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Recruitment. A broken industry.

Recruitment. A broken industry.

As a job hunter, deciding which recruiter to work with can be a daunting task, because you are placing your career, and everything you’ve worked for, in someone else’s hands. And as a hiring manager, how do you ensure you’re working with a reputable recruiter who cares about your key hire and the cultural fit with your business, rather than one of the countless cowboys that litter the industry who are just after a quick fee?

Every industry has cowboys - those that discredit their industry, and drag everyone else down. I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with cowboy recruiters. I’m weary of their recruitment rhetoric and lies, and I’m fed up of the rubbish that passes for good business in our industry.

As the owner of a digital recruitment consultancy, I read the constant litany of articles posted on social platforms like Linkedin every week, where hiring managers, business owners and job hunters, who are clearly fed-up and frustrated by the status quo, echo the same sentiments.

I get many calls from companies who are finding it increasingly difficult to find quality digital staff through agencies. I hear the same stories of costly experiences and bad customer service. Recruiters are a waste time, they lack real knowledge, they’re expensive – money for old rope.

Then there are the calls with job hunters, tired of applying for jobs that don’t exist, and of dealing with agencies that don’t understand the digital industry. Tired of being promised a call that never comes. Tired and fed up with being ignored.

Recruitment is broken

My own experiences, in almost two decades in the industry as a hiring manager and a candidate, led me to start my own recruitment business – in the belief that things could, and should, be better.

As a hiring manager, I’ve wasted days of my life I’ll never get back interviewing candidates that were miles off the brief. And as a candidate I can’t tell you how many times I’ve travelled to interviews for mis-sold roles, or been told ‘we’ve got the perfect role for you’, or ‘we’ll get back to you’, and then never heard from the recruiter again!

Time and time again I’ve see first-hand how cowboys recklessly source candidates. Even now, when I’ve been running a digital recruitment business for over a year and it’s all over my LinkedIn profile, I still get calls and emails from cowboy recruiters looking to place me in their “exciting new role”.

Here’s an example of an email I received last week from a ‘consultant’ (let’s call him Gavin), who works for a well-known agency.

“Dear Ed, I saw your profile today… bullshit… and thought you looked like a great fit for a paid search manager role I’m currently working on… bullshit… bullshit… that would really help you take your career to the next level… insert masses of other total bullshit here… Cheers, Gavin.”

This sort of approach makes me angry. Angry because Gavin is about 15 years too late and obviously hasn’t read my profile at all. Angry because for every email like this there is a client somewhere who deserves better. Angry that the agency Gavin works for (and many more like it) think it’s acceptable to send this unsolicited bullshit to every single candidate they’ve ever spoken to, every time they get a new role in. I’m angry when people tar my business with the same brush, and I’m angrier still for the excellent recruiters out there (there are many), whose reputations are being sullied.

How we created the recruitment cowboy

I don’t believe our broken and soulless industry is entirely the fault of cowboy recruiters though. Hiring companies are guilty of creating an environment where they can exist and multiply like bacteria.

Having spent nearly two decades client-side, I know that recruitment agencies are often held in contempt by hiring managers, and considered little more than a necessary evil by HR, to be engaged with only when they have a hard to fill or highly specialist role, that they haven’t been able to fill internally.

In today’s world of LinkedIn, and the plethora of internet job boards, anyone (even Gavin, the serial bullshit merchant) can post a job ad and match CV’s to a brief. But we hear from lots of companies who attempt to recruit digital roles themselves and have difficulty, because they often lack the detailed digital understanding required not just to match a CV to a brief, but to match the brief with the right technical experience, soft skills and culture fit.

By the time a business turns to recruiters, the requirement has become more urgent. The role has been open for a while and they’ve probably seen a few people, but haven’t found ‘the one’. At this point, it’s typical for companies to go out to several agencies at the same time, often on a no-placement / no-fee contingency basis, driven by the desire to keep the cost of hire as low as possible.

I’ll be honest, as a hiring manager previously looking to fill roles in my team, or under pressure to build a new team from scratch, it didn’t really bother me that the role was going out to two or three agencies at the same time. Why should it? The truth is, I never even gave it second thought. I don’t think many people do, and that’s the problem.

