May 1, 2024

What Makes Recruiting Partnerships Fail (or Prosper)?


Episode Highlights

Top 4 Things In Selecting A Recruiting Partner


How To Turn Away Bad Business


You Can't Afford Free


Recruiting Isn't The Goal. Hiring Is The Goal.


#1 Biggest Challenge In Hiring


Your Recruiting Partner Should Outperform Your Internal Team


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Stop me if you heard this one: “I had a bad experience with a recruiter.”

Doesn’t matter if you were hiring for your company or looking for a job. Everyone’s experienced this. Recruiters themselves have heard it from new clients about their previous partnerships, too. A million times.

But why? Why do so many people have bad experiences with recruiters? And what’s different then they actually go well?
James Hornick and Jeff Smith break down the root causes of bad recruiting in episode 87 of The 10 Minute Talent Rant, “What Makes Recruiting Partnerships Fail (or Prosper)?”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick, joined by Jeff Smith, and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space. Maybe even pitch a solution or two. We got a bunch today. Before we dig in, all of our content can be found on This week’s topic, Episode 87, What Makes Recruiting Partnerships Fail or Prosper? Pretty tangible one today. I think so. Yeah. Stop me if you heard this one, finger quotes, “I had a bad experience with a recruiter.” I mean, that’s literally everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re working, if your company’s hiring and you hired a recruiter, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a job, like everyone’s experienced this. Recruiters themselves have experienced this. Like the amount of times I’ve talked to a potential client and the way they kind of start the conversation is ranting about how bad their previous recruiting experience was.

The only other subset of people that can watch this and relate are real estate agents. So we feel for you, real estate friends. Sorry about the NAR thing going on recently. That really probably tanked the whole market, anyways. So here’s where we’re at right now. Things are picking up, albeit slowly. Hirewell had a good Q1.

I’ve talked to other recruiters on the field who own agencies. I talked to other firms who aren’t recruiting. I feel like everyone had a good, but not great Q1. Things are kind of picking up slowly. We had a lot of business this year so far that came from I think it was roughly 40% came from new logos or old clients we haven’t worked with in a while. Normal years, it’s almost, it’s like 80% repeat business or growing accounts just because, well, we’re good and people like working with us. But, just because there was not much hiring last year, you know, so we’ve, just naturally it’s veered more towards new clients.

And because of that, we’ve had a lot of conversation with first time buyers. And I know what this is going to sound like, this is a couple of guys selling services, telling you about how you should buy services from us, but-

It’s totally coincidental that we’re both on the growth team at Hirewell. No, but, these are legitimately important combos, anyway.

For sure. This is why they’re necessary. The reason why so many companies and the candidate market have bad experiences with us, recruiters, is because no one’s really analyzing exactly why they fail. No one’s thinking about like the deeper parts of the relationships. They’re not asking the right questions to understand, you know, if they’re working with the right firm or not, if they’re working with the right person or not, on both sides.

And this is kind of what we want to dig into today. Like, how do you do that? We can look at this from multiple angles, but for time’s sake, like we’re going to focus on very, very basic stuff. Like how do recruitment firms, us, and companies that are hiring choose each other. And then secondarily, how do they succeed or fail?

Yeah. That’s going to be the rant. So, let’s get into it. Number one, when you’re an employer selecting a recruiting firm, and we’re going to conclude this show, by the way, with a list of questions around this. What are we looking for? All right, the obvious one, just to get us going here, you have to pick someone you

1.) Like and 2.) You trust. Someone you trust will have the expertise to actually get the work done. Recruiting more than anything is a relationship based business. I think we can all agree matching a resume with a job description is scratching the surface. It’s not even like worth talking about in any level of detail.

AI can do that at this point. But it has to go much deeper than that. And there has to be some sort of like personal relationship and some sort of trust that someone experienced deeper than that, which leads us into a bunch of more of these. Yeah. I mean, if you feel the need to reiterate the minimum requirements to your recruiter as an employer, like, find another external recruiter.

