Generalist vs Specialist: Which Kind of Recruiter Should You Hire for Your Team?

There’s a saying in certain circles that Java is to JavaScript as car is to carpet. It’s a phrase developers often use to explain their frustration with talent professionals who don’t know as much and, as a result, make some embarrassing missteps in their outreach and interviews — like mixing up the similar-sounding programming languages. There are even entire Reddit threads dedicated to detailing and chuckling at these recruiter faux pas. 


It’s unfortunate that mistakes like this happen. But unless you hire a specialist recruiter, they do happen occasionally. After all, no one can know everything about every role they have to hire for, especially if those roles span multiple departments and areas of expertise. 


At the same time, though, there are plenty of good reasons to hire a generalist recruiter — like their ability to be agile when the business needs it. 


There’s no clear-cut solution for which you should hire, so we turned to three recruiting experts to get their thoughts: Anastacia Flores, senior director of talent acquisition at CBS Interactive, Dr. Martin Beischl, global director of talent and culture at riskmethods, and Ross Baron, head of recruiting for Western Europe at TikTok. 


The Future of Recruiting report predicts that over the next five years, more recruiting teams will create dedicated roles in areas like talent analytics — but will this trend toward specialization also affect the recruiters themselves? Here’s what the experts had to say, along with their tips for choosing the right kind of recruiter for both your company and your team. 

The argument for specialization: Specialist recruiters know where to look for niche talent and can talk to them on their level

One of the most compelling reasons to hire a specialist recruiter is that they’re more likely to know where to find niche communities of talent. If they’re immersed in a specific community, they’ll have a good idea of where those candidates hang out — and how to approach them. 


“Two lifetimes ago, I was sourcing for front-end engineers before there were even front-end engineers,” Anastacia recalls. “I remember I would go to meetups and sit in with engineers on conferences, because I wanted to learn what was happening so that I could then better find and hire the [right] people.”


This networking can also help specialist recruiters create a network of trusted contacts that they can tap into for referrals. 


“Sometimes it’s an email to four people,” Anastacia says. “And they send it on to four of their friends and four of their friends, and you get back 57 emails of resumes.”


Once they’ve identified some prospects, specialized recruiters understand how to speak to them in a confident, knowledgeable way. This can not only help the recruiter avoid awkward Java/JavaScript-style mix-ups — which can be highly off-putting for candidates — but can give them a better sense of what those candidates really care about. If you know sales in and out, for example, then you’ll know exactly which aspects of the job to emphasize to catch a salesperson’s attention. 

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