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Working with recruitment agencies: assessing effectiveness

Every company wishes that all potential candidates find them directly. However, that isn’t always the case. Although we want to keep recruitment spend to a minimum, we also need to face the fact that external agencies are one part of our sourcing strategy.

The scenario we found ourselves in about 6 months ago will be similar in other startups. We needed to grow fast and we saw numerous agencies come on board, either through contacts from hiring managers, referrals from other companies, or direct contact with the talent team. We suddenly realised we were working with about 25 agencies and we couldn't manage them effectively. It became frustrating for all parties involved.

Therefore, we decided to rethink our approach and put in place steps to get to know each agency properly, to understand how they will represent GoCardless, and how we can assess their performance. Moreover, we want to work with and manage a realistic number of relationships.

Getting to know the agency

Recruitment agencies can be a helpful additional source for finding talent. Although a good relationship can lead to mutual gains for both parties involved, a poor fit can be very detrimental, wasting time for the team, hiring managers and even the recruitment agency itself.

Therefore, before starting to work with an agency we want to understand if the way they work fits with our company values. We’ve created a checklist of key points about GoCardless (e.g., who we are, our interview process, other logistics) and what we need to know about the agency in our initial discussion. For example:

  • What is the agency’s recruitment style & procedures?
  • Do the agency’s recruiters understand us as a company?
  • How do they usually prefer the interview process to be managed?
  • Do they care about candidate experience?
  • Will they be good ambassadors for our employer brand?

Sometimes, even if the agency is a good fit for a company we know well, it might not be a good fit for us and vice versa – it’s ok, not everyone is!

Agency Management

When we start working with an agency, we try to set up a short call every week or two. Although the call might not always be needed, it’s a useful reminder in case there are any issues we need to discuss, for example:

  • Particular feedback – positive or negative – on a candidate that might be more appropriate over the phone.
  • Particular feedback on profiles submitted, for example, if we’ve noticed a trend in the kind of profile that does/doesn’t meet the role requirements.
  • General updates on role requirement, compensation, or the interview process.

Once we achieve a good working rhythm, we agree with the agency on a number of profiles submitted per month. Although setting a number is not always feasible, it gives us a rough idea of the amount of CVs we can expect to receive from this source.

Assessing agency performance: the performance index

We decided to create an easier way to objectively assess agencies’ performance and keep working with only those that perform well on the things we care most about. The assessment is based on 3 criteria, assessed quarterly:

  • Rate of candidates advanced from CV screen to initial interview
  • Conversion rate of candidates from CV to offer
  • Rate of candidates rejected on what we call the GoCardless fit measure

The CV to initial interview rate: We expect that 70% of candidates submitted by the agency will make it to the initial screening call. We are more lenient with new agencies or new roles as we know initial CVs might be more exploratory.

The CV to offer rate: We expect to make an offer to at least 10% of candidates submitted by external agencies. Also, depending on the time and number of candidates the agency has submitted for a particular role, we expect to make at least one offer per quarter.

The GoCardless fit rate: One of the main advantages of using external agencies compared to job boards is that they will have pre-screened candidates. They should be able to evaluate whether candidates’ motivations and goals align with GoCardless’ values and what we can offer. Therefore, we expect that no more than 20% of candidates who make at least the first interview with us will be rejected based on these criteria.

The final index

Our index is split by department (e.g., engineering, marketing) and shows us how the agencies we’ve been working with in that quarter performed in these three criteria. Once the data is added, it updates the decision field to “Keep working with agency” if:

  • The agency has positive scores on two out of three of the criteria, and
  • The agency has a positive score on the GoCardless fit rate.

Looking at these criteria has allowed us to focus on the relationships we value most and end relationships that were not mutually beneficial (e.g., focus on quantity vs quality).

How can this system be beneficial to agencies?

We keep working with the agencies that are most successful in placing candidates. When we see a drop in performance, we’re able to look into it together and find ways to improve the relationship. We have done this in the past with two of our best performing agencies in which we noticed a drop in performance. We were able to discuss our and their challenges with the roles, understand where the profiles submitted were lacking, and have a general refresher on the role and teams.

How strict were we when implementing this system?

It took us a while to implement the assessment system, at least a quarter of trialling it to find if it aligned with our own empirical experience, and it is a process we're continuously working on. Initially we thought about making a “make-it-or-break-it” system in which the agencies should meet all 3 measures. However, we found that agencies might not meet all the criteria for extraneous reasons (e.g., changes in role requirements) and there is a level of flexibility that should be considered.

The only criterion we’re not flexible with is the ability to bring in candidates who demonstrate a good GoCardless-fit, giving candidates a good experience throughout the process, and building and maintaining a good relationship with our Talent Partners. The latter two fall outside the Performance Index, but are easily picked up either in our day to day work, or in the survey we send to all new joiners.

Key take-aways

Assessing the agencies we work with is mutually beneficial. For the Talent team, it means working with fewer agencies and getting to know who we’re working with and how they can help us. For the external agencies, they know we might consider them whenever we’re in a position to reach out for external help, and we will invest our time to make sure the collaboration is productive.

When we implemented the measure we stopped working with 5 agencies. In the past 3 months of trialling this measure we’re now getting to the point in which we know the 1-2 agencies we want to work when we open a specific role and that we trust will fill it in a timely manner.

NB: this is not a promotion piece for working with agencies! We wish we could always hire directly and that is always our preferred way to find new talent to join our team. However, we work with some agencies we’ve gotten to know well. If you are from an external agency who we don’t work with, please do not call or email. We only work with agencies whose introductions are done by referrals from trusted sources.

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