Recruiting During Covid-19

Agency and Inhouse Teams: Challenges and Suggestions

Agency and Inhouse Teams: Challenges and Suggestions

Recruiting talent in the coronavirus age is far from easy. This goes for inhouse recruiters as well as agency recruiters. Having worked inhouse and in agencies – I currently own one – my perspective is reflecting both sides of the talent acquisition coin.

To ensure that businesses are able to ramp back up to meet urgent hiring goals, there is a need for decision makers to fully understand what the recruitment process looks like within their organization and how the relationship between hiring, inhouse recruiters, and staffing and recruiting agencies works.

Inhouse Recruiting

If you’re an inhouse recruiter right now, most of your hiring managers are probably demanding that their reqs be filled yesterday. Yes, sometimes this is the norm for hiring teams, but you probably notice that it’s even more common now. Afterall, a lot of businesses are behind on deliverables. Companies are in the red when they expected to be in the black, and the future is still unknown regarding when additional headcount can be added, or if additional furloughs and layoffs will happen in place of hiring. Presently, the world is a crazy, crazy, place.

What your hiring teams may not realize is that the same pressure that they’re under to deliver with a shoestring budget and a skeleton crew of a team, has translated tenfold in the recruiting team. Again, not anyone’s fault, but facts are facts, and recruiters are not having their pick of talent the way that most hiring teams would assume. At least, not exactly the way they would assume.

What are inhouse recruiting teams seeing?

I will explain the typical recruiting lifecycle for a requisition in laymen’s terms, to make it easier to grasp. It is not uncommon during this economy to see 80 or more candidates apply to a requisition once it’s posted. Even before the pandemic, it was common for me to see at least 100 applications for a tech requisition. This is notincluding the direct sourced candidates that come from my network, referrals, etc.

Covid-19 has raised the unemployment rate, but also, the number of applicants per position. In May, I posted a requisition for a large eCommerce brand. It garnered 240 applicants! Let me explain this in greater detail.

During normal recruiting conditions, a recruiter is layering their approach to locating the perfect candidates for their hiring managers. They’re posting the job on major job boards, reaching out on LinkedIn to their network, asking past candidates for referrals, looping back on silver-medalist candidates to see if they have interest in the current opening, and then they wade through the passive applicants that apply after seeing the job advertised on the web or in social media. Most of these candidates are not matches for the requisition that the recruiter is trying to fill. In fact, by the time a recruiter delivers a hiring manager their first candidate slate, they may have rejected 50 or more candidates that were not matches for the requisition.

Candidates apply sometimes to jobs in bulk, without looking at the job spec in which they are applying. Some candidates are trying to make career changes and believe that they have enough parallel skills that would enable them to perform well in the posted role. Regardless of the reason, there are candidates applying that are not a match for the requisition, which means that the recruiter must read resumes, phone screen, and locate the best possible talent to deliver to their hiring teams. This was the norm when the unemployment rate was 3.5%. Now cycle through these conditions when it is 8.4%, which is the unemployment rate at the time of writing.

How does a recruiter manage the candidate experience, protect the employer brand, and thoroughly evaluate their candidate pools with so many candidates applying that aren’t a fit for their requisitions? Diligence and high levels of competency and organization are the answer.

Breaking the recruiter’s day into smaller blocks of time enables a recruiter to easily keep themselves on track. The mornings are phone screens, responding to yesterday’s email responses, and jumping into meetings. Maybe in the evening they set up their calls for the next morning, source online, send out InMails, continue evaluating resumes, reject candidates, etc.

During more stable economic times, following a structured day like what is outlined above still leaves a lot of work for a recruiter to complete in their day. Things like notating a candidate’s profile, updating the ATS system with hiring manager notes, making sure candidate evaluations and scorecards have been completed, making sure that all candidates that need to receive assessments have received them, and on and on.

This amount of evaluation, due diligence, and administrative duties is why even with an inhouse team, most organizations still build solid relationships with recruiting and staffing agencies to supplement their inhouse team’s efforts. This is even more important now during the pandemic.

