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Why Third-Party Recruiters Attract Better Candidates than Internal Recruiters

As companies grow, they often hire full-time internal recruiters. This is done in an attempt to be more efficient and to cut back on the fees being paid to third-party search firms.

However, there is a significant downside to reducing or eliminating your usage of external recruiters: your company will find it more difficult to engage top talent. In this article, you will learn three reasons why third-party (external) recruiters attract better candidates than internal recruiters.

1. A conversation with an internal recruiter is more threatening.

If an internal recruiter from one of your company’s competitors called you today about an opportunity, wouldn’t you be at least somewhat concerned that word might get out if you had a conversation? Even if the recruiter assured you the discussion would be confidential, you would still probably be a bit nervous about speaking.

On the other hand, there is plausible deniability if a search firm asks you to have a conversation. You could just be trying to build your network. Or, you could just be trying to get some market intel. Or, you could just be interested in connecting with someone to help with hiring needs at your current organization.

It’s much less threatening for a candidate to take a call from an executive search firm than an internal recruiter. In addition, it’s much easier for an external recruiter to get past an executive’s gatekeeper- because of the plausible deniability mentioned above.

2. Internal recruiters cannot tap into the power of intrigue.

When I execute a search externally for a client, I never reveal the client’s name in an initial email, inmail, or voicemail to a candidate. Instead, I describe the client in a concise, compelling way that is designed to pique curiosity. For example, if I was leading a search for Nike, I would not leave a message and say that I was working on a search for Nike. I would say that the role was with “one of the world’s leading athletic apparel and sports equipment manufacturers.”

Even if you weren’t looking for a new role, wouldn’t you be curious to find out who the position was with? Is it with Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, or someone else? You might respond to me just to satisfy your curiosity, even if you thought that you had no interest in a new position. Then, I would at least have a chance to get you to consider it.

In comparison, internal recruiters are simply not able to create intrigue with their initial outreach. It’s obvious who a role is with because that’s who the recruiter works for. This is a problem because some candidates will not respond to an internal recruiter simply because of a negative perception about an organization.

Note: I am making a big assumption that all external recruiters never reveal the name of their client in an initial message. In reality, some do. Even worse, some attach the job description in the initial message. So, when you consider hiring a search firm, ask what they would say in their initial message to candidates. They should never mention your company’s name or attach a job description in their first message. You could hire an intern to email blast your job spec. Your search firm should be much more thoughtful with their approach.

3. Internal recruiters have fewer opportunities to overcome objections.

If your company is less-established, there will be candidates who will not know who you are, and there will be others who will be unimpressed by what they find online. Even if your company has a very strong brand, however, there will still be candidates who will have a negative perception of your organization for whatever reason. This is yet one more reason why internal recruiters are at a big disadvantage.

Many candidates will immediately write off an opportunity once they see who it is with. (This is another reason why I never reveal a client’s name in an initial message.) A live conversation provides a much better opportunity than a static message to explain why a role is compelling. In addition, a live conversation provides a chance to overcome potential objections and questions from candidates. However, internal recruiters often never get the chance to have a live conversation with a candidate.

Internal Recruiters are NOT Less Talented

In case it’s not clear, the point of this article is NOT that internal recruiters are less talented at recruiting than recruiters who work for third-party firms. There are many internal recruiters who are extremely good at what they do. In addition, many of them once worked on the agency side, so it’s not as if we are talking about two completely different populations here.

Internal recruiters are at a deficit because of the limitations of working in-house. It has nothing to do with ability. As discussed above, internal recruiters cannot overcome the fact that some candidates will be uncomfortable about speaking with internal recruiters. In addition, internal recruiters lack the ability to create intrigue in their initial outreach. Lastly, because some candidates always have negative perceptions of an organization, it will always be more difficult for internal recruiters to get some candidates on the phone and to overcome their objections.

Take any external recruiter and put him in an internal recruiting role, and he will immediately find it more difficult to engage top candidates for the same company. The opposite is also true. Take any internal recruiter and have him execute searches for the same company, but from the agency side, and he will immediately find it easier to engage top candidates. (Again, this assumes that he does not reveal the client’s name in his initial message.)

No matter how many people an internal recruiter can get through to, an external recruiter of similar ability will always be able to get through to more top candidates. What if your internal recruiters have been able to attract top talent to your organization? Imagine the kind of talent that you could attract if you used external recruiters as well.

A Final Story

I was once part of a search team that helped a tier-two consulting firm recruit a rising star out of one of the world’s premier consulting firms. Our client retained us because there was no way their internal recruiters would be able to get face time with candidates at this much more prominent firm. We succeeded because I didn’t mention the name of my client until I got the eventual placement on the phone and learned about her career aspirations first.

Are you curious who the client was and which company the placement came from? Well, there is some more proof for you that building intrigue works.

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About the author: As the Founder of Stronger Talent, Pete Leibman recruits exceptional leaders for innovative sports, fitness, and wellness companies. Throughout his career, Pete has helped clients recruit exceptional leaders at the Board, C-Suite, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Manager, Managing Director, and Director levels. Pete’s work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and, and he is the author of two books and over 250 articles on career management, peak performance, and executive recruiting.

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