Finding the right recruiters 


In this Q&A, Dee Deol describes the differences between generalist and specialist recruitment firms. Having recently worked in both types of recruitment businesses environments he has a good understanding of the benefits of both. Dee started his career in teaching, leading a sixth form college’s business studies department, so we think he is well equipped to weigh up the pros and cons!

First, a definition of the two approaches. A generalist recruiter will have a portfolio of clients from various industries and sectors, covering a broad range of job functions and possibly locations. For example, in his previous recruitment role, Dee worked in finance across legal, construction, insurance and other industries across SE London and North Kent. In contrast, at Totum he specialises in finance but in one industry, legal, across the whole of the UK.

In your experience Dee, what are the main differences between generalist and specialist recruitment firms?

A generalist will cover a specialism across a range of industries, meaning there are more roles to apply for, particularly if you’re not concerned about which industry you want to work in. They will have to know a little about a lot of firms and industries. I remember at one generalist firm I was actively encouraged to not spend time researching a firm, just in case they didn’t pick up the phone or respond to an email. In a specialist recruitment firm, we are actively encouraged to not only know our clients but to know them as well as is possible. We regularly share our industry knowledge with our colleagues across the business and we find that law firms like that depth of knowledge as we can advise on what else is going on at competitor firms which they can find particularly useful.

A specialist firm will typically only deal in one sector or a specific type of candidate profile., This means only candidates with the relevant experience and skills will be registered, increasing their chances of finding the perfect role.

Working in one industry can be an advantage to a candidate as we acquire in-depth knowledge of the legal sector, each organisation’s needs, the nuances of their teams, how they work, the team culture, team members’ personalities, strategy and development opportunities – firms quite often use us as an extended business partner. This means we will know which organisation will suit a candidate’s skillset, career aspirations and personality. This might mean there are less opportunities or candidates might have to wait longer for the right role, but when you are put forward for a job, it will be a closer match to what they are looking for and there will be an increased chance of success.

Different approaches


Why do clients use specialist rather than generalist recruiters?

Clients come to Totum because we are specialist, we understand the client brief, the roles we are briefed on and they can then rely on us to deliver. It means they can get on with other areas of their role as quite often internal recruiters are spread thinly. Generalist firms may have a larger candidate pool to choose from, but because we work with smaller numbers, we really get to know our candidates and select only those who are right for the job. It might be a smaller shortlist but the quality is excellent. We can spend more time with the candidates to find out what they are really looking for, what size of team would fit them best, their skills and even their development needs. We offer more of a coaching conversation as we can focus on the individual rather than just their previous experience and we can tell the candidates which clients they will suit best, matching not only skills but team fit and development or promotional opportunities. This makes our job more enjoyable.

What are the downsides to working with specialist recruiters?

None of course!

There is sometimes a hesitation from clients that specialist recruiters have a limited pool of candidates and that they will only come from the one sector, in our case legal. This is not the case and certainly not in finance and accounting. We are placing more candidates from outside the legal sector than ever before because we know how law firms work and we can understand how skills can be transferred from one industry to another

For example, we introduced a candidate from an architectural firm to a top-10 law firm, who has joined the firm as a Commercial Finance Manager. They had very strong stakeholder management experience, a skill needed in both types of firms. We are able to look outside the legal service industries and see the similarities in different business-types, supporting clients and candidates with the transition.  We know that, for a variety of reasons, not all of our clients are open to candidates from outside the sector, but many will trust our judgement because of our in-depth knowledge of the team, department and industry. We truly make it our business to do so.

Generalist v Specialist?

Different roles may require different solutions and generalist and specialist recruiters will be right for different audiences and situations. But if you are looking for an agency that will listen to your needs, has an excellent understanding of their clients’ requirements and only puts you forward for roles that you have a very good chance of securing, then a specialist recruiter, like Totum, is the way to go…!

In a snapshot:

If you would like to find out more about Totum, or talk to Dee about finance and accounting roles he can be contacted at [email protected]


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.