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Human ResourcesRecruitment

Return To The Dark Side

By August 29, 201313 Comments

This week’s Whiteboard scribbles are brought to you from the feverish pen of Sean Walters…


Something strange is happening. Regular Whiteboard readers may remember my blog bemoaning the number of burnt-out agency recruiters migrating to the perceived warmer climates of internal recruitment. Well it seems that the tide is ever so slightly turning.

We’re not talking a full blown take-photos-of-you-food-via-instagram-type trend, but there certainly seems to be an increase in recruiters walking away from the plum internal roles to hit the phones hard out back in agency land.

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Just off the top of my head, I need two hands to count the number of recruiters who have returned to their agency roots, with the likes of internal recruitment poster boy Richard Long making the move from Shine Lawyers to Madison just last month.

So what’s the story? Is it a sign of the long awaited return of the “good ol’ days” for agencies, or are the corporates just getting it wrong?  For Richard it seems that it was the pull from agency rather than the push from internal;

“The opportunity to be able to bring my experience in talent acquisition and broader talent management, along with my strong interest in business and put them both to use inside a really successful and entrepreneurial business…was very appealing”

However, it would seem Richard is in the minority. Another ex-Internal Recruiter (who we shall call Recruiter X) feels that for all the claims made during the interview process, the reality of an internal role was quite different:

“I found in-house too constrictive, prior to starting the role sounded very strategic and commercial but fell short of my expectations when I actually started.”

Another ex-Internal, this time from the banking industry, was drawn back to the dark side by:

“The opportunity to actually recruit, not just process! And to never have to be laboured with Taleo, Snaphire, SAP or Peoplesoft again.”

It seems to be a recurring theme across both current and ex-internal recruiters that too much of their time is spent processing, with very little opportunity to do what we’re actually good at. We all know superb recruiters who are to administration what Amy Winehouse was to sobriety. I’d be nervous handing these recruiters a colleague’s birthday card to sign, and yet HR are entrusting them with writing employment contracts.

The same recruiter scoffs at the idea that the increasing sophistication of Internal teams spells the end for agencies:

“Define sophisticated. Let’s be honest, most internal functions are step up first and foremost as a cost saving measure. There will always be a place for agencies, we are an independent third party that both candidates and clients rely on. Interestingly when internal recruiters and managers are looking for a new role they quite often come to agencies.”

So what does Recruiter X think of the notion that us agency types no longer have relevance to the big corporates?

“That’s certainly the message many internal consultants are pushing, but the reality is as an internal recruiter you typically don’t have the time or inclination to really cover the entire market.  Particularly when you have a powerful brand behind you, there is an expectation that the talent will come to you.  Which isn’t the reality.”

Similarly, another defector who has worked internally both overseas and in Wellington before returning to agency….

“I got fed up with my colleagues constantly bagging agency recruiters. Most of the team started in agency, and it seems that the ones who failed were the most negative. As a function we kept forgetting that both we and our suppliers had a common goal”

So maybe it’s time to roll out the old “grass isn’t greener” cliché? If you’ve have a tough week at your agency desk, but managed to sneak out a placement, headhunted a candidate, and, heaven forbid, supped a couple of cheeky beers at lunchtime, then you may be having more fun than the Internal Recruiter who just deleted your unread email.



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.


  • Luke Collard says:

    Great post Sean. I think many of us were suspicious that the push to internal, both from individual recruiters looking for an ‘easier gig’, and corporates looking to save costs was flawed. Individuals have clearly found they ar swapping one set of challenges and dislikes for another set and corporates are not getting the desired results ( I find it funny that they talk about success in terms of fil rates, speed to hire, cost of hire etc…often with little focus on quality of hire).
    I think anyone with a well rounded view of recruitment appreciates a need for both agency and internal and that they should be working closer together on every element…strategy, execution, cost etc. In the last 6 months we have seen a lot of internal roles be the first to be chucked on the scrap heap when cost cutting comes around, or have become shorter term contracts – evidence in itself that this model is not the be all and end all for anyone.

  • Adrian Coysh says:

    I had to look at Linkedin to see what Richard Long’s background was, but it does not look like he has ever worked in Agencyland. It will be interesting to get his take on how he views things on the dark side after a long internal career and whether this confirms or otherwise the opinion that businesses have of Agencies.

    My concern has been that a number of people who went to an in-house role somehow proved the myth that a lot of Agency recruiters really were cowboys (remembering a lot of these people were not failed recruiters, but just a victim of GFC). Hopefully this was not the case, and reinforced the worth of Agency people being able to assist in specialist areas where the skills of the in-house people were lacking.

