Hiring your first Internal Recruiter; a guide for start-ups

September 21st, 2022 | < 1 Min Read


Ambitious businesses in search of top talent are hiring their first Internal Recruiter (otherwise known as Talent Acquisition Specialist) at an ever earlier stage in their lifecycle, to ensure they can better compete in an increasingly talent-short market.

The original driving force behind this trend was the opportunity to reduce recruitment agency spend through doing most of the candidate sourcing in-house. Indeed, an Internal Recruiter on a salary of £65 000 could potentially make 25+ direct hires p/year. Assuming an average recruitment agency fee of £10 000 across each of the 25 hires, the potential ROI is very clear.

However, over the last 3 or so years, cost savings are less frequently cited as the motive and have instead been displaced by the simple desire to have more direct control over their hiring. Ambitious start-ups increasingly see recruiting as a core business activity, and are therefore keen to develop that competency in-house.

Benefits of an Internal Recruiter


Managing your recruitment in-house gives you greater control over your hiring activity.

It’s commonly agreed that the agency recruitment model is deeply flawed. The issue with agency recruitment is that, given the often Recruiter receives often no upfront financial commitment from the client, the time & effort commitment the Recruiter reciprocates to the client is limited and fragile. In essence, they will typically work on your role for only as long and hard as it suits their commercial motives.

Therefore, if your hire is posing a real challenge, it could risk being deprioritised once an easier brief comes through, all without you knowing. The result is that you’re left waiting for CV’s that are unlikely to ever materialise, costing you time and potentially money.

In contrast, an Internal Recruiter is a direct employee of your business; whose performance and activities can be monitored and managed much more closely. This goes beyond ensuring basic recruitment activity (i.e. work is being done to find candidates), to also allow more direct control over candidate communication and candidate experience, as well as a more inclusive hiring practices.

Company Specific Knowledge

An Internal Recruiter who is directly employed by your business, in theory, should be better equipped to sell the job opportunity to a candidate than a third party Recruiter (agency). A good Internal Recruiter will intimately understand the inner workings of the business, the culture, as well as the personality and dynamics of the team they would be joining, in a way that it would be difficult for an External Recruiter to replicate from afar.

Beyond this, given their relatively superior knowledge of the business and culture, they should be better qualified to assess prospective candidates for their suitability to the vacancy and the values of the company, which can save the hiring managers time by filtering out unsuitable candidates earlier in the process.

Closer Proximity to the Market

As opposed to hearing market feedback via an External Recruiter, an Internal Recruiter will be in direct contact with candidates – gaining first-hand feedback and insights from the market.

Through being in direct contact with candidates, companies can better respond to feedback from candidates on matters which may be hindering their hiring process. This could include reflections on brand positioning, culture of the business, the interview experience and issues regarding compensation.

Good External Recruiters will pass this feedback on to hiring companies, but one would assume some is missed over time and the messaging can become convoluted as it is passed on.

Naturally, there are also potential drawbacks of using an Internal Recruiter, as opposed to a specialist agency.

Drawbacks of an Internal Recruiter

  • Agency Recruiters typically specialise is one specific area (e.g. Permanent Java hires within FinTech within London), whereas Solo Internal Recruiters have to recruit across multiple areas; leading to them having a less dense network, being more stretched and being less knowledgeable about any one specific area)
  • They can become institutionalised over time with a limited perspective, as opposed to a more dynamic agency Recruiter who is continually working with different companies, offering a more holistic view of the overall market and trends
  • Candidates can be less forthcoming with Internal Recruiters regarding their interest-levels in the job opportunity, as there is greater concern that the message will get back to the hiring manager. Conversations with an External Recruiter can feel like a little more of a safe space to share concerns and feedback, helping to better resolve issues

That all being said, we will assume that you have decided to hire your first Internal Recruiter, so here is what should happen next…

  1. Consider the cost of the complementary tools they will require to do their job well.

These will include:

  • LinkedIn Recruiter Pro License
  • LinkedIn Job Advert Slots
  • ATS such as Greenhouse, Workable or Lever

It could also be worth factoring in other job sites such as Otta, as well as the potential cost of building a high-quality careers page on your website

When interviewing prospective candidates for your Recruiter role, be sure to discuss which tools they currently use and would expect you to provide. If there are any you hadn’t accounted for, ask them questions around their utility and results, before researching the associated costs. When discussing a job offer, be sure to clarify which you will and won’t provide, to ensure expectations are managed fully.

