Many recruitment agencies fall down the gap between best practice and market reality says Jeremy Bingham, MD of Catch Resource Management

The phone rings. Do your staff answer it eagerly? Or do they dread yet another recruitment agency calling ‘on the off chance’?

Let’s put it another way. When the issues of workload and productivity arise, does the team complain about recruiters filling their inboxes or, worse still, wasting more time by sending unsuitable candidates for interview?

I’ll come clean – I’m the MD of a recruitment consultancy. But I sympathise entirely with IT and HR departments that spend too much time wading through CVs sent ‘on spec’ and warding off calls. And unfortunately, the part of the industry most guilty of this is my own specialist area; IT.

As anyone recruiting mid to senior level teams for large ERP implementations knows, this is one of the few areas in business today where there are still skills shortages. Yet, this doesn’t stop recruiters wasting the HR department’s time by swamping their clients with CVs. Of course, IT and HR teams should be flexible and consider candidates with transferable skills and a proven propensity to learn. But, there are many jobs where a certain level of experience is vital.

In some quarters, new HR-focused software, the internet and key word searches have reduced recruitment to a tick-box exercise. But as any hiring manager knows, while the right skills are vital, it’s also important to find someone who will hit the ground running. To do this they must fit comfortably and quickly into team and company culture. This still takes old-fashioned human contact, insight and experience.

Of course, it’s not all one-sided. Hiring managers may find it hard to believe, but for around 50% of the work we do, there is no written job specification to work from. More often than not, this happens when a project is too specialised or urgent to involve HR, but you’d be surprised at how much mind-reading we often have to do.  This is fine from our point of view as our recruiters have a thorough knowledge and experience of the industry that they can work with the client to define a specification or to intuitively understand the key requirements. Yet, not everyone is able to do this.

Many hiring managers shy away from retaining recruitment agencies believing that a contingency arrangement saves them money. But because many client companies don’t attach value to the upfront work of getting to know both the candidate and the client’s business, there’s a temptation for some agencies to cut corners. They resort to a scattergun approach and the laws of probability.

Yet, if you add up the time taken to field calls and emails from hopeful agencies and the cost of wasted interviews, this could be a false economy. In a retained relationship, recruiters get to know their client’s business and potential candidates thoroughly. Clients begin to trust their recruiters when they realise they can rely on their recommendations. They can then see only two or three candidates, safe in the knowledge that each one of them could do the job well. The whole process is efficient and streamlined

It’s easy to talk about best practice but in the current economic climate, the realities of the market can often get in the way. It’s possible that the time has come for some form of self-regulation, but there are clear challenges associated with this. While I would hate to introduce any needless red tape and understand that good recruiters can work around current challenges, it’s certainly high time recruiters worked with their clients to agree a common code of conduct. This would help improve efficiency and productivity for all.