recruiters who almost never went outside of their specialty a much longer time to learn the details of a new requisition and what a qualified candidate looked like. Even though 90% or more of our work was within the automotive industry these people were so focused on their area that even moving to another skill within the same industry required spending a significant amount of time doing research to get up to speed.
This is the area I feel as though recruiters benefit most from going outside of their comfort zone every now and again. It is very logical that professions attract a certain personality profile. At the risk of oversimplifying, engineers tend to be very numbers oriented and analytical, while salespeople are more gregarious and like to form a relationship. This isn't very important (or necessarily apparent) when reading a resume, but it most certainly is when you actually go through the recruiting process. Although the recruiter can still follow his or her basic routine, some things need to be tweaked to cater to these personality differences. I found that recruiters who stayed strictly within the confines of their skill set had little or no success when asked to work another discipline because they were recruiting for the wrong type of personality profile and had a very hard time building a relationship with any candidates.
I realize there are plenty of independent recruiters who have made a living by mastering a niche to the point that they are the source for candidates within said specialty. However, I firmly believe it is invaluable to get outside of your comfort zone now and again as a refresher on how to recruit from scratch. If the worst should happen and the bottom falls out of your niche, starting up a new network won't be so painful. If your role should change you can adapt more easily. Although it seemed like a curse at the time I'm very thankful I was forced to work in a variety of areas previously because when interviewing for my current job it was made very clear they did not want a one-trick pony.