Why agencies fail to recruit for themselves

It seems ironic that some recruitment agencies can struggle to recruit (and retain) staff for their own business. Only last week I read a discussion on Linkedin that was about difficulties in recruiting into an agency. One participant said that they recruited successfully for their clients yet struggled to identify the right people for their own business.

Are you failing to recruit recruiters?

There is one primary reason why recruitment agencies and consultancies struggle to recruit: They do not know how to recruit. Let me qualify that further; There are very few recruitment agencies that truly, truly recruit for their clients. Most search an in house database, job board or social media platform and identify a potential match. CVs are then (sometimes) formatted and presented with a cover sheet. The more technical the role, the greater the emphasis placed upon skill and experience. The client then reviews the shortlist and selects candidates to interview. At this moment there is often shortlist attrition ie. 5 CVs submitted and 3 interview requests. Already ‘suitable’ candidates are rejected. The client then interviews the candidates face to face – this is where the selection process really begins for the client. Are you right for this role? Will you fit my business? Do you have the soft and hard skills to complete the tasks and beyond? Do your aspirations match the opportunity here?

Very few agencies interview candidates to this level. More CVs and more interviews leads to more placements – A dangerous mantra for an external recruiter though still a common one. How many third party recruiters do you think reject candidates who, on paper, seem a strong match? How many recruiters have heard the feedback “He looked good on paper but just didn’t turn out to be what we wanted”

My primary focus with this is not to question the ‘recruitment’ methods of the agencies. I want to highlight how little ‘recruitment’ is actually taking place. Managers and business owners then, on occasion, convince themselves that they are seasoned recruiters and can therefore find staff for themselves with ease. Mistake.

Plenty of potential candidates get identified. The number of CVs that get selected as “shortlist” material is not the issue. The selection process is often the part that is flawed. Mistakes I have seen made by recruitment agency managers when interviewing for their own business include:

  • Overly focused on the ‘like’ factor 
  • Too many people involved in the process
  • Lack of understanding of what is required intrinsically to succeed in the role
  • No defined values to identify in candidates
  • Lack of, or incorrect use of, competency based interview questions
  • Focus on skills rather than attitude
  • Overly fixated on qualifications (must have degree etc)
  • Mis-selling of the job to be done

I could go on. Some then decide that selecting the right candidates to become recruiters is not possible unless they have experience. Nonsense. I would say that very few recruiters have clients who make, at best, “educated guesses” as to whom to hire.

There are some recruiters who do genuinely recruit for their clients. I remember developing competency frameworks for clients, writing full person specifications and setting up and chairing interview panels to ensure my clients recruited the right candidate into their business. I was a recruitment consultant so you would expect that though, right? I know that there are many others who do the same for their clients.

If you plan to hire into your recruitment business and are going to empower those recruits to provide a service to your customer base then it is imperative you hire the right people.

It may even be that the first step is you refresh on how to interview effectively to hire rather than to shortlist for a client. To get off to the right start consider the following:

  • Decide exactly what you want someone to be capable of doing immediately
  • Decide what you are willing to train
  • How much time do you have to spend with a new recruit in their first 3 months?
  • What makes successful people in your business successful? Write a blueprint
  • What competencies are required? How will you measure them?
  • If you are interviewing those without experience, how will you know if they will be right?
  • What assessment methods do you have at your disposal?
  • Why would it be possible to ace an interview with you and then fail at the job?
  • How much would it cost you to recruit the wrong person?
  • Remember this is not the same as recruiting for a client


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