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Specialist vs General Recruiter - What's the Difference?

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Hiring at an executive level is no easy task.

Where you might normally put a job out to advert and accept applications, finding the right individual with specialist knowledge, extensive experience and industry expertise can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

And, when you’re recruiting to these pivotal leadership positions, it can be extremely costly to settle for a candidate that doesn’t have the right experience in the role or industry.

In our recent white paper on The Cost of a Bad Hire, we highlight just how much more expensive it can be to end up with an inappropriate candidate.

As such, the more specialised the role, the more you need to consider whether a generalist recruiter is really going to bring you the candidates and results you need.

With that in mind, we’ve outlined the difference between a specialist executive search consultant and a general recruiter so you can find out which one you need.

Generalist Recruitment Agencies

A generalist recruiter is probably a company you’d recognise the name of, as they’re large businesses, who cover a wide range of jobs and industries.

They’ll work with people at a vast array of levels, from entry upwards, and will place candidates in all sectors, industries and across a wide range of locations.

As the name suggests, they’re not specialised in any one area, industry or candidate level, but will instead aim to work with more people and organisations.

Specialist Consultancy Firms

Contrasting our generalist firms, these types of expert recruiters work in niche industries, or with a certain level of candidate.

A specialist recruiter will have a carefully cultivated network of contacts in specific industries in order to locate and identify a potential candidate. Furthermore, this comes with reassurance that your search consultant knows your sector well, and is in a position to find an excellent fit for your business.

For example, if you needed an experienced candidate to help you fill a leadership position in your fashion business, SPS International would have the network of contacts in executive roles, and would have the industry knowledge to find someone who can bring real value to your organisation.

What's the difference between a specialist and general recruiter?

As we’ve highlighted above, a general vs specialist recruiter offers a slightly different service, which means they work in different ways. With this in mind, there are a few key differences you can expect when working with them.

  • Quantity of candidates - if you’re looking to recruit a large number of staff members in one go, usually for entry level positions, then a general recruitment agency is likely to have a large pool of candidates. Of course, while this might help you to fill seats, there’s always a risk that the quality of applicants can suffer. What’s more, this isn’t helpful if you’re looking to place highly skilled individuals in leadership or management positions, this needs a far more meticulous approach.

  • Quality of candidates - as we’ve mentioned, a general recruiter has access to a large pool of applicants. However, when it comes to quality, a specialist recruiter is better placed to find you high quality candidates for those specialised, highly skilled positions. As they are the experts in seeking out very specific individuals with very refined skillsets, you’re more likely to get a high quality candidate from an executive search consultancy firm.

  • Sector knowledge - Due to the specialised nature of a search consultancy over a recruitment agency, the people you’ll work with will have the industry or sector expertise. This is invaluable when it comes to finding the right candidate that will meet the needs of your organisation.

  • Time to recruit - A generalist recruiter may seem like a better option when it comes to speed of recruitment, as they may have candidates ready to go, and they may be able to place someone more quickly than a specialist recruiter. However, specialist recruitment may offer other time saving benefits that aren’t as immediately obvious. For example, you won’t have to sift through a huge number of CV’s, as only individuals with relevant skills and experience will be brought to you. Plus, by hiring someone who’s well suited to the role and your organisation, you’re less likely to need to rehire soon, which saves money and time in the long run.

Do you need specialist recruitment?

It depends on what you need, if you really just need people to fill seats at a lower level, then a generalist recruiter might be the best, most cost effective way to get the job done.

However, if you’re in need of highly skilled individuals at a more senior level, who will suit your business, stay with you for a long time and who deliver high quality work, then you’re better off with a specialist recruiter.

Some organisations do consider going down the generalist route for these roles, as often it can be cheaper. However, our bad hire whitepaper has highlighted just how costly it can be to end up with the wrong person in the wrong job.

So, before you decide whether you need a generalist or specialist recruiter, it’s best to carefully consider the needs of your organisation and what you want from the individual in this role.

For more information on how SPS International can support you with your recruitment solutions, and save you time and money, get in touch with us via our contact page today.

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