Number two, don’t worry so much about their Rolodex. It’s important. It’s just not THAT important. Like we do build longstanding relationships with candidate communities too, it’s the nature of our job. Customers become candidates, candidates become customers, and the circle of life continues.

The number of relevant folks though, in those networks that are going to be open to exploring opportunities at the exact time you want to hire is going to be tiny, like tiny, tiny. It doesn’t matter the search. So, it’s why niche firms sound like a great idea all the time until the hiring entity, the company realizes we’re all kind of fishing in the same ocean.

It’s not about the existing Rolodex. It’s how someone, how quickly someone can build the new Rolodex they need to make your search successful, anyways. Good segue into number three, ask about what the agency needs from you to be successful, not how they’re going to go find the right person.

Again, important, but focusing more on the former is key. Any good agency and recruiter is going to dive into a persona type. They’re going to ask questions about what people work, what people don’t work, in relation to the job or the search. Versus going through like what we had talked about this laundry list of required skill. That’s 15 percent of this, is skills matching. The rest is figuring out, to your point, quickly, what the hiring entity is actually looking for culturally. The streamlining, the process, we’re looking for, you know, those sorts of things, right. So what’s number four?

Number four. Look, don’t make it a race to the bottom price wise. Now, again, I’m saying this, I’m not saying you should always go with the most expensive option. I’m not saying you should negotiate, not negotiate. What I am saying is you get what you pay for and low pricing equals low effort equals low care.

If you don’t put skin in the game, neither will your partner. If you’re comparing one very good firm to a one terrible firm, like there’s a reason why there’s a cost differential there. If you don’t just want resumes thrown at you, you need to work with a partner that kind of demonstrates these point above.

It’s rarely going to be the cheapest option. And I say that as Hirewell’s an organization, as we build out our larger solutions, we do try to make things more cost effective. But we do also expect some sort of skin in the game. So, anyways. I got a great deal on a mattress yesterday and I feel like I paid just a little bit too, too little for me to feel comfortable that this is going to be an actual good mattress.

So, there’s the real world analogy. I-

Mattresses are definitely one of the things I throw a lot of cash at in terms of making sure I get it right. We did. Anyway. Anyways. Now the second thing is recruiting firms selecting a customer. This is also an important thing. Jeff, you have a bunch of thoughts about this.

And I have to also mention this, like Jeff is one of the few people in our industry and that comes from both, he’s worked in both agency and on the internal side working internal TA. What do you got for us on this one? Yeah, I’ve gotten to choose on both sides. Good recruiting firms turn down bad business.

That’s a generalized statement. But what I mean by that is we’re going right back to number one on the last stuff, is, you want to pick folks that you like and trust. And that’s inclusive of us when we pick customers. Hard searches, they’re just a baseline. So, we’re going to analyze and communicate to the customer if they’re looking for something unrealistic, and I’ll tell you what, the answer to that objection is going to be really telling of whether or not they’re going to be an active participant in ensuring the experience for everyone involved is exceptional.

So ask that prospect, you know, what does success look like? You know, what the person, this new hire will accomplish in six months in year one, why the companies make decisions that they do, et cetera, et cetera. If you smell bullshit candidates will as well. And you know, the entire exercise is going to be painful up to and including after onboarding.

Yeah. Number two, can the customer tell you what they do? I think recruiters get so excited to pick up a job where it’s like, this is a cool company, right? What do they make? Why is it impactful? Like we’ve seen everyone, we’ve seen the API widget business in tech, take a nosedive, like, are these products in certain, are they viable longterm? If it’s unclear, like, should we be looking for candidates that make the most sense?

Like look for attributes, like, works well in chaos, et cetera. You have to be clear with the customer about what they will see versus selling them the world. And it just kind of all gets back to you, get what you pay for in some sense, right? Three, will the customer be able to retain the exceptional talent that they desire, if not, you’re going to be in guarantee hell.

And there’s no way around it. Make sure the customer has a plan to both select the person and onboard that person effectively. Both are incredibly crucial. Okay. So, let’s get to why these partnerships fail. James. All right, number one. You can’t afford free. There’s nothing more expensive than inexpensive help.

