Talent Acquisition

How Staffing Firms Can Survive the Future of Recruitment

A few months ago I met a prospective client who is the recruitment manager for a major international consumer goods company. Naturally talk turned, as I’d hoped, to how, when and who they used as third-party recruitment agents? The answer did not make me feel well.

In short the use of agents had over the last two years fallen off the end of a cliff. Not because of a downturn in company fortunes (far from it – they’re going great guns) but because of a strategy to employ a skilled in-house recruitment team and furnish them with the right new media tools and recruitment software. The net result of all three of these steps (a triumvirate of in-house team, new media tools, and recruitment software) was that the need to rely upon an external recruiter to provide talent had simply faded away.

More and more often I am hearing, reading and seeing similar storylines develop amongst the kinds of companies that I would ordinarily view as prospective clients. Luckily to date I’ve not had any of my current client base take me to one side and whisper apologetically: “Look Rob, it’s not you, it’s us … we’ve moved on and, well, the thing is … we think you should too”. But the day may well come and if it does it won’t surprise me.

So what’s a third-party recruiter to do? Here’s a survival guide and field notes for those that want to carry on succeeding at being recruiters:

  1. Specialise: Choose a niche that you can call your own and be the go-to-guy/girl when an employer needs this specialist ingredient. The trick here is to be specialist enough so that your industry knowledge is valued and hard to replicate but not so specialist that the chances to actually do some work are few and far between.
  2. Diversify: Sounds counterintuitive given what I have written above but maybe you should look at offering other types of services or seeking supplementary income streams? Can you provide training services to other recruiters for instance? Or make some money from blogging or presenting? How about CV rewriting for one-fees? Just some quick suggestions to give you a picture of what else you could do. Get your thinking cap on.
  3. SMEs: In my experience often recruiters will gravitate towards the bigger fish in the pond – more vacancies, higher salaries, slicker processes, kudos etc. However, it’s these larger companies that have moved towards doing it for themselves as tools and strategies have got better. Why not turn your attention to the SMEs? You’ll need more of them as they won’t recruit often but they are more likely to buy-in a recruitment service as and when they need it rather than carry an in-situ team through lean times and good.
  4. Join a Big Un: On this point I’m taking a bit of a punt but I think that in general that big companies like dealing with big companies and will continue to do so ad infinitum. So although some hiring companies will take recruitment in-house others will seek to outsource lock, stock and barrel in an RPO deal and focus instead on their core business.
  5. If you can’t beat them, join them: If you’re a good recruiter and you know your market why not join your client’s payroll as a member of their recruitment team? For some this transition will be fairly easy, others less so.

Reading my blog back I’m a bit concerned that I might be appearing to be sound the death knell of the third-party recruitment industry. Let’s be clear – I’m not. The industry continues to do well (particularly I hear in sectors where skills shortages create a fertile market for recruiters; e.g. engineering, scientific) and as the economy recovers I’m sure agents will thrive as job markets bounce back.

The caveat is that more than ever clients will be asking for demonstrable value and not just CVs raked off job boards or search maps copied from Linkedin. I welcome such developments as ultimately I expect greater competition and more empowered clients will lead to improvements in the industry, a raising of the bar and a filtration of the less (ahem) desirable practitioners.

Anyone who hasn’t noticed the big changes that have taken place so far within hiring companies and the quickening development of internet, mobile and software tools that enable these companies to do it for themselves are failing to identify the Os & Ts in their most recent SWOT analysis. Good luck with that.

Related: What Makes a Good Recruitment Trainer?

By Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a Man of Kent now living in York with two kids and with another in the oven. He lives in a bombsite and is working the NHS Leadership Academy to support Trusts recruiting at board level. You can find him on Linkedin, Twitter - @robmwright or in the kitchen at parties.