A year of emails from recruitment agencies

Recruitment is changing. More and more companies are bringing their recruitment efforts in-house and are hiring their own teams to look after their roles. This means there is a change in the dynamics of how recruitment agencies work with companies and how they go about winning fresh business. Methods that worked well in the past maybe aren’t as effective as they used to be. One of those methods is the mailshot.

During 2018, I worked as an In-house recruitment manager for a software company in the Reading area. The role was a twelve-month contract and I was the sole recruiter in the company. During this twelve month period, I received 415 unsolicited emails from recruitment agencies

Before we delve into the details, this post isn’t intended to be another agency bashing post by an internal recruiter. I get why mailshots are sent, it’s just that the majority that are sent to In-house teams are ineffective. Part of this post is to help you target in-house teams more effectively and to let you know what they want to see if you are going to cold email them.

Here is how recruitment agencies reached out to me

Let’s break down the 415 emails. Over the 12 month period, it comes to an average of 34.5 emails per month or 8 emails per week. Breaking it down further,  that’s 1.6 emails from recruitment agencies, every working day of my employment.
(Figures have been rounded up or down – 415/12 = 34.5 | 415/52 = 7.98 | 7.98/5 – 1.596).

But not all months are equal, right? 

Here is the break down of the number of emails received, month by month.

January – 63 emails received
February – 49 emails received
March- 30 emails received
April – 35 emails received
May – 31 emails received
June – 28 emails received
July – 30 emails received
August – 21 emails received
September – 33 emails received
October – 36 emails received
November – 33 emails received
December – 26 emails received

January and February are the big hitters here with 27% of emails from the year coming in those two months.

Breaking it down further, we can take a look at seasons:

Spring (Mar/Apr/May) – 96
Summer (Jun/Jul/Aug) – 79
Autumn (Sept/Oct/Nov) – 102
Winter (Dec/Jan/Feb) – 139

Recruitment agencies love winter! By far, the most output was between December, January and February. New year, new start and all that.

The 415 emails were sent by 156 different recruiters, across 106 different recruitment agencies. That breaks down to about 2.6 emails per recruiter or 3.9 emails per recruitment agency.

I get it. Spray and pray does work if you get it to the right people. The right people aren’t in-house recruiters and in particular, In-house recruiters that fill the majority of their time filling roles directly. These recruiters are likely working with a small number of recruitment agencies who specialise in different areas. They will research companies, roles and candidates. This is where pray and spray emails raise red flags and aren’t effective when it comes to in-house teams, and the following stat shows us why:

32.6% (136 emails) were about either ‘expertise’ or talking about candidates for technologies that my company doesn’t use or for roles we don’t hire. That is a third of the emails I received over 12 months. It raises the question – if you don’t know anything about my company, or if you can’t take the time to research my company, why would I want to work with you? 

Recruitment agencies are a service and your selling point is that you are experts in your field. This outreach doesn’t suggest that you are in any way an expert and, therefore, not someone that I would want to work with. Just because it’s easy to do doesn’t make it effective – if you want to win business from an in-house recruitment team then try this:

Do some research.

And then do some more research!

I’m looking for recruitment agencies that can locate and contact the right people for me. That takes some research and a creative introduction. What’s the best way to show you can do this? That’s right, do your research on me and send a compelling introduction email.

Research the company

What do they do? What’s their product? Can you use it?

The more understanding you have of the company and their product, the more likely they are to want to work with you. If you can show that you’ve researched them and actually used their products, it will go a long way.

What technologies do they use and what roles do they recruit?

A big turn off for an In-house recruiter is when a recruitment agency reaches out and talks about technologies that you don’t use or roles that you don’t have (and just about a third of all the emails I received last year fall into this category). It just shows that you haven’t even taken the time to look at us or the roles we are currently looking to fill. You may well be the best Salesforce recruiter, representing the best Salesforce admin out there, but what use is that to me if we don’t use Salesforce in-house and I have 15 backend developer roles to fill?
Have a look at the companies career page and see what their current vacancies are. Have a look at Linkedin. Who do they currently employ? What job titles do they have and what skills do they need?

How many people work there?

Again, Linkedin is your friend here. Are they a small startup? Are they an established company? Have they grown rapidly over the last year?
This sort of information will give you an insight into the company you are looking to approach.

Have they won any awards lately?