Agency Recruiting

To use a worn out cliche, agency recruiters by nature are typically a bit scrappier than inhouse recruiters. This has nothing to do with nature and more to do with nurturing. 

For any recruiter that has cut their teeth in an agency environment, they know that the phone doesn’t stop ringing and most of the day is spent talking. You are a master networker, a social butterfly if you will. Your job typically involves talking to many candidates, just like the inhouse recruiting teams do, but with one very significant difference – you don’t have the backing of the company brand or the relationship with the hiring team (typically).

Think about when you may have applied for a job and a recruiter reached out. Did the recruiter say, “Hi, I’m working on an opening here at (insert company name) and found your profile on LinkedIn? It seems like we may have an opportunity that you could find interesting and I was hoping that we could jump on a call so that I could tell you more about the position and more about why working here is exciting and how we are disrupting the industry…” 

If you received a message like the one above, then you were most likely communicating with an inhouse recruiter.

Did you receive a message like this? “Hello, I know that you’re busy, so I’ll be quick. I have a client that is looking for someone with skills like yours. I’m not sure if you’re on the market, or even open to discussing opportunities, but if you are, I’d love to set up a time to tell you more about my client and discuss the role in more detail. Do you have time today for a quick 15-minute call? Thank you!

If you recieved a message like the above, you were talking to an agency recruiter. Assertive, time sensitive, and eager to sell you on the opportunity that they have for their client. Client details are typically not given until after the candidate is interested in the position and has spoken with the recruiter on a call or via video conference.

The importance here is that if a candidate receives the first message type, they already have the company details and can research to decide if the company is a brand that they’d like to even consider working for. A lot of established brands also have very large passive applicant pools once a job is posted. This isn’t always true for an agency working on a requisition. 

This means that agency recruiters are brought up in an ecosystem that urges hunter mentality and assertiveness. These characteristics are exactly what make agency recruiters a great supplemental to any inhouse recruitment team. They are ultra-focused on only sending candidates that they feel are a great fit for the assigned requisition and they know that for them to get paid in most instances, there’s got to be a high-level of hustle on their part.

What are agency recruiting teams seeing?

So, back to the current job market climate. If you work in an agency, and run a full desk, your day has migrated away from a 20-50 percent business development and a large focus on talent acquisition and screening. Now, there’s most likely an 80 or 90 percent focus on business development and client outreach, and a small focus on talent sourcing. This is most likely due to not having many requisitions to fill. If this is not your current situation, that’s great! But for most, there’s a scramble to locate clients and surface requisitions to collect fees on.

Many of the companies that staffing agencies typically service have frozen and/or closed their requisitions until they can determine what business will look like. They’ve also laid off or furloughed much of their HR and recruitment teams.

This all translates to a very difficult time for agency recruiters. Partnerships they’ve built over the span of their careers, candidates that are now emailing and calling them in force, everything that they’ve come to know about the recruiting landscape through an agency lens has stalled.

My Prediction

It seems like the steps that companies are taking makes sense, and for some I’m sure that it does. However, there are a few things that employers are not considering, because they’re not recruiters and don’t live day in and day out in our professional space.

When the pandemic started, unemployment was skyrocketing and hit 14.7% in April. During this time, it made sense to cut jobs and stop the financial bleeding for these companies. Now, unemployment has dropped to 8.4%. This is a partial indicator that companies have started to slowly hire again. 

What’s interesting is that even while certain companies are reopening some of their requisitions, they are not necessarily bringing their recruiters back from furlough or rehiring full time inhouse recruiters to carry the requisition load. This seems to be an effort to stem costs of onboarding and salaries, but what will most likely happen is the existing recruiting teams will be become overwhelmed with requisitions, which will have downstream impacts on things like time to fill, product and project delivery, employer brand, and overall employee morale as teams try to carry the additional workload while waiting for new hires to join.

