I receive about 5 calls a day from recruitment agencies wishing to supply candidates to our organisation.  If they catch me on a good day I’ll be patient and explain the reasons why we are not looking to add to our already overly-long list of preferred suppliers and why, as an internal recruiter, budget constraints mean we are being asked to focus more and more on direct recruitment.   On a bad day, usually a tight deadline to meet or an interview about to commence, I can’t get them off the phone quick enough.

Over the years I have taken hundreds of such calls and admittedly I have succumbed (on a very small number of occasions…), agreeing at least to review the CV of that ‘perfect candidate’ the agency is trying to sell me for that hard-to-fill role we have advertised on our careers website.   It is, however, sad to say that on the majority of such occasions I have regretted the decision – the candidate has been way off the mark, the recruitment consultant delivers a service which leaves a lot to be desired and we’ve very quickly parted company. 

I ran a Wikipedia search on “recruiter” which resulted in the following definition for a third party recruiter  “………(sometimes known as a “headhunter”) or an employment agency acts as an independent contact between its client companies and the candidates it recruits for a position. These firms or individuals specialize in client relationships and finding candidates, with minimal or no focus on other HR tasks.”.  

Why are client relationships important in the recruitment industry and is it the relationship between individual recruiter and client or the client’s relationship with the recruitment agency as a whole which is more important?  I’ve thought about those agencies which have enjoyed a long-term and fruitful relationship with our Company and what it is about them which have allowed this relationship to prosper and flourish and to me what stands out is that it is the relationship with the individual recruiter and his or her “advocacy” skills which are key (as well as all the other obvious measures of success). 

The CIPD has published a 42-page guide:  “The relationship between HR and recruitment agencies: a guide to productive partnerships”.  I recommend any recruiter (both in-house and supplier side) to read the guide as it sums up the importance and relevance of good a relationship between HR and recruitment agencies; ultimately culminating in commercial benefits to both organisations.  The guide explains the advocacy model in relation to recruitment. 

For me, what works well and helps to foster that relationship is the following and is really what I mean by advocacy:-

  • overall taking a longer-term, less deal-centric approach to the relationship;  this means taking time to deliver the right candidates for the role rather than flinging database candidates at the client and seeing what sticks;
  • intimately knowing the market in which we operate and getting to know us as a company; knowing where to find the best candidates, proven time and time again by successfully placing good quality candidates, who are successful, and remain with the employer (this knowledge takes time to build);
  • a good listener – listens clearly to what we don’t want as well as what we do – and sticks to it;
  • instinctively “getting it” so we don’t need to have a full briefing session every time we have a new role (again this also comes down to good listening skills);
  • being a professional representative of the client company in the external market;
  • clearly looks after the best interest of the candidate and the client i.e. if the candidate is not right for the role or client company then not overselling – this will lead to two unhappy clients;
  • trust and honesty – telling us when they don’t think they’ll be able to deliver on an assignment;
  • loyalty to the client.

As a recruitment consultant, you’ll need to think about whether the recruitment agency you are with ‘gets’ the advocacy thing because if not, you’re unlikely to be recognised.  For the recruitment agency I think it’s correct to say that spotting and keeping recruitment consultants who understand client advocacy is key. In my experience, sometimes these recruiters are not loud, brash and political and can be easy to overlook in favour of the obvious ‘salespeople’. There’s an investment to be made in allowing loyalty recruiters to flourish because these relationships won’t happen overnight and will pay dividends in the medium and longer term. 

And why is this important?  Because in a market where internal recruiters are being targeted more and more on direct hiring (and can use Social Media to help them deliver this) but still see the value the recruitment agency can bring, they will be looking to maintain a small but effective list of recruitment consultants. That means they will want to hold on to the recruitment consultants they have invested time in developing a productive and loyal relationship with – if the recruitment consultant moves agency and even goes out in his or her own – fine – the client can quite easily move with the recruiter (just as soon as those non-solicitation clauses have lapsed).  That clause might prevent the recruiter from soliciting the client for a period of time, but it does not force the client to stay with the original agency.