the relationship between vendor or partnerRelationships come in many different sizes, shapes, and packaging… 

…and when it comes to your relationship with a recruiting resource, how you work together matters!

Having spent my entire career in the service industry, I won’t say I’ve seen them all,  but enough to know that some relationships work better than others.  When it comes to staffing and recruiting, we know there are recruiters out there who are good at delivering a specific candidate for a specific opening that has been carefully described.  They are what we call transactional recruiters.  There are also recruiters and recruiting organizations who take a much more strategic, long term approach, focusing not just on finding your next new hire, but developing a business centric partnership.

While the dichotomy between “vendor and partner” is thrown around a lot in the business to business marketing space, our reality is that there is a range of relationships that are possible between a client and their recruiting resource.  While the onus is always on the resource to earn “partner status”, the client also plays a role in how a partnership develops.  For some hiring managers,  a recruiting resource, which can be either a third party facilitated recruiter or an internal recruiter, is simply a place to call for recruiting help, understanding that if they find the “right candidate” fine, but if they don’t, no big deal as there always other places to call.  For hiring managers who have developed a partnership with their recruiter, that resource becomes not just who they call when its time to hire, but someone they rely on for consultation and advice about the best ways to bring the right talent to their team or organization.

We’re writing this blog not just to point out the differences between a transactional recruiter and a recruiting partner but also to help our readers realize that regardless of what staffing or recruiting resource they use, developing a working partnership with that resource can create big payoffs! 

We also wanted to give our recruiter readers a way to evaluate their relationships with their clients – if you want to become a partner not just “the recruiter”, here’s some ideas about how to raise that bar!        

NOTE:  Going forward we will use a variety of terms interchangeably when referring  to a recruiting or staffing resource.  A recruiting resource can be an internal recruiter working for the same company as their hiring manager or a recruiter or vendor that is outside the company but contracted to work with a hiring manager on staffing/recruiting projects.   The points we will try to make in this blog can be applied to ANY relationship between any recruiting resource and their client.        

What’s the difference between a recruiter/vendor and a recruiting partner?          

According to Webster, “a vendor is an entity offering something for sale to a customer who has a need to buy.”  The customer controls the relationship in that they decide whether or not to buy what a vendor has to sell.

In the recruiting and staffing worlds, a recruiter (or recruiting agency) delivers a candidate that their client can purchase (i.e. hire) – or not.  Fees are typically earned contingently, meaning that only if the vendor delivers a candidate the client chooses to put to work or hire, are they paid for their services. (Imagine being a recruiter or a recruiting vendor, without a following of clients who work with you exclusively, and how much service you might end up providing without ever being paid.)

A partner on the other hand, and again according to Webster, is someone who works with another person or entity to achieve a common goal, sharing BOTH the responsibility to develop ways to achieve the goal AND the risks and the rewards of their efforts.  In the world of recruiting and staffing, the goal is often defined in the short term (i.e. “find me this employee to hire”) and only rarely in the long term (i.e. “help me to develop the talent I need to compete successfully in my marketplace).  In the big picture, the end game of any business partnership  is always the client’s success, supported by vendors/partners who earn fees along the way.

Okay – Webster definitions are one thing, its how those definitions play out in real life that matters – how do the different types of  client/vendor relationships deliver value to both parties – the vendor and their client.   

Our team has identified 10 elements of our own client partnerships that we think our readers might find helpful – first to define the difference between a staffing/recruiting vendor and a staffing/recruiting partner, but also to evaluate any current relationship and assess the level of partnership already developed. 

These are questions that a client can ask themselves about their recruiter, but a recruiter can also ask themselves to anticipate how they are currently being perceived by their clients.

        1.  Do you TRUST your recruiter to deliver as promised?  To tell you the truth? – no matter what?

Trust is the essence of any relationship, business or personal.   When a recruiter delivers as promised, offers information about the good, bad and ugly  of  whatever is in front of you, trust begins and grows over time.

And its often about all those little things that makes deposits into the trust account….


