Thinking About Hiring a Recruiting Firm? Here’s How to Get Started

From sourcing vendors to managing your relationship, here’s everything you need to know to get the process started.

Thinking About Hiring a Recruiting Firm? Here’s How to Get StartedThinking About Hiring a Recruiting Firm? Here’s How to Get Started

When deciding whether to hire an external recruiter, you have to consider three things: time, money, and quality. How much time do you have to make the hire? How much money are you willing to spend? And what quality of candidate do you want to find?

There’s a give and take between these elements. If you want to save money, you’ll need more time. If you move quickly, you have to spend money. Both saving money and hiring quickly is doable, but you’ll likely sacrifice on quality.

Before joining Primary as Director of Talent, I spent eight years as a recruiting agency leader. Now, I’m building out Primary’s embedded recruiting offering, through which we provide companies in our portfolio support that ranges from building a talent acquisition foundation to sourcing candidates and managing the interview process. If you’re a Primary portfolio company, make sure to connect with us before hiring a vendor. And for founders outside of our network, it’s worth checking whether your VC provides recruiting support.

But if you’ve identified a hiring need, exhausted your resources, and realize you need to move quickly, then it’s probably time to engage a vendor. Here are the best tips to get started.

Referrals are the best way to meet the best people

Ask peers in your field and investors for suggestions of recruiters they’ve worked with. Do your research to make sure the best recruiters are still at the firms you’ve been referred to and haven’t left to start their own endeavor.

Look for specialization matches

Find recruiters who have expertise in your company size, your industry, and the level of position you’re hiring for. The more specialized a recruiter is, the quicker they can turn to their existing network and ramp a new search.

Develop a job packet

Before starting a search or engaging a vendor, make sure you have a hiring blueprint. This should include two different job descriptions, one that’s external, candidate-facing and one that’s internal, team-facing job. The internal description should detail exactly what work the hire will do, the necessary outcomes of this role, the required skills, and the attributes and character elements needed to align with your company culture. When providing these to your vendor, make sure to focus less on the title and more on the desired outcome and required skills.

You should also map out your hiring team. Who will be involved and in what order do they meet candidates? Do you know who is screening for what? Is the process efficient?

Interview vendors

Remember, the vendor you choose will be the face of your company to prospective hires. Use the interview to get a sense of their personality and style. Pay attention to how they pitch their own brand and services to better understand how they’ll sell your opportunity.

One of the most important questions to ask is “Have you worked on a similar search at a similar type of company in the last three to four months?” Answering “yes” means not only that they won’t be starting from a standstill but also that they should have a clear understanding of any pain points ahead. Take it a step further by asking for successful placements details and references.

Some additional questions include: What’s your niche? Do you specialize by location, industry, or company size? Can you walk me through a recent project?

Be a good partner

There are several things you can actively do to help your recruiter succeed.

First, clearly articulate your company’s value proposition for candidates. Recruiters want to sell an exciting opportunity, so give them material to work with, which can be anything from your mission to your leadership team to your VC. Work together on ironing out the initial pitch they deliver to potential candidates.

Second, keep clear lines of communication open. Not only do recruiters want to receive timely feedback, but they also want to see that you’re acting on their advice.

And third, keep your processes as simple as possible and ask your recruiter to weigh in. They’ll often advise you to cut out any take-home tests, which can be a momentum killer, and to get the founder involved to close candidates and put a bow on their experience. You can read about some of our best practices to build an effective, enjoyable interview process here.

Track metrics

Regardless of engagement type, some good metrics to track:

  • Time to decide on a candidate, from first interview to extending an offer: 15-20 days
  • Onsite to offer ratio, AKA the ratio of candidates doing onsite, team interviews to those receiving an offer: at least 3:1
  • Acceptance rate: Aim for at least 50%, though rates are often lower in the current market
  • Number of profiles submitted per recruiter per week: 5-10 but can vary by role and engagement type
  • Number of hiring manager screens, or first-round interviews, per week: 3-5 per search

Watch out for these common challenges and mistakes

I find founders often fall into one of two camps. Either they dive immediately into hiring vendors and spend tons and tons of money before stepping back to really figure out what they need, or they’re extremely resistant to spending any money and wait too long to get started. My best advice is to find a balance: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Before going with a paid resource, shake every tree in your backyard. Put out job descriptions on social, experiment with videos and marketing, and work your network. Lean on your VC—we’re essentially a free service with a lot of connections and we want to help you succeed!

At the same time, don’t wait until the house is on fire to start looking for a recruiter. Vetting, qualifying, and signing the right partner takes a long time. Many of the best recruiters are also booked out far in advance, so you want to make sure you can get on their calendar.

It’s never too soon to start building relationships with vendors. You never know when someone might leave your company abruptly or a board meeting might go in a surprising direction, creating a sudden, unanticipated hiring need. Don’t be afraid to network with recruiters, take calls, and ask for referrals.

Apply these learnings to your own team

If you’re working with your own internal recruiter, all the advice above applies. Set them up for success by being a good, coachable partner who provides clear expectations and regular communication.

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