Are people now looking to return from In-house to agency recruitment?

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In our constant attempt to understand the idiosyncrasies of Google SEO, we are able to look at what people are searching for when they stumble upon our blog. This is really useful as it gives us an idea of what content we can potentially write which may answer their questions. In recent weeks, we have noticed that there have been numerous searches concerning making the move from in-house to agency recruitment…an interesting indicator which made me wonder what is causing people to raise this as a dilemma?

Shane wrote a while ago about this in a blog titled The Recruitment Hokey-cokey in which he described his own situation when he decided to go back to an agency.

I also wrote about how agency experience benefits the in-house recruiter in Leaving the dark side but this was very much focused on people taking the well-trodden path from agency to in-house and not the other way round.

So what is driving this potential shift in direction?

Well, the recruitment market is certainly changing (at least it is in the Retail & Hospitality markets).

  • More positive economic forecasts and some decent results from retailers over Christmas is manifesting itself in increased job flow and a greater commitment from clients to recruit.
  • There are increasing numbers of strong candidates coming onto the market which is resulting in multiple job offers and companies are missing out if their processes aren’t up to scratch.
  • There has been a noticeable change in LinkedIn’s functionality as a recruitment tool – something we have certainly noticed. They are changing the search functionality regularly and the general ‘word on the street’ is that they will move towards a paid model in the near future. Unless companies have a large recruitment team, it is unlikely they will invest in LinkedIn recruiter licences which would leave  an individual recruiter without the ready source of candidates which LinkedIn has provided in recent years.
  • We have also noticed that more and more candidates are ‘turning off’ to LinkedIn and removing their profiles. This could be because it is widely perceived as a job board and therefore if they are overly active on this medium it could indicate to their boss that they are looking to leave. (Indeed, we know of a couple of instances where companies are implementing stricter policies concerning their employees’ use of LinkedIn…). It could also be because it has now become so widely used by agencies and in-house teams alike and that people are tuning out the white noise of email introductions and headhunt approaches. Either way, this will mean that all recruiters have to be much more inventive about how they source, and most importantly, engage prospective candidates…

There is no question that this change will put added pressure on in-house teams who are already stretched in terms of time and resource.

There is much talk about the end of recruitment agencies and there is no question, the larger organisations are investing in their in-house functions by employing senior recruiters from the search firms, enabling them to proactively target candidates without incurring agency fees. However, we are along way away from this being the norm and I think there will be a place for agencies for a long time to come…but then I would say that wouldn’t I ?!

Seriously though, for those people working in-house without the luxury of a well-resourced team, it will become increasingly difficult to source candidates (particularly the good ones) and therefore to fill vacancies directly.

There is a hackneyed view that in-house recruiters are all ‘failed’ agency recruiters and I strongly disagree with this. I love the assumption that being successful at an agency (normally measured by revenue billed alone) is somehow the measure that all must strive to live up to!?  In my view it is a completely different role and requires a very different set of strengths (albeit requiring the same knowledge of the recruitment process). I have argued before that you can take the highest agency biller and put them in-house but they are likely to struggle with the demands of servicing multiple internal stakeholders where they are not able to simply work closest to the fee. The problem now is that the expectation is that in-house recruiters will not only navigate the internal politics of their company in order to facilitate a better recruitment process but they will also be genius direct recruiters! I just think it’s really hard to do both well and will only get harder as the market changes.

The people that will excel in-house as the market changes are likely to be skilled at managing both their internal capabilities, (sourcing directly when it is easiest to do so) and getting more out of a select group of agencies – driving value for money rather than purely lowering cost of hire. These people will need to be so much more than even the most successful agency recruiters and this may well mean that there is an exodus as people realise that in-house is not the ‘easy’ option and does in fact require a more sophisticated skillset (when done properly….). Companies may well start to streamline their recruitment functions again leaving some people in these roles at risk.

Earning potential could well be a factor too. During the recession, it was tough to hit bonus on the agency side and many people will have moved in-house for job security and a decent overall package (higher basic salary and corporate benefits). However as the market shifts, people may start to calculate that they could earn more by returning to an agency role.

If people are open to a move back into the agency environment, this could benefit everyone, as having more agency consultants who have in-house experience and can genuinely empathise with their clients will raise service levels and hopefully break down some of the barriers that exist…the ‘them and us’ mentality.

However, agencies will need to offer these people something different than the environments which probably caused them to cross over in the first place. There are lots of agencies out there who are trying to offer their clients more than a CV shop and they will undoubtedly value people who can demonstrate that they can not only source candidates but can manage client relationships in a more sophisticated way.

As ever not all in-house and agency roles are the same and it all depends on the company, how they operate and what value they place on their recruiters. Being open-minded about making a potential return to an agency is the best approach if the opportunities in-house start to change. Both sides of the fence have value and offer rewarding careers.


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