The path from agency to in-house recruiter
If you love recruitment you may be tempted to follow the path from agency to in-house recruiter. Although most HR generalists recruit, some organisations find it makes commercial sense to bring expert recruitment skills in-house.
It’s a well-beaten path; if you are employed as an agency consultant you work closely with HR departments who will quite naturally spot you for new internal roles. An in-house recruiter has one client – your employer – and a far more limited range of selection criteria to play with. For some the move is poacher turned gamekeeper, while others find working in-house too constraining.
What’s the real difference?
External recruiters, although they pride themselves on understanding their clients’ businesses, are like jobbing plumbers. They fix the problem, bill you, and wait 6 months for you to call again. An in-house specialist is more like a caretaker – someone who understands how long-term solutions prevent problems repeating.
The difference in terms of day to day practice is about having a single focus on one organisation. In consultant mode you will get to talk to a wider range of client organisations and a wider range of candidates.
The second big difference is that you will probably have to constrain your working style. Agency recruiters often enjoy applying a great deal of freestyle personality to their work, sometimes urging employers to push bureaucracy aside in order to get the right people. Those at the chalk face often see employers taking too long to decide and too long to issue job offers. External recruiters, being deal-makers by nature, know when to push to get the right person in place quickly.
Why stay working externally?
Recruitment consultants enjoy the variety of candidates, employers and sectors they are exposed to – this is what you trade in by working in-house. The next big factor is financial – working for an agency, your earnings are directly related to the new deals you can win and fulfil, whereas internally you’re almost certainly on a fixed salary.
External specialists, ironically, can have more influence – they get to deal with senior staff and often bypass HR, and can push decision makers. They’re go-getters and sometimes risk takers, and don’t always conform well to organisational systems.
Pros and cons of going in-house
Internal recruiters admit they work with a narrower range of jobs and candidates, becoming specialists in one organisation’s needs. It’s safer, more predictable work, offers less variety and freedom of action, but you feel more ‘on side’ in helping an organisation find the right talent.
In career terms it you can probably return to the recruitment industry after one in-house role, but doing two in a row signals that you’ve made a long-term switch.
Advantages of shifting from agency to in-house
The main advantage of becoming an employed insider is that you build a deeper understanding of what the organisation needs. Good recruiters know how to go beyond job descriptions – they learn how to identify top 10% performers. Since they also have good people radar they are often better at spotting people who will be valued and not merely tolerated – individuals who will fit in quickly.
What employers look for in an in-house recruiter
Employers are often happy to consider those with recruitment industry experience when filling internal recruiter roles. They like people who live and breathe recruitment, rather than HR staff who see the activity as relatively uninspiring.
What employers really value is continuity and stability – although they have long-term relationships with recruitment suppliers, individual consultants can move on fairly fast and all but a surface level understanding of the organisation is lost. Really understanding what organisations are looking for is an art, easily glossed over in an agency’s sales pitch. It’s about getting under the skin of organisational culture, but also anticipating how the business is going to grow and change, and what kind of people it will need in the future.
Is it a smart move?
Think hard about what you get out being a recruiter. If you really enjoy long-term relationships and helping an organisation grow by gathering talent, look at the advantages of an in-house role. If you enjoy the rush of deal making and the excitement of not knowing what kind of role is going to cross your desk next or who you might have to interview, and if you’re a natural fixer and deal maker, staying external will probably float your boat.