Six Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your In-House Recruiting Function

Having an in-house recruitment operation offers many advantages. There are cost savings and no one can tell a company’s story to candidates better than recruiters who actually work there. But there are challenges to running an in-house function, says Tim Connolly of executive search advisory firm ALC.

March 27, 2018 – For many companies, starting an in-house recruiting operation to find senior-level talent makes good sense. They can save money on search firm fees and take full control of their hiring destiny. What’s more, in-house recruiters have an advantage over external recruiters in that they fully understand their company’s brand, and its culture and goals, all of which are critical when it comes to making strategic decisions about talent acquisition.

But having an in-house recruitment function is a major commitment that demands great consideration and preparation. Not every company understands the complexities of building teams capable of conducting such important searches, said Tim Connolly, founding partner of ALC, a London-based executive search advisory firm. ALC recently started a new advisory business designed to help hiring organizations build their own in-house executive search function.

There are six common mistakes, he said, that organizations make when starting an in-house search function:

1) Trying to Stretch Existing Departments

Some companies entrust their existing, overworked, low- to mid-level resourcing departments with executive search demands and expect them to deliver the same level of service as an external recruitment firm.

“An under-resourced department with competing staffing priorities will be spread too thinly to really dedicate itself to thorough searching at the highest level, meaning prime candidates may be overlooked,” said Mr. Connolly.

2) Hiring Inexperienced Consultants

Many businesses try to save money by hiring consultants without the requisite experience to conduct searches for leadership talent. “This is a false economy, because top performing headhunters are researchers with niche experience and a network of connections at the very highest level to draw upon, “said Mr. Connolly.


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Some organizations fail to understand how thorough and effective first-rate researchers are in a strong in-house function. “Relying on the skills of less experienced people who don’t have a track record of delivery at the executive level risks limiting the success of the search,” he said.

3) Not Rewarding Appropriately

Former search firm recruiters will have honed their skills in a high-performance environment, where they are typically rewarded for each deal reached. “Top performers will be sales-driven by nature: Removing that element and giving them a standard flat-rate salary risks taking away their drive and can be a complete cultural misalignment,” said Mr. Connolly.

Related: How to Retain High Performing Employees

Organizations should instead consider rewarding them per deal, much like they might do for their sales team, rather than trying to align them with the firm’s HR or finance functions.

4) Not Getting Board-Level Buy-In

Many times, companies will fail to have a board-level stakeholder who enforces the use of the in-house executive search function. This can mean that hiring managers will decide to ignore its existence and continue using external search firms, nullifying any benefit.


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“To eliminate this, the function needs board endorsement in order to help it quickly establish itself and gain internal credibility,” said Mr. Connolly. “If hiring managers have complete faith in the quality of the in-house department, they will have no reason to conduct rogue external searches. In addition, its usage should be monitored in order to check compliance.”

5) Failing to Immerse the Team in the Business

Organizations often give their in-house teams too little access to the business for them to fully understand its culture, goals or long-term strategy.

Related: Close the Book on Searches and Hire the Best Candidates Quickly

“A distinct advantage of having an in-house function is that the recruiters can become fully immersed in the workplace for which they are headhunting,” said Mr. Connolly.

This insight means that they can then identify and hire the senior individuals who will be most effective. “However, this only works if the recruiters are able to get a true feel for the place by having full access to operational departments and talking to personnel at all stages of seniority,” said Mr. Connolly. “Putting up barriers to this will mean they function less effectively.”

6) Not Investing in the Best Technology

Too many businesses fail to invest in the right technology. In this age of artificial intelligence and data-led automation, top recruiters are using cutting-edge tools, such as those provided by specialist search software companies, to help them work faster, more thoroughly and with greater efficiency.


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“The wrong tools just slow a team down,” said Mr. Connolly. “Some organizations are asking their in-house search function to work with legacy systems that immediately hinder them. Firms should invest in a bespoke ATS, in close consultation with their specialist headhunters who will be using it.”

Although more companies are realizing the value of hiring internal subject- matter experts to acquire talent at a more strategic level, not all businesses are fully aware of how to maximize their return on investment.

Related: Why Hire for Potential, Not Experience

“Since human capital is integral to an organization’s success, strategically procuring the right talent in the most efficient way is vital,” said Mr. Connolly.

Advisory Offerings

Mr. Connolly, who founded ALC in 2001, focuses on business development, market intelligence and strategy, as well as supporting and advising on the company’s various advisory offerings. He has also created and developed other businesses, both within and outside the recruitment industry, as well as serving as a non-executive director for two other search firms.

Last month, ALC launched an advisory firm for helping companies start their own recruitment functions, an extension of the search firm’s present offerings.

In 2016, Mr. Connolly co-founded ALC Discovery, a performance management consultancy dedicated to helping the recruitment industry retain staff, win new business, increase revenues and increase the quality of the solutions they offer to their clients.

Fifteen years earlier, he co-founded Sanderson West Ltd., a boutique search consultancy based in New York and London. He has also been strategic advisor to the founding director of Nielsen Grey in St. Albans, England, and a search consultant for the Oxbridge Group in London.

Related: Seasoned Recruiters Step Out to Focus on Coaching, Strategy and Analytics

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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