A quick visit to their website or a google search should tell you if the company you are looking at has won a ‘great place to work’ award or similar. Some further digging should give you a good insight into the companies culture and how they work.

Have they taken on funding? If so, when?

If a company has, or are about to, take on additional funding, this is normally a good sign that they are looking to continue their growth. Growth equals more roles and more opportunities for you!

What are the companies values? How can you identify with them?

A company will use their values when they are looking to hire people so it’s a good idea to find out what those are. They are likely to be more open to an approach from an outside company if they show evidence that they share the same values.

For example, my current company’s values are:

Tenacity – Staying humble and persistent. 
Collaboration – Working as a team. 
Humility – Don’t take success for granted. 

Build your outreach message around these values and I would be more likely to take the time to investigate to see if I want to work with you. 
There is a however for this one though – if you do start working with a company and don’t work to these values, then the relationship isn’t going to be a fruitful one for you.

Are they hiring a recruiter?

Are they currently hiring for a recruiter? If so, this could be good news for you.
They might be looking for their first in-house person to handle recruitment for them. This would suggest that they currently use agencies and, if you move quickly, you might be able to get yourself on the PSL, pick up work while they are hiring and have a chance to work with the recruiter when they are in place.
They might be hiring for an additional recruiter. This would show that they either have too many roles for their current team to handle or that they are expecting a large number of roles to be worked in the near future.
Another scenario is that they have a recruiter who is leaving and they need to replace them. Again, in the short term, there will be some slack to pick up and that might go to agencies. If the company you are targeting have a small recruitment team, then it may be a good time for you to get in contact with them to help with capacity.

Research the recruitment team 

Do they have specialist recruiters or are they more on the HR side? 

There tend to be two different types of in-house recruiters.
The first type is the recruiter who has a strong background of hiring directly and do most of the recruitment themselves. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t business to be won here, but from personal experience, this kind of recruiter likes to work with a small number of agencies who specialise in different areas. They will work all of their roles and will reach out for help if they are struggling to find the right candidate or are struggling with capacity.
The second type leans more towards managing agencies. They are more likely to operate larger PSL’s which means more roles if you can work with them, but it also means more competition.

Where else are they? 

You are likely to have found out about the recruitment team on Linkedin, but where else are they online?
Do they tweet? Are they in Facebook groups? Do they have their own blog?
If you can find where the people you are looking to work with are, you can also find out what they are in to and what they like to talk about. This will give you things to mention when you reach out to them (a quick look at my twitter profile will show you that I watch football, have recently relocated to Boston from the UK, go to see live music a fair bit and have a house rabbit). It may also give you clues to how they work and good ways to contact them. For example, I am a member of the Growth Hacking Recruiters Facebook group. This would suggest that I resource candidates directly and look for new and interesting ways to do it. From what we covered in the last section, this is likely to show that I am in the group of recruiters that would operate a small PSL and fill the majority of my roles directly.

This is also a good method of finding out if a recruiter goes, or is going to a certain event or meet up. Why not pop along and say hi? 

Research what tools they use

Do they have an Applicant Tracking System? 

You can usually find out what ATS a company is using by visiting their careers page, going to a job and then hovering over the link to apply. It should bring something like ‘https://jobs.lever/companyname/etc’ or ‘https://companyname.workable.com/jobs/etc’.
You can use this information to see what ATS they are using and what functionality it has. For example, most modern ATS’s will allow you to post roles directly out to free job boards such as Indeed. Some ATS’s also come with their own sourcing teams. A good example of this is Workable’s People Search tool. If they are using Workable it would indicate that the recruitment team has additional tools that they use for sourcing.
Larger companies tend to lean towards older, more established products such as Taleo by Oracle. These tend to integrate better with HR systems but aren’t good sourcing tools. I’m yet to meet a recruiter that enjoys using Taleo!
It might also be the case, particularly with smaller companies, that they don’t use an ATS at all. I was in this boat in my last role and it was painful. Not only do you not have any additional sourcing tools to use, but it also takes up more of your time on the admin side, which obviously affects the amount of time you have to source. This is a great opportunity for an agency to pick up work. 

If you can find the following situation…

One recruiter – lots of roles – no ATS

…you should put it at the top of your list of potential targets.

Where do they advertise?

