Ask A Recruiter: Should I Hire An Agency or In-House?

We’re kicking off a new blog series,“Ask A Recruiter,” featuring Greenhouse’s own Caitlin Wilterdink. In this column, Caitlin will answer questions we’ve received from the recruiting community. If you have a question, leave it in the comments’ section, and be sure to sign up for our Modern Recruiter Newsletter so that you don’t miss an answer!

Dear Caitlin,

I’m the only recruiter at my company. We’re a startup, but growing very fast. I need some help. Should I hire an in-house recruiter or an agency? What should I look for?


Solo Sue

Dear Sue,

In my experience every growing company waits too long to bring in Recruiter Number 1 (that’s you). So from day one, you’re already behind on hiring and you should assume you’ll need to bring in additional headcount.

In your first week, or even before your first week, evaluate how many roles are currently open and the headcount plan for the year. (No headcount plan? Take your best guess then.)

How much recruiting power you’ll need boils down to simple math: compute the number of hours it takes you to hire one candidate. Include in the calculation weekly goals like the number of phone screens can you do in one week, how long it takes you to send 20 prospecting emails, how much time you spend closing candidates, etc. Make sure to build in admin hours for things like data collection, vendor management, role kick off meetings, and the inevitable desk drive-bys we all get.

Once you have a number that shows the number of recruiter hours per week needed to hire one candidate, multiply this number by the number of hires you need to make each quarter. Chances are, your final figure will add up to something like 100 hours per week. No human, no matter how caffeinated, can work this many hours a week. And here’s your argument for hiring additional headcount.

Now whom do you hire first? A recruiter? A coordinator? A sourcer?

I think a lot of solo recruiters get overwhelmed with logistics, so their first internal hire is a coordinator. I’m not crazy about this idea - if I am not scheduling candidates, I lose valuable touchpoints with them. Hiring an associate or recruiter is more impactful; they can help with sourcing, build target lists, develop messaging, and so on.

What does an effective recruiter look like? I don’t think you need to look for a specific number of years or focus. Recruiters have the ability to speak with people with all different backgrounds. Don’t limit yourself to candidates with a recruiting background -- people who have done things like bartending or retail are often strong candidates. Here’s my list of must haves when I am looking for an awesome recruiter:

  • Ability to drive conversation with junior and senior talent.  Would you be comfortable putting this person in front of your C-Level executives on day one?

  • Understands how companies work and can quickly ascertain organization structure. This is a critical skill for sourcing (is a tech lead at Google the same as a Tech Lead at Greenhouse?) and when working to develop relationships with hiring managers

  • Tenacity: ability to ask hard questions, reset searches, and approach recruiting with optimism

  • Integrity:  any candidate you consider should have a basic understanding of employment law and should understand what information should be kept secret.

  • Does the candidate take recruiting seriously? Does he or she take pride in her job?

In addition, you should consider hiring a dedicated sourcer, especially if a high number of your open headcount will be filled with passive applicants. (I assume the majority of my engineering roles and any manager roles in business functions will be passive hires.) A fully ramped sourcer can send out 150 - 200 well crafted messages to passive talent each week and then pre-qualify any interested leads that crop up in this group.

Now, recruiting recruiters is a double edged sword. Any time you spend recruiting for your team is time you can’t spend recruiting other roles. This is where agencies can come in handy. The caveat to that is that agencies shouldn’t fill all roles - you need to be strategic. Don’t pay 20% agency fee for a junior candidate. Agency candidates should be senior or have very specific technical skills.

Retingent agencies (or in-house agencies that charge a retainer and fee per hire) can also be a good bet. Since retingent are inhouse they tend to drive higher volume and do much of the initial admin, like phone screens and coordination, for you.

Your goal should be to ramp down any agency partnerships as you hire and train up your team.

**Disclaimer: I have definitely not practiced what I preach at Greenhouse. I waited too long to start hiring my own team. So this is your chance to learn from my mistake and start hiring early.

Good luck and happy hiring!



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Caitlin Wilterdink

Caitlin joined Greenhouse in October, 2014 as employee #42.  Before Greenhouse, she managed technical and product recruiting for Conductor, Inc. another high growth, NYC based startup. Early career included stints as an agency recruiter and paralegal. She’s tried, and failed, to learn how to code and instead spends her free time figuring out how to Greenhouse @ Greenhouse. Other free time activities include hosting bar trivia, marathon-training and conquering an acute fear of flying.

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Recruiter Tips