Imagine this, you’ve just had a key member of your team resign or had budget approved for a new project. In either situation, you’re going to need to attract some high-quality talent and, often in niche talent pools, use a specialist recruitment agent to help access this talent.

A good recruiter will be oversubscribed with jobs in a candidate short market and has a decision to make on where to spend their time – how can you ensure that you’re their top priority and they’re not investing their time with your competitor?

You’ll either find yourself in a search situation with your recruiter or a match situation, so what’s the difference between the two?

Search: Recruiter is given a dedicated brief, ideally in person. They understand exactly what skill set and personality will be an ideal fit for your organisation - they’ll try to gain some flexibility and understand which attributes are essential and which have more flexibility. They will then conduct a search and provide feedback on the market. How many people have they spoken to? How do they match up against the brief? Which candidates proved not suitable, or not interested, and why? You can then work together to formulate solutions.

Match: You’ll probably hear yourself saying something like this: ‘if you find anybody with x skill set, feel free to send them over’. Your recruiter will likely keep half an eye open for talent they think is relevant from the 30 second description you’ve given them or the job specification written by somebody in HR, it is unlikely they are truly invested in your role and brand. This will likely lead to the situation brilliantly described by my colleague, John in his article Dear Zoo:

So, how do you know your recruiter is searching on your behalf?

  • The level of service we offer. If your role is top of the priority list, your recruiter(s) will be doing everything they can to send relevant profiles within the first 48-72 hours of being briefed on the role. On your behalf they’ll be advertising, contacting relevant candidates on their database and their existing candidate pool, proactively headhunting and asking for referrals. In a match situation, it’s likely only a couple of these sources will be used.
  • How are you and your business represented in the market with a committed search? The more a recruiter knows about the role and your company, the better it will be sold to prospective candidates. The best candidates in the market are not active and will often challenge the pitch from the recruiter – are you confident they have all the information available to best represent your brand? If not, you may not see the best candidates but your competitors might!
  • What commitment is agreed to by both parties to enable a successful relationship? If searching, you should agree with your recruiter a timescale for a shortlist to be sent over and a timescale for feedback to be provided by. This will increase the likelihood of the role being filled. If matching, you’ll likely find yourself saying something like ‘if you’ve got anybody you think might be suitable, feel free to send them across and I’ll take a look when I can’. This will result in a loosely engaged recruiter, which will likely result in loosely engaged candidates. 
  • You should be able to tell the difference between searching and matching from the quality of candidates that you’re receiving. If a search has been conducted, you’d expect candidates to be an accurate representation of the job specification you’ve given to the recruiter. You should have a strong selection of profiles, with some even possessing the highly desirable traits a good recruiter should have elicited. In a match scenario, it’s likely you’ll be sent one or two profiles to test the water and see how engaged and committed you are to searching. These candidates are likely to lack commitment and will represent an educated guess against what you’re ideally looking for – more often than not, they’ll possess very different skills to the candidates you’re trying to attract.

So, what are my tips to ensure a recruiter is prioritising your role and searching on your behalf?

1. Ideally you’ll have chosen a trusted, specialist recruiter you can engage with exclusively ensuring full transparency and commitment. However, if this does not provide a timely result, I’d recommend engaging no more than two additional recruiters - this is a manageable amount and will ensure you’re not spending all your time talking to them! Using a small, informed pool will also ensure your brand is maintained and enhanced.

2. Spend some time briefing the chosen recruiter(s) at the beginning of the process and making sure they fully understand the role and your business. It may seem a little time consuming initially, but how much does it cost you both financially and time wise if your vacancy is still open in 3-6 months? Not to mention the frustration of irrelevant CVs appearing in your inbox!

3. Your recruiter should be your eyes and ears in the market and giving you constant advice on the candidate pool. Be open to their suggestions and consider being flexible if you’re struggling to find certain skills. Are some of the skills you’ve listed in the spec essential? If a candidate has all the skills to do the job but is £5k over budget, can you accommodate?

These words of wisdom are based on my six years experience in the recruitment industry and the relationships I’ve built with my top performing clients. Following the above should lead to a successful hire and you can kick off that next project on time!