How to win the heart of an In-House Recruiter


As an agency recruiter for 6 years, I thought I knew a fair bit about recruitment and I admit, I shared many of my colleagues’ frustrations about the role of the In-House Recruiter: difficult to contact, process driven rather than commercial, a barrier to building relationships with Line Managers.  It was only when I made the move to an In-House role myself that my eyes were opened – so many things made sense and I couldn’t help but think “if I only knew then what I know now”!

As in all relationships, there are two sides to every story – for what it’s worth, here’s my view on how to build a fulfilling client relationship.

Plenty more fish in the sea:

The number of recruitment agencies operating in the UK is staggering. Many  are mediocre at best but many are excellent. The In-House recruiter is literally spoilt for choice – if one agency fails to deliver, they can easily give a new agency a try or brief one of their other proven partners. The only differentiating factor is the service you deliver. This isn’t just about providing candidates for the vacancy (candidates are rarely exclusive to one agency and most are easily accessible on Linkedin, providing there is the time for a direct search). What they want is a Consultant with a professional and genuine approach, who respects the process and can source the best candidates in the market which they themselves will struggle to find.

Size really doesn’t matter!

Take heart, boutique agencies everywhere! The days of winning business by flaunting the size of your, ahem, database and the number of national offices is long gone. In my experience, size rarely influenced my decision about which agency to engage. My most successful working relationships were with smaller agencies who were true specialists in their sector, had genuine networks and who really wanted our business. They also had the added benefit that I could work with the same person on each assignment without being referred to another office depending on the geography of the role. Consultants were often experienced with a mature approach and so conversations were direct, open and honest and any issues were solved quickly with the long term relationship in mind.

Play by the rules:

If the client asks you to upload CVs onto their portal, just do it. Love or hate these ATS systems (a view often shared by the in-house teams themselves), they ultimately enable you to stake your claim on a candidate. Most in-house recruiters will operate a first-come, first-served policy when it comes to duplicate applications. Yes, it will take longer than flinging a CV on an email and will require adding extra supporting info on your candidate (but shouldn’t you have this info to hand anyway?). By not following the process, you cause extra hassle for your client and to put it bluntly, for every agency that doesn’t use the system, there are plenty that will. Enough said.


Nobody’s perfect. I found myself on several occasions giving inadequate interview feedback, cancelling interviews at short notice and putting whole processes on hold for months on end – the very things that I had complained about when on the agency side. Even the most professional companies will make mistakes and let you down; such is the nature of recruitment on both sides of the fence. I really valued the consultants who would take this on the chin and move forward. I relied on them to communicate positive messages to the external market and as a result I was confident that our brand was protected. Consequently, I had real trust in those agencies and would fight their corner internally to ensure they were briefed on vacancies in the future – often on an exclusive or retained basis.


The volume of emails can be crazy so if you don’t receive an immediate response from your client, bear with them. Make emails as clear as possible, get to the point and be courteous. An email sent in frustration with a tone to match will not be well received and will certainly never be forgotten. Also, make sure your auto-signature appears on each message, including on replies. Keep file sizes low if possible.

The Blind Date:

A good in-house recruiter will be open to strong speculative CVs providing they are sent to them in the first instance and providing they are pre-qualified by the agency (a well written email to accompany the CV is easier to forward internally).  Equally, they will be unlikely to respond well to unsuitable, blanket ‘specs’ sent with the aim of hitting the target stats for the week (I was monumentally unimpressed by an agency who sent 16, yes 16, spec CVs on one email, causing my Outlook to reach it’s limit at 5pm on a Friday afternoon when I was about to send my weekly reports!). There is nothing more likely to induce a “Dear John” email or a black mark on the PSL than indiscriminate speculative approaches.


The best agencies will be honest about what they can and can’t do.  Your client should respect you for turning down work if you genuinely feel you can’t do it justice – this will save everyone’s time and build confidence that when you do accept a brief, you will deliver a result.


Any decent agency trains their consultants to show empathy with their candidates, encouraging them to understand their motivations and uncover their reservations in order to build the relationship and make the process easier when it comes to landing an offer. Rarely however do they talk about empathy with clients. Until I did the role, I had no idea about the challenges faced by in-house recruitment teams. There is pressure from all sides: demanding Line Managers, HR Directors (often with different agendas to the hiring managers), internal politics, existing agencies and new agencies trying to get access to roles, administrative duties and the practicalities of managing email inboxes which frankly beggar belief. And that’s before they even start recruiting directly to reduce costs and increase the ROI for recruitment systems and Linkedin Recruiter licences.

