Episode 23 – Niche vs. Generalist Recruiting

Niche vs. Generalist Recruiting

Abby: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, search consultant Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary organizations acquire top talent, while helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the difference between generalist recruiting and niche recruiting.

Stacy: Hello, I’m glad to be here today.

Abby: Stacy, to start us off, can you summarize for us the basic differences between generalist recruiting and niche recruiting?

Stacy: Absolutely. A generalist recruiter is one that works within a variety of industries or job functions. In some cases, they attempt to work within as many industries and job functions as they can. They might place an accountant one week and a nurse the next week. A niche recruiter, on the other hand, is one that specializes in a certain area. They focus on that one area and concentrate all of their energies on it.

Abby: Which of these two recruiting approaches have you taken during your career?

Stacy: I’ve done both, actually. Early in my career, I was more of a generalist recruiter. I began my executive search and recruiting career recruiting in a variety of different industries ranging from the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry where I placed high level sales and marketing executives to the Food and Beverage Industry where I placed executives and food scientists. I worked in Human Healthcare and the Television Broadcast Industry where I placed producers and editors and a Marketing Director for a major television network. Once I placed a manager for a company that made envelopes. Then I placed CPA’s in a Big 6 Public Accounting Firm. I placed a nurse in a human hospital and then a Marketing Director of another hospital. This was a great deal of work and effort having to learn all of these different industries and job functions and people in all of these areas that had very little in common with one another. When I finished a search in the television industry and then next placed an accountant in a public accounting firm I couldn’t place the same type of people over and over again. I realized after trying to be a “jack of all trades” that it made more sense to specialize and I made the switch to being a niche recruiter. I realized that by being a specialist I would have more knowledge about a particular niche or industry that would create more opportunities for both my clients and candidates. As you might have guessed, I chose the Animal Health Industry, The Veterinary Profession and the Pet Specialty Industry.

Abby: Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these two types of recruiting. What are the pros of the generalist recruiting approach?

Stacy: A recruiter who takes the generalist approach positions themselves as a jack of all trades if you will. Ideally, if their client needed an IT person, that recruiter could help. If they needed an engineer, that recruiter could help. If they needed an HR person, once again, that recruiter could ideally help fill the position.

Abby: So in theory, that would make the recruiter more valuable to the company?

Stacy: That’s correct. That’s the value proposition that the recruiter is presenting to the company, that whatever their hiring need might be, they would be able to address it.

Abby: So how would that work at the firm level? Would all of the recruiters within a generalist recruiting firm be generalist recruiters?

Stacy: Not necessarily. There are a couple of different ways that it could work. One way would be the one you just mentioned, a generalist recruiting firm that was filled with generalist recruiters. However, another way would be a generalist recruiting firm that was filled with recruiters who specialize in certain industries. One recruiter might specialize in IT, another could specialize in Manufacturing, another in Healthcare, etc.

In a situation like that one, when the firm owner receives a job order, he or she would give that order to the recruiter within the firm that could fill it the quickest. Once again, the firm would be attempting to meet all of their client’s needs. However, it would just be going about it in a different way.

Abby: What are some of the cons of being a generalist recruiter?

Stacy: For one thing, as a generalist, it’s nearly impossible to know absolutely everything about every industry. Even if a recruiter possesses knowledge about a great many industries, there’s a limit to what they can know. So the dilemma they can run into is that they have some knowledge about many areas, but that knowledge is limited. It’s also very difficult to build large networks in many different industries so the recruiter may know some people on the surface level in a multiple industries but they can’t build deep and wide networks or relationships with people in each of those industries. There is not enough time in the day for them to do that.

Here’s where that limited knowledge can be a con: if a client has a hiring need that involves a position that requires a deep and thorough understanding of the industry and/or niche. It can also be a con if the recruiter does not have an understanding of the type of candidate that’s involved and how that candidate thinks and operates. Then the recruiter is limited in what they can do and how they can meet their client’s needs.

Abby: Let’s switch over to niche recruiting. What are some of the pros of being a niche recruiter?

Stacy: Well, I’ve been a niche recruiter for close to 20 now. It’s true that when you’re a niche recruiter, you specialize in a particular area. However, when you specialize in a particular area, you can become an expert in that area. And when you become an expert, that expertise increases the level of value that you can offer to organizations.

Abby: So what you’re saying is that when you’re a niche recruiter, you’re not looking to meet all of a client’s needs, but you’re looking to meet all of their needs in a particular area?

Stacy: That’s right. Let’s say your niche is placing controls engineers. You know everything there is to know about controls engineers. That’s great if you have clients that want you to fill job orders specific to that niche. However, if they give you a job order for an accountant, you probably are not going to know how to fill it. But if you’ve made the decision to be a niche recruiter, then that’s not going to bother you. Niche recruiters make it a priority to know everything they can about their niche, so that when their clients have a need, they can meet it quickly and accurately.

