Surviving as an Agency Recruiter


by Ben Batten

In this day and age, when there is more competition in the market than one can even fathom, agency recruitment can no longer be just waiting for the phone to ring, with a job getting called in on the other side. Even for someone who has seen only the last 2 years in this profession, recruitment has always been more than just finding the right candidate for a particular requirement but it is now more than ever that the “Business Development” part of our job rings true.


The biggest change that I can see is probably the increased focus on building quality in-house Talent Acquisition (TA) teams. This wasn't such an issue a number of years ago when just the sheer volume of requirements meant that internal TA teams were very overwhelmed and it was I believe an easier time for agency recruiters. However, there is a changing market dynamic in Asia and companies seem to be keen on ramping up hiring outside Singapore and keeping headcount low here in Singapore. This, coupled with the strengthening of internal recruitment teams, has made it even more important for us to differentiate ourselves and display our true value. For a variety of reasons, I don't believe that agency recruiters will be rendered absolutely obsolete though it is certainly important to understand the dynamics of internal TA teams and how to work with this.


Given that there is still plenty of opportunity out there for agency recruiters, what can we do to up our A-game?


1) Be a specialist 

Given our constant battle with internal recruiters, one of the biggest advantages we have is being a specialist rather than a generalist across all fields. When you are trying to cover too many disciplines, chances are you end up not knowing enough details, thereby unable to understand perfectly what a client is looking for and so you end up losing out. Cover a small area but cover it well and really know all there is to within that field.


2) Proactive Candidate Interactions

Too often we fall into the trap of waiting for a role before we speak to good candidates. If you want to be successful at recruitment, you will be constantly speaking to good candidates, even when you might not have a specific requirement for them at that stage. Following from this, you will also know where to market them and will actively do so. This ties up with being a specialist recruiter, an expert in your field, as only then are you able to tell the good candidates from the great candidates.


3) Regular contact 

It's amazing how simple this is, and yet how many of us forget to do it. The toughest thing to do is build that relationship with a candidate/client and the easiest thing to do is sustain it, with a phone call, with a meeting every now and again. The irony? That we always put in effort for the former, and as little effort as it takes to do the latter, we just don't and ends up being our biggest downfall yet. Businesses and organisations change at a moment's notice and the worst feeling is discovering a client whom you met just a month ago, having a requirement that you were not aware of.


4) Understand the businesses and their needs

More often than not, we always ask our clients what their team structures are and what their business plans may be for the coming year. Besides just asking the right questions, we need to be able to listen to them and really understand what they are saying. The more successful recruiters in the market are the ones who even go a step further and make a client realise what they need before they have even realised it themselves! This leads me to the next point.


5) Keep abreast of trends in the market 

This probably applies more to technology recruiters than others but is definitely very crucial. If you understand what the technology trends are, what skillsets are going to be crucial, you will ensure you are speaking to the right people in the market, and trying to create opportunities where seemingly none might exist.

At the end of the day, if you believe that you will be able to find the candidates in the market after a role has come to you, you're wrong. Especially given the nature of the Singapore market, your candidates are no longer just "your" candidates. After all, this is their career on the line, and so they will be loyal to the recruiters that are able to create opportunities for them, and rightly so. Recruitment today is more an art, a creative form and the ones who realise this and do what they can to hone their relevant skills, are the ones who will ultimately stay ahead of the game.