Partnership working with recruitment agencies

As discussed in our last article, there are a number of services that agencies can offer including staffing solutions for short and long term vacancies, Immigration advice and support, payroll and benefit administration and Human Resource consultancy  etc. Employers and HR professionals can choose to access these services on a purely ad hoc basis, for example, when they have an urgent or ‘hard to recruit’ position.  Agencies are adept at filling these recruitment needs; however this is not the most effective way to engage an agency or get the most out of working with them.
Research from by Chartered Institute in Personnel and Development in 2007 and 2008 indicates “where HR and recruitment agencies are committed to developing and maintaining close relationships, the outcomes for both parties are more positive.”  When HR/employers and agencies work in collaboration they are “more likely to experience increased efficiency, reduced bottom line costs, enhanced employer/ agency brands and the delivery of strategic goals.”
The fundamental characteristics of a good partnership are the same whether the relationship is personal of professional.  Trust and understanding are essential ingredients, but these cannot be achieved overnight.  Rather, they evolve over time and are the product of sustained open communication and involvement, and delivery on commitments made or, in the context of business, consistent service delivery. 
In essence, HR/employers and recruitment agencies are working to achieve the same goal, recruiting the right people for the organisation.  As the saying goes ‘two heads are better than one’, and working collaboratively with an agency can be advantageous as the consultants bring a wealth of experience, expertise and current market knowledge.  To maximise their effectiveness they need to have a shared understanding of HR/employers recruitment goals and insight into what is important to the organisation.  While recruitment consultants can work to job descriptions alone, matching candidates who have the qualifications and years of relevant experience with the requirements outlined, this does not ensure that the best fit for the company is found. 
Spending time communicating the corporate brand, ethos, values and culture will enable agencies to get a better ‘feel for the company’ and an appreciation of ‘who’ the organisation is looking for. With ever increasing demands on HR and employers, spending time in one or more meetings with an agency may seem like an indulgence they can’t afford.  There are a number of benefits to making this time and resource investment. 
First, having gained a sound understanding of your business goals and objectives, the agency consultants are better equipped to advertise, source and select the right people for the organisation.
Secondly, getting to know the agency consultants and the agency’s culture, ethos and values gives HR/employers a sense of who is representing them in the marketplace.  It is important to remember that the consultants will be dealing with potential future employees of the organisation. 
Gaining a sound insight into the company enables agency consultants to better represent the organisation to their candidates, communicating the company brand accurately and more effectively.  Some companies include line managers in the recruitment process and encourage their involvement with agencies.  Where this happens, agencies have additional first-hand knowledge to share with their candidates, maximising the potential to secure the correct match of candidate to company and team.
Having an agency that is able to proactively market the organisation to candidates, adds value to the employer brand and, like ‘word of mouth’, it is excellent free advertising.  HR and employers should encourage and motivate recruitment agencies to act as ambassadors for their organisation in the marketplace.  Agencies likewise benefit when HR/employers feel confident in recommending them to others potential clients.
In practical terms, the initial meetings offer an opportunity for both parties to discuss a range of issues such as volume of work, terms and conditions, timescales for recruitment, costs and service level agreements etc.  It is important that these issues are discussed openly in order that both parties are clear about expectations and have a solid foundation going forward. 
Frequent and open two-way communication is key to the ongoing development of a partnership approach.  Regular progress updates on current work are standard.   Effective partnerships will involve wider discussions with HR/employers advising recruitment consultants of organisational developments and anticipated recruitment needs.  Consultants can then be ‘on the lookout’ or can proactively advertise for prospective candidates thereby developing a pool of potential candidates in preparation for new vacancies.  
HR/employers can tap into the knowledge and expertise offered by agencies such as information on current market trends, salary benchmarks, changes to legislation and immigration etc.  Agencies can likewise be proactive about where they can add value. This approach is supported by CIPD findings that “the most productive relationships had a strong emphasis on clear two-way communication that lends itself to a culture in which it is acceptable to challenge and discuss issues to reach agreeable solutions.”
Finally and it may seem obvious, but partnerships that work are those where both parties feel satisfied that they are benefiting from the ongoing relationship.  Agencies need to maintain excellent service to HR/employers, meeting their recruitment needs and providing ‘added value’ services.  Likewise HR/employers should assist agencies in gaining a deep understanding of their organisation,  providing full briefings from the outset, keeping them abreast of developments and thereby increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency to meet shared resourcing goals.


Step up to training and recruitment by Lindsey Gordon, SteppingStones Training and Development Ltd