The 4 questions you need to ask recruitment specialists


A recruitment specialist critiques her own profession and offers advice.

With more than 7,000 recruitment agencies in Australia (and most of them banging on your door) it is tough to decide who to work with in a largely indistinguishable market. It seems every recruiter out there is an ‘expert non-transactional specialist with a proprietary search methodology who has access to deep global networks’.

According to a study by Leadership IQ, 46 per cent per cent of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19 per cent per cent will achieve unequivocal success. So it has never been more critical that you align yourself with the right talent acquisition partner.

That’s difficult. Because the reality is most recruiters are candidate brokers who focus on volume and speed, rather than quality. They are working for free 90 per cent of the time, so they spread the risk (which is why “your” star candidate is shopped around to all their other clients).

If any recruiters read this article they may hate it. But I can guarantee that if you ask the following four questions you will dramatically improve the talent acquisition process for your organisation.

1. What are your metrics?

For example, what percentage of roles do they close? The 2017 Agency Recruiting Benchmark Report from Bounty Jobs notes the industry average in contingency recruitment is 10-20 per cent. If the agreement is a retained model that number the to 80-90 per cent. So you need to know what their interview to placement ratio is.

There is a lot of industry discussion about the value of passive vs active candidates. A passive candidate is one who is not actively seeking out a new job. They are usually happily employed and not looking for work. It’s likely that the passive candidate is a valued employee making worthwhile contributions to their current place of work.

So, what is the recruitment specialist’s ratio of placed passive candidates to placed active candidates? You want to hear a higher weighting to passive candidates. No-one wants a shortlist of the best people available at that particular time. You want the person with their head down delivering a result, the one who is not even thinking about their next move.

Also, what is the specialist’s stick rate; the percentage of their placed candidates still employed after two years? Don’t forget to check the metrics in their field of specialisation.

2. What does your search process look like?

Cut through the secrecy of the industry and get your recruitment specialist to open up! You want them to do more than offer a stack of resumes. A successful recruitment process should have something like the following four stages in place.

Research – How will they map the entire market? And once it’s mapped, how will they determine who the top performers are? How will they engage with them in this war for talent?

Selection – How do they determine the shortlist?

Due Diligence – Will they facilitate working interviews for you?

Retention – The recruitment industry is rife for a ‘bums on seats’ attitude. So what happens after they place a candidate – how do they ensure the candidate is embedded correctly? And how do they ensure candidate retention after the guarantee period?

3. Do you have an off-limits list?

If they do, which companies are on this list? Recruiters typically can’t headhunt from their clients for a year or two past their last placement. The longer the list, the less options you have available to you. This is a key reason why the larger firms are not necessarily the best.

And be very careful if they don’t have an off-limits list. Because that means you’re not off-limits, even if you’re a client.

4. How will you sell our Employee Value Proposition?

It is critical, in the modern ‘war for talent’, that your recruiter creates a compelling invitation which cuts through market noise. They should be clearly differentiating you from other organisations. If instead your recruiter is running around the market with poor messaging, they are poisoning the well. They are making it so much harder for you to recruit in the future. Candidates will ask questions like, “Why is that company always recruiting?” and, “What’s wrong with that business?” This is a real phenomenon in the candidate market.

Ask your recruiter how they will embed themselves in your business to get it right.

Kara Atkinson is an Executive Recruitment Expert with 18 years’ experience in helping people continue to build and transform themselves throughout their careers.


With AHRI’s course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations’ you will gain the skills necessary to a smooth recruitment process.

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The 4 questions you need to ask recruitment specialists


A recruitment specialist critiques her own profession and offers advice.

With more than 7,000 recruitment agencies in Australia (and most of them banging on your door) it is tough to decide who to work with in a largely indistinguishable market. It seems every recruiter out there is an ‘expert non-transactional specialist with a proprietary search methodology who has access to deep global networks’.

According to a study by Leadership IQ, 46 per cent per cent of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19 per cent per cent will achieve unequivocal success. So it has never been more critical that you align yourself with the right talent acquisition partner.

That’s difficult. Because the reality is most recruiters are candidate brokers who focus on volume and speed, rather than quality. They are working for free 90 per cent of the time, so they spread the risk (which is why “your” star candidate is shopped around to all their other clients).

If any recruiters read this article they may hate it. But I can guarantee that if you ask the following four questions you will dramatically improve the talent acquisition process for your organisation.

1. What are your metrics?

For example, what percentage of roles do they close? The 2017 Agency Recruiting Benchmark Report from Bounty Jobs notes the industry average in contingency recruitment is 10-20 per cent. If the agreement is a retained model that number the to 80-90 per cent. So you need to know what their interview to placement ratio is.

There is a lot of industry discussion about the value of passive vs active candidates. A passive candidate is one who is not actively seeking out a new job. They are usually happily employed and not looking for work. It’s likely that the passive candidate is a valued employee making worthwhile contributions to their current place of work.

So, what is the recruitment specialist’s ratio of placed passive candidates to placed active candidates? You want to hear a higher weighting to passive candidates. No-one wants a shortlist of the best people available at that particular time. You want the person with their head down delivering a result, the one who is not even thinking about their next move.

Also, what is the specialist’s stick rate; the percentage of their placed candidates still employed after two years? Don’t forget to check the metrics in their field of specialisation.

2. What does your search process look like?

Cut through the secrecy of the industry and get your recruitment specialist to open up! You want them to do more than offer a stack of resumes. A successful recruitment process should have something like the following four stages in place.

Research – How will they map the entire market? And once it’s mapped, how will they determine who the top performers are? How will they engage with them in this war for talent?

Selection – How do they determine the shortlist?

Due Diligence – Will they facilitate working interviews for you?

Retention – The recruitment industry is rife for a ‘bums on seats’ attitude. So what happens after they place a candidate – how do they ensure the candidate is embedded correctly? And how do they ensure candidate retention after the guarantee period?

3. Do you have an off-limits list?

If they do, which companies are on this list? Recruiters typically can’t headhunt from their clients for a year or two past their last placement. The longer the list, the less options you have available to you. This is a key reason why the larger firms are not necessarily the best.

And be very careful if they don’t have an off-limits list. Because that means you’re not off-limits, even if you’re a client.

4. How will you sell our Employee Value Proposition?

It is critical, in the modern ‘war for talent’, that your recruiter creates a compelling invitation which cuts through market noise. They should be clearly differentiating you from other organisations. If instead your recruiter is running around the market with poor messaging, they are poisoning the well. They are making it so much harder for you to recruit in the future. Candidates will ask questions like, “Why is that company always recruiting?” and, “What’s wrong with that business?” This is a real phenomenon in the candidate market.

Ask your recruiter how they will embed themselves in your business to get it right.

Kara Atkinson is an Executive Recruitment Expert with 18 years’ experience in helping people continue to build and transform themselves throughout their careers.


With AHRI’s course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations’ you will gain the skills necessary to a smooth recruitment process.

Leave a reply

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