· Features

So you think you can hire? Direct hiring v recruitment agency

The debate on direct hiring strategies versus recruitment agency has simmered on for years. Today as businesses continue to take a long hard look at their bottom line there’s been a definite trend towards cutting out the middle man and hiring direct.

On paper moving away from the agency model has much to recommend it. Aside from the obvious cost reductions we're also in age of the employer brand where everything from CSR policies to the interior design of the office must reflect the vision and values of an organisation. Handing over the delivery of recruitment to an external agency with its own motivations could be potentially damaging. With the right skills, strategy and implementation an in-house team is well placed to create a positive candidate experience.

A step on from providing a good candidate experience is the theory of candidate as consumer. The practise of affording a prospective employee the same consideration you would a client or customer is beginning to be considered best practice. And it's not a goal limited to sectors such as retail or service providers where candidates could actually form part of a customer base. Arguably in a world where reputation is all it's something that every organisation should factor into their recruitment strategies.

A prospective employee handled shabbily by a recruitment consultant can have a disproportionately negative impact on a brand reputation thanks to mediums such as Facebook and Twitter. Conversely, a positive candidate experience, whether the candidate is successful or not, can help enhance the organisation's brand.

Of course, taking the hire function in house doesn't guarantee a great candidate experience. There are skills and tactics that in-house professionals need to ensure are up to par if they are to perform as well as they could. Managing the offer process, for example, is one area where responsibility has traditionally been handed to the agency. It's a sensitive stage of the process, one that can make or break the deal, as well as affect what opinion a candidate takes away with them.

Delivered effectively direct hire strategies can also see HR teams achieving greater strategic influence with recruitment becoming about more than filling current positions. Recent research from Hyland and Software showed that 91 % of HR professionals felt that the biggest challenge to HR in most organisations will be to bridge the gap from transactional function to a strategic partner. A strategic HR team should be identifying skill gaps and predicting where business growth lies. Being able to identify not only the right employees for today but also those that with the abilities and vision to move the business forward is a huge opportunity for HR teams to assert their position around the boardroom table.

The Hyland and Software survey also showed that 46% felt that "failure to attract, develop, retain and reward suitable talent at all levels' was a barrier to boardroom influence." It seems then that for in-house teams actually identifying the 'suitable talent' to enable this type of strategic hiring is the biggest hurdle to overcome.

HR managers accustomed to sifting through previously vetted CVs complete can often struggle to target and attract the right candidates. The use of print advertisements and job boards can themselves be expensive and inefficient tactics. Where agencies have had the edge is their early adoption of the online tools and strategies available. Switching on to the benefits offered by resources like Linkedin and applicant tracking systems and understanding how to use them effectively are simple ways of improving candidate identification.

So, with in-house teams at least having the potential to out-perform agencies, does this, as predicted by many commentators within the recruitment space, spell the end for recruitment agencies? For volume hire and middle management roles, perhaps so. But, for higher level roles where very specific skills and experience are required and industry sensitivities dictate a more tactical approach there will always be a place for a third party. Agencies, executive search companies and head hunters have the networks, tools and negotiation skills that it's just not practical for companies to have on the payroll.

Where there is value for an organisation is having a skilled, experienced and well supported in-house recruitment team on board. Done well direct hire can be about much more than improving your bottom line and can make real strategic difference to an organisation, now and in the years to come.

Alastair Cartwright, MD at GR Online