Small Business

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Recruiter

Outsourcing the task of filling open jobs to a headhunting agency can be expensive. How to decide if it's worth the price

Written by Kat Tancock

Choosing the right candidates for job openings can be an onerous task. With the time required to write job descriptions, circulate postings, sort through resumes and screen top applicants, it’s understandable to want to outsource the effort.

But when is it worth it to hire a recruiter, and when is it not? Here, four experts weigh in on the pros and cons.

Con: Recruiters might not understand your culture

“A large part of our hiring practices is culture fit,” says Beth Boyle, co-founder and principal at Vancouver public relations firm Talk Shop. “On paper they can have the skills, but the culture fit might not be there.”

When bringing on new team members, Boyle and her colleagues like to sit down and meet with candidates and get a sense of how they might work together. Letting a recruiter start the process means missing out on that crucial first meeting.

Pro: Recruiters have good contacts

“Typically we recommend recruiters for harder-to-fill positions,” says Cissy Pau, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver. “They have their database and will go and search for candidates for you.”

This isn’t so essential for junior positions with a higher number of potential candidates. But for more senior openings, especially those that need to be filled quickly, it can be useful to have someone pounding the metaphorical pavement to hunt down the right person for the job.

“A recruiter is a huge asset when we’re talking about recruiting senior employees such as a director or VP,” says Melanie Rego, founder and president of Elevator Communications in Toronto. “Recruiters can quickly get you in front of very suitable candidates.”

In addition, recruiters can be useful when you don’t want to advertise that you’re seeking new team members, notes Lisa Kay, owner of Peak Performance Human Resources Corp. in Toronto. “Headhunting agencies have large databases, may already have candidates and can post confidentially,” she adds.

Con: Recruiters are expensive

“The biggest con is that they’re not cheap,” notes Rego. With fees running from 15% to 35% of first-year salary, says Pau, “a company would really need to be able to justify that cost to go the recruiter route.” Using a recruiter to bring on a new employee with a salary of $100,000, for example, could cost some $25,000 or more.

Pro: You pay for what you get

Recruiters are normally compensated based on what they achieve, notes Pau, meaning that you’ll pay them a percentage of the new employee’s yearly salary provided that person stays on for a predetermined length of time. “They usually will offer some sort of guarantee,” she says—for example, “they’ll guarantee the placement for three or six months.”

Con: Recruiters aren’t the only outsourcing option

Kay notes (with admitted self-interest) that many companies hire recruiters when they might be better off with an HR consultant, who can do recruiting work for an hourly rate that is often better value for a small company’s needs, especially if you’re posting more than one position. “They can do postings, screenings and initial interviews,” she says.

Pro: Recruiters can help fill gaps

A recruiter can come in handy when you need to bring people on for special projects, notes Boyle. Talk Shop, for example, uses select recruiters to bring on staff for street teams and events they conduct on behalf of clients, when they need a large number of people quickly and for a short period of time.

Con: You have to cede some control

“You need to make sure you vet your recruiters well,” says Pau. “They are essentially an extension of your company.” Because you’re letting a third party do business on your behalf, she adds, it’s important to make sure they are representing you as well as possible—and to understand that making the best use of them means letting go and not micromanaging.


Have you ever used a recruiter or headhunter to fill a position at your firm? Share your experiences using the comments section below.

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