Recruitment – the 80:20 rule

It’s fair to say that many organisations are looking to cut their recruitment costs. Typically this involves bringing resourcing in-house, or expanding the team that’s already there. The assumption being a fixed-cost in-house team will provide a cheaper solution than using recruitment agencies. Perhaps… but of course recruitment isn’t all about cost.

If you frequently hire for the same type of skill you’ll be able to identify your target market and build a strategy around reaching and engaging with them. If you recruit largely at a junior or generalist level, where candidate volumes are higher, again – with a sensible candidate attraction strategy – you’ll probably be able to draw in and manage the right sort of interest most of the time. Equally, if you hire regularly, with few peaks and troughs, you can usually plan for and manage recruitment volumes appropriately even with a small team. And then of course there’s the argument that your in-house people will know your business and culture better than an external supplier, so they’ll be best able to judge ‘fit’ and the sort of skill and experience levels you actually need.

This all sounds great, and we’d agree most recruitment probably can be managed in-house – assuming you hire the right people and give them a realistic budget, of course.


The thing is, there are two key and very distinct components to recruitment – a) finding people, and b) making an informed judgement on their suitability. (Sure, there’s the ‘process’ bit too, but that’s a different conversation!) In today’s world of job boards and social media the ‘finding people’ bit is probably easier than ever, but how do you know if they’re the right people? That’s the ‘judgement’ bit, and that takes expertise. Without this vital input you could find yourself hiring someone but not necessarily the best person. And you might not know until it’s too late.

Now, we think in-house resourcing is a really great way of controlling your costs and managing your talent pipeline. Seriously. As HR recruitment specialists we place plenty of in-house recruiters with our clients. It makes sense. In fact we’re often surprised when we meet clients who don’t have much in the way of in-house resource!

Here’s the rub, though. With the best will in the world it’s unrealistic to expect any in-house recruiter, or even a team, to be experts in every discipline, in every area of the business and at every level of seniority. In the same way that no recruitment consultancy would claim to be ‘all things to all men’ (well, they really shouldn’t!) your in-house function will inevitably have its strengths and weaknesses. These will likely be based on the backgrounds and personalities of the people you hire into that function. And, even if your in-house people know your overall business really well, they’re bound to understand some areas (and stakeholders!) better than others. Basically, they’ll have their comfort zones and areas of expertise just like everyone else. As I say, nobody can be ‘all things to all men’.


There are always those occasions where you need to hire for a difficult role, or where you’re looking for something different – fresh blood, new ideas, outside knowledge, that sort of thing. You might need a very specific niche skill or experience… the old needle in a haystack. Maybe you need someone to come in and ‘rock the boat’, someone who’ll have a different style of leadership, someone to shift things forward for you? Maybe you’re creating a new team with skills you’ve never hired before, or perhaps you know you need to raise the performance bar a little in certain areas?

In-house teams understandably struggle when it comes to hiring something different, something that’s not like you, and with those roles/skills where they have no prior experience or network of contacts. This is when compromises – or even mistakes – are made. It’s back to the idea that you might hire someone but not necessarily the best… and this can have a huge impact on your business.


So here’s the 80:20 rule – a strong in-house team should be the backbone of a comprehensive and robust recruitment strategy. A clearly defined employer brand, sensible candidate generation strategy and robust, candidate-centric recruitment process will enable you to fill the vast majority of your roles directly. This approach will save you money but it’s unlikely any in-house function will be equally strong across all disciplines or as effective at uncovering top talent as a dedicated specialist supplier.

To fill those tricky, business critical or senior hires – those where the ‘best’ candidate is hidden, or where there’s a real art in judging who can really bring you what you need – the best results will come from working in partnership with a niche recruitment supplier; an expert, someone who knows their market intimately, is well connected, is experienced in making informed judgements and who has a clear and proven track record in delivering excellent value for clients like you.

Market knowledge and niche expertise are things that develop over time, and they can be worth their weight in gold. Using this external expertise together with your in-house function can offer the best of both worlds – cost savings and great hiring outcomes.

An 80:20 type approach might be the best way.