Productivity & Effectiveness

How to work with recruiters when hiring

By 31/01/2018 August 22nd, 2019 No Comments
How to work with recruiters when hiring

The following is an excerpt from my book “Join Our Company : How to hire and onboard Technologists”. This section is all about how to work with recruiters when hiring.

Office Meeting

Office Meeting
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

Use Agencies

I don’t really understand the latest trend around hating on recruitment agencies. Get yourself on LinkedIn and you’ll see an overwhelming diatribe of people complaining about recruiters. It seems to be a mostly irrational response by angry people to the one or two bad eggs in the recruitment industry. All industries have bad eggs.

I personally like to use agencies and have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with them. They solve problems. The challenge is when you rely on agencies to solve problems you don’t have.

You are their customer

You are their customer and they are providing you with a service. Recruiters find you people that you seek to hire. Sure, you have to pay them for that, but the alternative is that you spend ages trying to do it on your own.

I made the mistake of using a job board once without using an internal recruiter or agency. The advert worked, but I received 300+ CVs from people mostly unqualified for the role. I had to review them all – I’d chosen this strategy.

It was a waste of time and money. Since that day I have used agencies to hire a number of people. I have no problem with agencies at all – but you must do your homework and choose them wisely.

A recruitment business exists to make money – like most businesses. Without money, there is no business. So, money is an objective.

For every hiring manager like you who is looking for smart, engaged and talented people, there are 100’s of companies looking for someone…. anyone. You need to find the agencies who are good at finding the people you want, not just good at finding anyone. If you use an agency who are not specialists at finding the people you seek to hire, then you’ll likely get poor quality candidates thrown at you, or nothing at all.

Finding the right agency is crucial to your success. What follows are some ways to work with agencies. Much of the following also applies to in-house HR/recruitment functions. The only difference may be around fees and negotiations. Don’t forget, most internal recruiters will put business needs above the candidates needs. Be sure to challenge or discuss anything you feel is ruining the experience for the candidate.

Be Patient

When you don’t have 100 generic roles to fill (which ironically is easier and quicker to fill) you will have to take your time. And it can take a lot of your own time and it can take a long time, even with agencies involved.

But hold out.

Don’t give in and hire someone who is not right for you. There are candidates out there, you just need to find them.

Find a niche recruiter and get to know them

There are agencies who specialise in finding you those hard to find people.

These agencies are usually owned and run by ex-tech employees or have carved out a successful niche for themselves. They are often smaller agencies, but even some of the really large agencies are happy to source niche candidates now. However, be aware that many of the larger agencies often put new recruiters on these jobs so results can be patchy.

These niche agencies are well connected and know the needs of most businesses. They know the expected salaries and contract rates, and they are well versed in eliciting your requirements. After all – they are essentially part of the industry – not separate to it.

In some cases, these recruiters will know more than you about what sort of person you need. Find a good agency like this and stick with them.

Give exclusivity

With hard to find roles many recruiters will want an exclusivity clause that means, for a select period of time, they will be the only agency working on sourcing that role for you. You are not allowed to have other agencies working on that role at the same time.

This gives the agency the impetus to put in the hours. It must be frustrating to spend a lot of time finding hard to find candidates only to have another agency get in ahead of you.

Exclusivity gives recruiters the chance to see a return for their work. Just be sure it’s short term until you build a strong relationship. What if they don’t turn up the candidates?

Pay higher rates

I’m not a fan of this one but sometimes for hard to find roles you may have to pay higher rates.

This gives the recruiter the financial return should they find someone for you. Rates fluctuate but I’ve never had to pay more than 25% of the candidate’s final salary as a commission rate before. Mostly I’ve had great success at the 20% rate.

The more roles you have to hire the lower the rate often goes. It’s all about negotiation but be mindful of how much effort and work goes into finding people. If it were easy to find them you wouldn’t need to use a recruiter.


Build a strong network, get to events, get on social media and interact with recruiters and agencies.

