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Cold Desk VS Warm Desk in Recruitment

When you are getting into recruitment, you might hear “warm desk” or “cold desk” and be wondering what the difference is and what the pros and cons might be...

Let’s start with what a “desk” is. A desk is a designated sector/function or team within in the recruitment company you work for.  You would be responsible for account management and business development for your own portfolio of clients in your sector/function.  It might be an Accounting and Finance desk (specialising in Accounting and Finance recruitment for commerce and industry clients such as FMCG, Media, Big4, Telecoms, Digital) or it might be a dual desk where you can do both perm and temp/contract recruitment in your specialised sector. If you are working a “360 desk”, this means you will be responsible for the full recruitment process – business development to gain new clients/accounts, account manage the hiring needs of the new or existing clients – taking the job brief, understanding the “sell “of the job as well as sourcing your own candidates for the job, screening candidates over the phone or in person to make sure they are suitable for the job,  prepping candidates for interviews with the client, offer negotiation, reference checking in some cases, confirmation of start date as well as guiding the candidate as to how to resign from their company if needed.  As a Recruitment Consultant, you provide support and advice to both the candidate looking for a new job and a client looking to hire the best talent in the job market.   

A “warm desk” or “hot desk” is where there are a network of clients and candidates in that sector already available within the company database. Terms of business or PSA (Preferred Supplier Agreement) have been agreed with the client to supply staff to that client at set rates/fees.  You will have to do minimal business development to get up and running and start making money!

A “cold desk” or “start up desk” is where there are no clients or candidates in the company database for that sector. You will be starting from scratch. You may be able to leverage and build client relationships from the existing teams (cross-selling) but you may have to do this from scratch. You are likely to have limited candidates and will have to source them on your own using job boards, LinkedIn, headhunting, market mapping etc.

Pros and cons of a warm desk


  • You don’t need to be as concerned with the basics of setting up a desk and can focus on building and expanding the recruitment network of both clients and candidates
  • Limited cold calling or business development calls to clients need to be done as they will tend to approach you and let you know what types of jobs they are hiring for right now, or which areas of their business they are looking to hire in if they found the right talent
  • The company has a strong brand reputation in the market – easier to cold call a new client as they are likely to have heard of the recruitment company brand before
  • More likely to get referrals of new business from existing clients and referrals of passive candidates who are open to new job opportunities



  • You don’t get to build something that is yours. It is highly likely that you will have to work to the rates that are already in place with the client and prove yourself as a great recruiter in finding the right talent for them before you can negotiate a rate change


Pros and cons of a cold desk    


  • You love new business development and get satisfaction from taking total ownership of projects 
  • You will be able to be more involved in choosing which clients and candidates you work with
  • You will be able to negotiate rates/fees as there will be no terms of business or PSA already in place



  • It will be a challenge to set up the desk and establish a stable network of candidates looking for jobs and clients looking to hire. There will be a lot more ground work and admin before you will start to see success. It can take anything from 12 to 24 months before you start to reap the financial rewards from your hard work.  
  • The recruitment company is not known for this area of recruitment so when you are trying to do business development or headhunt candidates, you could face a lot of rejection or people not knowing who the recruitment firm is. You will need to develop your own personal brand in that sector as well as for the recruitment company
  • Will you be able to deliver to the management’s expectations within 3 months? Typically for a warm desk, most recruitment companies will want you to have closed your first deal or have candidates at final stages for jobs within 3 months. Would that also be the same for a cold desk? Worth an ask!


Whichever desk you decide, I wish you a fulfilling and long career in recruitment!

  • May 25, 2016
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Morgan McKinley

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