External & Internal Recruiters: Creating A Partnership

External & Internal Recruiters: Creating A Partnership

There is certain friction between internal talent acquisition professionals and external recruiters, it is often unspoken and there are two sides to it. It can be polarizing. But it can also equate to a power partnership when done effectively.

In basic terms, external recruiters can feel the need to compete with corporate recruiters to justify their fees. This relies on positioning our firms as having more advanced search techniques and bandwidth not available to internal talent acquisition groups. We should have these capabilities; we should have invested in developing them and it is core to our business model.

Internal recruiters may feel the need to compete with external partners to justify their jobs, leading to defensiveness about technical know-how and overly stretching bandwidth to handle searches. This is not necessary as internal talent acquisition teams always play a defined and critical role. They control the flow of information and are charged with managing the process. Where their responsibilities begin and end on any search can simply be determined upfront on a case-by-case basis.

In our experience a variety of conditions may exist:

Internal talent acquisition:

  • May have both the technical know-how and the available bandwidth
  • May have the technical know-how, but not the bandwidth. They have been staffed to manage the recruiting, not to accomplish all individual searches.
  • May NOT have the technical know-how, particularly for more difficult searches, but remain critically important in support of the external firm
  • Maybe the corporate brand ambassador, process conductor, on-boarder, and trainer

External search firms:

  • May have both the technical know-how and the bandwidth
  • May have the strong technical know-how but lack the bandwidth to fully support the client
  • May NOT have the technical know-how but are nevertheless hired for their (perceived) bandwidth
  • Always need support to fully understand the search criteria and implement the process. The external recruiter must respect the corporate brand, process, onboarding and training of their client

As you can see, a mix of circumstances can exist when external recruiters and internal recruiters decide to partner, and underlying reasons for misunderstanding or tension can come from either side.

So, how do we create an effective partnership?

First, both sides must assess their own situations before taking on an engagement. Said simply, external recruiters need to present themselves accurately as it relates to any search, and internal talent acquisition groups need to have established the boundaries of their responsibilities. This may differ on both sides depending on the specifics of a search, but it must be done to avoid misunderstandings or foster competition before or during an engagement. This needs to be communicated upfront. A transparent process needs to be discussed with timely feedback loops that keep both parties towards the common goal of landing top talent for the company who is the ultimate client.

We then need to respect each other’s bandwidth, technical know-how and understanding of the job requirements and corporate culture. We are not in competition, each of us has an important role, and we get the best results by working together. Our collective efforts need to be judged by our results on speed, quality, and cost per hire, best accomplished by a total team effort. Corporate leadership and hiring managers should also be engaged in the role-defining process. This fosters a “safe space” for both the external recruiter and the internal talent acquisition teams.


It often comes down to communication, respect, and transparency. Both sides play a role in avoiding competitiveness and assuring the best outcomes. External search firms should only be hired when internal talent acquisition professionals lack the bandwidth or the technical knowledge for a search, and we should only accept an engagement when we actually have those skills and the time availability related to a specific assignment. A transparent process needs to be agreed upon with timely feedback loops that keep both parties committed to the same goal of acquiring the best-fit professional for the company.

At Frederick Fox we see ourselves as a support function for internal talent acquisition teams and hiring managers. We are not competitors. We seek corporate partners who understand what we bring to the table and meaningfully work with us on the outcomes. As corporate partners, you deserve an external search firm that seeks to fully leverage your advice and counsel, and one that has the technical strength and bandwidth to deliver the results.