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An Internal Examination in Recruitment

By July 9, 20103 Comments

As the Global Financial Crisis began to really bite in New Zealand, around about late 2008 and early 2009, I experienced and witnessed a significant shift in the moods and ambitions of many agency recruiters out there.  Feeling the pressure of unreachable revenue targets, dwindling commission cheques, client hiring freezes and management who had plain run out of ideas, many recruiters were looking to move from the agency world into internal recruitment. 

To most of you the distinction, on the face of it, is quite clear.  External recruitment involves running a desk, usually specializing in a certain sector, and providing consultancy services to a wide range of clients within that sector.  Internal recruitment involves providing the entire end-to-end recruitment function within just one particular organization, recruiting directly for Hiring Managers and their teams within that organization. 

Back in the GFC the switch from external to internal was a no-brainer for many recruiters.  “No more cold calls” they thought.  “Regular stream of income” they surmised.  “No more days spent sitting in a quiet office surrounded by depressed colleagues and management hiding behind office doors and e-mails”.  But of course, the pathway to this new world of internal recruitment was blocked, firstly by the volume of applicants for the rare vacancies that arose, but also by the fact that those very organizations they sought to join were themselves shedding staff and freezing all new hiring – adopting a “sinking lid” policy – what use could an internal recruitment function be in these times? 

But the main reason external recruiters found the route blocked, was that they knew, and the hiring company just knew, that once the market started to improve again, the lure of that commission cheque and buzz of agency recruitment would be a siren call too powerful to resist, and off the recruiter would go again. 

So here we are, stumbling and clawing our way out of recession, blinking and squinting in the bright new dawn of economic recovery.  But strangely enough, the impact of the GFC has had a deeper and more profound affect on many external recruiters than expected.  As larger organizations across New Zealand start to build, modify and increase their internal recruitment function and capabilities again, the demand from external recruiters to make that shift does not seem to have abated.  For some, the desk phone ringing hot again, the job orders piling up again, and the whiteboard ticking over again, has not been enough to avert the gaze from the promised land of internal recruitment.

So today The Whiteboard is bringing you the definitive guide to internal recruitment and, in particular, what to look out for, what to expect, and what to avoid when considering making that shift from the external recruitment world.  Make no mistake, once you have made the shift it is very difficult to ever go back, so make sure you are 100% certain that the move is right for you.

The Whiteboard has received some very kind contributions from a number of experienced internal recruiters who have already made the move away from external consultancies and into sectors such as Government, Public Sector, Healthcare, Professional Services, IT, Utilities, Food, Manufacturing and Engineering.

Why Make the Move?

The number one factor for most people making the move is to get away from the “Sales” focus of external recruitment.  Whilst it is true that there will be no more “cold calling” of clients, we shall see below that the aspect of Sales never really goes away – you just need to sell in a slightly different way.  However, most external recruiters cope with, and even enjoy, the sales side for the buzz it can generate and the financial reward that follows.  For many internal recruiters, this was just not sufficiently motivating for them.  Performance was measured almost entirely based on the revenue generated by the consultants, with other measures almost entirely weighted out of significance.  They wanted to be recognized for the whole recruitment process undertaken, rather than the amount of dollars put up on the whiteboard. 

Another major factor influencing the move was the wish to feel less removed from the hiring managers and to be able to build more genuine and sustainable relationships.  This approach carries through all levels of the organization, with greater levels of satisfaction to be gained by filling roles with the right people, in the right job, and seeing the ongoing impact this has within the company.  Of course, good external recruiters can gain satisfaction from this too, by gaining an intimate understanding of an organisation’s needs and closely communicating with the candidate even months after the placement has been made, but you need to be an internal recruiter to see that candidate at the company’s Christmas function and meet their partner or family and really learn how the placement has made a difference.

There can be any number of reasons for making the move as well as the main two above.  One internal recruiter quit her agency job and, when one of her clients found out, offered her the job of setting up their internal recruitment function.  Another one took an internal role as a temp after immigrating to New Zealand, whilst looking for an agency to join, and has never yet made the move back to external!

Whatever the reasons, it pays to try and understand what to expect before you make the leap.

What to Expect

So you’re expecting that there will be no more sales on the internal side of the fence?

Wrong, wrong, wrong 

Whilst cold calling and fee negotiations will be a thing of the past, do not expect to hang up your sales hat just yet.  Many hiring managers within organizations do not understand the value that the recruitment team can bring to them and the difference it can make to their teams.  For them, you will be nothing more than an overhead, lumped in with the rest of the mysterious HR folks.  You will find that you will still have to “sell” your service, promote your candidates for interview, and use your expertise to win the credibility of the hiring managers.  To be effective you will have to be relevant and legitimate.  Selling yourself and your expertise is the only way to do this.  Furthermore, unlike on the agency side, if things go wrong you can’t decide to not bother dealing with that client any more.  There is no longer the buffer of the 15th floor lift shaft and marble-clad reception area.  If something goes wrong they can and will come and stand in front of you at your desk! 

You can expect a whole lot more internal politics too.  One highly experienced recruiter who has worked in a number of internal teams says that every new role she went into came with its own set of politics.  This could include hostile hiring managers who had been used to working with external agencies and resent being told they have to use the internal recruitment function from now on.  Another found that, unlike in agencies, games were played and recognition and reward did not always go to those that worked the hardest and produced the best results.  There is nowhere to hide once you represent the entire recruitment function for an organization, and you will need to learn how to handle these politics, and push back on HR and hiring managers much more than you ever would be able to do in an agency. 