2. Vision and Desired Outcomes

The key stakeholders must ensure they are aligned in their vision for the role, to ensure clarity of the role specification and alignment in terms of the ideal candidate. What are the priorities? E.g are you seeking to become a destination for grads and school leavers seeking their first Sales role? Are you seeking better diversity within your Engineering team? This will form a cornerstone of your sales pitch to prospective Internal Recruiters in your job description and interviews.

Finally, consider what success will look like over different milestones. Assuming that you have not worked as a Recruitment Specialist before, you are going to require your new Recruiter to be self-directed, but they will need to understand what you would deem as success, so they know what to strive for.

Desired outcomes could include: hiring metrics, implementation of specific processes, hiring manager feedback, diversity within teams, employer brand recognition.

3. Written job description

Scan LinkedIn for comparable role vacancies, to help better understand your competition, the job remits and the way in which the roles are positioned.

A great job description isn’t merely a technical specification using generic language in list form. A great job description starts by telling the story of the business, selling the company’s success, while also explaining the inception of the role and the importance of the impact this person will have on the business.

It will describe the job remit in a way that sounds high-energy, varied and with ample scope for the incoming candidate to take ownership and deploy creativity.

Finally, it will describe the candidate backgrounds that will be considered. At this point, some of your key considerations are:

  • Do they need to have led on a Talent Acquisition function set-up before?

This would greatly limit the number of prospective candidates you have to select from. Furthermore, ambitious candidates typically seek new experiences as they develop their career. Given this, you will need to have a very compelling reason as to why your opportunity will take them towards their career goals, assuming it’s similar to something they have already done before.

  • Do they need technical recruitment experience?

For many start-ups, technical hiring is their biggest challenge. If a significant amount of the hiring you wish for this person to do is technical, you may decide to exclude non-technical recruiters from consideration. It is generally accepted that it is easier for a technical recruiter to turn their hand to non-technical roles, than a non-technical recruiter to teach themselves tech recruitment.

  • Do they need to have worked in a tech start-up/scale-up before?

There are some fantastic Recruiters working at FAANG Tech Giants, but their current role is likely to differ greatly from the vacancy for which you are hiring. You will need to ascertain their potential to transition in to your smaller start-up and make your own decision as to whether this is a move you wish to support. Typically, Recruiters in larger companies have:

  • The benefit of reaching out to candidates on behalf of a recognised and admired brand
  • A wider team who can assist with sourcing candidates, coordination and idea creation
  • A very narrow remit – e.g. Product hiring only
  • Do they need prior Internal Recruitment experience (vs solely having worked in an agency)?

Most start-ups opt for someone who has prior Internal Recruitment experience to occupy their first ever Internal Recruiter role, just given the importance of the hire. Whilst there are successful exceptions, it’s generally considered a big-leap for an agency Recruiter to go directly in to a stand-alone Internal Recruiter role; requiring them to independently learn on the job. Agency Recruiters typically find their first in-house home within pre-existing Internal Recruitment teams, giving them the opportunity to initially learn from other experienced Internal Recruiters.

  • Do they need international recruitment experience?

Recruiting is recruiting, but different countries have different approaches to hiring as well as different employment law and compensation structures. A good Recruiter with no prior international experience could work this all out, but if a large proportion of your hiring is across EMEA or the USA, you may find benefit in hiring a Recruiter who understands those markets.

By this point, you now have a JD that evokes excitement about the opportunity, an accurate description of the remit and clarifies the target candidate type.

