Continuing with my series of articles (see ‘Top 4 Tips for Discussing Salary With Your Recruiter’) that aim to provide transparent and practical advice to candidates using agencies in their job search, I felt it would be helpful to provide a broader industry overview. One of the reasons I have remained in the industry for as long as I have is that I enjoy its diversity. Whilst the underlying mechanics remain the same, the style and behaviours promoted by different organisations lead to different types of market engagement. This can make it challenging as a candidate to define who the most appropriate partners are. Hopefully, the following insights will help with this process;
1. Find the agent/s that best fit your needs.
At a high level we can split the industry into 3 areas:
Agencies - generally the lower value/higher volume end of the market
Recruitment Consultancies - mid to senior recruitment, predominantly on a contingent (fee on success) basis
Executive Search - senior recruitment, headhunting, often retained (partial payment up front)
From the outside it can be confusing as recruiters often blur the lines with a liberal use of job title and marketing. Fundamentally, everyone involved in recruitment is a recruiter and any organisation that is representing you to a third party is acting as an agent, although I tend to find that practitioners in my field can be a little sensitive about these terms.
To try and bring more meaning to this, within the executive/professional market I have identified 3 deeper definitions. This is not exhaustive but does give some perspective;
Boutique/Specialist – these are smaller organisations (sometimes just an individual) focused on a narrow industry or functional area. There are specialists who operate in the market who cover most job functions and industries. Their advantage is their focus and deep market knowledge. Their limitation is that, being smaller in terms of headcount, they will service a smaller client base. Also, if your skills are not a direct fit to their target market or you are looking to leverage a career shift to a parallel space then you are unlikely to gain any traction.
Large/Listed Contingent – these are larger organisations, often MNCs with a wide spread of industry and functional coverage. Larger companies will still have some overriding functional/industry strengths but their core advantage is that their brand reach and larger headcount enables them to engage with a wide client portfolio. Their international status also enables them to more easily access companies seeking to open in new locations because they have the head office relationship for referrals. The downside is that the nature of market engagement can become quite transactional. Recruiters within these businesses are often driven against blanket KPIs and have to meet high volume targets for sending candidate profiles, client calls and meetings. They also have to deal with a high volume of candidate applications. These factors can sometimes clash with quality of delivery and relationships and, on occasions, confidentiality. The industry as a whole also struggles with staff attrition and this is most noticeable in these type of organisations.
Executive Search – these firms are mainly focused at the senior end of the market and some of these businesses operate exclusively on a retained basis i.e. they secure an up-front payment to run a search. Charging fees that begin at US$50,000 minimums (with top tier search firms now requiring at least a US$75,000 fee potential to even get started) they have a defined research methodology to map specific markets/functions and deliver a candidate shortlist supported by appropriate market insights. For a candidate these companies have traditionally operated under a 'don't find us, we'll find you' philosophy but with the advancement of greater digital information flow, most of them now encourage online applications and fully utilise resources such as LinkedIn. As a more senior candidate, building long-term relationships with these organisations can often be advantageous.
2. Build an appropriate portfolio
Defining what style of agency to use will really depend on the needs of your search. Broadly speaking, a small mixed portfolio of partners with whom you have a strong connection and open communication is the ideal. The urgency of your search will also dictate this. If you are a more passive job seeker and are open to a move only for the right opportunity to progress then it would make more sense to deal with a smaller number of partners who are more targeted in your field and consultative in their engagement. If you are an active job seeker with strong push factors, or you are unemployed and need to pay the bills, then you may want to spread a wider net and ensure you are on the radar of more of the larger firms. Managing the relationships will demand time from you so, the more time you have on your hands, the more you can effectively handle. The balance is somewhere between putting your faith in one agent, which is unlikely to give you the breadth of coverage to identify all of the best opportunities for you, and registering with too many, leaving you handling representation saturation and conflicts.
3. Proactively define your network
To identify specifically which companies to contact I recommend using your network for referrals and, where possible, direct introductions. Identify hiring managers, HR professionals and in-house recruiters who regularly engage with external recruiters and find out who they value. Agencies and recruiters who represent them well when finding talent in the market are more likely to represent you well to prospective employers. Also, if you know anyone who’s opinion you value who has recently conducted their own job search, then they will also be a great source of intelligence around which partners to use (or which to avoid).
Where possible, try and commence the process with a conversation followed by a face to face meeting. This will give you better access, open a more effective communication channel and ensure you are remembered and stand out from the crowd. Try to avoid blanket mailing your resume out or registering with every agency you can find on day 1. Take it step by step and gauge the response before making your next move. I still receive candidate applications where I am one of many recruiters openly copied on the e-mail - these will find themselves sent directly to my deleted items and I am sure it's the same for many of the other recipients.
4. Nurture relationships
As you identify the firms and individuals that best align with your needs and values, make the effort to develop those relationships over time. A great recruiter will value your insights into the market and be happy to share their own. If you hear about an opportunity or an organisation that is growing, share this with the consultant that you build then most trust with and see if they can help you gain access. If you are working with a larger firm and they are advertising a role that seems to be a fit for you then proactively ask your contact to refer you internally, rather than make a general application. Refer excellent candidates to the people you value and they will be sure to remember and support you. As your career develops, you will likely need to hire talented people for your teams and if you maximise your relationships during your job search then you will have a ready made list of recruitment professionals who can represent you well when securing you the best people.
I hope this proves useful to you. I am always happy to hear from professionals in the Asian markets, whether you are interested in career opportunities, finding talent or just want to discuss recruitment or the markets more generally. Feel free to connect via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Mathew Gollop, Group Managing Director