By building a solid network and relationships with recruiters you will have a number of people to call on when hiring. The best recruiters can often be found at industry related events. They too are networking, learning more about the industry and immersing themselves in what it’s like to hire and retain people. These are the recruiters you should seek out.

Create a compelling offer

Share with the recruiter your compelling job adverts which will include all of the items on the “other side” of the salary/culture balance scale.

You may also have media packs, Twitter lists (of employees who are on Twitter) and blog lists which recruiters can send to prospective employees. Technologists like to read what other technologists are writing about, so pointing them to bloggers in your business can be positive.

All of this helps the recruiter to narrow down the kind of person you’re seeking and increase their chances of delivering you the right candidates.

Meet them

Meeting a recruiter face-to-face gives you the chance to form a strong relationship with them. There’s nothing quite like shaking their hand and sitting down to chat in the same room.

Invite them to your office as a first step. This can often show you their commitment as some agencies simply won’t come to see you – scratch them off your list. Sure, there are logistical reasons sometimes, but the cost of travel is not that high (assuming you’re in the same country) and it shows willing.

You also get the opportunity to get a feel for whether you want to work with them. Are they welcoming and friendly or do they act uncomfortable and twitchy? How do they make you feel? Do you trust them?

When you meet someone face to face you will form an impression. Trust your instincts and only work with those you feel you can trust.


You must measure the effectiveness of each recruiter. In my experience executives and higher-level managers are obsessed with measures of scale. In recruiting this translates to how many candidates a recruiter can throw at you and how fast. And then ultimately how many of them you hire and at what cost.

Don’t let these measures be your only measures, and certainly don’t let them become targets. It’s entirely possible that you end up hiring substandard people if these measures become targets. The last thing you need is your time being taken up with substandard candidates because you are targeted on the number of submissions and speed of hire.

Track the following measures for each agency (and your internal recruiters):

  • How many candidates do they provide for review?
  • How many make it through to each stage of the hiring process?
  • How many are hired?
  • How long does the agency take to provide a successful hire? (Lead Time)
  • Do those that are hired pass probation and remain employed?
  • How long do hires stay in the business?
  • What is the overall ratio of submitted candidates to hires?

Some of these measures are end-to-end lifecycle measures but important to start gathering now.

Your purpose with recruitment is to hire people and for those people to remain employed.

Without measuring lifecycle measures you could find you’re hiring high numbers of people, who only stay a few months. One company I worked with had that blinkered set of measures in place. They were essentially hiring in the same number of people as they were losing. As more people left more pressure mounted to hire backfills and new staff – the bar dropped even further and soon the business had the wrong people all over the place. This is what happens when single measures become arbitrary targets.

In another example from my own hiring, one agency I worked with had a 20:1 ratio of people submitted to people hired, yet another agency had a 2:1 ratio. Where would you rather spend your time? Interviewing 20 people to find the 1? Or interviewing 2 people to find 1?

Measures will help you to focus your energy where it matters and improve the overall process. They will also help you to assess which agencies are worth continuing to work with. Don’t be afraid to drop those agencies who aren’t delivering.


Open dialogue between you and the agency is essential to ensure a smooth relationship and a clear understanding of what is, and what is not, working.

The agency will only be able to improve their service to you if you give them feedback on each candidate. It can often take a number of potential candidates being put forward before the agency and you settle on the kind of people you are looking for.

Therefore, it’s important to be clear about why candidates are rejected and why others make it through the process. This saves everyone a lot of time and effort and helps to make it a much more relevant process for your potential new employees.

Agree terms you’re both happy with

At some point, you will have to agree terms. This is often dealt with by financial teams or HR. If you’re negotiating yourself then work out a good deal for both of you.

Try and find a rate (and overall package) you are both happy with. Many of these legal agreements will be mandated by your HR team, so you may not need to worry too much about this, but it’s important to ensure both parties are happy about the terms. Both parties being happy about the deal is important as it’s a relationship you are forming, and ongoing engagement and trust are essential.

