HR Leader logo
Stay connected.   Subscribe  to our newsletter

Talent acquisition: agencies versus in-house

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read
Talent acquisition: agencies versus in-house

Talent acquisition (TA) can be broken up into two main branches: internal and external. The internal realm relates to in-house TA for a company and external are those working for a recruitment agency.

Andrea Kirby, founder and director of Talent Table, has experience in the two arenas. According to her, both are necessary to delivering talent to organisations. There are key differences in how they’re structured however.

“People with an agency background are taught to be very transactional. It's very short-term thinking. Get that person into that role, but they have to be the right person or you're refunding or replacing. Internally you're thinking a lot more long term,” explained Ms Kirby.


“People moving from agency [to internal] are a little more willing to go along with what the hiring manager wants, because they're looking to fill that role. As opposed to challenging that hiring manager [with questions like:] ‘Is this the best way to fill this job? Are we looking at people internally first?’”

She added: “Once you've been in internal for a while, you start to develop a lot more of that advisory and that challenging nature, because if you make the wrong hire, you're working with that person and that hiring manager again, and your credibility can go out the window pretty quickly.”

With these differences, it can be challenging if someone in TA wants to make the switch from one to the other. Ms Kirby says that “patience” is key, as it will take time to transfer skills.

“In internal you have a process to go through. Hiring managers want to see a certain rigour in the process. Whilst that shouldn't mean lengthy, multiple interviews, you have to be able to assure a hiring manager that they're making the right decision.”

“You don't necessarily learn that in agency because the in-house [team is] taking care of all of that stuff. [In house] you're presenting the candidate and you're taking them through, so that patience to follow a process, and also the fact that things can change so quickly,” explained Ms Kirby.

“That ability to be more strategic and less transactional in the job, and to think about that wider picture of the whole organisation is the bit that takes some learning and thinking about.”

While there are skills that are picked up through the job, Ms Kirby notes that there is more training that could be offered to help recruiters to be more effective at their job. Things like marketing and writing don’t spring to mind when you think of TA, but are crucial aspects of the industry.

“TA people need skills on how to use systems, but we need to understand the external market that we're working in. And that requires skills around some marketing, great copywriting. We should not be posting job posts that are just a copy of the position description. We should be writing job ads that are very much about what's in it for the candidate,” she said.

Interview training may also be beneficial as it is a key part of the job, as Ms Kirby explained: “A very small percentage [have had interview training]. So, we're not even trained to do something that we think we're an expert in. It is a different profession to HR, although there's fantastic overlap, there's a whole different skill set for TA people.”

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full conversation with Andrea Kirby is below.




The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.