Last month I shared advice about DIY recruitment and how to do it properly in-house, so this month I’m focusing on how to choose a recruitment partner.

Buckle up people, this ride‘s a doozy.

Research

Before you even pick up the phone, do some research. Consider who you’ve used previously and what they did that you liked and what they could have done better. Ask your team who they’d recommend and look online and on social media; who is working in your space? Who is doing good things? Consider how well each agency is aligned to your brand.

Chose five agencies and ask them for information highlighting their proposition. Take an interest in how they treat you through the early stages; Are you being looked after? Are you dealing with the same person or are you passed around the team? Are they being pushy? How does the experience feel to you, because that will be how the candidate first feels too.

Interrogate

Give each agency a 30-minute appointment to hold a ‘chemistry meeting’; tell them that you’d like to know more about what they do, and that you will be free to answer their questions.  Give them time before the meeting to research your company and to send over questions, then see what they do next. Do they call you repeatedly? Do they send over multiple emails from multiple people? Or do they ask clever, intelligent questions designed to really interrogate and learn more about what you really need?

Have a few questions ready; ask them about the last three placements they made and how they could have improved the process, ask what they have that other agencies don’t and ask about their specialty. Don’t rely on client testimonials on a fancy website. Find out who your contact would be and if they will stay with you throughout the process. Ask them why they want to work with you and what they know about your business. The chemistry meeting is a two-way interrogation, and also gives them the opportunity to find out if they want to work with you.

Commit

Whoever you chose, you must give them proper access to you for a full briefing, don’t just send them a job description and expect them to start working. Ask them what they need from you before they can start on this assignment. It’s a two-way commitment; you have chosen them as a partner so you need to give them your time and respect their skills, just as you would expect your clients to respect your skills.

There are three different ways of committing to an agency; contingency, exclusive or retained. ‘Contingency’ describes briefing two or three agencies and allowing them all equal time and access. Share a timescale of when you expect to see CVs and be very clear that you will not accept CVs before the agreed date; if you don’t do this you may end up with multiple agencies quickly submitting the same candidate without properly discussing the role and ensuring that they are interested. Inform your agencies that you require confirmation that the candidate is represented by them and they are interested in the role. Doing this mitigates the risk of different agencies sending over the same CV and then all claiming a fee. Once you have the CVs, set aside a couple of hours with the relevant people internally to review and create a shortlist.

If you get a great feeling about one agency, but you don’t think that just one could do the job you could appoint them as an ‘exclusive’ partner for 10-14 days before introducing other agencies to the role.

If you decide to ‘retain’ an agency, they will write a job description and a bespoke role profile. A job description defines what the person has to do to get paid, but a role profile describes what they do to stay in the business and enjoy the job. It is normal to pay a small proportion of the fee upfront and then the retained recruiter will do the initial interviewing and deliver you a preselected bespoke shortlist. Be wary of agencies promoting a retained service but underneath lurks a contingency approach. Just because you pay a proportion upfront, doesn’t mean all recruiters provide a true retained service. Knowing the difference between a recruiter being retained and working retained is an important aspect.

Negotiate

Discuss and negotiate fees and rebate terms. If you have chosen the contingency route, all agencies should offer the same fee and rebate terms. Most agencies offer rebates on an eight-week sliding scale; if the candidate leaves before four weeks you will get a 75% fee rebate, after six weeks it reduces to 25% and after eight weeks it goes down to nothing. Advise them that you’d like a three-month 100% rebate and you’d be happy to give them a 1-2% fee increase in return. If they are not comfortable, ask yourself why you have chosen that partner. Remember, you have asked them what they needed to succeed, so if you have given them everything they requested, they should be happy to offer this rebate. If you are working with a retained recruiter, the bare minimum they should give is a three months 100% rebate (as a guide, I offer a six-month 100% rebate).

Partner

Remember, the bare minimum you should expect is for the role to be filled, but if the agency did a good job then you may wish to build a relationship. Consider how they added value, how they made your life easier and when interviewing, ask the candidates how the experience was for them. If they did well and you were happy, next time you have a role to fill go to them, and make them your recruitment partner until you find someone offering a better service that benefits your business.

The first time that your potential team member will experience your brand will be through your recruitment partner so make sure you choose wisely.

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