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A Guide to Selecting the Right Building Materials Recruitment Firm

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A Guide to Selecting the Right Building Materials Recruitment Firm

Hiring the right talent is crucial in today’s increasingly competitive building materials market. While price, product, promotion and place are all important, your team remains the most important part of your success.

As the building materials market continues to strengthen, the demand for talent has increased, and the availability of that talent has reduced. Thus, companies are increasingly turning to recruitment firms to assist them in their search.

In this guest post by Stephen Borer from TalentSphere, Stephen explains the steps to take in deciding when, how and who to use when considering working with a recruitment firm.

Before You Start

Before you even think about engaging a recruitment firm you need first to consider

  1. Is there anyone internally that I can promote or transfer into this role?
  2. Is there anyone in my existing network who I know would be great in this role and who I can easily pick up the phone to?
  3. Do I have the internal resources to hire this role myself?

Remember the cultural implications on hiring externally. If there is a good internal option, why not give them the opportunity? Maintaining a healthy culture of internal personal development and promotion will contribute to incentivising and motivating your existing team.

Don’t be shy about picking up the phone and speaking to your connections. People in our industry like helping each other and are often happy to give a referral if they can. It is no guarantee, but often a good recommendation can present much less risk than someone completely unknown to the business.

Internal resources (internal recruiter, HR manager or office manager) can often help you hire some of the less ‘mission critical roles’ or roles where there are enough available candidates in the market to negate the need for headhunting. The key differences between these resources and a specialized recruitment firm are that

  1. They do not necessarily have the breadth of existing network
  2. They can be limited by their ability to headhunt (remember that you don’t want to start a talent war with your main competitor so don’t necessarily want people from your own firm doing the headhunting)
  3. They may not have the skills and experience necessary to do the headhunting
  4. They may not hire this type of role regularly enough to be able to differentiate a ‘great candidate’ from an ‘average candidate.’ With sales recruitment this is especially true, a good sales recruiter is working with sales people all day every day so can tell the difference.

More often than not though internal resources are quite capable of running advertisements, screening candidates and even doing some headhunting. You might even be tempted to do some of this yourself. The biggest question you have for such a decision is ‘how much do I value my own time?  Are there other things that I could be doing that would be more profitable to me than spending time recruiting’. Recruiting yourself is not impossible, but it does take a lot of time and resources and does run the risk creating yourself more issues if you are not successful first time around.

Why Use a Recruitment Firm?

The single most important reason for using a recruitment firm is that they will help you secure the best candidate in the market for your vacancy. A recruitment firm should add you value by

  1. Giving you access to a wider pool of candidates including those not actively seeking new career opportunities (SOURCING & ATTRACTION)
  2. Improve your ability to determine a candidate’s likelihood of success within your organization (SELECTION)
  3. Help manage the offer process and improve your chances of successfully hiring your chosen candidate (OFFER NEGOTIATION)
  4. Help onboard the candidate and ensure a smooth transition into your business (ONBOARDING)

Choosing a Recruitment Firm

Recruitment firms come in different shapes and sizes, and each will have their ‘pitch’ to the merits of their particular firm. The important points to consider when selecting a firm are;

  1. Is the firm a specialist in your industry?
  2. Does the firm operate at the right level for the type of role that you are hiring?
  3. Does the firm specialize in the type of role that you are hiring?
  4. Is the person pitching to you actually doing the recruitment?
  5. Do you like and trust the recruiter?


Agencies will be generalists or specialists. Which works better for you will depend on the role you are hiring and your mentality towards talent. Take a sales person for example;

Some organizations will place great value on a sales person coming in with knowledge of the products that they are selling; knowledge of the clients they are selling to; understanding of the channel that they are selling; or even having existing relationships in the market. A SPECIALIST agency is essential in this example.

Other firms will value more highly the caliber of the individual; the sales training they have been exposed to; the behavioral competencies that they display; or the potential they demonstrate for development as a sales professional. Relevant industry experience maybe less important to this client. A GENERALIST or SPECIALIST agency can both arguably do this role as well as the next.


Recruitment firms come in three general guises. There are generalist recruitment agencies, recruitment firms, and executive search practices. Each are far more effective at their own level.

Generalist recruitment agencies tend to work on roles such as junior, entry level, labor, support staff or temporary staff. They rely more heavily on advertised selection and their own database. These agencies are very rarely industry specialists but can operate very efficiently under tight time pressures and can be relied upon when you have issues at a junior level and do not have the time to deal with them. The temporary model can also offer you a flexible work force that is far more effective at managing fluctuations in workload.

Recruitment firms will work on contingent (where you pay the fee at the end of a successful process) or retained (where you engage with an agency to fill your vacancy by way of an upfront fee often approx. 1/3rd of the total fee). Depending on the firm, they will tend to use their existing network, run advertised selection and do targeted headhunting. These firms tend to work on roles from manager level to SVP. 

Executive Search firms tend to work only on a retained basis. They will have much more robust research capability, and consultants themselves will mostly be ex-senior level executives from the industry with extensive personal networks. These firms will be best utilized for C-Level searches and should really be the only place you go looking for a C-Level appointment.

