Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Creating Exceptional Workplaces and Extraordinary Results
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How to Find The Right Recruiting Partner For Your Firm

In the world of business, most third-party recruiters, who are also known as headhunters, are considered to be a necessary evil.

You give them a job description, they come back with a pile of candidates and you make a hire. You then cut them a check for services rendered.

Transactions like these take place every day with little thought as to how to improve this process for both the client, the company hired to fill critical positions, and candidates. You may be thinking, “Surely there is a better way,” and I can guarantee you wouldn’t be alone in your thinking.

The following are ways to significantly reduce the time and money you are spending with third-party recruiters, straight from the mouths of those in the business of securing talent on your behalf.

Find a Trusted Partner

Stop treating your third-party recruiters as if they were just another vendor. Instead, take the time to find a firm that has a strong reputation in the industry that you are in. “Do your research,” advises Tom Gimbel, CEO and president of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm. “More times than not, recruiters that are experts in a specific niche are well-known in the industry, making them a credible source to companies and job seekers alike.” When sourcing firms, consider the company’s experience and which companies it works with in that space.

Ask for Referrals

You wouldn’t hire just any architect to draw the plans for your new home, would you? Probably not. If you are like most people, you’d ask people you trust for a referral. Those of you looking to build a solid company will want to surround yourself with a team of people who are the best in the business. This includes a firm that has the experience and stamina to keep up with your recruitment demands. “Ask trusted colleagues in your industry who they use and why they like working with them,” advises John Todd, partner and account executive at Downtown Recruiting, a Boston-based placement firm. If you just arrived in town or you’re new to third-party recruiting, then Todd suggests contacting a local professional association to see who they might recommend.

Turn the Tables

If you are looking for a long-term partner, then consider turning the tables. Interview several firms to ensure the one you select is right for you. “A staffing firm should be an extension of your HR department,” notes Gimbel. For many applicants, recruiters from the firm will be the only face candidates see. What type of first impression are they making on you and would you be comfortable having these people represent your brand in the marketplace? If for any reason you have doubts, keep searching.

Ask Away!

As part of your due diligence, Todd suggests you ask:

  • What experience do you have recruiting for talent in my industry?
  • How many people have you placed in a similar role(s)?
  • How do you qualify your candidates before submitting them to a client?
  • What do you know about our company and this department?
  • What is your guarantee policy for candidate placements?

Check References

Both Todd and Gimbel believe in the importance of checking references of firms that you are considering. Todd goes on to say that you should check more than one reference. “A good firm won’t hesitate to connect you with three of its clients, at the least. Consider it a red flag if firms shy away from this request,” states Gimbel.

Clarify Expectations

When establishing any type of partnership it’s important to clarify expectations. Included in this conversation should be a discussion around the fees; terms of any guarantees; the definition of an introduction and how long this candidate is considered an agency referral; who will be working on your account and what their qualifications are; whether or not there is an exclusivity clause, which means only one staffing firm can be used at a time; and if the firm sources candidates from existing clients. Gimbel points out that some staffing firms work with job hoppers that are switching from one client to another, and other firms have strict policies against this. It’s best to know all of this up front to avoid unpleasant surprises that may pop up down the road.

“The most productive relationships are the ones where the agency is considered a partner,” says Todd. A trusting relationship will make the process much smoother, more efficient, and will yield results for years to come.

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  1. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Presumably this advice doesn’t apply to recruitment agencies working the contingency model, right?

  2. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The sources that I used for this posting are contingency recruiters. It’s been my experience that many companies treat contingency agencies as vendors rather than as partners in the recruitment process. Big mistake, as the great candidates are going to the companies who have relationships (rather than transactions) with their third-party recruiters.

    Find a firm that values your business and believes in partnerships and you’ll get better results.

  3. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink


    But by that token, the client would need to retain the agency to ensure the best behaviours and outcomes, so they could do the job as well as it need to be done.


  4. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    If you want 100% commitment, then search is the way to go. But then again, there are certain positions where businesses are very unlikely to enter into a search arrangement because they don’t place as high a value on these jobs.

  5. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Retained is often inextricably linked to search, which I think is something of a misnomer.

    If a company wants to hire more effectively across all jobs, often giving it to just one agency to work all the obvious channels will yield better quality candidates, simply because the agency isn’t involved in a bun-fight to try and shoehorn candidates in before another agency gets to them.

    With one decent agency working the job, candidates get treated better and get better quality and consistent information on the client – which means they perform better at the interview. Also has a positive impact on retention too. In the Internet age, it’s very easy for one agency to replicate the efforts of 5.

    I’ve taken a retainer for a salary as low as 22k. All I had to do was take a detailed brief, write good copy and manage/interview the response and deliver the best 5 to the client.

    The client just has to trust the external recruiter.

  6. Posted July 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like you do great work for your clients. I do have to say that many agencies are not full service agencies. For example, they may be the best at pulling in financial professionals, but have few contacts if any when it comes to finding administrative personnel. Rarely do I suggest that a client put all their eggs in one basket unless I personally know that the basket that I’m recommending has the strength to deliver it all.

  7. Posted July 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think they have to be full service, Roberta – other than being capable of delivering a complete recruitment assignment.

    If a company need to hire a qualified Accountant, their interests are often going to best served by giving that role to just one specialist agency (in finance obviously), brief them well and ensure they understand that they HAVE to fill the job …and therefore do everything to ensure that happens. It means more work for the recruiter, but if they’re good at what they do, they’ll do it because there’s a guaranteed fee at the end of it.

    In exchange for that commitment, the client needs to pay some of the fee upfront or give it to them exclusively as a minimum.

    Ultimately, working that way is showing due respect to the target candidate audience – which is critical to effective recruitment, whoever does it.

  8. Posted July 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Here’s where we are going to have to agree to disagree. A good friend of mine places administrative personnel. She is the best in the business in her market. However, I would not refer my clients who are looking to hire IT people or accounting professionals to her as these are markets where she has no contacts. Nor would she accept these assignments.

    I cannot ethically recommend that my clients pay a partial upfront fee. I prefer to have my clients negotiate their own terms with the party they choose to work with.

  9. Posted July 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink


    I never said recruiters should be given jobs that they have no specialist knowledge in.

    If any agency of any discipline is asked to fill a job alongside 3-4 other similar agencies, none of them are going to source candidates as comprehensively as if just one recruiter/agency is given ownership of that job.

    It’s that basic principle that lies at the heart of why so many companies have brought recruitment inhouse over the past 10 years or so.

    Have you ever worked in a recruitment consultancy, Roberta?

  10. Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I have not Mitch. But I know many people in the business and have used third-party recruiters when I worked in the corporate world. I have also helped clients find firms to partner with when they needed help finding talent.

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