4. Assessment Process

Key Considerations:

  • The ideal interview process would be 3-4 stages involving all key stakeholders (CEO, People team (if there is one), leadership team) and will avoid long delays between stages
  • If there is to be a task or case study, this is conducted at stage 3 or 4 and not before
  • Consciously sell to the strong candidates at each stage in the process
  • Candidates will be using their own interview experience with you as an insight in to the importance you place on hiring and your hiring philosophy
  • Be honest about your views on hiring and challenges to minimise the risk of your Recruiter failing or leaving soon in to their tenure. As long as you show an acceptance of your own role in any challenges you are facing, and a willingness to fix them, these should be exciting challenges for a motivated Recruiter to help solve

Stakeholder Involvement

If the CEO or key stakeholders are reluctant to get too heavily involved in the interview process, this will communicate complacency regarding hiring and will be off-putting to prospective Internal Recruiters. Ideally, key stakeholders will be involved very early in the process to help get candidates fully engaged.

Case Studies

Tasks and case studies are a great way of assessing prospective candidates and developing a fuller picture of their approach and creative thinking. However, they can often lead to candidates withdrawing from the process if the case study is set too early in the selection process; before their interest-levels have fully developed.

Therefore, we would recommend not setting a task that requires at-home preparation, before the third stage of the selection process to help minimise drop-outs.

Furthermore, case studies that feel considered and well thought-out, tend to yield the best results. A generic “First 90 days” brief is OK, but why not share a more specific hiring challenge you are facing, curate some relevant data and then ask your Recruiters to tell you how they would solve it?

This should result in something much more tangible, with scope for a real deep-dive in to their thought process. Additionally, a brief like this has greater meaning and feels much more worthwhile for a candidate, as well as giving them a chance to visualise what life would be like in the role. The subsequent Q&A should present a great opportunity to debate ideas, check for values-alignment and how the candidate justifies their ideas and pushes-back on challenges from the panel.

An ideal assessment process would be (assuming no People function in place):

  1. 45 mins with CEO
  2. 45 mins with 2 senior stakeholders
  3. 60 mins case study presentation with Q&A involving CEO and 1-2 stakeholders
  4. Meet the wider team (peer group) + chance to ask any final questions to CEO

If you already have a Head of People, typically they would run the first interview and the CEO should be part of the second round interview.

In the interest of ensuring an objective and comprehensive assessment of each candidate, we have designed this scorecard which you are free to use. Link here

  • Making a job offer

The typical compensation for a first Internal Recruiter would be made up of: Basic salary + stock options + benefits. Occasionally, there will be a performance based bonus, but this is somewhat rare in start-ups. From the moment a Recruiter moves in-house from an agency, commission & bonuses are less appealing than a solid basic salary.

  • To close

At this point, you have found a high-quality Internal Recruiter who has received a positive candidate experience, whilst also being thoroughly assessed. With the contract signed, be sure to keep in touch with them intermittently while waiting for them to join to help ensure a smooth onboarding.

Upon starting, they should be afforded the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the business, to stress-test existing hiring approaches and put forward business cases on how to affect positive change.

Once settled, your Internal Recruiter and stakeholders should agree on specific objectives and, crucially, the key stakeholders should put their full weight behind setting the Recruiter up for success, as hiring is never a solo effort.

A skilled Recruiter can work wonders for your hiring efforts, but they can’t do it all on their own. It is the responsibility of the leaders to create a culture that will appeal to prospective candidates, to deliver high-quality job interviews, to provide tangible interview feedback to the Recruiter and help champion their new recruitment initiatives. The importance of this last point can’t be stressed enough.

Thank you for taking the time to read our guide on how to Hire your First Internal Recruiter. Should you wish to discuss the process further and how Hawkwood can help, please get in touch at [email protected]

Hawkwood are a Specialist People & Talent Search Partner and have assisted start-ups such as ZOE, Ophelos, LocTax, Gravity Sketch, 9fin, Sano Genetics, Motorway and Isomorphic Labs with the recruitment of their first Internal Recruiter.

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