What should a good Agency <> Client relationship look like?
David Judge, Partner
My first ever placement made in 1999 was a mid-twenties female who joined Nokia as a Radio Planner. By 2010 she was leading the Telecoms Operations for the London Olympics Games, a huge undertaking. I had maintained a good relationship and was responsible for recruiting a number of her team.
A framework of good service has enabled me to build repeat business with clients like this, and I value it highly. Clients that equip and allow me to do my role in the most professional manner; clients that buy into the quality led process that I offer and will value it. I am fortunate in retaining relationships with key industry decision-makers that sprang from a great first-time experience, and for me personally, applying my values and aligning them with the best service I can offer has provided my ultimate ambition to be realised – to co-found and run a business with people that I trust and love working with.
However, throughout my career, I’ve come to understand that the recruitment industry is not always held in the highest esteem. When I speak to senior leaders and hiring managers within my network, they tell me that it’s factors such as the recruitment industry being unregulated, low barriers to entry and the great variation in the levels of professionalism and service that earn us our often poor reputation.
My view of what an agency should offer a client starts with what an individual recruiter has to offer; this is a combination of their approach and their processes and can make them stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, the relationship between client and agency must be a joint venture, a partnership that should ensure the very best experience for both parties whilst also focusing on the quality of experience for the candidate.
Engagement and establishing credibility
For me, this relationship is defined by key touchpoints:
Warm calls initiate relationships. In my experience, cold calls do not yield a high percentage of returns, and too often recruiters make unsubstantiated promises of unique selling points. Can a recruiter offer a genuine unique selling point?
The common end goal for all is to source the ideal candidate. It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel and make the truthful claim that we are applying a practice that has never been done before anywhere else globally. Is this overselling or wishful ambition? A referral point for work undertaken in the marketplace or an existing business relationship between the agent and a decision-making hiring Manager will warm the first conversation between client and agency. As a recruiter, this relies on being well-networked, operating knowledgeably in a niche sector or market.
If the agency is engaging the client, then the recruiter should display a level of research that exceeds knowledge that can be gleaned from a website or press releases. For me, this means speaking with someone who is, or has been, employed by the client. The level of insight they can provide is invaluable; the culture of the company, how it is viewed internally, whether they are innovative and progressive, whether they are aspirational to work for. Knowledge of recent organisational changes, of a newly embedded tech stack or the hiring of new leadership, gives me an edge in my first conversation.
As standard, you should always be aware of the marketplace that the client operates in and be able to talk about examples of where you have supported clients with similar resourcing needs in the same or adjacent markets.
When moving towards creating a formal working relationship, many agencies simply receive, scan read, sign and return the Terms & Conditions of Business supplied by their client. As a Partner in a recruitment business, I adopt a more considered approach. A commercial partnership has to work for both parties and, as a business, we have found ourselves in a position where we have carefully reviewed and then challenged clauses that are not in the spirit of a commercial partnership, particularly in cases of candidate ownership, fee levels, rebate penalties and payment terms.
In my experience, clients are happy to discuss and alter terms if they can understand the business rationale and you are able to articulate the benefits for both parties. To not fully analyse terms, in my experience, is a short-term view that is transactional in nature as opposed to having a firm footing for a long-standing business relationship.
The role briefing
My time is valuable and I want to present any role in the most professional manner for my client. I engage best with clients who invest the time to give me a personal and detailed role briefing. Too often a role description does not contain the key information that prospective candidates want to know:
- What projects will I be working on when I join?
- How far through the transformation programme are they?
- Who will be the senior stakeholders that I will have to be a prime interface for?
- What is the structure and make-up of the team I am joining?
In addition, I would like the channel to ask further questions that arise, that are often the difference between the candidate committing to the interview process or not. A good agent should have the courage to refuse taking on a role if their own network and level of expertise isn’t appropriate for sourcing the role.
A recruiter is judged on two things:
- Their ability to deliver
- Their manner of engagement and delivery
If the client has empowered the agent to position the role correctly they can really sell it to candidates, answering questions knowledgeably and acccurately, putting the role and the client in a favorable light.
The interview process
The quality of the role briefing given will directly affect the quality of the interview briefing given to the candidate by their agent. If the agent has worked with the client for a period of time, they can give a really nuanced brief to include culture, staff engagement, transformation objectives, flexibility on location & working hours.
If the client is new, it is vital that a line of communication is present to check on this type of information; this will apply for 2nd & 3rd interviews, where case studies, business plans and presentations are often requested and the agent acts as the conduit between the two parties. A good role briefing can ensure the candidate enhances their performance at interview and allows them to ask insightful and relevant questions when prompted to do so.
The offer process
A good agent will have strategically managed the potential offer process from the very first call and ensure it aligns with the remuneration package set out by the client. This relies on an open exchange of information with the agent, drawing out the current remuneration details and then providing the candidate with the comparative package offered by their client.
The conversation is not dictated simply by monies but it is key to progression in line with the role itself and the career progression it offers. After four to five initial candidate calls, a good agent will know if the package offered is commensurate with the marketplace and must feedback and advice on their findings.
A good agent will continue to re-qualify a candidate’s financial expectation to ensure a sudden request for an increase does not occur pre- or post-offer. The level of detail provided by the agent should cover every possible base: decisions can hinge on losing bonus payments due, on walking away from vesting shares, on flexibility to work from home and aid childcare. In return, the client should flex where it is sensible, reasonable and enables the deal to be completed. This sometimes can lead to innovative solutions that give the candidate the confidence to join a progressive employer.
The outcome – acting as a consultant as well as a recruiter
A recruitment consultant – what should they do? What do they actually do?
The question is often asked, do recruitment consultants just recruit or can they offer a more consultative approach? In theory, every year you have operated in the marketplace should ensure that you can provide an enhanced quality of service to your client that goes far beyond presenting a candidate’s cv.
Personally, after 21 years in the industry, I hope I have accumulated sufficient knowledge to talk about market trends, new and emerging technologies sought after, current methodologies and transformation techniques being applied and on new working flexibility being provided.
To me, consulting means offering a wide range of advisory services given to a client and I would advise any recruiter to focus on the following 8 key areas to deliver success:
- Specific domain marketplaces (i.e. mobile network operators, semi-conductors, technical consultancies, etc.) and mapping of target companies for specific skills
- Market salaries and packages for specific levels (to a granular level to ensure an accurate comparison can occur)
- Ensuring role descriptions are best in class to attract candidates and helping refine the requirements
- Challenging clients on briefing calls if the wish list becomes idealised rather than realistic
- The level of financial offer that should be made aligned with the individual requirements that need to be taken into account (i.e.: time spent in the office, an ability for dependents to be added to a healthcare scheme, allowances to continue with an MBA that requires time off work – these have been recent situations that we have advised on)
- Ensuring the Client understands what is most important for individual candidates; this has the net benefit of ensuring questions at each stage of the process
- Feeding back to the Client on the personality of the candidates I am submitting, how they will mesh into the existing team, the extra value they will bring as a person
- Successfully recruiting the right candidate for the Client within a framework of service excellence.
Above everything else, a good agent will seek to be a best in class communicator who can invest their own personality into the process. I enjoy the job I do and I look to reflect this in conversations. As an upbeat character I enjoy building relationships with a wide array of people. I don’t want every conversation to just be focused on recruitment, I want to understand the drivers for people, their interests, and what makes them tick. And that helps me to help them.
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