My (albeit short) experience of working in the talent team at Lion confirmed what many of the best recruiters already know – that internal functions, if aligned properly within their businesses, are just as competent as any of the best recruiters operating in an agency environment.

This article orignally appeared on LinkedIn

...or so the cliché goes from the world of big agency recruitment! We’ve heard this and other ‘pearls of wisdom’ many times over – being perfectly candid, I may have even uttered a few myself in the past:

“Internal recruiters are generalists and not specialists”

“They move likes molasses to deliver a solution”

“They just chuck an advert up on Seek and see what happens”

“Internal recruiters simply can’t recruit”


…and so on and so on.

My (albeit short) experience of working in the talent team at Lion confirmed what many of the best recruiters already know – that internal functions, if aligned properly within their businesses, are just as competent as any of the best recruiters operating in an agency environment.

Organisations like Lion, the big 4 accounting and advisory firms and a plethora of other companies are getting it right. In some instances, companies are reducing external spend on recruitment fees to as low as 5% of their budget for recruitment over any given year.

The reality of this situation poses two fundamental questions:

1. How should agencies approach businesses with sophisticated internal competency?

2. On a more general level, what does this mean for recruitment agencies in the future?

Speaking to Holly Maginness (Head of Talent at Lion) and Jamie Hampson (Senior Manager of Executive Recruitment at EY Asia Pac) it’s abundantly clear that agencies better buck up their ideas if they want to have any hope of partnering with such businesses in the future.

Asked what prompted her to align her team in such a way, Holly stated:

“Our model wasn’t broken but I felt we needed to up our game in terms of delivering market intelligence and bespoke advice regarding future talent planning. By aligning subject matter experts to disciplines we now have a proactive function who provide thought leadership and know their candidate markets intimately.”

Pushed on how agency fits into this model in the future, the message is clear:

“We need support in niche areas, where you can buy in the SME. Contingent labour hiring will always be a challenge and we’ll generally work with agencies who respect our approach to permanent hiring. Importantly we want to partner with businesses who see value in our approach and can look past the one-off fee to engender a mutually beneficial relationship.”

The alternative to this long term, relationship-driven partnership with the ‘big beasts’ is a road to ruin for agencies. A poor reputation can spread quickly in a small market like Sydney. As Jamie from EY commented:

“Don’t be rude, don’t try and cut corners when we have policies in place, don’t look down your noses at what is becoming a critical part of most progressive organisations strategic objectives (reducing recruitment spend). We obviously want to keep as much ‘in house’ as possible but will always use agencies who will partner with us and act as brand ambassadors to help us acquire the best talent.”

As a final thought Jamie mentioned:

“Internal recruiters talk amongst themselves – sharing the good, the bad and the ugly – I’m not sure many agency recruiters appreciate just how tight the internal community is.”

So then, how do we change the status quo?

For all of us in the ‘agency world’ we need to start thinking about providing content and thought leadership to the big corporates to assist with their talent acquisition and retention strategies. We need to respect and abide by the policies set and frankly, focus our hardcore business development activity on organisations with limited or no internal capacity.

In seven weeks at Lion I received an inordinate amount of calls, LinkedIn requests and speculative resumes. With karma at the front of my mind, I politely declined the opportunity to engage in further dialogue but ultimately walked away with the knowledge that the future of ‘internal vs. agency’ can no longer be ‘us vs. them’.

Collaboration will be the only route to success for both sides of the fence!

Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.