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Does recruitment deserve its bad rep?`

I’ve been a recruitment agency client for a long time, a headhunter for a while, and of course a candidate.. all dispiriting experiences. Shoddy shortlists, minimum candidate evaluation and care and pushy recruiters focused on sales.

Recently I heard that a young acquaintance of mine has become a “head-hunter” straight from University, following an unpaid internship that his wealthy parents arranged… his only work experience. Great! I really need him on my difficult assignment finding and attracting talent. He’s not even stacked supermarket shelves, and he’s ready to understand complex requirements and impress candidates? That’s my company brand! But he could be a great salesperson… apparently.

So how has it come to this? It’s simple really, it’s us in HR! In the way tabloids print what we want to read, recruitment companies have evolved around our lack of pride in recruitment. The best shop window an HRD could ever have, and we give it away to agencies, on a PSL decided by procurement (perhaps an RPO in between) with the estate agent model of no win, no fee. One of the better agencies has seen their conversion rate go from one placement for 2.5 shortlists to a 1:10 ratio, with the rise of the RPO. How focused on quality shortlists are they with 30 candidates to find, motivate and keep warm, for just one fee?

I can’t see any other part of the business working like this. When the CEO needs consulting expertise, they don’t say to McKinsey, Bain or BCG ‘come in, do the work and we may pay one of you.’ How did procurement do such a great number on HR? Were they seduced by agencies who started to offer no win, no fee just to get our attention? So if we in HR are to blame, how do we fix it? Well, really smart HRDs (or CEOs) are bringing recruitment back to the business, giving procurement and the bean counters a wide berth. They see that, attractive as topline cost savings look in the proposal, do they happen? Nor do they take into account the hidden costs of not hiring the right people, and really hacking off 29 out of 30 potential customers, with the 1:10 contingency ratio.

They also see the need to get close to a limited top talent pool, limited by its very meaning. Given it is now much easier to find talent, it makes sense to own the beginning of the employee relationship. Who would care more about attracting and retaining the right people? Someone focused on hitting a monthly target or someone who sits next to the CEO and needs to impress? So where does this leave the traditional agency? There will always be less savvy clients who will fail to see the chance to change and the recruitment ‘consultant’ who will work on a no win, no fee basis. Let them. The ‘talent’ will gravitate toward a new breed of agency, those who really consult, and have enough expertise and time to really get to know their candidates, focusing not on numbers but quality and understanding.

Given most of the volume recruitment can be done in-house pretty easily nowadays, these new agencies will have deep niche expertise, drive hard on candidate quality and care, making it sensible financially for the client to partner properly. And establish exclusive, and preferably retained), relationships with clients. After all, it works for McKinsey, Bain and BCG. So what about the new “head-hunter” straight from University? Well, perhaps he can go and get a real job, learn a market in depth and come back to recruitment when he really does have something to offer. But keep him off my account until then.

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