In-house recruiters “not as trusted as we should be”; agency roles changing

Source: Shortlist

In-house recruitment teams are constantly competing with other business units for influence and credibility with senior leadership, say top internal recruiters, who also reveal where agencies can continue to win their business.

Speaking at the New Zealand RHUB conference in Auckland yesterday, Keith Muirhead, group recruitment manager of NZ’s largest listed company, Fletcher Building, said one of the biggest challenges for internal recruiters is developing credibility inside the business.  Fletcher has about 30 internal recruiters, 19,000 staff, and expects to hire between 1,400 and 1,500 people this year.

Muirhead says in-house recruiters often have to battle with marketing and communications teams, for instance, to develop their employer branding and social recruitment strategies the way they want them. Recruiters also frequently find themselves excluded from key business discussions, he adds. “The connection with organisational development teams… is generally kind of weak; we tend to be kept away from succession discussions, and we don’t necessarily understand where high-potential talent is.

“I think, generally, we’re just not as trusted as we should be, considering that our role is the face of the business and we’re among the first people that [potential employees] connect in with. It’s a real shame and a challenge we need to fix.”

Amanda Tolley, recruitment manager at casino Sky City Auckland, says internal recruiters often find themselves asking, ‘Why didn’t you think to talk to us about that?’ Sky City has 3,000 staff, a team of nine recruiters and makes about 1,600 hires a year – some 38% of which are internal appointments, following a campaign over the past two years to increase internal mobility. Although internal recruitment leaders do need to encourage the rest of the business to see them as having a strategic role, the fight for a seat at the table doesn’t necessarily stem from the recruitment function not being taken seriously, Tolley says. “Yes, it’s a constant battle, but I think it’s because of the pressures on each business unit to perform, usually while having less resource and requiring more [output].”

What is the agency’s role?
Asked how agencies, particularly perm specialists, can keep winning business from big employers that are increasingly self-reliant when it comes to recruitment, Tolley says managing the candidate experience is something agencies can continue to offer. “It will be about how they sell the candidate on the opportunity, and how they court them through the process. For us as a business, it’s very much in a specialist skill area and we may not have the volume or the ability to manage it.”

Tolley says Sky City recently completed a search for a senior leadership role, in which it came up with its own shortlist, but asked one of its external suppliers to reach out to the candidates. “I knew we didn’t necessarily have the brand to attract them, so I engaged an agency, one of our key partners, to make that approach for us.” Referring to Andy Headworth’s comment at the conference that most big players are striving to directly recruit 80% of their hires, Muirhead says that in most large New Zealand companies with their own in-house recruitment functions, the figure is closer to 95% or 98%.

In-house teams focus on economies of scale and aim for the “easy stuff”, he says, so there will always be a place for boutique specialist agencies. “The challenge is in how they position themselves in terms of knowledge. “If the organisation is really, truly looking for the best person in the market, and that’s going to take two weeks of research, we don’t necessarily have the resources to do that. So [for recruiters] it is a case of figuring out what those roles are… that the internal models are going to struggle to fill, and focusing on those markets, because the low-hanging fruit is all gone.”

Muirhead says he looks for agency recruiters that have tenure in their niche.  “The people who understand the reputations of all those people in their market, over a long period of time, that’s the real value and that’s something internal models will always struggle to replicate.”

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