When your recruiter can be trusted to do their work in the context of  YOUR best interests, not their own, they’re acting like a partner, not a vendor. 

2.  Does your recruiter stay curious, asking the kind of questions that surface important insights and learnings? 

Think about the last time  you talked with your recruiter about a current hiring need.   What kind of questions came up in the conversation?

While recruiters don’t need to know every aspect of your business to find you a viable candidate, the depth they go to to uncover important information about who you need to hire is what differentiates a recruiter with a transactional mindset from a recruiter focused on developing a long term business partnership.

Do not assume that if your recruiter doesn’t ask a lot of questions, or is willing to start their recruit armed only with a hastily prepared job description, that they are more adept at finding talent than the recruiter who asks for a meeting before they start to recruit.   A partner knows that it’s the pre-recruit homework that makes a difference to hiring success.     

The truth is that most recruiters can find a candidate and screen them to your requirements if you can describe them clearly.  But what if your request isn’t clear? or all you can provide is a job description that you haven’t yet translated into a recruiting profile?  Or what if the recruiting profile you came up with is unrealistic or involves a compensation package outside your budget?

The questions your recruiter asks to better understand your hiring context, the state of your business, the story behind your decision to hire, the type of candidate who is likely to be successful in your work environment, tells you a lot about how they view their service.  Did they take the time to find out about your expectations of a successful hire?  Did they take the time to identify the most important soft skills or intrinsic motivators a candidate should have to do the job well and love doing it – each and every day?

Information takes the guess work out of any hiring process.  Knowing what questions to ask to get information is part of the professional expertise it takes to become a staffing partner.

 3. How often does your recruiter bring market or candidate relevant insights or fresh ideas to the table?   

Just like in any give and take relationship, there comes a time when a hiring manager needs their recruiter to stop following their direction and take on a leadership role.   A recruiter who views their role as a service provider, delivering to their client’s expectations, often won’t push back when that’s what’s needed.

Taking charge while still being a good listener involves give and take between a hiring manager and their recruiter.   Maybe because recruiting expertise is often gained via feet on the street rather than an advanced degree, but some recruiters don’t fully realize that only they have the f expertise needed to guide a hiring project to successful completion.   I’ve frequently told new recruiters that even if they’ve been actively recruiting for only a full day, they have more expertise than most of the hiring managers they will encounter in our business.  I encourage them to bring their expertise to the table.

If a recruiter just watches while a hiring project stumbles, or lets a hiring manager stay stuck in idealistic and unrealistic candidate expectations, it is almost impossible for them to earn partner status no matter how skilled they are in the technical underpinnings of their craft.  Push backs to hiring managers gone astray is just part of the gig. A recruiter who knows how to take the lead when needed, who doesn’t shy away from a difficult conversation either with a hiring manager or a candidate, is a recruiter who has what it takes to be seen as a partner.       

Partners have influence because their clients value their expertise and want them to lead the way!                

4. Who does your recruiter think is the “real client” – you (the hiring manager)? or your employer (the company)?   

Whenever I ask ” who is your client”,  a transactional recruiter will almost always tell me that the hiring manager is their client and it is their job to make them happy.   “If I do a good job finding the candidate my hiring manager likes, deliver great customer service along the way, I know my client will think I’m good at what I do and will call me again.”    

A recruiting partner, on the other hand,  is likely to give a different response.  “My client is the company I am recruiting for.  My job is to help them find, hire and develop the right people for their business.  I provide information to their hiring managers that they need to make the right decisions.   I may even challenge them from time to time if I see them about to make a hiring mistake.  Ultimately they decide, but I want to make sure good information is what drives the process.”

Recruiting partners are mission driven with a steady focus on the success of the businesses they represent.         

5. Is your recruiter/recruiting vendor a one trick pony or can they deliver different kinds of staffing solutions – i.e. the solution you need?    

Almost by default the nature of a partnership is built on a platform of flexibility, always looking for ways to alternative ways to achieve the same goal.  Vendors sometimes have a hard time believing that the solution they sell isn’t the solution the client needs, pushing them into a “sales mode.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to hire John (my candidate) for this temporary role?  I know you’ve got another candidate that you’ve found on your own, but my company doesn’t allow me to payroll a temporary employee that we didn’t source.”   