Learn from them

Good recruiters know their domain deeply. There’s often an assumption that recruiters don’t know anything and that they are “just” sales people – this is derogatory thinking. Good recruiters know their work very well indeed and are genuinely trying to do a great job for you. As hiring managers, we can learn a lot from them.

Ask them how to stand out in a noisy market and what needs improving regarding your current recruitment process, job adverts or interview approach. They will have lots of insights about how to create a WOW hiring process.

Ask them whether they have competing clients in the same locale/area/domain and how this will impact their search for candidates. Recruitment agents are often recruiting for a number of clients. Some of these other clients may be in the same sector and locale looking for the same candidates. You need to work out how this will affect your recruiting and how to ensure you’re the first port of call for suitable candidates and how to stand out.

Only work with a few agencies

This is an important point. The fewer agencies you work with the easier the management of recruitment becomes. But more importantly the better your relationships become too.

Another aspect is that good recruiters go out and find good candidates – they headhunt. These good candidates are often hard to find and few in numbers. The more recruiters you work with, the more likely it is that these candidates get “prodded” a number of times for the same role by multiple recruiters. This is annoying for your potential candidates and can come across as aggressive and pushy. The first impression someone has of your company is often from the recruitment consultant. Being badgered by several recruiters for the same role is not a good impression.

Working with a small number of agencies allows you to spend more time working with them to improve your relationship and find common ground. The better your relationship, the more you will be able to talk more openly about what is working and what isn’t.

Outline the roles and the people you’re looking for – in depth

In my experience, the person fit is always more important than skills alone, hence I often include plenty of details about the culture, purpose and values of the business to the agency. This is why inviting them to the office (if you have one) is so important, as they will experience the vibe in the office and then be able to articulate this to candidates.

Job descriptions and person specifications are useful. Competency matrices might help. But a simple clear description of the behaviours and outcomes expected from this hire will be incredibly useful for recruiters.

Outline the maximum salary you’re looking for and what the overall package entails – ensure both sides truly understand this. Is the package realistic? The agency will be able to tell you whether it’s realistic or not.

Discuss any finer details such as career progression, management approach, rewards structure and social activities – I find these are the extra details many candidates strive to find out about.

Outline the process

Ensure both sides clearly know what the process is for submitting candidates, giving feedback and making rejections/offers. It’s important to align expectations so you don’t muddle the process or step on each other’s toes.

A professional process flow (outlined later in this book), from CV submission to onboarding your new team member, gives a great impression – although expect there to be unplanned problems in all processes and for the process to change over time.

Be cautious of recruiters who rely on industry certifications alone

My advice would be to never work with a recruiter who is finding you candidates using certification/qualification searches and filters only. They most likely don’t know about the industry and are simply relying on an external marker – a certification or qualification – which may or may not actually reflect that person’s ability.

Of course, you may be happy using this approach, it’s your hiring strategy, but I suspect you’ll miss out on great candidates if you use certifications alone.

Be cautious of recruiters who source through a single channel

There are many channels open to recruiters and a good recruiter will tend to use the channels that make sense for your role. Some may just post to a jobs board or a website. This might work, but in my experience the best candidates aren’t always looking for a role.

The approach I find works well is when recruiters post to a very niche jobs board, direct approach via channels like LinkedIn and use their existing network to find the right people. But we are all different and the sourcing approaches open to recruiters change all the time. The important thing is that you trust them and they can clearly articulate how they source people. Good recruiters will have no hesitation explaining how they source candidates.

You need to be happy with them and their approach before entering a relationship with them.


Working with recruiters is about forming a relationship and opening dialogue with them. That can only start to form if both sides talk to each other and align expectations early.

Don’t be afraid to use agencies if you have budget for them. In fact, I would actively suggest you champion the use of agencies for those roles you’re not sure you can find yourself.

And once you find a good recruiter stick with them and keep giving them your business. Until of course, things no longer work.

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