Do they advertise on Linkedin, Monster, Jobsite etc? Or can you only find their ads on the free sites? 
This will give you a good idea of the tools that the company are using and the budget they have for direct sourcing (here is some insider knowledge – lots of companies will bring in an in-house team, give them a small budget to source directly and still be happy to spend large fees on agency placements).
If I am using a recruitment agency, one of the things I want to find out from you is what can you do that I can’t. If you have access to job boards and tools that I don’t, then it shows that you could add value to my recruitment efforts. If you are going to post the role on Indeed and source through Linkedin, it adds no value to me.

What is the role to recruiter ratio?

A general rule for In-house teams is that a good recruiter should be able to effectively manage 15 roles at any one time. If you have researched to find out how many roles the company has, and how many people are in the recruitment team then you should be able to prioritise who you are going to target and get better results. If you look at a company and they have a team of 3 recruiters and 20 live roles then they are not going to be the best target. If you see a team of 2 recruiters with 60 roles then this could be a good option for you.

Are they advertising niche roles there? 

Is it your niche? Great! 

As I covered earlier, even recruiters that fill most of their roles directly will work with a small, specialist PSL. If they are advertising a niche role that you specialise in then it could be worth reaching out. Many moons ago, I specialised in working roles in America for ITSM Implementation Engineers. It was super niche and I was able to work with a number of companies on their roles.
Only reach out if you can add value though. Remember, In-house teams will check out your background, so if you tell me you specialise in filling SDET’s who work in Java and I do my research and you talk about placing Linux Sys Admins then it’s not going to work for you.
Also, don’t reach out and claim that you are a specialist in anything if you are early on in your career. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve picked up an email from a specialist recruiter, and when I’ve looked at them on Linkedin, they’ve been in recruitment for 3-6 months. This isn’t a dig at people starting out, I get that they are told to use this approach. There are much better ways to get a conversation started though (I’m much more likely to go back to someone starting out if they ask for help or advice).

Do you have clients that work with the same tech or type of roles? 

Have you done a good job for them? 
Can they give you a reference?
This can really help. However, make sure the company is aligned with the client you want to work with. You may well have placed some java developers at a huge multinational, but if I’m hiring data scientists for a small startup then it’s probably not going to interest me. If you’ve hired data scientists, that use the same tech as my company, for a small startup in the same space as my company, then you may well get my attention.

Now you’ve done the research, put together an email that shows that you know about the company and the roles that they have. Show that you know what you are talking about and that you can add value. Personalise it and don’t use a template. Show that you’ve put some effort in – this will tell me that you actually want to work with me and that you are likely to put the same effort in when you are researching candidates for my roles and that you are also likely to reach out to them in the same manner.

It’s a lot of work, right? I get that. But from the 415 emails from last year, none of them won any business or even had a decent conversation with me. I’m telling you, as an In-house recruiter, that if I’d received outreach that had covered what is outlined above, then conversations would have happened and agencies would have won business from me.

I know that some of the bigger fish out there will never change the way they go out to win business, but if you are a smaller company or are working on your own to build a business, trying some or all of the methods I’ve outlined will help give you the edge over your competitors.

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2 thoughts on “A year of emails from recruitment agencies”

  1. A fascinating article from a world class in house recruiter! This article has given me positive direction, in where I’ve gone wrong and it definitely has given me an excellent template in how to win new business. This article defines positivity, in how recruiters like us can lead best practices in how to engage with in house recruiters. We all should read take 10 mins to read and reflect on this article. I know I have, for someone like myself, who’s been in recruitment for over 18 years it’s changed how I need to approach with house recruiters. Clients want a recruiter, who knows what tech stack they are using or skill set, how big is there company and everything mentioned in the article is imperative, before you start sending out email shots.
    Take 10 mins to read this article, you’ll save a lot of time and energy sending out pointless emails. Remember if you want to engage with an in house recruiter it’s a simple formula to follow.

  2. As an in-house recruiter with 13 years of experience, I agree with every single thing you’ve said. In one of my in-house roles, I was receiving over 20 agency emails every single week. Some days it’d be 3 to 10 emails in that one day!

    Most of them didn’t bother to do any research whatsoever… while I was filling most of the roles directly, I was still using agencies. The ones who could prove they’ve successfully filled similar roles for our competitors had a chance if I couldn’t fill the role myself or didn’t have the time to work on another role.

    I really liked the way you broke down the emails you’ve received and what the lessons for agency recruiters are – great article!

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