“I know that hiring budgets are tight right now, but Stephanie is such a good candidate I think it might be well worth the risk of losing her in a lay off.”       

The same conversation with a partner would sound differently….

“John is a good candidate but if you’ve found someone who you think is a better fit, my company would be glad to provide you with Employer of Record services so you can treat him like just like other members of your temporary workforce.  Which ever person you decide to hire, we’ll make it easy to get the quickly onboarded and ready to work.”     

“Have you ever thought of bringing on Stephanie in a contract role, rather than hiring her direct.  I know your company is tapping down on hiring right now and bringing her on as a contract employee might be a smart way to avoid the risk of having to create ill will if you have to lay her off down the road.” 

  While a good recruiter knows the value of “staying in their lane” the right partner will both anticipate and proactively develop a range of solutions to deliver the best result.         

6.  How often do you hear from your recruiter when you’re not actively hiring? 

Make no mistake, recruiters and recruiting organizations work hard to find candidates and fill a role for their client, requiring persistence and savvy to get that just right candidate hired.  The successful ending of a hard recruit is a time for both recruiters and hiring managers to celebrate.

But if you only hear from your recruiter after the I ACCEPT, you’re probably not working with a partner.  If there is no follow up from your recruiter post hire you are learning that they don’t care enough about your business to find out how the employee worked out once on the job.  What happened to your business and the candidate 3, 6, 12, 24 months later.  Real partners in the recruiting process always want to know!

If you only hear from your recruiter when you call them, you’re also not getting the full benefit from the services they have to offer.    You can’t be in the recruiting market 24.7 but your staffing partner can, and if they see their job as identifying the talent that could be important to you, they should be telling you about that talent even if you’re not formally hiring.

Pipelining high value talent for future hiring is a service that only comes when you have a strong recruiting partner with a long term vision of how they can make a difference to your organization.  Vendors are just too busy leaning into the next “transaction” to take a more proactive approach.    Check out this blog we recently wrote on the topic of candidate pipelining and see if it might be of value to you or your organization? 

7.  How does your recruiter define SUCCESS? 

Webster points out that one of the defining qualities of a partnership is that it works together for a shared goal.  Although a vendor might appear to have the same goal, the definition of success for many  (if not most) vendors happens only when they find the candidate you hire.  That’s called a win, because that’s when they earn their fee.

But what about those times when the candidate you hired doesn’t turn out to be the employee you needed them to be?

One of the worst “norms” in recruiting industry happens when after a vendor earns one of those big recruiting fees, BUT the candidate they found leaves that job before the organization has a chance to experience the benefit.  This is not a win for the client.  In fact it is a big loss.

While the argument that the client is paying for the recruiting service not the candidate, is true, when the recruiting service doesn’t deliver value to the business, it’s pretty hard to justify the fees paid without refund or recourse.   In what ways does your recruiting vendor “guarantee” the success of the candidate you’ve just hired?   How are those guarantees applied?

Our point of view is that the only definition of success that matters in a recruiter/client partnership is the long term value of the candidate hired.   And our POV is widely held.  In fact, qquality of hire(s) is the recruiting metric referred to by the Society of Human Resource Management as the holy grail of recruiting…and refers to the total value that a new hire brings to the company – both short and long term.

If you want to look at ONE metric that assesses the value of your recruiting partnership, pay attention to the quality of candidates they refer and you hire.     

8. What happens when  things go wrong?   

We’re all in the people business and have learned that not all recruits or staffing projects end up as planned. There will always be customers who will blame their recruiter for a staffing project misfire or when a hiring campaign falls short.  They might seem forgiving enough in person, but behind the scenes the vendor is the one who takes the heat.

Unfortunately, when vendors who aren’t partners get blamed, they just go away – sometimes blaming the client, sometimes just too embarrassed to call back.

