Recruit.FYI: How Can In-House Recruiters and Rec-Cons Co-Exist?


Gareth Biggerstaff, CEO of Be-IT examines the symbiotic relationship between in-house recruiters and rec-cons. How can co-existence benefit all?

There is a common belief that in-house recruiters and recruitment consultancies don’t really get on and that the former sometimes see the latter as a threat. After all, one of the key drivers for in-house recruiters is to reduce their company’s recruitment spend, while rec-cons are obviously targeted to make placements and generate (sometimes quite substantial) fees.

These two objectives are, on the face of it, conflicting; reducing the amount spent on recruitment agencies’ fees is one of the principal ways in-house teams can save money and demonstrate their effectiveness to their employers.

While there may be in-house teams that view agencies like ours as a nuisance, I don’t believe for a minute that good recruitment consultancies should be considered a threat. As intimated by the word symbiotic, our relationships should indeed be mutualistic, close and long-term, (although without the biological interaction that word implies).

When each recognises the other’s strengths and uses them to mitigate their own weaknesses – for example, when a rec-con understands how an in-house client’s strong employer brand helps attract candidates – then the relationship between the two is stronger, more effective and, ultimately, mutually beneficial.

In-House Versus Rec-Cons

It’s important to recognise that the debate around the pros and cons of in-house versus rec-cons applies only to those firms that can actually afford to employ a specialist recruiter. For obvious reasons, these tend to be larger organisations. By virtue of their size and status, it’s often easier for such companies to attract candidates on the strength of their name and reputation alone.

However, as we all know, the vast bulk (60% according to the FSB) of private sector firms are SMEs, many of which simply do not have the money, or indeed the volume of recruitment, to sustain an in-house team.

Of course, they still need to recruit the very best people they can, and here recruitment consultancies play a vital role in helping these companies develop and grow.

Having said all this, it is essential that where there are in-house teams working with rec-cons, both parties acknowledge that it’s not a competition and what really matters is the common goal: viz, to recruit the right person for the vacancy.

This is not always a “game-changing” hire; many jobs simply require a “steady Eddy.” Correctly interpreting the hiring department/company’s brief and future requirements and then matching these to the candidates are therefore fundamental tasks for any recruiter, whether in-house or external.

From that starting point, it’s then incumbent on an in-house recruitment team to take the best approach that results in a successful hire. While they will, naturally, consider all the options, sometimes the best solution is indeed to make use of an external recruitment agency, especially if it’s for a “distress purchase” recruitment where someone has left and needs to be replaced urgently.

Points of View

It’s instructive to see things from the point of view of the candidate.  If he or she is actively looking for a new job then, unless they have set their heart on a particular company, a good external recruitment agency will have a far greater variety of jobs to consider. In contrast, the in-house team only have the one company to offer – and usually only one potentially suitable job.

This also applies for anyone who is currently employed by a company with an in-house recruitment team. That person may want a promotion, but there may not be any opportunities in that company (dead man’s shoes and all that) and, obviously, that’s all the in-house team can offer. In contrast, an external recruiter can offer a range of possible options.

From the candidate’s viewpoint, I would argue that recruitment agencies bring a greater range of choice and options, but with the caveat that only if they (the agency) genuinely know their business. Slightly too many recruitment agencies employ hard-nosed salespeople whose primary interest is their own bonus and are not too fussed how they get it.

As a candidate, it is vital to satisfy yourself that a recruitment agency really does want to match you with the right job and doesn’t simply see you as a means to another fee.

However, if we then consider things from the perspective of the recruiting company we get a different picture. All businesses like to keep costs to a minimum, so if your company wants to hire employees who fit its well-defined culture and ethos and has long-term hiring plans plus the budget, then in-house makes perfect sense.

Once in place, an in-house recruiter will have to justify their existence, and the best way of doing this is to a) do a good job and b) reduce recruitment costs for their employer.  And as I noted above, the best way of doing the latter is to pay fewer and smaller fees to external recruiters.

Acknowledging Problems

One problem for in-house recruiters is that they are, by necessity, required to be generalists who can turn their hand to everything – from software engineers to accountants and secretaries to senior executives.

Unless they are exceptionally experienced, it’s unlikely that they will have all the necessary skills to cover such a wide range of jobs. It’s here that the good rec-cons can make all the difference. Like Be-IT, many external recruitment agencies specialise and therefore have the ability to search “an inch wide and a mile deep.”

Perhaps the biggest advantage that the in-house team has over a recruitment consultancy is that they are embedded in the company and therefore are able to plan months ahead, working closely with line managers to decide what roles they’re going to need over the next 612 months, reviewing and adjusting their recruitment strategy and processes as required over time.

Their work is not reactive in the way a recruitment agency’s usually is and as a result, they are often able to create imaginative and clever advertising that draws in high-quality candidates.

The potential drawback here is that advertising tends to attract mainly people who are already looking for a job. In the current market, with all its skill shortages, both in-house and rec-cons really need to delve into the places where the quality passive candidates lurk.

This is where a good, symbiotic relationship really comes into play. Unless it’s a very large in-house team, it’s difficult for them to spend the time necessary to cultivate long-term relationships in the way that a good recruitment agency’s resourcers are able to do.


By working together, both parties can achieve the best of all worlds: a long-term strategy to entice the very best active candidates, underpinned by research and talent mapping to understand what potential candidates think about the employer (brand) and who might be ripe for a recruitment conversation now or in several months’ time, especially if there is a strategy for medium-term engagement and rapport building with them in the interim.

This, in turn, brings me to another key skill that both in-house and external recruiters must have.  The aforementioned rapport building is crucial for both, but the difference is that while the external recruiter is managing clients and candidates from many different businesses, the internal recruiter needs to manage expectations across the business – with no walking away from an annoying line manager or a complex brief!

Finally, to make this relationship work, we, the recruitment agencies, need to put ourselves in the shoes of the in-house recruiter. For the latter, the cold-call from the recruitment agency (and increasingly from firms selling recruitment tech) is a daily nuisance.  Small wonder that they get hacked off with aggressive and persistent rec-cons.

Yet the good in-house recruiter who turns down your call will, almost certainly, also have long-standing relationships with a select band of vetted recruitment consultancies and will know when and where the latter add value.  The challenge for the recruitment agency consultant or resourcer is how to get himself or herself into that chosen group (or PSL – preferred supplier list -as it’s normally called!).

Aggression does not work, polite and professional persistence might. Above all, today’s recruitment consultant has to be in completely in control of his or her brief, able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the roles for which the in-house team is recruiting and also a similar array of expertise in the field of recruitment – the current trends, fashions and fads, what’s working and what isn’t.

Ultimately, the relationship prospers (or not) on the strength of individual relationships.  For both parties, the key is not to promise what you can’t deliver and when you promise something, make sure you actually deliver it.  Underpin this with great customer service and you have the basis for a long-term and profitable partnership that will endure far into the future.

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