And yes, this is a contingent rant incoming. Let’s say you’re a marketing agency, you’re a software firm, you’re a manufacturing company, it doesn’t really matter. Would you give your services away for free and hope someone pays you later? We’re the only ones.

This is a serious question, and would you do this while two or three of your competitors are doing the same thing? You’re manufacturing widgets or you’re providing marketing services and they’ve got four marketing companies all doing, actually doing the work on the same business, and then only one of you ends up getting paid afterwards.

No, you wouldn’t. Like literally no one would do this except for contingent recruiting firms. Why, how, and conceptualize this for a second. Let’s say you’re a marketing firm or a software firm. If you were going to do this, what would you need to do to make it work? Well, you would give your least possible effort and you would walk away as soon as the work got a little bit hard.

And that’s not even a bad thing to say, like, yeah, that’s the reason. That is how you would do it is that you would barely try and you would walk away really quick, which is exactly what contingent recruiting firms do. I feel like I’m- I feel like I’m taking crazy pills and people don’t understand this. Now, the flip side, doing something on a retained basis does not by itself mean the firm is good.

And I have to kind of state that out loud just by paying up front money doesn’t mean the firm you working with is good. But in a relationship business, it definitely has some cachet, like firms who work in a retained basis, I think they have to update, like if they’ve been doing this for a long time, they’ve had to increase their game to be able to show that they’re worth it.

It’s literally like any other industry, your service has to be worth a value or you don’t make it. Like there are no, there’s no such thing as retained recruiting firms who’ve been at this for a long time who can’t recruit worth a lick. Like they’ve been washed out, anyways. Yeah, no, it’s good points. Number two, there’s just this lack of time, care. There’s just the general malaise in the enthusiasm from the client. You would think that it’s important to get this stuff filled. But, you know, more often than not, this is more the case. Recruiting isn’t the goal. Hiring is the goal. So we can talk about all these vanity metrics about interviews and candidate stuff all we want.

It doesn’t matter, if you don’t get the hire. It’s not about finding people who fit the jobs and selling them, you know, into why to join. It’s partly that, but it’s not all that. It’s kind of everything else. It’s streamlining these processes, getting the experience tight, getting onboarding tight, gathering feedback from new hires, etc.

Frankly, you got to analyze whether or not it’s even a job that is viable to the company anymore. Yeah. It’s incredible how often they just like, well, we’re backfilling it just to backfill it. It’s like, well why? It’s a backfill for this role we’ve had. And yeah, anyways. Some of this falls on us.

Some falls on the company, but the too long didn’t read is again, it requires like active dialogue, true partnership, right? Yeah. And that’s actually coming up on like the third thing reason why things fail. A lack of regular three way communication. So I put these in buckets. There’s execs and hiring managers.

There’s internal HR or TA, depending how it’s structured. And there’s the agency. If it turns into 2 of these groups, but not all 3 having a regular dialogue, it’s going to fall apart and fail. Yep. And to be fair, like, this isn’t just why agency partnerships don’t work. But it’s also why companies can’t hire no matter what they try to do.

Whenever someone asked me, like, anytime someone asked me, and I do get asked this quite a bit, like, what’s the biggest challenge in hiring and biggest challenge recruiting? I always think it comes back to the disconnect internally between execs and their own HR or internal TA staff. When those two groups aren’t lined up, which is fairly often, oftentimes the execs are stepping on the necks of the HR people and just turning them into order takers instead of making a two way relationship.

Then when you add a third party in, when it’s an agency, it completely goes off the rails. Yeah. Yeah. You’re not,

You’re not reinventing the wheel. The problem still exists. All right. Positive. You want to get there? Yeah. Let’s do positive. So let’s do positive. Why do these relationships work though, Jeff, when they work well, why is that?


Look, in any partnership to make it worthwhile and good, they have to, they need to be better than you. We’ll get into what this looks like, but high level, they need to be able to outperform your current team. Can we outperform your current team for one or two searches at scale? Like these are the questions that you ask internally.

