The Long Lunch Report 2 – aka Do you want recruitment consulting or a resume service?

Recruiting vs Consulting


So, I’m catching up with a long time friend of mine and naturally the conversation turns towards recruitment. She’s been in the business 20 years and 2 months, where as I am just a junior having been in the business 20 years and 1 month! The biggest difference between us is that she has worked as an agency recruiter here in Australia and abroad and she has also worked as an on-site client recruiter. Currently she heads up recruitment for a top 100 listed ASX company.

Me, I’ve been an agency guy all the way!

The big surprise (NOT) is that she tells me how bad recruitment consultants are these days. The irony here, by the way, is that she doesn’t give me any work which means that either a) she thinks I’m less capable than those she complains about? b) her bosses want her to give work to those big branded agencies because they are so good! or c) maybe I’m too maverick in my thinking and might be a little confrontational for the hiring managers. (She’s probably right on the last point but hey, that’s OK. Then again, they lost lots of money last year so maybe they need some tough love! Actually, they’re probably just a very good example for hiring to the recruitment mean reversion.)

Anyway, I digress….

So here comes the main course…

What are the main complains about recruitment consultants?

  1. They don’t understand what we want.
  2. They don’t push back on the job descriptions and tell managers they are being unrealistic in what they want to hire
  3. They don’t seem interested in converting candidates to working for them. When candidates they have submitted have other offers they don’t seem willing to share ideas on what they need to do to win them over.
  4. They don’t provide feedback that can help them improve their hiring practices
  5. And it goes on….

What you might be picking up on from these criticisms is that none of them are about finding candidates, they all focus on the other stuff. In the old days you’d probably call what they are describing consulting, as in Recruitment Consulting.

So in the past 20 years have Recruitment Consultants gotten worse or have clients become worse at recruiting. I probably think it’s a little of both and here’s why …

Why Recruiters have gotten worse:

  1. In the words of a recruiter that’s been around in the industry for 10 years longer than me, “… these days you guys (agency hiring managers) hire sales people, in the old days we hired recruitment consultants…”. The KPI focus that came to recruitment in the 90’s seems to have accelerated our own focus on process and “transacting” and took us away from meaningful relationships and understanding needs.
  2. Lack of candidate engagement. In the old days we were lucky to have 5 new candidates added to our prospect list per job per week. The agency that I started in had a database of 3000 candidates after 7 years! I think we could probably achieve a total of 3000 candidates in a week these days! The slowness in accumulating candidates back then meant that we had more engagement with those candidates and were therefore better at promoting their capabilities.
  3. More recruiters these days seem to be entering the industry with limited work experience post degree. I recruit in IT, have a degree in IT and used to be a programmer and tutor of IT at university. My contemporaries these days often don’t have a background in the industry in which they recruit and even further than that, they also seem to have little work experience full stop! This makes it really hard to relate to what their clients are actually going through and to understand their needs beyond a taking a recruitment brief in a shopping list format.
  4. With the recruitment tools and databases available today we perpetuate the myth of finding candidates who perfectly match the technical obscurities mentioned in our clients’ job descriptions. There’s a big difference between somebody who has done the job before and somebody who is capable of doing the role (and maybe doing it even better) who is also highly motivated to learn those new skills.

Why clients have got worse:

  1. They have become so refined in narrowing the criteria for a hire that what we are now searching for is probably someone that doesn’t exist or really will have little relevance to the actual outcomes required of the new potential employee. Maybe this came about because recruiters got dumbed down too? I’ve actually had clients tell me to “… put X and Y and Z into a search on your database…” Maybe they just got tied of trying to explain why they want to hire someone so now have been trained to explain their needs in terms of a resume, not a person.
  2. Clients seems to have gotten more risk averse in hiring. It seems to me that the pain of a bad hire now outweighs the opportunity of hiring someone and then leveraging the manpower in the whole group to increase overall outcomes. Is this fear proportional to the amount of employment litigation? I wonder. I actually don’t have any hard facts but I don’t read of proportionally any more cases or hear from clients of any more conversations or anecdotes regarding litigation than I used to 20 years ago.
  3. In taking their time to follow a very stringent and inflexible recruitment process they miss out on top candidates. People want to feel wanted and valued. If you’re going to grill a candidate at interview that’s OK. It’s even OK to have 4 rounds. But taking 4 weeks or longer to do that … Really … If at the end of your process the candidate doesn’t feel valued, then they most likely will not value what you have to offer.
  4. Internal recruiting teams that shield the hiring managers from the external recruiters mean that those needed conversations about candidates and job fit don’t happen. This means once again it becomes a circus act of purely matching a candidate’s resume to a job description.

So, I think it seems that both parties, client and recruiters, have accelerated a race to the bottom.

Just desserts!

Maybe after looking at the lists above you’re like me and have realised that maybe we’ve just become bad for each other. I think the disconnect comes back to the title of this blog. What are you buying and what are you selling? Are you selling or buying recruitment or are you really after Recruitment Consulting?

In productive relationships where you’re working towards a common goals there are always going to be differences of opinion in how to achieve them. But you should be engaging specialists to do what they are good at and sometimes, that means, they are going to tell you things you don’t want to hear. What clients should be paying for is not just the resume or the candidate that is hired. It should include all the other components that should be going in to delivering a result that has improved the client’s business.

For me, all of this is a reminder that as the broader Recruitment market moves in it’s current direction of client-recruitment discord, there is an opening opportunity for great recruitment Consultants to actually get their ideas across and deliver what the clients actually need… and not what their internal recruitment KPI driven processes have been designed to avoid.

Recruiters need to continually “consult” with their clients around their needs and be prepared to have conversations about what will work and what will deliver real results. On-site recruiters and the hiring managers need to also understand that a recruitment process does not guarantee a result. And the efforts to try to prevent any risk often result in a greater loss of output than the potential of a wrong hire.

Happy Consulting!

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