Through my management and leadership experience, I’ve personally found that anywhere between 10-15 requisitions seems to be the optimal workbench for most recruiters, granted industry and seniority level plays a part in this as well. I’ve been on the other side of the fence though, where I’ve managed upwards of 80 requisitions as a recruiting manager and had one recruiter that I directly managed that could assist. This scenario was a nightmare. 

I watched as hiring manager after hiring manager complained about their candidate pipeline. I remember asking why we had not hired additional headcount to address the inflated req load and improve the delivery of recruitment services to our hiring teams. Unfortunately, nothing came of my requests. Ultimately, I was convinced that the only way to be heard by my leadership was to leave the company, which I promptly did. This decision was hard for me as I’d truly thought that I would stay at the company indefinitely and had worked to build a solid reputation with everyone that I’d worked with. Rather than staying and ruining my personal brand, I decided to join another company and have more control over my recruiting process.

The point is that sometimes executive leadership sees the bottom-line rather than the impact a decision will have on its employee base. I believe that we must be careful to evaluate the situation and not be afraid to invest in rebuilding a proper talent acquisition function prior to ramping back up with corporate hiring.

So, what I think will most likely happen is that we’ll see businesses try to hire for their urgent needs using what remains of their inhouse recruiting teams, paying little attention to req loads. Eventually, they’ll notice that time to fill/time to hire is not where it needs to be and approve additional recruiter headcount. Recruiting managers and hiring managers that need immediate hiring of talent will push to use staffing and recruiting agencies to supplement their teams with contractors and full-time hires. There will be pushback here as well from team budget holders, as they’ll say that the inhouse team is there so that agencies do not need to be engaged. Eventually, it will become clear that in order to meet the initiatives that have been laid out by the business, agencies will need to be brought in to assist AND recruiting teams will need to have additional headcount added.

A great way forward

This is where I ask that recruiting teams, both agency and inhouse, try something a bit different. I’ve made it a point to always have several agencies that I partner with while working as an inhouse TA leader. It allows me to scale and deliver quickly. I ask the recruiters that we engage from agencies to partner with our inhouse recruiters that run the approved requisitions. This means that the agency recruiter DOES NOT circumvent the inhouse recruiter and go straight to the hiring manager. This is key.

Mutual respect is the one thing that is missing in most instances between inhouse teams and agency recruiters. I’ve taken reqs from inhouse recruiters that were not promptly updating our agency partners and reassigned them to other team members. I’ve also cancelled contracts with agencies that ignore my direction to work hand in hand with the inhouse recruiting teams. If each side respects one another, and stays within bounds, the resulting product is a highly fine-tuned process that allows for incredibly fast time to hire metrics, great pipeline buildout, and a prosperous relationship for everyone involved.

By merging agency with inhouse, we can truly represent the business’ brand in the best light possible. Candidates are quickly updated, interviews startup shortly after the requisition is posted, inhouse recruiting teams can target the low hanging fruit and leave the more aggressive sourcing behavior to the agency recruiters who make upwards of 60 calls a day. Hiring managers are the ones who start to be chased for updates regarding candidates instead of them chasing the recruiters. This becomes a much more sustainable solution for the business. If done correctly it doesn’t break the bank.

At SilverStone Talent LLC, I’ve worked to develop an agency mantra that focuses on building our relationships with our clients. I want to change the stigma that inhouse recruiters and HR representatives have with working with staffing and recruiting agencies.

Covid-19 has transformed the hiring landscape. We’ve done what many other agencies have done – we’ve expanded our offerings and ways of working with businesses. We know that businesses are pivoting to try and return their functions to as close to normal as they can get during this pandemic, so we’ve done the same. 

To make it easier for businesses to work with us, we’ve made sure to highlight that we are not retained, even for executive searches. We are contingent based and only get paid for performance. The one caveat being if we implement our RPO services.

Hopefully, as things start to return to a more traditional way of doing business and more jobs continue to open up, recruiting teams from both the agency side of the business and inhouse can take my advice and start to work much more closely to better meet the demands and needs of the companies that they both support.