Fast Track Recruitment

Why Recruitment Agencies Need To Become Pigs

Posted by Mitch on 6th May 2011

Bear with me on this one.

It must be searingly obvious to anyone who works in recruitment that recruitment agencies are receiving a lot of flak at the moment – most of it around their oafish sales tactics and their diminishing ability to deliver a viable recruitment service to either the company or the candidate.

So, how did we get here?

With the advent of the Internet came a lot of predictions that it would spell the end of recruitment agencies. That didn’t happen because the job boards loaded their pricing in the agencies favour and recruitment consultants got better at using the Internet than HR people.

Now that HR are finally waking-up to the fact that they don’t know much about recruitment and have started hiring inhouse recruitment specialists, those initial predictions are starting to look like they could finally come true.

Where it all goes wrong

So, what can a recruitment agency do to start reclaiming its relevance and its margins?

Well, that is a huge question that can vary depending on the sector it serves and the candidate types it trades in – so for the purposes of this piece I’m going to assume that the agency-type in question is a broad vertical market specialist and places permanent candidates. It could equally apply to any generalist agencies.

Recruitment agencies have long been addicted to the thrill of what I call ‘the easy placement’. That happens when:

- They receive a job from a company (often with minimal commitment)

- They happen to either know of a suitable candidate or find one quickly

- Interviews happen

- That candidate gets the job

- An invoice is then raised for anything up to 20K

Invariably the company then assumes that the agency has some kind of magical insight – which of course it doesn’t.

Those kinds of rewards for doing very little work can become addictive. I know because I’ve been there.

Thereafter, everything the recruitment agency does is geared around collecting candidates to increase their chances of getting lucky – much of this activity is wasted and nearly all of it is advertised on job boards.

But it only takes a couple of placements like that every month for that business model to take root. Cue more companies getting cold-called and being asked for a chance to throw a candidate or two at some of their open jobs and more candidates responding to adverts that the agency is never actually going to work on.

Both are being set-up for disappointment.

10 years of that and we arrive at the flak recruitment agencies are getting today.

So the old model isn’t working anymore because there are a lot less HR people desperate for candidates to appease their critical line managers. So what are HR people, inhouse recruiters and managing directors of SMEs more likely to need these days?

My experiences as an agency employee, search-business owner and contract inhouse recruiter is that these people need (and more importantly, want) commitment.

Let me say that again loudly – THEY WANT COMMITMENT.

So, if you’re an agency recruiter, most companies want you to commit to filling a particular job, regardless of the salary level.

They would rather have one external recruiter that is totally committed to filling one of their open jobs than 10 of them saying they’ll “have a look around and fire over some CVs”.

Many will gladly pay some of the fee upfront too – but you have to sell the benefits to them.

And unlike the old days, chances are your client (for that is what they now truly are) will want to know how you filled it.

They want you to take problems away from them – not add more by sending speculative CVs and pissing-off their target candidate audiences. They want value for money and they want you to work for them. Hard.

They’d also like you to share some of their pain because that’s how real relationships are formed – both in business and socially.

The work

So instead of asking for jobs, saying that you “have the best candidates” (which 9 times out of 10 you don’t) and punting out a few CVs, why not try actually selling something for a change?

Don’t sell them the line that you’re not actually selling them anything, sell them on the fact that you will not stop working until you fill their job.

Then sell them on the fact that you will work to a pre-agreed sourcing strategy, that you will genuinely assess who the best candidates are, manage all the candidates professionally and offer them a realistic guarantee period when they do hire someone.

If you sell this properly, enough companies will pay you upfront to do the work, which in turn will enable you to deliver better service and have a sales-pipeline that makes forecasting easier and more reliable.

Some of these jobs will be quite easy to fill too – the only difference being that you’ve actually spent real time working a pre-agreed recruitment plan.

The client will like the fact that you’ve actually worked on their vacancy rather than plucked a candidate off a database – and regardless of whether you did this or not, many clients see this as the extent of what most recruitment agencies do.

