BIG FIRM vs the little man

Posted over 4 years ago by Charlie Robinson


With our incessant calling, emailing and texting…how do you pick a recruiter out of the thousands out there to represent you and your company? Having the right message delivered in the right way is crucial for all businesses especially when it comes to attracting talent.

As the owner of a small business I’m clearly not objective with my views around the big firm’s vs the small players. However, I’ll continue with this blog from my perspective, some people will disagree and they are very much entitled too, this is just my opinion. There are two main aspects I identify as being the most important factors for choosing a recruiter.

  1. Do they have the candidates in their network or database?

  2. Will they be able to manage the process to completion in an honest and transparent way?

There was a time when the big global firms dominated the market through their database and network but with linkedin and social media mapping a market has become far more achievable even for the one man shows, essentially we all have the same database now and the days of an average consultant from an industry leader beating an excellent consultant in a startup 90% of the time just isn’t the case anymore. This then leads on to in-house recruitment, why even use a recruiter when you can go out and find these people? Actually some of the large financial institutions are doing this very well and for some recruiters their market is disintegrating, however unless you have a team dedicated to just sourcing for a very particular skill set it is very hard to really cover a market and find the very best people. When I go back and look at the placements I’ve made over the past three and a half years in Asia, it is really interesting to see that about 80% are from referrals and recommendations not from adverts or linkedin. Although these are very important tools for us and as recruiters we cannot rely on them, there is a real lack of quality control.

At the level of recruitment I cover (Director and above) in a good year I’ll place around 15 people, to get to this I need to meet around 8 candidates a week (4 new candidates & 4 existing candidates). Which gives me a hit rate of around 400 meetings to 15 placements, providing I take a couple of holidays (which is looking less and less likely this year). The question hiring managers need to ask is, can this recruiter get in-front of the right people and do they understand what we need?

A massive network is useless if you don’t understand the client. One area that is hugely undervalued during the recruitment process is the personality match; this is the most important aspect of a search as far as I’m concerned. If people aren’t similar enough so that they can get on but also different enough that they challenge each other it is never going to work. My advice is always to look at core competencies and personality together. Lots of new and groundbreaking software / websites are always claiming to be the answer to your recruitment needs by cutting out the pesky middleman and thus saving you lots of money and time. In reality recruitment is such a personal process these platforms don’t really pose much of a threat to recruiters but could be very useful if they worked with us.

As an industry, recruitment is not seen in a favorable light and i’m not surprised. The horror stories we hear day in day out make me cringe. It is very simple to choose a recruiter, before working with someone always meet them face to face and go with your gut feeling. If you meet someone and you suspect that they are actually an aggressive salesperson who’ll harass you to make the decisions they want then that’s probably exactly what they’ll be like. If you get a good positive feeling and the individual seems knowledgeable and honest, give them a shot. This in theory shouldn’t then be affected by the size of a recruitment firm involved but should be influenced just by the individual that you meet. However, the big recruitment firms are struggling to adapt with an ever changing and unpredictable market constantly loosing then adding headcount while also rotating staff internally. With a smaller firm this isn’t usually the case and there is generally less movement, the last thing you want is to meet a great recruiter from a big firm to be told three weeks later someone else is taking over the position as they had left / been moved to a different desk.

Closing the deal is also a very delicate process and as a hiring manager always ask about your recruiters track record (not the company they work for but them as an individual). We do add value in this area but only if throughout the whole process we are asking the right questions. Closing a deal isn’t just a matter of piling on emotional pressure at the end of a process but about a constant dialogue which allows both parties to understand each other’s concerns, what we do is make sure if it can work it does work!