  • Amanda says:

    Makes me think of a conversation recently about the swings and roundabouts of centralised HR and devolved HR models. There are pros and cons to both.

  • pk says:

    As an internal recruiter, I guess it all depends on who you work for, how that company perceives you and how much free reign they allow you. I don’t think I’d go back to external recruitment, because I am viewed as a strategic partner in not only talent sourcing, but also remuneration, succession planning and engagement. I do get to recruit (not just process), and I get to see the results of my labour – whether it’s someone I recruited smashing their way through a project or the company reaching headcount (and therefore financial) targets because of the work I am doing. Something you just don’t get when you work externally. Sure, there is a money aspect to external recruitment that can be rewarding, but to be honest I’m pretty well remunerated with a stackload of benefits which you don’t tend to get at an agency. As for internal recruiters being administrators or processors, there are plenty of agency recruiters who fit this bill, sending out irrelevant or unwanted cv’s (without prior consultation) just to meet some KPI target.

  • Agency and In-house Contract Recruiter says:

    The reasons given by Richard are very similar to the reasons that an agency recruiter would give to an internal recruitment manager!
    Good on Richard for joining the world of agency recruitment, it’s great fun and very rewarding and I hope that he thrives at Madison. But his expectations might be shattered against the cold rock of reality when he experiences some of the more frustrating aspects of agency recruitment. In my experience, and this is especially true from agency recruiters who have been in the game for 5 years or thereabouts, they (we?) tend to want to start consulting and sharing our knowledge to affect recruitment outcomes. Anyone who puts their desire to consult, add value and advise ahead of activity, productivity and placements, is probably going to become a little disillusioned in time.

    Note: I’m generalise the market here, I’m sure the odd exception applies.

  • Richard Long says:

    Hey Sean,

    Poster boy – perhaps these posters you refer to resemble those seen on Crime Watch?

    The great thing about the NZ market is there’s significant opportunities across both internal and external recruitment. Pockets of excellence and opportunity are everywhere – I think its about the stage you’re at in your career, where your interests lie and most importantly how you connect with the business, its goals, values and people.

    From what I’ve seen many of our objectives (both internal and external) are the same. How can we create better value for clients, candidates and shareholders? How can we drive quality in everything we do? How will we innovate and differentiate – how will we compete? How do we increase capability and create depth? How do we make a great thing even better?

    It’s about good business at the end of the day and for me its very exciting to be testing my ability in what is currently a very exciting market!

  • Brad says:

    The back alley fight scene from Anchor Man pops to mind when I catch up with internal and agency recruiters over a few rounds.

    An odd thought for Friday.

  • Kevin Chappell says:

    Good comments Sean. That’s my experience in recent times. As the market gets “tighter for talent” (and it is), the internal recruiters just won’t have the time nor experience to work the networks we have, and have had for years. Recent placements in the last week have been a direct result of failure of a client’s internal recruitment and their Preferred Providers. After an absence of a year or so, another has made contact due to failure to find people. So, yes, agree with you that external recruitment is experiencing extended daylight hours again!!

  • Richard Long says:

    So pros and cons to both seems to be the upshot of this discussion?

    As Business Improvement Manager here at Madison I’m very lucky to have an internal focus – driving capability, quality and excellence whilst also helping clients on the value add/project side. Internal recruitment was very good to me and my time leading Talent Acquisition teams at Deloitte and Shine Lawyers Australia invaluable – I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

    I think there are significant opportunities for my own growth from a business perspective and for the growth of the agency side in general. I’m not particularly interested in agency vs. internal debate or who is viewed as a strategic partner and who is viewed as a cost centre. Having built and led large TA functions and spent a long time looking at the industry I can say without doubt that the whole “strategic partner” thing is bandied about too much and possibly not always reality! What I’m really interested in is good people, good business and constant challenge.

    In the few weeks working across the group of companies at Madison I’ve been staggered at the capability, commercial focus and quality output of everyone here – I hope I can keep up!

  • James Cozens says:

    Hi Adrian – in response to your Agencyland comment – Richard has worked on the Dark Side – I worked for the same recruitment company, albeit many, many years ago when Resman was state of the art technology and we had many years still to go until we tweeted a single tweet, Liked, Friended or Linked.

    He was good then, he was good after, and I am sure Madison have got a damn good recruit.

  • Lily says:

    Love it