Type of role

Before engaging with a recruitment firm, you should absolutely request relevant references and examples of similar roles they have successfully hired. Some roles that recruitment firms work on will be confidential due to the nature of the work. However, any recruiter worth their salt should be able to give you a number of specific examples with named firms that are relevant to your position. Recruiting a sales person is very different from recruiting an engineer. Recruiting a production supervisor is very different to recruiting a VP HR. You should satisfy yourself before engaging with a firm that they have a proven track record in the area of recruitment that you have the need. If they can’t give you both past client and past candidate names to speak to as references, you should probably go elsewhere.

Who does the recruitment?

Not all recruiters are created equal. Above and beyond everything else, getting a good recruiter that has relevant experience, that asks the right questions, that has the drive and commitment to get the job done, that will represent your business as you would like and who is actually going to meet the candidates themselves, prepare the shortlist themselves and manage the entire process themselves is paramount. Make sure you ask who will be doing the interviews, who will be managing the process and who is doing the headhunting. You are paying good money for their time, make sure it is their time that you are getting and not the office junior.

Negotiating with a recruitment firm

Once you have decided on the best recruitment firm, you need to put in place a contract between your businesses. The three key parts to a contract engaging a recruitment firm are;

  1. The fee. Fees come in different shapes and sizes but generally are calculated as a percentage of the candidates’ first-year annual salary. You should check whether this includes car allowance or any other parts of the package. Generally, you should pay on basic salary only. If you prefer a fixed fee, negotiate one up front. Sometimes it is better to have a pre-agreed fee so that the recruiter is able to negotiate salaries without impacting their own fee. This allows them to operate more impartially.
  2. The guarantee period. Recruiters are dealing with people. The reality is, however, well you have done selecting the right recruiter, however good they are and however diligent you have both been throughout the recruitment processes, things can still go wrong, and the candidate may not work out. Make sure that you are both clear on the guarantee parameters before engaging in the process.
  3. Payment terms. Understand what your payment terms are because generally, this will impact your guarantee period. Make sure you pay on time just in case. Most recruiters can be flexible within reason assuming there are no credit issues on your account.

A final piece of advice regarding the contract; set a timeline on the contract. Good recruiters will expect to work exclusively with you. There are great advantages to genuinely partnering with an agency and not just spamming your job out to multiple agencies. By giving the recruiter the access and information they need will save you time in the long run. They will be more motivated, will have a deeper understanding of your business and what you are looking for, and they will have the security to invest heavily in the sourcing and selection process (if you are working with multiple agencies all working on a contingent basis, you will generally get resumes fired over to you as the first one or two that the agency comes across rather than at the end of robust selection process on their end). However, this exclusivity should only last so long. By setting a reasonable timeline, you motivate your recruiter to succeed within the set time as well as giving you the flexibility to look elsewhere if they do not perform.

Partnering With a Firm

A good recruiter, given the opportunity, will add your business a great deal of value. Set the rules in terms of who they speak to and how they engage with your business but also give them the opportunity to add you value. Given the opportunity a good recruiter can;

  1. Provide salary and compensation advice that is current and very specific to your market.
  2. Help close candidates on your business in competitive scenarios.
  3. Provide advice on selling points to prospective candidates by best understanding their needs as a candidate.
  4. Help put together job descriptions and competencies.
  5. Advise you on appropriate screening, testing and interview techniques.
  6. Alert you to available talent coming onto the market even when you do not have a particular role in mind (don’t you want to know when the top sales guy at your competitor is looking around the market?).
  7. Alert you to any employer branding issues you may have. It is always good to know the perception of your brand from outside.

A relationship with a recruiter should improve with time. The better they get to know your business the more value they can add you and the more loyal to your brand they will become. Ultimately you would like to have them as an extension of your own business.

Where to Look

Finding a firm can be a minefield. Surfing the web poses the same issue as any other service. Just because they have the best SEO, does not mean they are the best-suited firm for you. Recruitment is an unregulated industry so there is no single body or association you can go to. Good agencies will, however, tend to be involved within your own trade association in some way if they are genuinely involved in your industry.

Consider some of these options;

  • What brands are you already familiar with? Chances are they are the ones operating in your market.
  • Have you met any at trade fairs or industry socials?
  • Have you been headhunted yourself by any?
  • Can you get any referrals?
  • Search one of the main job boards (Indeed would be a good starting point) and see which agency is advertising the most relevant roles.
  • When you check out their website, are they advertising similar roles to the one you are looking to hire?
  • When you speak to them, do you get confidence they know what they are talking about? Listen to the questions that they are asking you and consider whether this demonstrates their own knowledge or lack thereof.
  • What references are they providing you?
  • What track record do they have?


While many organizations have developed robust recruitment processes over the years, it is incredibly rare for even those with the most sophisticated models not to need recruitment support now and again. Selecting the right partner for your needs is essential to making this a pain free and value-adding experience. Once you have the right recruitment partner though, there are vast advantages to be had beyond the most important that will always be; hiring the best candidate in the market.

Stephen Borer is Director of TalentSphere. TalentSphere specializes in the recruitment of sales, marketing, HR, and finance staff for the building materials industry across North America. His contact details are +1 778 807 9777 ext 701.

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.