Recruiting Edge: Why The Agency Model Wins

John Whitaker Always Be Closing, HR, John Whitaker, Labor, Recruiting, The HR Profession

When you live in the corporate recruiting world long enough, you’re certain to run into the occasional headhunter “end run” from a hiring manager. Call it an occupational reality—as you try to balance your req load and candidate flow, you receive a directive from a hiring manager to include a candidate they received from a previously untapped recruiting source… the external recruiter. To make matters worse, you had no idea there was an external search being utilized.

It could be you have a frustrated client looking for more candidates, more attention, faster service, or supplemental effort (possibly a combination of all). With requisition loads as they are, it’s not uncommon for a recruiter to be spread too thin. It happens, so sue me.

Or it could be a much more basic reason (this might sting just a bit): maybe they know they will receive better candidates from an external recruiter. Ouch, babe.

So, in addition to an over-saturation of open requisitions, you now have this dismissive action from your client to show for your efforts. And the truth of it is that it’s not even a fair fight. When money doesn’t matter, the agency has the deck stacked.

So what does the agency know that your company doesn’t know? Plenty.

1. The Model – With the agency, not only do you get the duck, you get the furiously paddling feet underneath the surface. As the corporate recruiter works on a req from soup to nuts, the agency has a back-office and front-office approach that is continually sourcing, connecting, and identifying talent—with or without an open requisition.

2. The Pipeline – To the corporate recruiter, a candidate “pipeline” is a mythological beast only discussed in hushed tones. For the agency recruiter, the talent pipeline is his/her life’s blood. Constant networking and “fishing” in order to make points of contact for that inevitable day of need. Corporate recruiters are carrying req loads that prohibit anything quite so strategic.

3. The Attitude – Similar to a consultant walking on-site and being automatically recognized as the “expert,” the headhunter relationship with your hiring manager will be seen as peer-to-peer. Is that an accurate reality? Not really, but it only matters what is perceived, not what is reality. The ugly truth is that hiring managers perceive internal recruiters to be administrative, while at the same time viewing the external recruiter as an SME.

Remember, I started this ditty by stating if “money doesn’t matter” this wouldn’t be a fair fight. Fortunately, for most companies, money most definitely does matter—at least for a little while. At some point, paying those 25% placement fees will seem like a fair tradeoff for “good” hires. Until then, you have time to make the obvious changes needed to your internal structure.

Become the agency. Align resources in terms of client-facing/sourcing functions. Upgrade your existing talent if necessary; recruiting needs to be seen as a strategic partner, not an entry-level position for anyone having designs on Human Resources. Carry yourself as an expert, not a lackey. Make “passive” recruiting a job requirement for anyone in Human Resources. Do something different before it’s done for you.

Truth is, you may not be in any position to make the kinds of changes needed to compete with the “machine” of external recruiting.

How do you compete?

John Whitaker
John Whitaker (“Whit”) is Vice President of Talent Acquisition for DentalOne Partners and the founder of (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.