Fast Track Recruitment

Why are you always so negative about stuff?

Posted by Mitch on 17th January 2014


I get asked this question from time to time and I have two standard responses to it.

The first is “I’m not” and the second is “Fuck off”.

Today I’d like to expand upon the first response.

I’m often perceived as being someone who hates the recruitment industry – and agencies in particular.

That perception is, I believe, caused by the fact that I quite often criticise the agency part of the industry, its practises and what I perceive to be its delusions of relevancy.

I particularly dislike the way the industry seems to want to constantly massage its own ego by shouting about its successes, despite collectively only enjoying about a 1 in 5 success rate on all the vacancies their clients ever ask them to fill.

If any other business in any other sector enjoyed those kinds of conversion rates, they’d keep quiet about it. That’s assuming they stayed in business long enough.

But recruitment agencies do stay in business long enough, which begs the obvious question – how?

They stay in business because recruiting new staff is a task that most HR people and hiring managers dislike intensely.

Recruitment is dirty work. It’s dirty work because filling jobs requires dealing with a lot of shit.

That’s shit that comes from hiring managers who don’t really know what they need and who seem to think that all recruiters need to do to conjure-up suitable candidates is hit the F5 button on their computer.

Shit from candidates who don’t read job ads properly (although to be fair, most aren’t worth reading properly) and who think they’re the best person for every job they apply for.

And shit from HR people who, when it comes to recruitment, act like all they really want to be doing is lying on a sofa in the foetal position crying their eyes out.

This corporate disdain for the process of attracting and hiring new staff is manifested by their collective blind willingness to encourage several recruitment agencies to all simultaneously rampage through their target candidate audiences saying whatever they think is necessary to get some of these people to agree to attend an interview, just so that they (HR and hiring managers) can get their jobs filled by doing as little work as possible themselves.

This is the equivalent of hiding lots of bags of sweets in your house, asking a gang of sugar-hungry 6 year-olds to look for them and then expecting the house to still be tidy when they’ve finished.

And so the mutual loathing between clients, agencies and candidates gets racked-up another few notches, whilst CEOs continue to tell the market that “hiring great talent is our biggest challenge for the coming year”.

No shit.

The truth is that I like the recruitment industry. I don’t like what it is now necessarily; but I do like what it could quite easily become.

What it could become is an industry full of agencies that recognise this pain that many companies feel about recruitment and who can take that pain away – by filling jobs properly.

And the best way to fill jobs properly (and consistently) is for one company to choose one agency to fill one job.

If companies who need the services of an external recruitment supplier can’t be bothered to do the due-diligence to select those agencies that can guarantee delivery – and if agencies can’t commit to taking-on that responsibility, then everyone involved in this destructive jamboree needs to stop whinging.

Companies need to stop whinging about how unprofessional or unpredictable they think agencies are and agencies need to stop deluding themselves that their clients like them.

I’m sometimes negative about the recruitment industry because I care about it. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother.

I care about it because it’s important. After all, we’re talking about people’s careers here. What people do for a living is one of the 4 most important things in their lives and that alone should ensure that everyone takes the whole thing seriously.

To end on a more upbeat note, I do see some light at the end of the tunnel. That light is provided by the emergence of the inhouse recruitment sector – notwithstanding its rather annoying collective smugness.

When recruitment is done well inhouse, the quality rises quite dramatically. The ads tend to more informative (not to mention, honest), the candidates tend to be treated better and the new hire tends to be of a better quality, which means they probably stay longer.

If the agency sector could take a leaf out of the inhouse sector’s book and start applying those lessons to their clients, everyone would be a lot happier.

Even me.


By Craig Watson on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Hi Mitch
Sometimes I’m not quite sure whether you’re a lover or a hater… Whatever it is it’s keeping the bastards honest!

By Stephen O'Donnell on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

That should be your motto Mitch, “I swear because I care.”

And I particularly like this analogy.

“This is the equivalent of hiding lots of bags of sweets in your house, asking a gang of sugar-hungry 7 year-olds to look for them and then expecting the house to still be tidy when they’ve finished.”

