5 insider tips to identify the right recruiting agency – a glance behind the curtain


You’re growing, good times! It’s incredibly exciting to add headcount. Unfortunately, good times usually mean that other companies and especially competitors are having great results as well, and the candidate market gets thinner and thinner. What to do? Hiring a recruiter is a popular go-to, but who to hire? The agency that the company has been working with for years? The cheapest? The biggest? The friendliest that bought you lunch last year?

On thing is clear: The absolute goal for you is to hire the best person available for your situation. So the ultimate decision driver should be which agency in your specific situation will be able to provide you with this candidate. The following five areas may serve as a guideline to your decision-making process – to not waste time, energy and, in the worst case, market reputation.

Reputation – You want to attract high-class candidates. What agency do they turn to? Think through which one you would consider if you were to look for your next move. Usually, the more exposed and reputable the brand, the safer and better advised you feel as a candidate – therefore, the more passive candidates you as a client will have access to. Leverage the brand of your recruiter to have a halo effect on your own company and role! Candidates see the first stages of the employment process through your recruiter. So go online and pretend you’re looking for a job yourself. Who do you see that interests you? Who has been around for a while and has a great reputation? Who is specialized in your area? Believe me, the research is worth it, your future recruits will do the same!

Reach – Many companies advertise their locations and countries, but what does that really say? Take a peak behind those tag lines. How many recruiters are actively working in these regions to identify candidates for you? How do they work together? Do they have a professional network? Are they trustworthy? Are they incentivized to share their networks with their colleagues? As a client, do you only get a single recruiter’s attention, or do you get access to a network of dozens of recruiters that put your opening on top of their list? You can’t see many of these processes that are running behind the agency curtains. Ask for them!

Expertise – You sent your last recruiter a job description, and only 10% of their suggestions fit what you were looking for. Sounds familiar? Well, did they even take the time to understand what you are looking for? Are they familiar with the type of role you are recruiting for? What’s their own background, have they ever worked in your field? A good job order conversation should last at least 30 minutes, in which you should learn at least as much about your open role as your recruiter. How rare is the skill set at this point? How did salary levels increase or decrease? Where does your search make sense, where will it need adjustments? Never engage a recruiter that does not ask provocative and interesting questions. Have them challenge you!

Efficiency – You place your order. What then? Recruiting processes can take up to several weeks and months, in some cases years. Are you sure you know what the nature of your collaboration will be like? A good recruiter will serve as a project manager and put a sensible plan in place, filling your Outlook calendar with follow-ups, be on your voice mail every time something urgent comes up, and will prepare you before every bottleneck in the process so you won’t miss out on your first choice right before the finish line. The best candidates will all have options these days. Make sure you work with someone who will have you high on his priority list and will manage your collaboration proactively!

Pricing – Contingency based recruiters make their prices on two axes: quality and their risk of not placing someone. The price pressure is heavy in this industry, so if someone quotes a higher end pricing, you can usually expect a much higher level of quality. The true challenge here is to understand how the levels of service differ from each other and what exactly you’re buying. Ask for detail, using the above questions to understand more around the price structure! In summary: If you can tick every one of the above boxes, you have identified a recruiter that’s worth their price – either way, it will be far less than the follow-up cost of a bad hire or a long and exhausting search! Tip: An area where you might be able to negotiate the rate to your advantage is if you give the recruiter exclusivity to lower their risk.

Quick summary of the above:

  1. Reputation: Put yourself in the shoes of a highly talented passive candidate and decide which agencies you would trust in your own search! Then, ask the agency for their specific pitch for your role and how they will represent your firm!
  2. Reach: Inquire about the actual number of active recruiters in your market and their respective specializations to determine the real recruitment power you’re buying!
  3. Expertise: Put your recruiter to the knowledge test and ask for specific market information, the estimated salary structure and feedback on the setup of your role!
  4. Efficiency: Expect a clear project plan that includes scheduled calls, a tight and pre-defined interview schedule and a targeted hire and start date!
  5. Pricing: Evaluate the fee only after you know what you’re buying, and consider to commit exclusively.

It’s not easy to find your way through the jungle, but I hope these five approaches will help clear the view. There’s a war for talent out there, so choose your allies wisely! In the end, people are what make a company thrive or fail, and you want to make sure that you hire the best talent available to you!

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