In the false hopes of covering themselves by covering all the bases, this approach to recruitment only works if you’re a fan of throwing enough crap at the wall and hoping some of it will stick. Competition is of course healthy, but the desire for high calibre talent on the cheap can only result in ‘sausage factory recruitment’.

Whilst some businesses believe that this approach will give their recruitment process a greater degree of diligence, or that they’ll get to ‘see more good candidates’, the reality is that companies pushing for cheap talent are unlikely to get what they want.

In fact, in almost all instances it does completely the opposite and makes recruitment worse. It dilutes and cheapens the process, because the moment they engage with multiple agencies, the search for that key hire becomes nothing more than a scramble to reach the same candidates first – for fear of losing a fee to a competitor agency. Boiler-room recruiters fighting for scraps, with no time to do a proper job, and where little investment often results in poor results and added frustration.

It’s bad from a candidate’s perspective too. When they get a call about the same role from two or three different agencies, or they see the same job description on several job boards (because lazy cowboys can’t be bothered to re-write them), they’re unlikely to get a good impression. It’s likely they’ll think that the hiring company is desperate and struggling to attract talent. Maybe they’ll decide not to apply for the role after all.

Why talent on the cheap is just bad news

Have you ever stopped to wonder why this is the accepted norm when it comes to recruitment? In what other instance would you ask multiple external providers to do the same job for your business at the same time? Would you ask three different accountants to prepare your end of year accounts on the basis that two might do a crap job, and one of them might get it right? No, of course you wouldn’t. Why? Because in any other line of business, you’d have to pay for it.

And herein lies an issue that many in an HR or a hiring capacity probably won’t want to hear. Hiring companies expect the highest level of service from recruitment agencies – the problem is, they don’t want to pay for it.

Start looking at recruitment as an investment

There isn’t a quick fix for our broken recruitment industry. There is no silver bullet. To drive real change in the industry, we need hiring companies to change their attitude and approach to recruitment agencies, to start demanding quality over quantity, and to view talent acquisition as an investment – rather than something quick and dirty that needs to be done at the lowest possible cost.

In reality, there will always be businesses driven by cost of hire, and plenty of boiler-room recruiters ready to service their needs. But clients do have a choice about whether to continue to use these agencies, or seek a different approach.

It's ALL about cultural fit

If you’re tired of the cowboy approach to recruitment, why not try engaging with a recruiter on a retained basis? The difference is you'll expect to pay some sort of upfront fee on engagement, but unlike traditional contingency where recruiters work on the basis they'll probably only fill 25% of what they work on - and prioritise their work accordingly, with retained you'll get a dedicated expert with a ready network, who really understands the nuances of their market.

Retained consultants are engaged on an exclusive basis, and because they're not having to race against a multitude of other agencies for fear of losing out on a fee, they have time. Time to visit you and get under the skin of the role, your challenges, your business objectives and priorities - and, more crucially - what sort of person will fit well into your organisation.

They will also have the time to sit down with potential candidates, to understand their drivers and motivations, to probe their experience and suitability in detail before putting them forward to you. Do you think a contingency agency is going to commit to to the cost of visiting you, and every candidate they might put forward, on the basis that they only have a one in two, or three chance of earning a fee? I suspect probably not!

I would argue that retained recruitment is far less likely to result in mis-hiring. Recruitment is a major investment, in terms of time, resource and money, but the impact of making the wrong hire - especially for an SME, can be disastrous.

Aside from unrecoverable salaries and initial recruitment costs, potential loss of productivity and turnover, as well as the potential impact on your business reputation, you'll now have the added cost of re-hiring, to say nothing of the wider impact on team morale, which can be devastating.

So if you're hiring now, why not try a new approach, one that’s based on insight, performance, and added value - and a great experience for hiring managers and potential candidates alike?

Because whilst hiring companies continue to obsess over ‘cost of hire’ rather than ‘quality of hire’, and continue to pitch multiple, non-specialist agencies against each other for the same business, quality will continue to be compromised, candidates will continue to be treated like dirt, and the lazy cowboys and their bullshit will continue to exist.