min read

How to recruit tech talent without an agency

Recruitment agencies can be expensive and it's not always clear what to expect, the alternative is to source and recruit talent yourself. This is how.

September 29, 2020
Yuma Heymans
September 7, 2022

Recruiting without an agency

Recruitment agencies can be effective, at least some of them, but they usually are also very expensive and it can be hard to tell if you are working with a recruitment agency that is actually going to find you the right candidates.

Many hiring companies request the help of agencies because they are not aware of the alternatives. The one alternative that's closest to what's feasible for any company is best summarised as ‘do it yourself’.

But how can you recruit the right people yourself and what does a recruitment agency do that you don’t know (yet) how to do?

We got you covered.

How recruitment agencies work

Recruitment agencies have their own database of candidates, find new candidates on social media platforms like LinkedIn and usually have their own job boards where candidates can apply for jobs.

Recruitment agencies are usually good at sourcing candidates and getting them interested in a first conversation, with you, the hiring company.

Sources of candidates

Most recruitment agencies use several sources to find candidates. Some are specialised in using a particular source and others use everything they get their hands on.

The most common candidate sources for recruitment agencies are:

  1. LinkedIn: Finding candidates based on requirements using typically a paid LinkedIn account like LinkedIn Recruiter.
  2. Their own database: A database of candidate profiles and contact details built up over time which works very similar to an internal Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
  3. Job boards: These are owned or licensed job portals where the jobs of the clients are put on (sometimes without mentioning the company name, more on this later in the blog). Candidates can find and read the hiring company's job descriptions here and apply.

How recruitment agencies earn money

Most recruitment agencies ask for a success fee (also called placement fee). The hiring company pays a fee, only in case a candidate that was referred to them by the agency gets hired (becomes an employee). The average agency success fee is 15-20% of the first year of the annual salary of the candidate. But for some very hard to find roles fees can go up to 35% of the first year of the annual salary, sometimes even more. Some recruitment agencies charge based on an hourly or daily rate.

The challenge of the recruitment agency fee structure

Because most recruitment agencies only earn money when a candidate gets hired, they risk investing a lot of time in trying to find the right candidate but not getting the candidates to be hired by the company. The eventual hiring decision is not theirs to be made.

There are a couple of ways recruitment agencies try to solve this issue. One of them is by agreeing on an exclusivity clause that states that the hiring company only works with this recruitment agency (for this position). Also sometimes discussion arises between the hiring company and the agency about whether it was the agency’s efforts that led to the candidate getting in touch with the hiring company or the candidate found them through the hiring company's own channels. In some cases agencies try to mitigate their risk of lost effort by keeping profiles hidden for the hiring company until the candidate is secured (responded to the agency’s outreach) and by reaching out to candidates in bulk before the hiring company does themselves. This is not the most client friendly way of sourcing and this is why some company-agency relationships fail.

From the candidate's perspective, recruitment agencies sometimes do not reveal who the hiring company is to prevent the candidate from getting in touch with the hiring company directly. With that the candidate bypasses the agency and eliminates any proof that shows that it was the agency's efforts that brought the candidate in.

If you choose to work with an agency, make clear agreements so you can prevent or at least mitigate the above mentioned situations.

Do it yourself recruitment

For some companies partnering with a recruitment agency is not the preferred option. Maybe because of the above mentioned reasons, maybe because of other reasons.

Luckily you can source and recruit talent yourself.

When you know the basics of searching people you can start finding them if you know what you're actually looking for.

Before you start to hunt talent down, write a clear job description and agree with whomever is going to work with the prospective employee on wat the job requirements are.

When you have that sorted, you can start your search.

Here’s a possible do it yourself approach to searching talent and starting a conversation:

1. Select the platforms where you're ideal candidate hangs out

Every candidate persona has their own specific platform where they are active. Recruiting for engineers? They are probably on GitHub and Stack Overflow. Looking for data talent, check Kaggle. In need of talent with a voice? Medium is your go to source. 

Here’s an overview of platforms, who’s on there and how you can search them:

🧠 Alternative platforms to source talent on

2. Know your search operators

Many recruiters search for their entire career without knowing how to write a proper search string. Are you using quotations “ “ properly? And what about the asterisk *? By knowing how search engines work and by using advanced operators you can make your search a lot more targeted.

Here’s an overview of search operators:

🔎 Advanced search operators to make targeted search strings

3. Use the right job title synonyms

Different people with basically the same job have entirely different job titles. Take a sales executives for example, they go by many different names like Account Executive, Sales Associate, Sales Manager and many other names. When you include those synonyms in your search string you can expect targeted search results and you’re able to find talent that other recruiters, even agencies, don’t find. 

Here’s a list of synonyms per role:

Job title synonyms

4. Find out where talent wants to be contacted

So you have found your candidates online and want to jump in and reach out to them. Before you do that, it’s a good idea to check out where candidates prefer to be contacted. You can find out by using tools that find other social media links of the candidate and tools that find the right contact details so you can contact the candidate by phone or email in addition to your messages on social platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.

🕵 How to find contact details and social links

5. Reach out

Now you know where the candidate wants to be contacted, it’s time to reach out. Reaching out seems simple: draft a message and hit send. But hard to find candidates are easily frustrated or simply not interested when a message doesn’t address them personally. That’s why you have to spend some time researching the candidate and drafting a personalized message.

These are some examples of messages you can use:

💬 Message templates for effective outreach

Have fun finding people!

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