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How to deal with recruitment consultants

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Achieve a good relationship with recruitment consultants

How do you make sure that the best recruitment consultants deal with you and give you the cherries to pick, keeping the lemons in their back pockets for someone else? Matthew Jennings has the answers.


The secret to recruiting for difficult jobs is to use recruitment agencies properly and get them to work for you. Try to stop seeing them as an army of slick, ethical vacuums and start to see them as an army of highly knowledgeable, undercover agents who know the market inside out.

Good specialist recruitment agencies know all the major players in the industry. They keep abreast of market trends and often have highly confidential knowledge of impending mergers and acquisitions, product launches, technological breakthroughs, and even who is about to jump ship taking half the team with them.

They know who is thinking of leaving, who is just about to leave and who has actually left, but hasn’t told anyone yet. They know who is going to be sacked, promoted, made redundant and knighted. They know all these things but they somehow keep it to themselves. Most importantly of all, they know who the true movers and shakers are and who makes up the ‘dead wood’ of a team.

Points to remember

  • Excellent recruiters are motivated by respect and security
  • Excellent recruiters know the industry inside out
  • It’s possible to tap into this knowledge and expertise without throwing money at it
  • You need to invest your time and trust them with information about your company
  • Cultivate a small trusted team of recruiters
  • Use this team as your buffer to other recruiters
  • Use them effectively and it will save you time and help you plan effectively
  • Let them pick the cherries for you and discard the lemons
  • Start to enjoy recruitment
  • They know all this because they talk to everyone, all the time. They talk to the recruiting decision makers and the troops on the ground. They talk to the customers and find out who really makes the difference. Candidates tell recruitment consultants their intimate secrets. Imagine the sort of conversations customers have with their favourite hairdressers, but this time all the information is getting logged and filed and prioritised.

    In short, if you get a really good recruitment consultant on your side they can make the difference. So, how do we ensure the best recruitment consultants work with us?

    First and foremost you have to understand what motivates them. When you know that, you can start the process of making them your ally.

    Money, money, money

    I asked three managers their thoughts on what motivates a recruitment consultant. What do you think they said? It was ‘money’, ‘money’ and, just for a change, the last one said ‘money’. If that was true all you would need to do would be to pay generous commission fees and you would be sorted. But, that wouldn’t work. Because it’s not true.

    What motivates the really good recruitment consultants isn’t the money. What motivates them is what the money can bring them.

    A stereotypical recruitment consultant is wearing Armani, driving a flash car and sporting a Rolex. These are all status symbols. What they are saying is ‘respect me, I am a person of importance’. The value behind the money is a yearning for respect and security. The recruitment industry has one of the highest levels of staff turnover of any job and the industry is rife with tales of people summoned to see the MD to discuss their latest sales figures and then never seen again.

    The ostentatious displays of wealth are to prove to everyone that they matter; that they are worthy of your respect.

    The Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC) published a report on recruiting the best recruiters. They had the following to say about the ‘right’ sort of person.

    To be successful in the recruitment industry you must:

    • Be ambitious and confident

    • Be goal orientated

    • Have good interpersonal and communications skills

    • Be a good team player

    • Be able to handle multiple priorities

    • Be tenacious

    • Be a problem solver

    • Be able to work to deadlines and targets

    • Enjoy responsibility and working in a high-pressure environment

    • Have a good sense of humour

    The sort of person who identifies themselves as possessing the qualities from that list thinks highly of themselves and will expect others to do the same.

    Recruitment consultants: Questions to consider

  • How do we talk to them when they call us to discuss a candidate or a brief?
  • How good are we at returning their calls?
  • How much information do we divulge to them?
  • How honest are we about the actual job we are asking them to fill?
  • How good are we at giving interview feedback?
  • What do we think of them as individuals?
  • How often do we call them to inform them of current activities unless they involve immediate recruitment?
  • How do we treat ‘cold calls’ from recruitment agencies?
  • I know that it’s possible to spend half your life dealing with recruitment agencies who all promise the same thing and all claim to have the best candidate since sliced bread. But, it is possible to be able to end this irritation.

    Think for a minute about the recruiters you deal with who seem to actually understand what you are saying. The ones who know the industry and know which candidates fit into which team and company culture effectively. Think about conversations you have had with recruitment consultants who appeared to intuitively know what you were thinking. The chances are they actually did know, from other conversations they were having.

    These are the people you should spend some time getting to know. Ask them about themselves and tell them about your team and your ambitions. Treat them with respect and trust them with information. Invite them to visit the HQ and meet the team, see the product and learn as much as possible about what you really want from a candidate. Paint them a visual picture of your ideal recruit for different circumstances.

    What you will be doing is demonstrating respect. By involving them in your company you are offering security because you are effectively saying we want to work with you over a period of time.

    You are tapping into the core values that drive them and they will respond to this. Pretty soon your hand picked recruitment consultants will be whispering titbits of vital industry information that will keep you ahead of the game and in the know.

    You should get to the position that they can do most of your candidate screening and the first round of interviews. Even better than this, you can refer all the other recruiters to them in the first instance.

    They will reduce your staff turnover and help you effectively plan for growth. A truly excellent recruiter is worth their weight in gold – which is pretty much what they get paid when they get to that stage, so start to cultivate your own ones.

    If you can demonstrate respect to a recruitment consultant, then you will be making the first steps towards winning their loyalty to you.


    Matthew Jennings is training director at Spark Training.</strong

    One Response

    1. I preferred your first observation
      After over 30 years in HR I’m afraid that your first observation, “slick ethical vacuums” applies to too many recruitment consultants. I know and trust a very few recruitment consultants and headhunters, and they are worth their fees. – They can deliver real value. The others? I guess they work for someone else.

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