If you are motivated more by relationship management and helping people out, then internal recruitment could provide more job satisfaction.  Introducing or improving an internal recruitment function can require a lot of nurturing of new relationships.  The wins, whilst not monetary, will be all about making the recruitment process as streamline and easy for both managers and candidates as possible.  Internal recruitment is quality driven and not revenue driven.

Finally, do not expect anywhere near the same level of candidate attraction resources as you had in your agency.  With a few exceptions, most companies rely on their corporate website careers page for attracting candidates, with some graduate careers fairs thrown in on top.  Job board and newspaper advertising budgets are much lower too.  It will be down to you to create your own candidate attraction strategies that fit within the approach and budget of your organization.  If you are a recruiter who likes to rely on Seek and your agency database to find candidates, then internal recruitment is not for you.  You will need to manage your own talent pools through social media, build and promote employee referral programmes, create and develop a sense of identity through your employment brand, and constantly sell your company at careers fairs, networking events, family gatherings and parties!

What You Can Bring Already

 Obviously your end-to-end recruitment skills will transition nicely across into internal recruitment.  You will understand the process of recruitment and how to manage positive outcomes. 

You will also find that some of the skills learned in the external arena come in very handy on the internal side, and these skills must be cherished and nurtured and not allowed to fade away.  Your level of drive and sense of urgency will be invaluable.  One recruiter was given a goal of increasing staff headcount by 20% over the year – she achieved an increase of 85%.  Good agency recruiters will also exude confidence and credibility.  One found that his new internal stakeholders truly regarded him as a business partner and really listened to his opinions and ideas, pretty much interviewing any candidate that he recommended. 

Your natural consultative style will also be essential in honing and building new relationships from day one.  As a recruitment specialist you will be able to bring whole new levels of market knowledge and understanding unlikely to be found from the more generalist HR advisors.

What You Must Learn…Quickly

 Processes, processes, processes.  Often in larger organizations you will encounter a whole new level of process, administration and bureaucracy.  Agency environments on the whole are very good at cutting through all of this to focus on the fun stuff like making sales, generating revenue, and celebrating the success. 

Not so internally. 

You will also need to quickly upskill in HR.  One internal recruiter was blissfully unaware of the broad scope of issues that internal HR departments must responsibly and legally address in comparison to agency recruitment.  Another found that the internal politics played by HR required a great deal of pushing back.  Some HR Managers are very happy to give internal recruiters as much rope necessary to hang themselves if it saves them doing the work. 

You can also drop that constant willingness to please that characterizes many external recruiters.  A wrong hiring decision will come back to haunt you and the fault will be laid squarely at your door.  You will have to ensure that people understand the risk of their decisions and not get giddy with excitement as the jobs start piling up. 

Other areas you will need to learn will be public speaking, induction days, mentoring and training.  Also bear in mind that negotiating salaries will take on a whole new dimension.  In reality agency recruiters don’t usually hold much sway when it comes to these negotiations, but when hiring managers are relying on you to get value for money for the company the idea of negotiating with a candidate takes on a whole different aspect.

Some Final Words of Advice…..

Each of my contributing internal recruiters were asked to provide one piece of advice to any external recruiter considering making the move, a selection of which are as follows:

“A lot of recruiters think that internal is the easy option and there are no sales / business development responsibilities. This is not the case at all, you constantly have to sell yourself (not literally) and the service you can offer to the business.  People and relationship building skills are paramount to your success as an internal recruiter and you need to be 110% committed to maintaining these skills on an ongoing basis despite all the politics you will encounter.” 


“Don’t move inhouse because it is perceived as the easy option. A lot of the time you have the same battles that you would have externally and need to remain focused without having specific targets and the rewards and recognition you get externally.”


“Make sure that you know what you are in for and don’t expect to earn the same kind of money you would in external recruitment.  If your experience is anything like mine, you will be rewarded far more in other areas and will find the move back to external recruitment very difficult – so make sure it’s what you want to do!”

“Think about what you enjoy about recruitment.  The world will become your client company.  You will not have the scope of view outside that organisation so you will need to work hard to keep market knowledge fresh.  Understand you will not necessarily have the tools and support of an agency and you will have to do a lot of planning.”


“I think it’s important to remember that although there is no cold calling it doesn’t mean you are not going to have to ‘sell’ your service, candidates and your expertise to hiring managers. Also the pace within an internal model can be slower than that of an agency.”


“Be sure you know why you are considering the change.  I’ve seen several colleagues attempt the Agency to Internal Recruitment move only to subsequently return because the environment was “too slow”, “not challenging enough”, “too full of politics” and worst of all “pays peanuts in comparison”.  Focus on what you like about your current role and be sure that that need will be satisfied by the change you are considering.”


Sincere thanks from Rice Consulting for the fabulous contributions received this week.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Dan Salter says:

    An excellent and well balanced post Jonathan. Lots of food for thought in here for those considering the move. Thank you.

  • Yes, I agree with Dan. I really well written piece, Jonathan. Well done. Complusory reading for anyone contemplating the jump to the other side of the desk.

  • Lesley Hardy says:

    Bravo Jonathan

    A well researched and accurate account of the differences. Having worked externally and internally now, I totally endorse the need to have a strong personal brand, not be so willing to please and to truly understand that having a strong customer focus is about tailoring and targeting your approach to effect a solid outcome, rather than just giving the “punters” what they want.