Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader: Agency Versus In-House Recruitment? In 2021and Beyond, It’s a Partnership.

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It’s the question of the century: Is it better to partner with an agency or rely on an in-house recruitment function? Having played in both worlds, I wanted to share my perspective.

I got into the recruitment industry back when it was considered an arm of consulting and in-house recruitment didn’t really exist. We partnered with business leaders, assisted them with the ups and downs of staffing, and became extensions of their brands in the market.

I’ll never forget one of my clients, a large television shopping network that needed my expertise within the technology arena to build out its multi-shift help-desk function. I was the company’s resource. There was no request for proposal; the leader worked with my firm due to my industry understanding and expertise, coupled with my delivery, action, and service. Quite simply, my team and I got the job done.

I transitioned to the corporate recruitment world in 2013. I made the switch because of conversations with my clients, who told me that although I had to go through HR, they were still using my services. I asked, “If you have an in-house recruitment team now, why are you still paying me all of these fees?” The response was unanimous: “Because you and your team find me talent.”

So there I was, thinking, “In-house talent acquisition needs me.” I eventually found myself at a company that had zero infrastructure in the talent acquisition space, where I proceeded to build out a global function across North America; Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and the Asia-Pacific region. The team grew to 30 members and incorporated operations and data analytics functions into the talent acquisition department. After six years, I embarked on transformational talent acquisition consulting projects across global consulting and insurance brokerage firms.

In my experience with the many facets and eras of talent acquisition, I have found that there are three types of recruiters: recruiters, good recruiters, and great recruiters. The type of recruiters you have on your team — whether in-house or agency — makes all the difference.

The Good, the Great, and the Rest

Let me start by saying that talent acquisition is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Being strategic in the talent acquisition function means understanding how your organization hires, what good talent looks like for you, and the particular market complexities you need to plan around.

That said, defining the level of competency in any recruiting team requires understanding whether you’re working with recruiters, good recruiters, or great recruiters.


Recruiters will watch the applicant tracking system (ATS), group all relevant resumes, and email them to the hiring manager. The recruiter will then ask the hiring manager to select candidates for interview, and then they will coordinate those interviews.

Typically, this type of recruitment professional sits on an in-house corporate team. Recruiters conduct a purely administrative function; they do not deliver any consultative market value to the business. Recruiters will typically be the first to volunteer to get out of the office for career fairs or delve head first into the internship program — anything to show the company they are busy.

Good Recruiters

Good recruiters will go a step further. They won’t just wait for candidates to roll into the ATS; they’ll post the position to LinkedIn to get some visibility in their network. They’ll closely review applicants who enter their pipelines, filtering out those who don’t seem like a great fit. Once this is done, they’ll group the remaining applicants and send them to the hiring manager.

Good recruiters will sit with a manager to learn more about a newly opened role — but they won’t proactively follow up or provide status updates unless requested to. Good recruiters are trainable. With some solid coaching, they can really step up their games.

Great Recruiters

Great recruiters are internal or external consultants to the business. They seek greater understanding about what is happening in the business as it relates to the industry. They assist hiring leaders in defining a strategic sourcing plan that works in the current state of the market. They work with hiring leaders to create brand statements that showcase organizational and team cultures and address why someone would want to work at the company. You will see great recruiters meeting with a firm’s marketing department weekly to help shape and execute employer branding efforts.

Great recruiters are usually the creators and deliverers of global interview training, helping organizations craft structured interviews, reduce unconscious bias, and develop effective diversity recruitment strategies across the organization.

Great recruiters are always sourcing and pipelining for their clients. They are selective about the organizations they work with so that they can strategically direct their time and talent for the good of their clients and candidate pools. Delivering to both clients and candidates is imperative to success, especially in an agency environment.

Where Are Great Recruiters Found?

In a nutshell, hiring leaders who want to see the most success will typically use agency partners in conjunction with their in-house corporate recruiters to cast a wider net for talent. It’s less about looking for great recruiters in a specific place and more about leveraging both agency and in-house teams for best results.

Let’s take a quick look at recruitment through the lens of 2020. While layoffs and revenue loss have varied from industry to industry, in-house recruitment teams have been downsized or even eliminated as a result of hiring freezes. At the same time, staffing agencies saw spikes in revenue as certain industries called on them for help.

What 2020 should teach talent acquisition is that workforce planning can’t simply fall under the overall human resources umbrella anymore. Quality talent searches and proper strategic sourcing, when done in partnership between recruiters and the business, create a better experience for the candidate, improved employer branding, and a higher-quality talent pool for hiring leaders. Everyone wins.

When in-house recruiters are not pipelining and developing long-term relationships with key players in the market, they can’t deliver quality talent to the business. Agency firms can act as business partners, strategically working with clients to watch the market and pipeline talent. Corporate entities often lose out on quality talent when they do not engage a competent partner within the agency recruitment model — and such partnerships will only become more crucial going forward.

Laureen Kautt, BCC (with additional Career Coach designation), is a global talent acquisition executive and the founder and principal coach of Volitionary Movement, LLC.  Confessions of a Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader is her recurring column onRecruiter Today.

By Laureen Kautt