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On the Hunt

Searching for the perfect candidate? Don’t be afraid to look outside for assistance.


Skills. Experience. Expectations. Personality. It takes a carefully measured blend of the right ingredients to find the ideal candidate to fill a vacant role. Finding someone who fits perfectly into your company and your team can be a rare thing, but it’s valuable enough to be worth pursuing. Sometimes, however, try as you might, that perfect candidate eludes you. You can post on every job board, conduct one hundred interviews and send your HR team into overdrive to fill a single position, and still come up empty. What’s a manager to do?

That’s when it’s time to go hunting. Head hunting, that is.

Head hunting is the practice of professionally recruiting an employee. Head hunting, or recruitment, agencies specialize in connecting employers and employees based on skill sets, values, goals and cultural fit. Think of a recruitment agency as a matchmaker for the workplace: they size up companies and candidates until they find a compatible pair.

Given that most companies have human resources departments, hiring managers and career pages on their website, what would drive a manager to look outside their own walls for help with recruiting employees? According to Danielle Bragge, a professional recruiter can help you dig a little deeper.

Bragge is the co-founder and vice-president, accounting and finance at The Headhunters Recruitment Inc. Though she concedes that the hunt can be conducted internally, she feels you may not be getting the best value or the best results for your time spent. “I think there’s a huge value in using an agency,” she says. “I might be able to drywall my basement, and I might do an okay job, but if you look really closely you’ll notice it’s not perfect. Whereas, if I bring an expert in and all they do is drywall basements, you can switch on the light and put a spotlight on it, and you’re not going to see a single crack.”

According to Bragge, the difference between in-house recruiters and professionals is their dedicated skill set. “There are HR groups that have in-house recruiters, and their function is essentially what we do,” she says. “But the difference between what they do and what we do is that the in-house recruiters search for a variety of different positions within the organization, so they’re not necessarily the resident expert in a certain job or a certain skill set or a certain industry. So, by going to a specialist agency like ours, where each of our recruiters specializes in certain areas or niches, we really know who the available talent is, who performs, the leadership abilities and whether they have the things the client is looking for. We know whom those people are over and above their skill set, so we have access to a very different pool of candidates.”

Lori Schmidt, CEO at GO Productivity, an Edmonton-based organization, has used the services of a recruitment agency to help find some key hires, and it didn’t take her long to see the value. “For the strategic hires, we’ve gone to a recruitment firm directly, right off the bat,” she says. “Just realizing that they’ve got a stronger, well-rounded expertise, a wider net of possibilities—I think they follow a very good process.”

For Schmidt, using a recruitment agency isn’t just about offloading the tasks associated with hiring. It’s about the unique insight that only a professional recruiter can provide. “I think it’s been more around them helping us identify the key components of the role, but in particular, carefully describing the fit of leadership and cultural values,” she says. “It also helps us think through the role and qualities in much more detail. Oftentimes we rush in our hiring processes instead of taking a step back to question the strategic fit of the individual, and more importantly, the fit with our corporate culture and values. What I’ve learned through working with a recruitment firm is how critical it is that all the pieces fit right.”

One of those key hires Schmidt found through a recruitment firm was Tom Lieu, managing director, finance and business strategy at GO Productivity. According to Lieu, working with an agency allowed him to tap into roles he may not have otherwise known about. “I have used recruitment agency services since 2001,” he explains. “A lot of jobs are not posted publicly or are difficult to find. By using a recruitment agency, I was exposed to many different opportunities, which I did not find on my own.”

Despite his positive experiences, Lieu does offer a word of caution. “It is important that a candidate chooses the right agency to work with because the right fit for a company may not be the right fit for the candidate,” he says. “Good recruiters are able to match both the client and candidate together.”

Once a recruiter is able to successfully match up a candidate and company, there is still one small matter to settle: picking up the tab. Good news if you’re a candidate on the hunt: the job seeker is not responsible for covering fees. “Candidates are not expected to pay. It is the company that pays,” reassures Bragge.

As for companies, they do have to pay, but there are some options. “There are two types of agencies,” explains Bragge. “There’s retainer-based agencies and contingency-based agencies. A contingency-based agency essentially works for free, until such time that the company says ‘yes we’ll make you an offer, yes we want your candidate.’ But the retainer based agency will say ‘we’ll work your search for you, but in order to engage us to do the work for you, you need to pay us a percentage of the fee upfront.’ So there’s two very different types of billing methods, and some agencies do both.”

Upfront costs don’t mean you’re losing out in the end. According to Schmidt, it all evens out. “It can be expensive, but it’s well worth the investment in the end, because the cost of a mis-hire is way more expensive than what we would invest in a recruitment agency,” she says. “We found that out the hard way!”

Bragge says that many clients notice the savings sooner than later. “The savings start in the short term, though. Just look at the time and the energy that’s involved: if the average position is taking about 60 hours to fill, that’s 60 hours for one HR manager on one position!” she says. “So you look at the resources that you have to pull internally within an organization, a hiring manager sitting at the table doing an interview, paperwork that needs to be drafted, regret calls that need to be made, resumes that need to be screened, offers that need to go out—there’s lots of resources that they’re involving to get that person in through the door and performing.”

Of course, the real goal in hiring—whether through your own internal resources or through the services of an agency—isn’t just to find a good candidate. It’s to keep that candidate for the long haul, and according to Bragge, that’s the difference a professional recruiter makes.

“You’ve got a higher likelihood of retention, so they’re not going back through onboarding and training again,” she says. “Our goal is to not just put people in the door. Our goal is to keep the people there so that the companies can move their businesses forward.”