How to choose a tech recruitment agency to work with

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Michael Andreyev
December 1, 2022
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Hiring the right person for a technical role is a challenging task. The tech job market has always been competitive and these days the need for technical talent is as high as ever, despite the economic downturn. Many companies, regardless of their size, find themselves in need of help from an external recruiter to fill challenging developer positions with candidates that are the best possible fit. However, choosing a tech recruitment agency that meets your requirements is as tricky as finding a great developer. In this post, we share tips on making the right choice.

Preparation

Before talking to headhunters, there are a few important things you should do. First and foremost, understand what kind of help you need. You must decide whether you require sourcing, screening, help setting up your processes or employer branding assistance. You should also know whether you need help sourcing in specific locations or running the entire recruitment process.

Unless you’re looking for help setting up the hiring process, having it already in place is very important before you start working with a recruitment agency. So, analyze your process and determine which steps already work well and which ones you need external help with.

The first thing to consider is your budget for hiring. Make sure working with a recruitment agency is included in it. Another prerequisite is figuring out when you need the candidate to start. If you have less than a couple of months or need someone for a fixed-term project, get a contract developer. Keep in mind that many tech recruitment agencies do not work on contract roles.

Next, line up the requirements for the position or, ideally, a job description. It should include employment type, must-have & nice-to-have skills, salary range, location and work arrangement. If possible, mention the interview process steps to give the candidates an idea about what to expect. If you’re unsure how to write the job ad, the recruiter should be able to help. We have a blog post on how to write a good developer job ad, so check it out as well.

If you need to assess the candidate’s technical skills, prepare a test assignment and estimate how much time it will take to complete it. We recommend doing a short interview with the candidates before giving them a test assignment as it has shown to drastically increase their motivation to do it.

One more thing you should consider is whether you can work with multiple agencies or only one external recruitment partner. If you can process candidates from several sources, work out how many agencies you want to work with simultaneously. If you wish to consider candidates from different locations or are hiring for several roles, partnering up with several agencies makes sense. Agencies can target different markets and profiles, but keep in mind that they may still contact the same people, which may hurt your reputation.

The next step that can make choosing a suitable recruitment partner easier is to decide on which terms you find acceptable in the contract with the external recruiter. Think about the guarantees you need and who you want to work with: a small company, a freelancer or a big tech recruitment agency.

When it comes to the agreement, decide on the collaboration model you want. Recruitment agencies usually work on a success fee only basis or a retainer, but there can be other models that are less common. If you’re not sure, we have a blog post on the pros and cons of working with recruiters on a retainer that might help you make the right choice.

The final step is to come up with the evaluation criteria. Create a go/no-go list or a scale to grade the potential partners after talking to each of them.

Make a short list of agencies to talk to

Once you’re done with the preparation, it’s time to make a list of agencies to talk to. Search for the best tech recruitment agencies in your location on LinkedIn or by Googling. It also makes sense to ask around - perhaps your colleagues or friends at other companies know someone and can recommend them to you.

Next, check out the reviews and references from the agency’s clients & candidates. Those can usually be found on Glassdoor, Google company profile or the agency’s website, but take the latter with a grain of salt.

Add as many agencies as you can find to a spreadsheet, with columns like name, website, contact details, reviews, fees and your rating criteria. Prioritize the list based on your preferences and then contact each one to book a call, starting with the most promising first.

Speak with the agencies

Make the most of the time on the call with the agency by preparing for it and asking them specific questions. See what they say to you - if they talk too much about themselves, come across as too salesy, overpromise and don't ask you any questions at all, especially about the position you need help with, then that's a bad sign.

Here are the questions we recommend asking:

  • How many years of experience do the recruiters have and how many years has the agency been in business? If they have been active for a few years, they should already have references, relevant experience, time-tested processes and a network of candidates.
  • How many candidates have they placed in the last year? The number of the candidates placed can indicate how efficient the agency is, although the difficulty of the positions they have worked on should also be taken into account.
  • Where do they find candidates? Knowing the sources they use can help you get a sense of the quality of the candidates you will get. It is also a good indicator of how broad the agency’s reach is and how they do the sourcing.
  • How are their processes structured? Let them describe the steps of their work: how they collect the information on the position, source & present the candidates and keep track of their progress.
  • Who will be your point of contact on their side? Find out who you will be working with and whether it will be one person or a team of recruiters.
  • Who will be the candidate’s point of contact? Knowing who will be talking to the candidates on your company’s behalf is important in order to understand how well you’ll be represented.
  • Where are their recruiters based? Will you be able to see them face to face? Being in direct contact with the recruiters can make the process smoother. However, it might not be needed unless you’re looking for help with employer branding.
  • How will they represent your company brand online and in private communications? Delivering the right message about your offer is essential for attracting the best candidates, so ensure the agency pays enough attention to communicating with the candidates properly and, ideally, has some quality control processes in place.

The next step is asking for a contract template. Most agencies have their own and strongly prefer to sign that. It is best to identify legal show-stoppers early on, so try to review the contract as soon as possible.

Grade the agencies you talk to according to the criteria you came up with earlier. Note the details, such as fees, contract terms and other aspects of potential collaboration that are important to you. Make a short list by filtering out those agencies that don’t fit your criteria.

Don’t ask for sample profiles or anonymized CVs. Doing this will slow down the process and is not necessarily a strong signal since the agency can show you the profiles of the candidates that may not be looking for work or interested in your position.

Watch out for red flags

As you make your way through the short list of agencies and your notes, pay attention to the following red flags:

  • Promises that are too good to be true, e.g. closing the position in less than a month
  • Promising to send too many candidates - quality over quantity should be preferred
  • Conversion numbers from one stage in the hiring process that are out of line with what you’ve seen in-house
  • Trying to shoehorn their active candidate into your position requirements: some recruiters working on a success fee only shop around active candidates they are already working with rather than finding the profiles you need
  • Not asking questions about your position requirements upfront
  • Not asking about your needs and strengths when it comes to hiring
  • Working without an agreement

Evaluate the agencies with these red flags in mind and filter out those that don’t fit your criteria.

Do background research

If you still have doubts, do some research. Look at the agency’s track record, such as the profiles of managers and recruiters on LinkedIn. If you're uncertain, you can ask the recruiters to provide references from clients they worked with that were in the same industry as you or were looking for similar profiles. You can even reach out to previous clients and ask them about their experience with the agency. Real-life examples and success stories will help you make a decision.

Summary

Choosing the right tech recruitment agency involves a few key steps. First, prepare in advance by making your position requirements and hiring process as clear as possible. Second, talk to more than one agency. Ask the right questions and pay attention to how the agency representatives carry themselves and what they ask in return. Third, check the contracts and address any potential red flags or doubts by doing background research to narrow down the list to a few agencies before signing.

You may want to work with one or two agencies to see what the experience is like. Make sure to set clear criteria for what you expect to see from each agency a couple of weeks, a month and two months into your collaboration. If the criteria aren’t met or you run into other challenges, you should be able to easily stop the collaboration without significant downsides.

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