Can we find people faster that are better for you, than your internal team? Top of funnel. Yeah. Can we convert those people into new hires more effectively, more efficiently than you can, middle bottom of the funnel negotiation. This is kind of where the consultative partnership comes in. And the overarching theme is if your intention is to hire an agency and then tell them to your point, how to do the job,

you’re just redoing the same thing that you’ve just done internally. There’s no discernible difference. If you had it all figured out, what the hell are you hiring me for? Yeah, exactly. And then the second thing you need is time investment and nimbleness. So yes, any agency you work with should remove the heavy lifting of sourcing, vetting, selling the candidates, debriefs, that kind of stuff.

But through all that, like a really good agency is going to be able to pull some real time market insights into the candidate market, what your competitors in hiring are doing, and you need to be able to take the time to grab those insights, listen to them, take action on them as those things are uncovered. Companies who are nimble and adjust have a much easier time in hiring as opposed to the people who set their plans and said, this is what we’re doing

and this is what I want. Like, it’s just never going to work. Yep. Hiring is such a real time nimble, constantly changing thing and I think a lot of people don’t realize that, anyways. Yep. Takeaways. So here are the takeaways. What we decided to do this time is actually, here’s a list.

I love lists. Lists of questions broken down by area in terms of when you’re vetting agency partners, like the goal is to understand, are they better than you at top of the funnel and middle bottom of the funnel recruiting? And we’ve got, we broke this down into 6 areas. There might be more. But Jeff, kick us off with the first 3.

Turn on your transcriber so that you know, you have this, read not dictated. I can’t remember what movie that is. Number one, skill specializations. Do they have recruiters that know the domain cold? And keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be the only domain they play in by the way.

Hirewell for example, has three very specific domains with experts. Do they know it better than your generalist recruiter kind of getting back to, you know, what we just talked about? Can they get in the weeds to build credibility with the candidates that they’re recruiting or to our point before, are they just regurgitating keywords?

Number two, bandwidth. Can they give internal recruiting and hiring teams, your teams, their time back? Because that’s important. Do they, your recruiting partner, have enough resources to take on the project, the scope? You know, ask them about that. How do you plan on delivering this piece of work?

And can they vet you in enough detail where their work doesn’t need to be double checked? Number three, very simply industry experience. Are they familiar with the specifics of your industry demand? All right. And I’ll take four or five and six here. Number four is an easy one, market experience. Do they know the specific challenge of local geography?

Sometimes it doesn’t matter because it’s remote, but there are certain domains and certain geographies where things are a little more challenging. Are they familiar with it? Number five, headhunting. No, it is not a dirty word. No. Did they go beyond posting jobs and hoping for the best? That’s a huge one.

Do they know how to target candidates who aren’t actively looking? Do they know how to position your company in a compelling way that motivates people to want to work there? Do they know how to phrase things in candidate centric language? Tell candidates what’s better about your company than their current role.

They have to be able to do that. If they can’t convince people that this is a better job than the one they’re currently in, they’re never going to make a move. And summing that up, can they sell? Did they sell you effectively? Because that’s how they’re going to talk to their candidate. And number six, process knowledge.

Do they know how, do they know what makes internal recruiting side of the hiring processes succeed or fail? Do they know, do they have people on team that actually came from or led internal recruitment, such as Jeff Smith? Can you learn from them? Is another one. When you have conversations with them, do you pick up new tidbits that maybe expand your horizons as to the wider world of recruiting?

If not, that’s an issue. Do you have deficiencies they can help you improve upon? Like, do they help you understand? Like, do you know if you have deficiencies? If not, can they point them out? Can they explain them to you if you don’t know why they’re important? Can they make recommendations on solving them?

These are important things you need to know from a firm if you want to work with them seriously. There you go, guys. The blueprint, it’s all yours. We are short on clock. That’s a wrap for this week. Thanks again for tuning into the 20 minute talent rant. This is the longest one yet. Yeah. Part of the talent insight series, which is always available for replay on as well as YouTube, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon. Jeff, thanks again, as always. Everyone out there, we will see you soon.

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