For the last seven years now, I have enjoyed the comfortable, predictable and somewhat steady life of an in-house recruiter, which, let’s face it, has its advantages.
Reqs and candidates come to you, you actually get to interact with the hiring manager and internal stakeholders to inform and influence decisions, and you get a steady salary, benefits and all those other perks that come along with being a part of the corporate world.
It’s a pretty sweet gig (mostly), and while recruiting in-house can be challenging, but there are way worse things to have to try to sell than jobs – if you’ve ever tried to develop business as an agency recruiter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Which is why the worst case scenario for any corporate talent acquisition practitioner is having to work with an agency recruiter to close the occasional hard-to-fill req. We largely see third parties as a necessary evil, and even when we call in the calvary, most in-house talent organizations still tend to view their contingency counterparts with disdain and distrust. Opening a search externally and choosing contingency recruiting is tacitly admitting defeat, and raising this requisition-related white flag is why many corporate recruiters see third party firms more as competitors than collaborators.
While, to the rest of the world, we’re all recruiters, but to those of us on the talent front lines, both sides cling to an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, a seemingly impenetrable wall between two very different (yet strangely similar) worlds of work. Which is why I never thought I’d see the day when I decided to switch teams and go back to the proverbial dark side of contingency recruiting, trading in a pretty cushy job for a life of cold calling and commissions.
Thing is, I’m confident that I just started the last job I’m ever going to have, and I get to work for the world’s best boss: me. Added bonus: no more having to dress up and drive into an office to sit behind a closed door sourcing and screening all day.
Most people wonder what the hell I’m thinking, and frankly, some days I do a little bit, too. Let’s just say I have a lengthy list of rationales and reasons for making this move, most of which I’m going to keep private, since they’re more personal than professional. Instead, I’d like to tell you a story I think every recruiter needs to hear – and hopefully illustrate why I did what I did – and why it’s not as crazy as it might sound on the surface.
Corporate Recruiting Can Suck Sometimes.
As I stated before, there are plenty of perks associated with working directly for an organization; besides knowing exactly what you’re going to make every month and having the piece of mind that you’ll be able to provide a decent lifestyle for your family, not to mention having benefits taken care of and taxes withheld by your employer.
You also have colleagues who inevitably become friends, and a brand that you’re not only representing, but that affiliation somehow seems to form some small part of your professional identity. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some of the world’s best organizations, and having a big name backing you makes your job a whole hell of a lot easier.
Even with all those factors working in favor of working in-house, I also found that there were a whole hell of a lot of downsides, too. First off, it didn’t matter if I was working on one open job or 40, I made the exact same amount of money, no matter what. Some weeks I could get away with clocking in for my 40 hours; others, though, it seemed like I slept in the office I was so busy, and there still weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
Since every company I recruited for was publically held, my professional existence was determined by quarterly financials more than my individual performance. That my job depended completely on my employer’s quarterly performance, with a loss potentially portending my losing my job, consistently kept me and most of my colleagues on edge. But that’s one of the professional hazards in this business – you can be the world’s best recruiter, but no company needs you if they’re not hiring or have headcounts frozen.
It’s nerve racking, really, like living on a recurring three month contract in perpetuity with no guarantee of renewal, even for the most exceptional performers. People might be employers’ biggest asset, but the people responsible for finding those people are too often treated like a dispensable liability instead.
It’s also tilting at windmills to try to keep every one of your many hiring managers happy; if you’re a recruiter who thinks that every hiring manager you’ve ever worked with loved you, think again – you’re either delusional or haven’t been doing this for long, but I’m going to call bullshit.
Most of the time, this comes down to nothing more than a lack of chemistry or collaboration between both parties and has little to do with performance – certain hiring managers just work better with certain recruiters.
Truth is, there’s little you can do to fix this other than learn to live with it and do your job. While recruiters generally want other people to like and respect them, the truth is that sometimes, you’re going to run into someone who hates you no matter what you do, and that’s OK. If you don’t have thick skin, you’re in the wrong business, brother.
While working in-house, sometimes, escalations are inevitable – the bigger the company and the bigger your workload, the more difficult meeting even the most basic expectations can be. It’s hard to get ahead when you’re treading water trying not to drown in the deluge of paperwork, processes and procedures that so often preempt a busy recruiter’s ability to do anything but the bare minimum.
I know corporate recruiters want to be all things to all people – I certainly did, but realized that being everything to everybody gets you nowhere. It’s impossible.
Expectations are often unrealistic – hey, how hard is recruiting, really – which leaves us constantly overworked, overwhelmed and underappreciated. Every hiring manager and every candidate thinks that they’re the top priority, but the truth is, everything in recruiting is urgent, and it’s easy to lose focus when everyone demands your attention. This no-win recruiting reality pretty much sucks when it’s your reality. Really.
Man, that feels good to finally get off my chest.
Use the Force: 4 Reasons To Choose Contingency Recruiting Over Corporate
So, now, I’ve set up my own shop, and feel like I’ve given my career a second chance. This past week alone, I closed a candidate for a client, and it gave me the kind of energy and enthusiasm for recruiting I haven’t felt for almost two decades. I’ve had thousands of offers accepted since I started out in 1995, but frankly, those felt like a professional responsibility rather than a personal accomplishment.
