A Talent Acquisition Director’s dirty little secret 

A staffing company, recruiting solutions firm, strategic recruitment partner, headhunter …no matter what you call it, many internal Talent Acquisition leaders view recruiting companies as a last-ditch effort. I understand it. Why would you pay a company to come in and do what is perceived to be your team’s job? How are you to justify spending money on agency retainers or placement fees especially in the security cleared recruiting space? 

When you put it that way, it does seem like a tough expenditure. That perspective is what makes teaming with a recruiting company seem like it should be a ‘dirty little secret’.  

“To have a successful and Talent Acquisition strategy, you will need to flip the script from being reactive to proactive in your approach to your budget and external resources.” 

How are you currently using recruiting vendors?

Let’s look at a few typical scenarios when a recruiting leader might call on outside services to help with their workload:  

  • Your company was just awarded a new contract and you are now on a tight deadline to staff the program. This doubles your current workload and you have no time to hire and train a new recruiter.
  • A position has been sitting open for 60+ days and you are losing money every day the position sits open. If you don’t find someone by the end of the week, the prime will fill the position themselves.
  • Your team is spread thin amongst funded-open position, unexpected backfills and a time sensitive proposal. You barely have the recruiting resources for that coverage, let alone the best athlete positions available to your team. 

These are reactive examples  we typically see day to day. Reaching out to recruiting partners only when the wheels are falling off is hindering Talent Acquisition leaders from incorporating successful and strategic outsourced support.  A forward leaning approach is to finding a trusted partner that you proactively build into your strategy and budget before you need them. 

Proactive vs reactive approach to recruiting partnerships

 Photo by Sound On from Pexels

A Typical Scenario

You have an influx of positions open. Your team is spread thin, overwhelmed, and getting more burnt out daily. Your supervisors are frustrated with recruiting’s performance and the hiring managers are wondering where their candidates are. You’re now scrambling to find support from an agency who can take on your must-fill positions, but have no budget. You  may be hesitant to asking for budget as it might look like your team has failed. Once you do ask, you have to go through the burdensome task of executing contracts and hoping your new vendor can deliver… all while days are passing billable revenue is flying out the window.

Now, let’s view that same scenario from the lens of a TA leader that took the proactive approach to incorporating recruiting agency support into their annual recruiting strategy:  

You already have a plan in place, budget approved, and agreement signed with a trusted partner.  Positions are shifted to your partner, alleviating pressure from the internal team and  candidates start to flow in. This switches the perspective from looking like you are failing in a time of need to being equipped with a strategic solution.  

So, how do you go about this?  

First, identify your teams bandwidth and look at when you have considered partnering with a recruiting company in the past. What was the reason? Was it a couple hard to fill positions sitting open, an unexpected increase in positions, not having the internal expertise to cover niche positions? A recruiter quitting?  

Now create an outsourced recruiting plan around that. Allocate a budget towards surge support for times when you have more open positions than available bandwidth.

Next, test the market:  

Research to find recruiting companies that align with your typical needs. Not all agencies will be a fit for your company and very few specialize in finding candidates with security clearances. Compile a list of potential partners (think 2-5 agencies) that have experience in your  industry and schedule meetings with each of these.  In these conversations, you should be looking to qualify the agency has the bandwidth and understands the work that you do. Ask about process around communication and their strategic approach to sourcing/recruiting. It is also a great idea to hear about success stories recruiting cleared candidates for similar positions/situations.

After meeting with a few agencies you will be able to create a general budget based on their pricing and your anticipated needs. Draw out this plan and push it up the chain for review and approval BEFORE you have the need. Remember you are strategically building a plan for experts in their field to assist in a time of need based on your bandwidth. 

Over-saturating your own work

Pro Tip: signing up 10 agencies doesn’t mean you’re going to get 10 times the qualified candidates. In most cases, more than 2 agencies is unnecessary and can easily do more harm than good.  

If you open the flood gates to many outside resources, you are opening your time and potentially your Hiring Manager’s time to all these agencies. It is impossible to communicate critical recruiting information to everyone of these vendors (Check out our previous blog discussing why the right information is so critical). More agencies does not equal more candidates and good firms want to build successful and profitable relationships with their customers.  What you don’t want, is to become burdened by sifting through tons of unqualified resumes from vendors just throwing candidates over the fence. 

Additionally, When you send your positions out to partners, you want the confidence that those jobs are being worked. Recruiting firms are smart, they understand when multiple agencies are supporting an effort and take that into consideration when prioritizing their workload. Partnerships are better than “vendors”. Your partner wants you to be successful in hiring for your positions and you should want your partner to be successful in earning their fee.  A successful partnership really is a two way street. 

So be picky! Only sign on a couple agencies and make sure you have the time to actually communicate with those agencies.

Why Limit the amount of vendors I use?

Have you ever worked with recruiting vendors before only to get nothing back? I am sure you have and we want to tell you why. 

  • Recruiting cleared candidates is hard.
  • Vendors often work for free until they are successful.
  • Vendors will not tell you they are not prioritizing your jobs.
  • They have other partnerships that are more profitable.

Chose your vendor/partner like a teammate and understand for them to be successful, you will be interfacing with them frequently. High value is placed on access and speed of process. Vendors know there will be questions they can’t answer about program specifics and getting those answered as quickly as possible is a major impact on successful recruiting. You want them to be equipped with the information needed to successful and provide them with access to help the process move efficiently. Best practice dictates using trusted exclusive vendors that you frequently communicate and strategize with, it is impossible to this across a dozen vendors.  

What to look out for when selecting a partner

“We have qualified and cleared candidates on a bench waiting to send”  

Nothing and I mean NOTHING sends up red flags more than a salesperson saying they are just sitting on candidates for open cleared jobs. This signals a lack of understanding the space and cleared market or at the very least dishonesty.  

“Our team is off-shore and that is why we can offer low prices” 

Approaching the security cleared workforce with an offshore team is just not a good idea. Think about all the security training our workforce undergoes, especially in the cyber field. How open do you think that workforce is to speaking to offshore teams about their clearance, their work history, their mission, etc? 

We have 1 Million cleared candidates in our database” 

Using inflated database numbers as a proof point to any type of success in security clearance recruiting is a big nothing burger. Anyone can scrape data and dump candidates into a database, the hard part is building a relationship with candidates in a heavily competitive market.  

So, what do I look for? 

Honesty – Does something sound to good to be true, then it is. Looks for a partner that will shoot you straight rather than tell you what you want to hear.  

Knowledge – The security clearance recruiting space has a lot of nuances and it takes a partner that has an intimate understanding of the environment, market and policies related to the government contracting world.  

Strategy – This is a big key. How is your partner going to approach a difficult search, what is their methodology? Are they going to simply post and pray, or do they have a strategic and repeatable process that can deliver results?  

The goal is to partner with an agency that you trust, and have confidence in their ability to support your work in your time of need. After a week of working together you should know if it’s a fit or not. Communication is everything. Think of your recruiting partner like a teammate and pick one that you would be confident with representing your brand. It is a two-way street driving towards the same destination and a strong partnership will add continued value to your talent strategy.  

Happy Hunting! 

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