My Linkedin updates indicate an increased number of good recruiters with decent tenure at their existing agency are leaving their current employer to join another recruitment agency.
The motivation for agency recruiters leaving their employer to set up their own agency is mostly about freedom to be their own boss and the potential for asset building. Agency recruitment offers one of the best potential returns on start-up capital (but not always – see my 2018 blog on FutureYou) and many recruiters dream of grow-and-sell as their ticket to an eight figure retirement. Sometimes this happens, mostly it doesn’t.
When a recruiter leaves to join another agency, rather than set up on their own, the most common themes, in my experience, are:
1) Money: the offer of a larger base, a ‘better’ commission scheme or the potential of equity are all significant lures. The hidden trap for many recruiters is the ‘better commission scheme’ is only better on paper or in theory. The likelihood of earning better commission in practise is what most recruiters fail to examine closely. Many recruiters fail to understand, or value, the support resources supplied to them by their employer that provide a strong platform from which to earn commission. Marketing support, para consultants, candidate managers, resourcers, Linkedin licences, events, functions, and tech support are just a small sample of resources recruiters don’t directly pay for that are indirectly paid for by a ‘lesser’ commission scheme. In my experience, the higher a commission scheme the more the recruiter needs to do themselves and the fewer the resources provided to them by the employer.
2) Culture/leadership: Leaving for a ‘better culture/leader’ can mean many things but at its core what it means for most recruiters is they aren’t enjoying their existing culture/leader and there’s the promise of a better culture/leader elsewhere. Working with happy and high-performing recruiters who work collaboratively and a paid fairly for their performance is how most recruiters would define a culture that they want to be part of. A high billing consultant I talked to recently left his current employer, even though he was largely happy, because he had noticed a steady decline in what he regarded as the agency’s high-performance culture (i.e there was a tolerance for mediocrity that was never present previously), and, worse, the leadership appeared ignorant of, or indifferent to, this decline.
3) Career development: Some recruiters aspire to recruit more senior roles, recruit in new markets, lead a team or simply have the opportunity to learn by working alongside better recruiters. If recruitment agency is small and not growing consistently, the opportunity for a recruiter to access these career development options is small and limited.
4) Ego: All three of the above can be present for a recruiter however the ego-stroking approach of a good rec-to-rec or well-known CEO of another agency can have a recruiter feel underappreciated, or taken for granted by their current employer. The warm glow of feeling important, wanted, and courted can be irresistible to many recruiters, especially if they are in the middle of a bumpy quarter, or have unresolved issues or concerns with their manager.
5) Working arrangements: In my time as an agency recruiter there was only one working arrangement – five days a week in the office. Today the options of a four day week (for five days pay), fully remote work or hybrid work create clear differentiators for recruiters seeking something other than five days a week in the office. Although there may be no significant issues for a recruiter with the four areas , above, at their existing employer the lack of a requirement to attend a physical office, could be the deciding factor for a recruiter whose personal circumstances or motivation may have recently changed.
The single-most important thing a leader can do to minimise high performing recruiters leaving for another agency is to talk to them regularly. Keep close to your key people to know when their loyalty may be under threat.
Whether it’s over coffee, lunch, office drinks or in some other (informal) setting the one-on-one attention of a leader sends a clear message that the leader values the recruiter. This attention maximises the likelihood the recruiter may initiate a conversation that reveals, implicitly or explicitly, they are a flight risk.
The best recruiters become the best because they stay close to key people in their network.
The best people leaders with the best retention rates in recruitment agencies become the best because they stay close to their key employees and recognise, and act on, signs of flight risk.