It felt like being reborn as a recruiter, and at that moment, I knew I had made the right choice. Here are four reasons why I left corporate and decided to go to the “dark side” of contingency recruiting.
1. I can focus on delivering real help to clients who really need it.
It’s infinitely rewarding to work with people who actually WANT and NEED your services. Sure, there are people who think that third party recruiters are a pain in the ass (hell, I was one of them not too long ago), but there’s a ton of value in partnering with external recruiters. We serve as intermediaries in the process, partnering with both sides to ensure constant communication and timely feedback, and are able to approach roles without bias to client or candidate, allowing us to focus on finding the best fit for both sides without having to sell or sugarcoat the opportunity.
Sure, there are a few corporate recruiters who do this, but they have so much on their plate quality often takes a back seat to speed, and have so much on their plates that they often don’t have the time to give every candidate the attention they want and deserve. Bad candidate experience is a necessity largely borne from expediency and external expectations, not hubris or malice.
But as a third party recruiter, candidates aren’t commodities – they’re my clients as much as employers, and it’s my job to make sure they’re happy, because they don’t HAVE to work with me. Nor do my hiring managers, who use me because they respect my recruiting efficacy and chose to trust their open opportunities to me.
It’s not like in corporate recruiting, where you’re automatically assigned a recruiter – in this case, you have to actually actively seek one out. This is a much healthier foundation for a working relationship – and successful recruiting outcomes.
2. Gambling Is Fun.
I love taking risks, and wouldn’t have bet the farm on going out on my own if I didn’t enjoy rolling the dice once in a while, even in a situation where I know the odds are overwhelmingly in my favor, since I’m confident in my recruiting acumen and abilities. Still, there’s no bigger rush than putting your cards on the table knowing that you could go bust, and the constant threat of failure is more exhilarating than frightening.
This year, I will do a number of contingent searches, and I know that these are really all or nothing propositions: if I don’t make a placement, I don’t make money. This, if anything, makes me want to work harder and recruit better than anyone else out there, since I have more to lose – and more invested – than anyone.
Everything is on the line, and I know that when I close a candidate, I’ve made a winning bet – and that’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my professional career.
3. The chase becomes thrilling.
Wow. Turns out, agency recruiting is sales – no matter what anyone says. Not only that, it’s the hardest sales job conceivable. You don’t only have to find clients (and biz dev sucks), but you’ve got to convince them that, out of the hundreds of thousands of recruiters they could work with, they should work with you. That means being able to articulate your value proposition and what gives you a competitive advantage – a good job or a good company isn’t enough to open a req on this side of the aisle.
If you can get through to a hiring manager or recruiting stakeholder and actually successfully sell them on your services, then you’ve got to negotiate terms and conditions – contracts are no fun, and often are more archaic and unreadable than your average position description. But assuming you come to terms, then the hard part really starts: you’ve got to deliver candidates, and better ones than the company themselves is capable of finding, at that.
Once you find the right candidate, you’ve got to sell them not only on the role, but why they should work with you instead of just applying directly for the job or finding another recruiter to represent them, which means you’ve got to give them a great experience, no matter what, because if they’re not engaged and confident in you, then they don’t have to work with you. So it’s really all up to you, really.
Hiring takes a really long time, or at least longer than anyone involved probably would like, which means constant expectation setting, communications and leveling with both client and candidate, a delicate balancing act of keeping everyone happy while keeping the process moving.
Once that offer finally comes, the long and excruciating process still isn’t over – you’ve got to close them. This means working whatever magic it takes to get them to ignore the many offers and counter offers the most placeable candidates are almost always considering to choose your opportunity, and making sure that when they make that choice, they actually follow through and show up – and stick around for 90 days at that.
The process is painful, but the payout is worth it.
4. The Rewards Are Worth the Risk.
I get paid for finding and closing candidates. I love that. It’s a simple reward for a straightforward service – if I work my ass off to help your organization find the talent it needs to succeed, then I know any payment is easily worth the piece of mind it affords to my clients. This is why I don’t want to put a butt in a seat, I want to find key hires who will make a difference – not least because they are likely to give me business in the future, but also because it means that I’ve delivered as promised to both them and their new employer.
Having the right third party partner, I’ve found, is one of the biggest competitive advantages any employer has for catalyzing growth, finding the best talent on the market and having an objective expert committed to helping your organization succeed, which is mostly impossible without the right people. The best things in life aren’t free, but you get what you pay for – and I know if I can’t give my clients demonstrable recruiting ROI for that fee, then I have no reason being in business to begin with.
Speaking of selling: if you want to work with a third party recruiter who gets life on the inside, and can be on target every time, all the time, hit me up. Hey, now that I’m on the dark side, I’ve seen the light – and am loving every minute of it.
About the Author: Will Thompson the Founder & President of Bulls Eye Recruiting a recruiting agency that focuses on recruiting sales, marketing and IT professionals for organization.
He has been in recruiting for 20 years and has worked for organizations such as Rosetta Stone, Dell, eBay, & Rainmaker Systems.
He can be reached at [email protected] or by following him on Twitter @WillRecruits.
By Will Thomson
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