Fast Track Recruitment

How did I get here?

Posted by Mitch on 6th September 2016


I stopped working on contingency in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I realised why it made sense for other recruiters to make the same move.

Between 2006 and 2009 I worked as a contract inhouse recruiter – just as the growth in companies bringing their recruitment inhouse had really started to accelerate.

In some of those inhouse contracts, I needed to source direct and in others I had to use recruitment agencies.

In this blog I’d like to share my experiences with the 2nd contract I took. It was one where I had no choice but to work with agencies.

The company was (and is) very large and owns some of the most well-known food brands in UK.

They had around 35 H/O vacancies in Sales and Category Management, all in the £40-80K salary range. Around a third of these vacancies were described as “business critical” and many had been vacant for between 6-9 months.

The target candidate audience for those types of jobs with this type of large corporate were well-educated, articulate, business savvy FMCG professionals. The kinds of people who take their career seriously. Hardly any of them were out of work.

You often find that the calibre of a recruitment agency is influenced by the calibre of the candidates it specialises in. What I’m saying is that FMCG recruiters are, in general, a switched-on bunch. They pretty much have to be.

So here I am, about to start a 5 month contract with a well-known blue-chip company, who can’t seem to hire anyone, despite having some decent agencies on their PSL.

I was intrigued.

HR owned recruitment and they had outsourced the beating-up of the PSL agencies to an HR services procurement provider.

By “beating-up”, what I mean is every agency was working to 18.2% on salaries above 40K.

Remember, this is pre-recession.

Those agencies prepared to play to those rules were then invited to submit candidates into an online portal – which had been kindly offered by the HR procurement provider at a ridiculously inflated cost.

Once the candidate CVs were in, HR would email all CVs out to the various Trading Directors and Hiring Managers, whose job it was to read them and let HR know which ones they wanted to meet.

Because these various Directors and Managers were over-worked (because of the aforementioned 35 vacancies) they mostly took too long to respond.

When they did respond, they took too long to interview the candidates.

Then, when they did finally interview the candidates, they took too long to provide HR with feedback, whose job it was to pass on that feedback to the agencies.

Hiring managers were pissed-off because they were overworked and so only wanted to look at “perfect candidates”.

HR were pissed-off because the hiring managers were pissed-off and blaming them.

And the agencies were very pissed-off.

They’d wasted most of their time sourcing and talking to candidates, only to submit their CVs into a black hole and not get any feedback for what felt like 3 years.

And the candidates were pissed off. Nothing new there.

HR called it a bottleneck.

I called it a clusterfuck.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I managed to fill around 33 jobs – including new roles that became open during the 5 months I was there. All via agencies.

There were 3 basic things I did that helped me to achieve more in 5 months than HR had been able to achieve in 18 months:

1. I treated the agencies with respect.

2. I apologised for what had happened previously, assured them it wouldn’t happen again while I was there and re-sold the company to them.

3. I promised that every single candidate they submitted would be dealt with inside 48 hours.

In short, I gave them more.

The better agencies got exclusivity. Some (if they asked for it) got a retainer.

I also upped all of them to a fee of between 20-25%.

The outsourced HR procurement people went batshit mental.

I encouraged the hiring managers into responding to candidate CVs very quickly, which involved me marching into their offices, laying a CV on their desk and asking them to get their diary open.

They grew to like me (eventually) because their jobs magically started getting filled.

I ignored the procurement people whenever they complained that I was working outside their framework. We both knew I could get away with it because they were in the shit and I wasn’t an employee.

Procurement and HR grew to hate me. Some of them even complained that I was “a bit noisy”. Apparently they weren’t used to someone being on the phone a lot.

There were 3 key things I learned from this 5 month contract:

1. Some agencies can be trusted to guarantee delivery.

But I needed to choose and incentivise them properly. And I don’t just mean bigger fees. I mean guaranteed fees.

Many responded positively to knowing they would definitely earn a fee more than it being at or above market rate.

2. HR people hate recruiting.

The one key thing HR learned from the experience was that they’d rather be on a sofa curled-up in the foetal position crying their eyes out than filling jobs. On every contract after this, I insisted that my desk was in the sales department, not HR.

This company’s recruitment is now handled by an RPO.

3. Commitment is critical if anything good is going to happen.

It was that strong commitment to talking to the right candidates, working with the right suppliers and changing the emphasis to having to fill jobs (as opposed to maybe filling jobs) that made such a huge difference to everyone getting what they wanted. And by everyone, I mean me, the agencies, the hiring managers, HR and the candidates.

Commitment came to be the yardstick by which I would judge agencies and agency recruiters. Those that wanted to commit I’d always take more seriously than those that didn’t.

I learned quite a few other things during my 3 years working inhouse and from an intellectual capital point of view, it was easily the best thing I ever did.

But probably the biggest thing I learned was that some agency recruiters can be trusted to fill jobs on an exclusive basis, if they’re managed properly.

I later figured that if I could sell them the benefits of having an exclusive and/or retained relationship as the client, I could sell them the benefits of having exclusive/retained relationships as a training provider.

So, there’s the story of how I became that bloke that is constantly banging-on about how retained recruitment is better than contingency recruitment.

If you’d like to explore how you might start developing these kinds of relationships with some of your clients, I can run a 3 hour workshop in your offices.

Testimonials are available.


By John Smith on Monday, 12 September 2016

Hey Mitch - I enjoy your blog and have a question I hoped you might take a crack at. Let’s say someone believes Retained is the right way to go, they want to shed the shackles of candidate trading and go on their own. Assuming no network, no clients, a new “vertical specialism”, how do they do it? I find your writing resonating with me but not giving me a lot of actionable information which is frustrating. What would you do in the shoes of the young recruiters your message is being received by? John

By Mitch on Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Hello John

In that scenario I would advise you to take-on new clients on contingency, telling them that this is probably the safest way for the two of you to see if you like each other. You also tell them that in the future, you will be asking them to work with you on a retained basis.

Once the relationship has warmed a little, make good on your promise to start a conversation with them around the benefits to them of working retained.

Once last thing. Selling retainers is easier than some people think. What’s tricky is selling them on the right terms.

When the bar’s been raised and you fall off, it does more damage.

Good luck.

By Lucien Campbell-Taylor on Thursday, 15 September 2016

As an Internal, there’s some excellent advice here for me to.

The treating the agencies with respect really is key.

“This involved me marching into their offices, laying a CV on their desk and asking them to get their diary open.” - This sums up my job, and something that I need to improve on!

Great blog!

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