The Hiring Manager’s Survival Guide to Working With Recruiters

I am picking this up at the point where the decision to work with an external recruitment partner has already been made. The purpose of this article is to help hiring managers get the best from their recruitment agency or external recruiter relationships and to maximise their ROI in terms of money and time spent hiring.

Recruitment is not a ‘dark art’. There is, for sure, an element of the artist about a good recruiter. There are also other less fluffy skills and attributes in an expert recruiter’s make-up. Recruiting is, in theory, pretty straight-forward; it’s a process (or should be). It may help to remember this when you next engage a recruiter or recruiting firm: as well as their time, you’re paying for their expert processes, know-how, their wider business network and their know-who and a few other things besides.

What kind of relationship with your recruiter(s) do you want? Are you genuinely committed to a ‘trusted adviser ‘relationship because you value what a good recruiter can do for your team and business? Or do you, in your heart of hearts, regard recruiters as a ‘necessary evil’: somewhere on the food chain between plankton and estate agents? If it is the latter, please stop reading. I can’t help you. Or, perhaps I can persuade you on a call that some of us do walk the walk and deliver to our stakeholders?

Maximising the return on a recruiting relationship requires a little effort and investment of time on your part. Paying lip service to ‘trusted adviser’ status won’t be enough. Most recruiters are desperate to please; we’re easily flattered. We’re needy people driven by fear of failure and the need to win! And keep winning. And again.

Telling your recruiter that they are an extension of your firm, that they’re loved and valued won’t be enough if you don’t hold up your end of the deal. A disengaged recruiter will quietly drop you and your job and move on to a hiring manager who has jobs to recruit and keeps their word.

Start off the way you mean to go on. Make the terms of engagement crystal clear to all parties from day one. ‘No nasty surprises’ is a mantra a hiring manager (or HR) will have heard as part of my own presentation and pitch.

Qualifying your recruiter and briefing them correctly

A touch of grey hair and some real-life experience of people, business and life can go a long way in recruitment but don’t neglect or pass on younger recruiters. I’m middle aged now (tempus fugit, matey).

In my 20s hiring managers and human resource people took a punt on me. What I lacked in life or business experience I made up for with enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge (a niche within a niche – Securities Lending and Repo trading platforms, anyone?), bags of energy and a can-do attitude. I wanted their approval, their fees, and more work from them. I wanted to be top of the monthly billing board (I usually was).

Don’t judge a recruiter as good or bad too quickly based on age or recruitment industry experience – qualify them properly. Contempt prior to investigation is irrational.

Meet your prospective recruiter. If you can’t meet them, get them on a video link. Make the time, find the time. Busy, experienced recruiters won’t take on work without client buy-in. You’re sending a signal that this piece of work and a successful outcome are of importance to you therefore the recruiter and her offering is important to you.

Some points to consider when engaging a recruitment agency 

You should include some or all these questions whilst selecting a recruiter to work with –

  1. What other firms have you worked with on a job opportunity like ours? Are you able to provide a client / trade reference and proof of concept?
  2. How many jobs like this have you successfully filled over the last year? Talk to me about the most recent deal like this you have done.
  3. Are all of those candidates still in the jobs you placed them in? When was the last time you had to give a client a replacement refill or rebate?
  4. Where do you go to find your candidates that other recruiters don’t? Talk about your social media work and reach.
  5. Walk me through how you engage with candidates (first point of contact), how you interview and assess them?
  6. What qualifies you to determine what ‘good’ looks like, especially if you personally haven’t done this kind of job as your own occupation?
  7. What do you do to ensure your candidates stay fully engaged with a client’s opportunity and to make sure we don’t lose good people to other employers during the hiring process?
  8. Recruiters talk a lot about ‘adding value’ but that seems a bit woolly – explain to me specifically where and how you add value to the hiring process (rather than just sending CVs and fixing meetings)?
  9. Describe to me exactly as you would to a job seeker –
    • our firm
    • our culture and values
    • the job
    • the technology, processes, methodologies, sales philosophy etc we use
    • our future
    • our hiring process and expectations
  10. How will you position and promote our role(s) above similar jobs with other firms?
  11. Describe how your candidates will be prepared for interview with me and my team?
  12. Talk to me about how you manage offers and if you can manage counter-offers.


Contained in those questions is the opportunity for the recruiter to explain and expand on claims about their expertise, knowledge of the job market, success at picking a winning candidate (and how they do it), their key client relationships and eco-system, candidate pools and availability, their processes, and their own IP and USPs. My firm uses a process called ‘Packaging’ to qualify and prepare candidates for clients. We haven’t rebated a permanent fee in Software or ERP since 2001 – our introductions stick.

It is worth remembering that things can and do sometimes go wrong. You may have a job authorisation cancelled or lose some of your hiring budget. The recruiter may lose a candidate or find a candidate has, despite the recruiter’s best efforts, gone AWOL – people don’t show for interviews, they have ‘off days’, they lie about other jobs they are considering, and they can and do change their minds. Somethings cannot be planned for, but they can be mitigated against.

A good recruiter can help you solve a business-critical challenge. They can help you be agile and scale a team or business quickly and successfully. A good recruiter will know all kinds of people; from the great and the good at C-suite level and fresh, keen, and bright new talent. A good recruiter can fill your firm’s car park (or empty it).

I hope some of these ideas help when you next work with a recruiter. I am always happy to listen and talk through hiring challenges you may face (with no obligation on your part). No hiring problem is insurmountable – you just need the right kind of recruiter, fully engaged, on your side!

I work for Identify HR. We recruit experienced Technical, Developer, Functional and Sales & Marketing hires for Enterprise Software and SaaS firms, as well as niche vendors and consulting firms. And, of course, well-funded startups. Our CIPD qualified HR team recruit across all Human Resources and People job functions, also offering formal advisory and consultancy, as well as outsourced HR services at C-suite for clients through-out Scotland and the UK


You can reach me at or 07743978179. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Kenny McAllisterFollow me on Twitter at @kennyrecruiter. I don’t do Instagram. I’m 53.