Abby: So the flip side of that, the cons of being a niche recruiter, is that you can’t accept every job order that a client offers to you?

Stacy: Yes, that’s generally one of the biggest cons of being a niche recruiter. However, as I mentioned, if you’re niche recruiter, then you’ve positioned yourself as such and you’ve marketed yourself as one.

Abby: It appears as though once you make the decision to be either a generalist or a niche recruiter, it’s important to set yourself and your business up the proper way in order to enjoy success. Would you say that’s the case?

Stacy: Absolutely. Once a recruiter has made the decision to become either a generalist or work in a particular niche, they must approach their recruiting desk in the correct fashion. If you’re a generalist, you can’t expect to work as a niche recruiter, and if you’re a niche recruiter, you can’t expect to work as a generalist.

Abby: From a client or candidate perspective, do they prefer to work with one or the other?

Stacy: Companies prefer to work with whatever recruiter is able to give them results. Employers want to hire great candidates, and candidates want access to great employment opportunities. They want to work with whatever recruiter is going to help them to achieve the results they want.

Abby: Stacy, what about you? You’ve worked as both a generalist and a niche recruiter. Would it be fair to say that you prefer to work as a niche recruiter?

Stacy: That’s correct. I have greatly enjoyed my work as a niche recruiter, working in the Animal Health Industry, Veterinary Profession and Pet Specialty Industry.

Abby: From your experience, what would you say are the benefits of being a niche recruiter as opposed to a generalist?

Stacy: The longer you work as a niche recruiter, the more of an expert you become. I’ve been a recruiter for more than 20 years, and the majority of that time has been as a niche recruiter. As I said, the more of an expert you become, the more value that you can offer to your clients. When it comes to companies choosing to work with recruiters, value is the bottom line. They want to work with recruiters who can provide value and provide it consistently.

Abby: In your estimation, when does being a niche recruiter really pay off?

Stacy: There are times when an organization has an important, high-level search that they want to fill in a confidential fashion. As a result, they make the decision to give that search assignment to a single recruiting agency, making it an exclusive assignment. When it’s exclusive, fewer people know about, which makes it confidential.

In a situation like that one, I believe that it pays off to be a niche recruiter. That’s because a niche recruiter has extensive knowledge about everything that their client needs. They have knowledge of the position. They have knowledge of the marketplace. They have knowledge of the candidates in the marketplace. Niche recruiters know their niche industry better than any generalist recruiter. In fact, if they’ve been in the business for any length of time, they’ve probably built relationships with the top candidates.

High-level, confidential searches are the most important searches that a company can fill. I believe that a niche recruiter, especially one with experience and one that has a track record of success, is better positioned to fill those types of positions. When a client has a position that they absolutely, positively want to fill with the best candidate, they turn to a recruiter who they know can get the job done.

Abby: When it comes to working with candidates, does a niche recruiter have an advantage?

Stacy: I believe that they do. When a candidate wants to consider other employment opportunities, they should work with a recruiter who has a history of placing candidates just like them. That’s where experience is key. That’s where candidates can achieve the results they want with their career.

Abby: So let’s recap for just a minute as we wrap things up. From a client and candidate perspective, they want to work with the recruiter who is able to deliver results. Stacy, from your perspective and based on your experience, a niche recruiter is better positioned to help both clients and candidates ultimately reach their goals, whether they are hiring goals or career goals. Would that be accurate?

Stacy: Yes, I would say that’s the case. For clients and candidates that operate within a specific area or niche, a recruiter who specializes in that niche area is most likely the one who is able to help them the most, both in the short term and over the long haul.

As a recruiter in the Animal Health Industry and Veterinary Profession for almost 20 years I know the Animal Health Industry and Veterinary Profession because I’ve helped thousands of Animal Health and Veterinary Professionals with their careers and have worked with hundreds of employers in the Animal Health Industry and Veterinary Profession.

Now imagine a generalist recruiting firm that places accountants and IT professionals, nurses and everybody else. They wouldn’t have the relationships with Animal Health Industry professionals or veterinarians and other professionals working in the Veterinary Profession. They wouldn’t know who the top employers were in the Animal Health Industry and Veterinary Profession or who the top candidates were. They wouldn’t have the network or the relationships that a niche recruiter like myself would have in the Animal Health Industry or Veterinary Profession. I bring more value to employers in the Animal Health Profession and Veterinary Profession because of my network and relationships and my knowledge of the industry than someone who is a generalist recruiter placing in multiple different industries and functions. See the difference?

Abby: I sure do. Thanks, Stacy, and thank you for all of this great information today.

Stacy: Thank you, Abby. I look forward to our next podcast!