Does Size Matter?

A recent edition of Recruiter magazine (13th October) included an article entitled “Piecing together a staffing dilemma” which investigated whether organisations should pick a super agency or select a group of specialists as they look to staff up for the future.

Overall the arguments fell into the usual entrenched positions with the advocates of the “super agency” pitching savings in costs and time alongside the marketing muscle that their size brings to the table. The specialists on the other hand naturally pushed their ability to supply high quality candidates through their “intimate knowledge of a sector” and their ability to identify and attract relevant talent.


Whilst the article itself drew no conclusion as to which is best, it indicated that few organisations end up with a single supplier solution. However within the article there were some specific points well made that I wanted to share – especially as Arras People is a specialist agency, supplying what is generally a non-volume specialist skill in the form of Project Management;

  • The strengths of a specialist boutique is in its niche branding which may be stronger than the client’s (and /or super agencies) in attracting the right applicants
  • Candidates with specialist skills eg. Project Management are more likely to take a call from a specialist rather than a generalist recruiter.
  • Many clients feel that a smaller agency is easier to hold to account through the direct relationship
  • Small consultancies are as much about the individual as the brand where larger agencies have a significantly more turnover of staff.
  • Large agencies are accused of taking a “never mind the quality, feel the width” approach, seeing costs and volumes as the prime concerns of their clients.
  • Larger agencies try to be both big and bespoke at the same time

In my own mind the argument basically boils down to devising a strategy that recognises the type of candidates that you are looking to attract and the volumes that you are likely to consume.

Ultimately for all organisations the resourcing decision should be driven by the desire to attract the best available talent into their open roles at an acceptable level of cost.

So in the case of recruiting Programme and Project Management (PPM) staff the approach needs to consider;

  • Do we view PPM personnel as a general or a specialist resource?
    Hopefully the answer is that you see PPM personnel as a specialist resource. So to draw an analogy with how you would shop for other goods and services, would you go to a “supermarket” or a “boutique” to buy specialist goods?
  • How many PPM practitioners do we recruit per annum (Interim, Contract, Permanent, and Temporary)?
    For many organisations the requirement for PPM practitioners over a twelve month period is relatively low when compared to other areas of non-specialist staffing requirements. It is highly unlikely that this volume will impact the pricing that a “super agency” can deliver over a twelve month period for your total recruitment budget if it was excluded!
  • How do we access the best talent?
    As we saw above the both approaches feel they can attract talent. However if you have identified PPM as a specialist resource the boutique or niche supplier is more likely to have the knowledge and understanding of the marketplace. Attracting talent requires a lot more than just placing adverts (if it was that easy, recruitment agencies wouldn’t exist!) and companies like Arras People make a significant investment in building talent pools upon which they can draw. The key is attracting and tempting talent that is inactive in the market; these are the people who do not look at the general job boards and are certainly invisible to generalist recruiters! Each specialised recruiter has a contact book and network that many super agencies would die for.
  • What is an acceptable cost for these services?
    One of the positives of using a super agency was quoted as; “One real advantage of dealing with a large agency is its competitive rates.” This may be true for volume and non-specialist roles but what happens when the role becomes “hard to fill”? In our experience as a boutique or niche supplier the rates we charge are not significantly different from those charged by super agencies if the role is deemed outside of the norm. A potential hidden premium cost that should always be considered!
  • What brand image do I want to create in the marketplace?
    “People buy people” is a common saying when discussing service provision and it is especially true in the recruitment of specialist resources. In a specialist agency it certainly is about the individuals that work within it – one to one relationships are forged, not just with the client organisation but also with the professionals looking for work within the specialised field. Where you advertise and your recruitment partner has a significant impact on the perception of your brand as an employer with PPM resources especially as many super agents carry low credibility with the professional specialists that you want to attract.

So whatever you require, consider the facts and adopt a strategy that fits your environment. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, cost is important to us all, but not at the expense of failing to secure the necessary talent to drive our organisations forward.

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