Partners, on the other hand, will not only be quick to take responsibility for their role in an issue, but will identify issues proactively and escalate them to a place in their client’s organization where they can be talked about, root issues identified, and solutions found.

Particularly when multiple hiring managers are involved, a staffing company often has information (and data) that can identify that there is an issue even before their client can see it for themselves.  For example, a good partner might offer up the following:

“Our performance data across 3 different departments is showing that there has been an uptick in the turnover you’re experiencing with your flexible, temp to hire workforce.  Our employees are no longer waiting to be offered a job with you, but are quitting before you’re making them an offer.  We know this is costing you in terms of wasting your training dollar, but also impacting your productivity. 

We’ve put together some data to give you a snapshot of what’s going on and would like to work with the three hiring managers involved to find a better way to manage the temp to hire process or find another solution altogether.”  

Recruiting and staffing can get messy.  Market conditions change.  And when things go really wrong, transactional vendors will typically be called to the principle’s office to be either be expelled or asked to make a quick course correction.

Partners on the other hand, tend to much more proactive, and their clients more patient.  Clients trust their partner to bring issues to the table already having done some analysis.   They also expect to be involved in discussions that identify and provide fixes to root causes.   Partners don’t go away when the going gets tough, but become catalysts to gather up the information and people needed to address and solve the problem.

If you have a large workforce of temporary employees and your “recruiting partner” isn’t periodically reviewing data about the performance of that workforce, chances are you’re working with a transactional vendor not a partner.  

9. Is your recruiter able to INNOVATE – get CREATIVE? 

It goes without saying that transactional recruiters/ vendors are happiest (the most profitable) when they can do things their way and the customer just agrees to go along – what we call the “cookie cutter” approach.  As a hiring manager who might be asked to work with a certain vendor selected elsewhere you can buy into the vendor’s way of doing business or if an option go thru all the work of looking for another vendor.

Partners, on the other end are endlessly creative about how results can be delivered and will change their process depending on the type of employee they’re recruiting, or the type of team their hiring manager is leading.    Their services are delivered in ways that works for both the company and the hiring manager, and is anything but cookie cutter.

A partners business strategy is always built around what their client’s business challenges, making sure they always have the expertise and resources their clients need.     

 10.  How often have you experienced “WHATEVER IT TAKES”?   

One of the ways to know what kind of relationship you have with your staffing provider is to watch how they approach an important hiring or staffing project that will put extra strain on their internal resources.  How willing are they to go that extra mile – to do “whatever it takes” to deliver the results you need, when you need them?    How creative can they be about adjusting their schedules and processes to accommodate your needs and timelines.

Many vendors routinely refuse a tough recruit, not wanting to “stretch their resources”.  They walk away when the going get tough (“our service agreement doesn’t cover this type of work.”) A partner, on the other hand,  is there until the work is done, the goal achieved.

Ask yourself – is your recruiter always ready with “whatever it takes”?  

PACE’s POV on Clients and Partnerships 

OK in our perfect world we would love all our customers equally….but the truth is our favorite customers and the ones who get our very best efforts are our partners – the companies who have not just been our customers for years (in some cases decades) but companies who use us as trusted advisors in all areas involving the recruiting and hiring of talent.   

The truth is we see ourselves as consultants, advisors, and influencers before we see ourselves as recruiters and know true  partnerships don’t just happen by chance.  We developed a mindset for partnering early in our founding when we decided to make  CUSTOMIZATION one of our key differentiators – “no recruiting competitor will be as good as we are at providing our clients with customized staffing solutions.”

But partnering can’t be just about mindset.  It has to be about doing things differently.   Here’s a list of things we do that we know our competitors don’t.

More About PACE Staffing Network

PACE is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 45 years.  We’re a local and woman owned company and have been since our founding in 1975.    

A 5-time winner of the coveted ClearlyRated “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide.

PACE services include direct hire professional recruiting services, temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to the people side of your business – how you find and hire great employees –  contact our Partner Services team at 425-637-3312, email us or complete the form below and we’ll be in touch soon!

Oops! We could not locate your form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *