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“I’ve been in agency recruitment for a few years and am ready for my next step, so I’m going internal...” Stop and ask these 10 questions first!

I used to recruit externally in Accounting & Finance and prided myself on giving honest opinions when consulting with Big 4 first movers who were debating whether to progress up the ranks post-CA qualifications, or move into a commercial organisation. What does this have to do with career paths for recruiters? Well, there’s a lot of overlap in the role structure and environments you typically come across in each, and I find myself having similar conversations now.


I read recently in Shortlist the number of agency recruiters jumping ship to internal is trending upwards, with R2R specialists Hamilton Professional stating that 25% of their experienced recruiters are now enquiring about moving internal - notably high numbers for them and also not limited to the more senior end of the recruiting scale.

If you’re in this scenario, here are 10 questions I’ve adapted from chartered accounting to recruiters that I think you should ask yourself first. You might think they’re framed in a biased way, but I’m intending to challenge a few assumptions. If you surprise yourself with your answers to any of these then read on (or call me!).

  1. Firstly, and simply: Do I enjoy working with a variety of clients and having the ability to act as an external partner, or would I prefer to be embedded in one company? 


  1. Would I prefer to be an expert in the role types I recruit, or an expert in the organisation I recruit for, that I know inside and out? (NB I can continue to be an industry expert via either avenue)


  1.  As I progress up the ranks, how do I feel about the business development and sales expectations on my shoulders - does it excite me finding and winning that work, or does it drain me? If it’s my least favourite part, can I chalk it down to being a means to an end (as we would with things like admin tasks etc), or do I genuinely dread it?


  1. Have I considered that agency recruitment tends to be (not always, I know!) relatively structured, where my career progression is based on my individual performance and where I’m rewarded tangibly for high performance? 


  1. Would I prefer the stability of a higher base salary, or am I willing to back myself with a lower base, in the belief I can earn significantly more overall through commission?


  1. Have I actually done enough research into life on the other side? I.e. have I spoken to others who have made this transition and understood what their motivators were, what the reality has been, and how this relates to my own personal goals?


  1. If I’m super candidate oriented, have I considered that if someone is not suitable for my business, I will be the one rejecting them (versus helping them find other opportunities in the market)? 


  1. Am I thinking this is the easier life (*spoiler: it isn’t!)? You are expected to fill all roles/briefs with nowhere to hide if you don’t, you do not have the option to pick and choose, or walk away if it doesn’t fit your area of specialisation.


  1. Am I aware that if I’m on a visa as an expat, agencies are often better equipped and willing to support visa/PR applications, given it’s such an expat-heavy industry?


  1. Finally, and this I believe is the one people overlook most frequently: Am I fundamentally looking for a change of role, or, am I actually looking to change the current environment I’m in? 


As somebody who has worked in external and internal recruitment roles over my last few years (as well as been a hiring manager for my own team in the past), I faced this same dilemma myself just over a year ago. When I made that transition I ended up in a less common internal position, working in Talent Acquisition for a recruitment firm. Some liken this to Rec2Rec, however I do focus purely on one organisation that I can, hand on heart, tell people how much I genuinely love it and believe in (many of you will have seen the LinkedIn posts!). 

What I’ve found is that great recruiters often reach this crossroads in their careers: if you’re successful you tend to stick to the devil you know in the environment you’ve so far succeeded in (especially contract recruiters bound by ‘golden handcuffs’ of your established contractor book), even if the environment isn’t right for you. Or, if you’re looking to make a move you start to contemplate shifting to internal.

From every conversation I’ve had it almost always boils down to, “I’d like to step away from sales”. And most of us have seen those ‘classic’ recruiter types...the ones who absolutely LOVE business development and are happiest talking to a difficult client who have zero interest in talking to them, only to subsequently win them over with charm and grace. Those of us who think we’re less natural salespeople may compare ourselves and say “that’s just not me”, however, I’ve also been exposed to such a broad range of recruitment styles amongst our top performers - there is no single approach that works in our world. Our 2018 top performer does not strike you as a ‘salesperson’, yet billed $1.1mill after joining us with zero recruitment experience only 3 years ago.

MMK (and a number of other great agencies) may be different from the environments you’ve been in; not all agencies are overflowing with the heavily KPIed, aggressively salesy recruiter types you can spot from a mile off, and the challenges you’re facing now may not apply at all elsewhere. It can be genuinely rewarding and consultative work, where BD isn’t a hard slog: because the brand is credible, the networks are deep and you’re on so many PSAs that work actually can come to you rather than hunting for every last role. Here at MMK our team utilise various tools to help build their desks up: events, blogs, external partnerships with industry leading bodies (Atlassian, the Change Management Institute, PwC to name a few), as well as simple tactics like extremely well targeted candidate floats that frequently convert into placements! Our global reach and boutique approach works perfectly for us to to set people up for success; our team are supported in establishing and maintaining their own micro-business, in an environment where the tools, wisdom and camaraderie around them enables them to be the very best they can be.

Yes, going internal can absolutely open up avenues to other areas related to Talent. My role has certainly enabled me to broaden, for example focusing on our Employee Value Proposition, as well as L&D projects and external accolades like the Great Places to Work Awards (where we debuted as #10 Best Place to Work in Australia for the under 100 employees category). However, I speak to people frequently who are at that crossroads and in so many cases, those far better suited to staying in external decide to move in house (or indeed vice versa, convinced that they want to be in agency when their motivators so clearly fit with an internal or RPO model). I’ve also seen people who made the move from external to internal and back again for multiple reasons. 

If you’re still reading then here are some (very generalised) key differences to weigh up:

If ultimately the sales element is the only thing that puts you off then I’d urge you to really challenge your thinking here. ‘Sales’ doesn’t need to be what defines you as an agency recruiter, so long as you get a buzz out of consultative partnering client conversations and placing high calibre candidates. You don’t need to be KPI’ed heavily to know that the more people you network with the more successful you’re going to be. 

After you’ve really thought about the roles themselves, you also need to think about your financial drivers...does higher reward from higher risk (that is, lower guaranteed salary but higher total earning potential) work for you or are you craving stability of a higher base? It’s still somewhat taboo to say you’re money motivated and I personally don’t think money should come first above all else - at MMK we’re quality driven and need the focus to be on quality, not a sale at any cost - but money enables us to achieve goals we’ve set, and having more of it may enable those goals to come quicker. A wedding, a house deposit, a car or even just future financial security for your family. Once you’ve mastered your craft in recruitment your potential to earn could be quadruple your base salary (or more assuming you’re on an uncapped commission basis!), but you need to back yourself and be disciplined with your approach. If you’re 2+ years’ in to your recruitment career, you’ve already done the hard work with upskilling yourself so why not reap the financial rewards?! 

My advice? You should never be in a role that takes more from you than it gives, but if you’re ready for your next step in your career just remember you don’t necessarily need to look at completely changing your whole might be the environment, culture, mentorship, sector focus etc that isn’t aligning for you where you are. Of course I like to think we nail all the above, I’m biased, but all I’m saying is this: both paths are absolutely great, you just need to ask the right questions in order to pick the right path. Not all agencies are the same and if you explore elsewhere (*hint hint!*) you may just find what you’re missing. Hamilton’s advice quoted in Shortlist echoed this, suggesting you should work for at least 2 agencies before moving internal - "You might just not like the agency you're working for."

In hindsight I certainly didn’t ask these questions of myself and I was lucky enough to find the right home regardless, but if you’re going internal, make sure it’s the role you think it’s going to be. 

Please reach out to Steph Newth, Talent Acquisition (, to hear more about her own journey between external to internal recruitment, but also about MMK, opportunities available, and what makes us one of Australia’s #bestplacestowork2019, including our approach to recruiting.



  • Oct 30, 2019
  • Australia
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Vanessa Harding-Farrenberg

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