I remember a day some time ago, early in my career. Another normal day in the office; making calls, arranging interviews etc. What made this day particularly stand out in my memory was a call I made to a prospective client. I found a lead for a design agency looking for a Web Developer. I specialised in resourcing for the Digital and New Media industry, and gave them a call straight after researching who the Decision Maker was on LinkedIn.
“Hi”, I said, introducing myself and my company. “I’m looking for [decision maker's name].”
“Can I ask what the call’s regarding?”
“Sure, I was calling about the Web Developer vacancy – I specialise in these roles and wanted to have a chat about a great candidate who could be of interest”.
“OK,” the chap replied, warily. “He won’t take any recruitment calls, he hates agencies and won’t work with them.”
I started asking for an email address to send through details, when he interrupted and said his boss was there and wanted to speak to me. Great! I thought to myself. Must want to see what we can offer.
I was hit with a tirade. “I don’t know where you’ve found out about our vacancy but I have zero interest in using you. As far as I am concerned you’re little better than pimps, selling people for profit. Your whole industry is filled with thieves and is despicable.”
His rant continued for another 15 seconds or so, calling me worse (and unprintable) names, before slamming the phone down.
My first reaction was shock; I hadn’t experienced anything like that, most people at least stay civil. My second was indignation – when I googled their company the second listing was a complaints.com entry filled with complaints about that agency’s pushy and rude salespeople. But mostly it got me thinking: why does the industry have such a bad reputation, and is it deserved?
There’s little doubt the industry has a bad rep. Everyone has a horror story about a terrible recruiter and there are regular scandals about recruiters behaving badly, from posing as candidates to gain leads to sending snide emails to candidates – in one example the recruiter lost his job due to the backlash. Recruiters are often compared to second-hand car salesmen; slimy, greasy and pushy fibbers who are completely sales-driven and don’t care about their customers, only their next sale.
The first issue contributing to the negative image of the industry is the nature of agency recruitment itself. Most recruiters work on a contingency basis, and only get a fee on candidate placement. If you play it as a numbers game, you need X amount of candidates to interview (across a range of active roles) to get 1 placement. For every candidate that interviews, you probably spoke to 3. For each of those 3, you probably reviewed 15 CVs. So, our equation is 15 x 3 x X = 1 placement. The value of X depends on the industry and role – if it is 10, then you probably spoke to 30 candidates in total, and looked at 450 CVs. Most recruiters are expected to make a minimum 2 placements a month.
As a result, we work hard and work long hours, but based on the number of CVs we look at and candidates we speak to, we have to prioritise our time, spending as little as possible on candidates who are unsuitable and focusing on our ‘winning tickets’; the candidates we have most confidence in placing. I’m proud to say that all the candidates I have placed have thanked me for the time and dedication I gave them. On the flip side, there were plenty of candidates who got far less of my time. It may not be fair, but as my client is the one paying me, I have to remember where the money is and dedicate my time accordingly.
The second issue is how saturated the industry is. Clients regularly receive dozens of calls from recruiters and large companies have PSLs with hundreds of agencies. It is better to be first than it is to be better – there are a limited number of candidates and the first recruiter to speak to the candidate for a role gets ‘ownership’. Hence, speed is often prioritised over service and candidates may get bumped to large numbers of roles, even if they aren’t right for them, simply to get them in first before someone else can. Unfair on the candidate, annoying for the client, but that is the nature of contingency recruitment. Clients who enjoy working with agencies usually have a small PSL of trusted agencies with a long-standing relationship, and won’t accept candidates (without very good cause) from other agencies to maintain that relationship.
The final issue is the industry’s entry requirements. Easy to get into, requires few qualifications, high reward. I’ve yet to meet a recruiter who didn’t fall into it – I don’t know anyone whose lifelong ambition has been to be a recruiter! Cowboys are always going to be drawn to the industry but don’t last against those who act with integrity. Most recruiters quit within the first year, and those who make it through are those who see beyond the lure of the quick buck and recognise that to build a career takes a heck of a lot of time and dedication – the antithesis of a cowboy recruiter.
Every industry has its share of bad apples and recruitment is no different. There are bad recruiters out there, but to tar them all with the same brush is to do a multi-billion pound industry a disservice. The industry exists because it is necessary, and provides a genuine service to the vast majority of clients. Most recruiters are nice people, working hard to put food on the table and a roof over their families’ heads. And believe me, we hate cowboys just as much as you! If you still aren’t convinced, ask yourself this – is it the recruiter who is to blame, or the industry?
Related: Why the Recruiter Never Called You Back.