Clearly, while the in-House Recruiter remains pressured in this way, they will rely on their trusted agencies to support them however, having an understanding of the politics and bureaucracy that often accompanies the role will enable you to offer the supportive service required.

Making a commitment:

So many agencies are purely transactional. They are only interested in specific briefs and when the going gets tough, they move on to work ‘closer to the fee’ with clients who will move quicker.  I understand the commercial pressures for an agency consultant however by taking a long term view and sticking with your client through thick and thin (recruitment freezes, restructures and cancelled vacancies) you will really stand out from the crowd. Often the in-house recruiter is as frustrated as you by these setbacks and will really appreciate the agencies that stay in contact when things are quiet. Undoubtedly, when things pick up again, you will be the first person they call.

So there you have it – if I think back to the agencies I really rated during my time In-House they all had one thing in common – they kept it simple, did the basics well and delivered quality not quantity – surely the key to a long lasting and mutually satisfying relationship!
Sophie Mackenzie


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19 thoughts on “How to win the heart of an In-House Recruiter”

  1. Sophie, absolutely brilliant blog post. As someone who functions both internally as a consultant advising and developing organisations in-house and direct recruitment capabilities but also operates internationally providing search services I get to see both sides of the coin daily. You are spot on with this post and recruiters could learn a lot from this.

    The only thing I would add is that I want to work with external recruiters who ‘get it’ by that, people who understand what the DNA of the business is, even if the business doesn’t. I like to work with recruiters who go out of their way to do the other things for a business. Things like:

    1) Help them build a brand by developing briefing documents and tools specific to the business
    2) Keep a watching brief on your clients PR, Comms and marketing. If the CEO does a video interview make sure you share this with prospective candidates, share good PR announcements on your own website, linkedin accounts and so forth. Mention the business in your blogs
    3) Do something for free, offer to coach managers on interviewing skills, assessment tools and similar. Recruit that low level position for free as a gesture of goodwill.
    4) Understand the roles you are recruiting. Great recruiters don’t need a job spec for a Sales Manager position if they know the business. They should know what a Sales Manager looks like and what fits.
    5) Share intelligence, demonstrate your strategic awareness of the sector by briefing hiring managers or HR about what is happening in the market, especially if you think it could be of value.

    All of these things will endear you to an organisation. They will raise your profile across the business.

    Finally, go out of your way to stay in touch with the people you place and their hiring managers. Forever, or at least for as long as they are their. Be honest, if you think your client is making a mistake, is missing something or hasn’t done a candidate justice for example, tell them.

    Sorry that is lots of things isn’t it! 🙂 But great blog.

    1. Thanks Darren. I think you are right about the qualities an ideal recruitment ‘partner’ should have and they should definitely be a brand ambassador. I think for this perfect storm to occur however there need to be two key ingredients: confidence on the part of the recruiter/agency (to reassure their clients that they are recruitment experts and can add real value to their business) and trust on the part of the client (to allow their recruitment partner access to the business and to listen and act on the advice given). When this happens, it’s a great experience for everyone….the CANDIDATE in particular!

  2. Superb post Sophie, you have said it exactly as it is and should be. I have over many years worked with a vast range of agents on a global basis, 5 (repeat five) of these are the ones that I would work with at anytime and every where as I know what they can deliver, I know how they operate and I know what kind of business partnership and value that they provide.
    Agents have a place as and when and if they become true close partners and add value beyond shipping a CV to an in-house manager, and can be invaluable and huge help. Those that get it and play by the rules deserves a seat at the table, those that do not get it (and that is 95%) will continue to chase the one-off roles and never become true partners.

    1. Thanks Jacob. It was such an eye-opener for me when I went in-house – looking back I was so naive about the role of the larger agencies and ironically, despite coming from that background myself, I almost exclusively chose the smaller agencies as I quickly realised that they were able to offer the service that frankly made my job easier! Such an insight into the whole recruitment market and it was great once I whittled my long list down to a few trusted agencies who were really excellent. If anything it made me realise that there will always be a place for agencies however they have to think creatively about how to add value over and above filling jobs. Clearly the challenge now is being back on the agency side and we are constantly asking ourselves – what can we do to support clients in a different way in addition to doing basic recruitment well…. another blog post perhaps?!

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  4. Brilliant post Sophie – you took the words right out of my mouth. I wonder where you gained the in-house perspective ;-)?! An agency recruiter who understands the challenges of the in-house team like this is worth building a strong relationship with. Have we given you all our roles yet?!

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