By Ian Harvey on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

I agree with a lot of this, Mitch. I still think that the essential problem is that many client companies don’t take recruiting seriously enough, and certainly don’t take supplier management seriously enough. Consequently they get the service they deserve. Recruiters provide the level of service they can get away with.

By Robert Wright on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Love the blog Mitch. Particularly your use of the image of sugar hungry kids ripping a house apart. Nice touch.

I have to confess you do sometimes remind me of the character Moriarty in Kelly’s Heroes:

Oddball: Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
Moriarty: Crap!

By Steve Ward on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Mitch, you know I am so much in agreement with you. And as someone who equally in the past has been accused of being ‘negative’ and ‘anti-agency’, I understand the position of your observations being out of overall care for the agency. Mind you, I still think it needs to be cut by 50%. But that’s another argument!

But equally, the sentiments are rather generalistic, both about contingency rec, and inhouse solutions. There are proportionally as many excellent contingency recruitment firms, as they are many excellent inhouse functions - and vice versa. Equally, both has poor examples, and equally the retained sector has many detractors - because in all disciplines there is too many bad eggs, affecting the perception.

Sure contingency isn’t going to produce the best stats in job-placement ratio - but the average contingency recruiter will have a larger pool of jobs and therefore offer each individual candidate more opportunities - particularly in niche sectors - which most recruiters should now be dealing, to justify their fee. So actually, our candidate to placement ratio can often be higher. It depends who you want to focus on.
The client chooses contingency, and therefore puts expectation on more heads to identify the best shortlist. The expectation on each recruiter is thus reduced and so the yardstick is different.

There is contingency done bad, and there is contingency done well.

By Mitch on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Craig, I’m a bit of both. The love part is the smallest bit, I admit.

By Mitch on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Stephen, the “fuck off” was reported speech, so doesn’t count. 

And being a Scotsman, you’ll know better than most that “shit” isn’t a swear word.

By Mitch on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Ian, I totally agree with that observation.  I’m currently working on a training course that covers that very thing.

Appreciate your feedback.

By Mitch on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Thanks Robert.

By the way, Oddball was a airhead hippy.  Man.

By Mitch on Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Hello Steve.

You’re right, I am generalising. But it’s pretty hard to anything else.

I don’t have a problem with contingency per se - just with the fact that symptomatic of a “we have these cars in all colours, as long as it’s black” type of customer service.  I think most agencies will have a number of clients that both want and deserve something better than that.

I also take onboard your observation about recruiters having less expectation on them, but can’t see how that is a good thing, for anyone, including the recruiter.

So yes, there is such a thing as contingency done well - but why does it have to stop at that?

By Simon on Wednesday, 13 April 2016

“...despite collectively only enjoying about a 1 in 5 success rate on all the vacancies their clients ever ask them to fill”

You answer this point yourself later on. If an average of three agencies are engaged, this means that success rate for agency recruiters as a whole goes up to about 70%!

Also, in-house recruiters are, by and large, a pointless cost when it comes to anything but the most run-of-the-mill roles (read transactional finance!).

They don’t have a clue about the market in which they are trying to operate that week, and so they fail, meaning that you end up shelling out for the salary and costs of the in-house ‘recruiter’, the same agency fee (or more because they charge more for what they perceive to be a weaker job), plus a longer process, and the resultant costs associated with this.

These costs include opportunity costs in terms of sales or efficiencies, plus the potential cost of temporary cover, or the ‘cost’ of morale for the team who ends up covering extra workload - which can lead to other team members leaving! Not to mention the cost of missing out on the best candidates on the market due to an inefficient and protracted process.

No, an in-house ‘recruiter’ merely sifts through ad responses, and carries out a basic, perfunctory LinkedIn search. How can someone who recruits for finance, HR, legal, procurement, IT and clerical roles be expected to any more than this?

By Mitch on Thursday, 14 April 2016

Thanks for your comment, Simon.

So are you agreeing with me that inhouse recruiters should work more exclusively with those agencies that specialise in those niche, hard to fill roles?

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