Sometimes I feel bad for hiring managers. There is essentially no barrier to entry into the recruiting industry other than access to a phone and an internet connection. In fact, many agencies treat entry-level recruiting like high-volume telesales, hiring almost anyone willing to attempt the role into an employment model that keeps only those who bill more than they cost the firm in the first 3-6 months of employment. This trial-by-fire model does not encourage quality over quantity; it forces recruiters to pump as many opportunities and candidates through the pipeline as possible regardless of caliber. It’s a game of volume, not quality.
Unfortunately most managers don’t have a recruiting partner by their side to drive strategy and execution and ensure they hire well, quickly, and cost-effectively and in a way that scales with long-term results. This and the incessant need to get candidates through the door motivates them to engage multiple contingent firms as opposed to fostering a relationship with a single, devoted recruiting partner. Hiring managers may not realize that the legacy contingency culture relies heavily on commission (via a volume-driven sales approach) to feed a stream of often less-than-stellar candidates.
This “free” help looks like the path of least resistance, the best possible deal: lowest price, lowest risk, lowest effort. But this practice and attitude ultimately carries a large hidden opportunity cost. As the hiring manager, you’re often left with nothing more than a stack of B-Grade resumes to look through, which can often be a waste of time when you’re in the midst of managing your own recruiting tasks or attending to other duties like writing code, selling product, or managing the team.
Once you engage the kind of legacy agencies — there are a handful of reputable ones out there — that are willing to be one of many working on a role, you’re already on the path to a less than ideal hire. Imagine you auctioned off a project to the lowest bidder with the stipulation that you would award the contract to multiple teams, but the catch is only the team that made it to production first would get paid. What kind of developers would accept those terms? What kind of code do you think you’d end up with? This goes far beyond competition-driven performance: it’s simply a bad deal for both parties.
Hasty hiring of the wrong candidates can result in turnover, which is costly in the long run. It’s difficult to ignore this fact and most hiring managers are acutely aware of it. Companies that invest resources early in the recruitment process to produce quality hires are rewarded with retention of employees who are right for the job. Turnover is pervasive and damaging to both company and product, but it can be mitigated by putting more initial effort into good hiring practices that scale and are repeatable.
So how do you break the cycle and start making the best possible hires?
First, realize this legacy dynamic doesn’t have to be your destiny. If you find yourself in this situation, stop now and determine which of your current recruiters can become your partners. Start with those that have been most consultative, that have taken the time to understand your business, team, and hiring needs and have sent the highest quality resumes thus far. This is likely one or two folks who have been the most engaged along the way, listening to your feedback, iterating, and who consequently attained the highest “hit rate” of sending qualified candidates.
Commit to these potential partners — they’ve already proven themselves more engaged and invested in your success. Invite them to your office. Introduce them to the team and facilitate an understanding of what defines success for your recruitment goals. Explain what a truly great candidate looks like in terms of both culture and capability, and request they only add qualified people to the pipeline who meet that criteria.
Find recruiters who agree not to “shop” candidates to other companies during the initial submission period and in return commit to them — if not exclusively then at least promise to provide candidate feedback as quickly as possible. Discuss expectations with your recruiting partner to establish a reasonable turnaround time for determining which candidates will move forward (ideally within two business days, but this depends on the job market) so you don’t miss out on a great candidate. Your partner recruiter then doesn’t lose out on their opportunity to place candidates who don’t fit the bill for your needs with an organization that may be a better match for them.
Hiring manager and recruiting partner — both must work together to create a strong working relationship and build trust. You may need to try multiple recruiters, but when you do find a partnership that works, you’ll be able to see it working, so be sure to hold up to your end of the bargain. Maintaining this relationship will positively motivate recruiters to keep providing you with great candidates.
Neglecting this commitment to your recruiter can be costly, likely dissuading them from putting in their full effort on your behalf. If this relationship falters you’re surely left with the temptation to go right back to square one, continuing the cycle with a new set of 5 agency recruiters. At this point a hiring manager would barely have time to focus on their primary job, let alone return to that contingency gauntlet all over again.
It’s a worthwhile practice for hiring managers to aim to justify dedicated recruiting support as soon as is feasible, but reaching that goal may require different roadmaps. The specifics and scale of a hiring process varies widely, so be cautious of recruiters that take a one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting. Consider some of the new, calibrated service offerings that best match your needs (such as sourcing-only sprints or a push for candidate lead generation) ideally with a recruiting partner dedicated to help you for a set amount of time each week.
Eventually your goal is to invest in internal recruiting infrastructure, including an inexpensive Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to help organize the entire process. Creating and maintaining an organized process along with a dedicated partnership are the first steps of your recruiting journey and to setting up your organization as a talent engine. Doing so will set you up for success in building your talent pool and managing your pipeline (now and into the future) without spinning your wheels. Save your time, research, and begin to recruit with a process that is smart and built to grow — you’ll be glad you did.