Talent Acquisition

Recruiters: 5 Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd

Let’s face it – there are a lot of recruiters out there. I mean, a lot. You might think there a lot of possible sandwich combinations at Subway (over 2 million according to Subway themselves), but that is nothing compared to the number of recruiters there are. So, amongst all this noise, how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? Recruitment is a strategic activity, and yet a recruiter is rarely treated as a strategic partner by their clients. Here are five tips to develop better relationships with your clients, and become a partner to your clients, rather than just a vendor:

1) Specialise:

How many times have you seen an agency that claims they are “experts” in IT, Mechanical Engineering, Sales, Medical, Legal and Telecoms recruitment? Newsflash, folks – a generalist is not an expert. To use a comparison, when you visit a Doctor, your GP is a generalist: they have a broad overview of a range of different areas. A GP is fine if you have a minor complaint, but for anything more complicated, you go to a specialist consultant because they have spent years studying one particular part of the body to become an expert in it. If you are working a PHP Developer role at 9am, a Paralegal role at 12pm, and an Anaesthetist role at at 3pm, the odds of you doing a good job on any of those roles is zero. Focus on a single industry, and learn everything you can about it, so when you talk to a Hiring Manager, you sound like an expert – not a clueless generalist.

2) Find a Focus:

This leads on from specialisation. Even focusing on a single industry, there is a huge amount of variation within it. Working in IT recruitment, I worked a range of roles for a number of companies, but over time I found a niche area to focus on. I was fascinated by digital agencies (companies that provide digital services, such as website and application development), and focused my business development heavily on that area. It meant that I got a really good feel for how digital agencies worked and what the culture was like, so I knew what type of person they looked for. I won a number of clients within The Drum’s registry of top 100 UK digital agencies, and I could then use this, and the reputation I was building with my existing clients, to find new clients and new candidates. I was often told how much more knowledgeable I was than other recruiters the agencies used. The upshot? Clients began to consult with me on their recruitment, rather than simply treat me as a vendor.

3) Be Exclusive:

In a sales job, business development is king: you can’t rely on your existing clients for all your work, and, for a healthy pipeline, you do need to bring new clients into the fold on a regular basis. However, where many recruiters go wrong is to focus simply on winning the business, rather than thinking about what type of client they want. As I have argued time and time again, you want clients you can build relationships with. The best clients I had would work with me on an exclusive, or near-exclusive, basis. This gave me the time to get to know them and their business, and work far more consultatively with them. One of the worst clients I ever had was one of the first I won; I didn’t realise it (because I didn’t ask – newbie error!), but the client in question handed out the job spec to every single recruiter who called. Recruiting for them was a nightmare; every candidate I spoke to had been approached at least 30 times about the job (which pissed off the candidate), and it was impossible to actually speak to the client in any meaningful way. We probably all have, or have had, clients like this. Be exclusive – fire clients you don’t want to work with.

4) Creative Sourcing:

Most contingency recruiters operate in a pretty standard way: get a requirement in, post jobs on the job boards, search your database for matches, and hammer LinkedIn and job boards for candidates. But, recruitment is (and always has been) a job about making connections. Sure, you should be doing those things, but you should also be doing the things that your competitors aren’t: take candidates to lunch to get to know them better. Sponsor or set up a local conference in your area of speciality. Help set up a user-group, with regular meetings, for candidates with particular skills. Don’t just be a recruiter at the end of the phone! Find a way to get face-to-face with people. It may be a cliché, but people do business with people: find ways to make face-to-face time happen and it will pay dividends. Ultimately a recruiter will be judged on how well they can deliver on providing great staff. The better your network is, the easier that will be.

5) Be Proactive:

As a recruiter, your remit is pretty clear. Work with the client to help find them the best candidate for their vacancy. However, the best relationships aren’t business-only; this is why so many deals are brokered on golf-courses! Be proactive in your relationship with your clients. Whilst organising some corporate hospitality for your clients is a great way to do this, it can be expensive and time consuming. Even simple things help; as an example, I saw on one of my clients’ websites that they were planning a staff outing to York, where I live. I called the Hiring Manager, had a chat about their trip, and suggested a few places for them to check out, which he was grateful for. The next week I was the first person he called when he had a new role come in. Keep an eye out for opportunities to be proactive. For example, hiring legislation in the UK is constantly changing. When a new law comes in, why not call the client and offer to run them through the key details, and what you are doing to comply? This is a great way to show your worth and act as a strategic HR partner, rather than just a vendor.


One of the key pieces of advice I was given when I started was to treat your desk as your own business. That means taking responsibility for the way you operate. The best recruiters I know all do the things I’ve detailed above, and more. They are highly successful, and feel pride in their relationships with their clients. If where you work doesn’t let you operate the way you want to, then it’s time to find a new job – or, better yet, start your own agency.

By Andrew Fairley

Andrew Fairley has recently completed an MA in Management with The York Management School, focusing on strategy, innovation, HR, and organisational behaviour, and has just begun a PhD investigating the UK internet startup industry. Prior to this, he spent 2 years as a Recruitment Consultant, working with clients from SMEs to blue-chips, sourcing IT staff.  You can find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.