The relationship will be sealed when they don’t wince when they see your bill.

Which brings us back to the ‘pig’ thing.

Recruitment can be viewed as a plate of ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

Most recruitment agencies need to stop being the chicken.


By Roderick Smyth on Friday, 06 May 2011

Great post.

Good recruiters have a special ability that they can offer that goes beyond what most HR professionals can achieve because of the different focus of both groups, but good recruiters are hampered by a failing business model in the face of more automation from LinkedIn and other sources.

Excellent point of view and well written!

By Bill Maynard on Friday, 06 May 2011

As always Mitch, an honest and insightful assessment.  For once in my life, I hope I am a pig.

By Simon Cox on Saturday, 07 May 2011

Years ago I worked for a company named SAS Public Relations. Recently a programming technique/language/thing called SAS has come out and I have been flooded with emails from recruitment agencies saying that I was perfect for a role they had. It is extremely apparent that they use very simple search methods to flood potential candidates with emails. I exchanged emails with one recruiter asking why they thought I was appropriate for a role and they said it was because I had excellent SAS programming experience so I pointed out that I am not even a programmer let alone know what SAS is. Thier advice was that I should update my CV.

From my own experience modern recruiters are pissing candidates off and have turned themselves into the estate agents of the 21st century.

By Darren Ledger on Wednesday, 08 June 2011

I recently watched a very large UK Engineering company undertake the recruitment of a Director level role. The position was on at least 9 job boards (none of them really appropriate for the level of role c£120K +),  advertised by no less than 6 recruitment agencies, all but one of them had spelling mistakes in their advert.

The organisation have a PSL, drawn up by Procurement of all people, and under no circumstances can they go outside of that PSL, yes they have to submit the requirement to all of the ‘sector specific’ recruiters on that PSL!

So where is the commitment from the CLIENT! How strategically and commercially sensible is this? 6 recruiters all scurrying around to get the agreed number of CV’s over in the agreed time in the agreed format as per the PSL mandate and quarterly reviewed metrics with not an ounce of commitment from the client and in reality a 1-6 or less chance of actually filling the job whilst dipping into the same talent pool, using exactly the same resources (bloody job boards) and running around like headless chickens!

No doubt all the while accidentally pitching the same job to the same candidates (who have unwittingly applied for the same job 6 times on 9 job boards)...

Don’t make me laugh!

By Mitch Sullivan on Wednesday, 08 June 2011

I agree Darren.

That’s why companies are screaming out to be sold a retained recruitment service, regardless of the salary level.

By Sean Tomey on Wednesday, 08 June 2011

Hello Mitch, some good points if reasonably obvious.

I think Darrens point about clients essentially receiving the service they deserve is valid. There is no doubt that many companies have a low opinion of recruiters, treat then accordingly and receive poor service in return.

It’s also valid I think to say that many businesses (again owing to a poor view of suppliers) often place PSL decisions in the hands of junior people patently unable to make said decisions based on any commercial imperative. The Procurement example is one that stikes a cord and it’s obvious to say that a Procurment department should look to drive down cost and enforce strict SLA’s when it comes to buying stationary but whether the same directives apply to services in general and recruitment specifically is another matter.

By Sean O'Donoghue on Tuesday, 09 August 2011

Hi Mitch,

Thanks for pointing this blog out to me via my article on the
( website. I’ve always valued your opinion, and your take on retained recruitment, backed up by Darren’s great points, make this a very insightful and refreshing blog to read!

Keep up the great work guys - and together I am certain that we can help lead the way towards setting a good example for how real recruitment should be carried out by agencies!

Sean O’Donoghue
The Independent Recruiting Group

By Plamen Ivanoff on Friday, 29 March 2013

Dear Mitch

Finally, I find someone who has the real passion and the appropriate vision of how to change our industry. We at GrassGreener have been on about this for years and I’m so glad you share the save passion and vision.

There is no other way!

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