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Neil Wilson

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Opinion: The recruitment industry must change


As the recession continues to set new rules in the job market, there’s never been a greater need for a trusted, professional recruitment industry. Yet, many companies still view recruiters as a necessary evil. Neil Wilson explains why he thinks this must change.

Make no doubt about it; recruitment is a huge part of the UK economy. It accounts for revenue of over £25bn and places 500,000 people in permanent jobs every year, never mind overseeing the 1.5 million temporary workers – about 3% of the workforce, and growing. Despite its size, most companies still see recruiters as a necessary evil. This isn’t just our view – we’ve commissioned a great deal of research into the wider perception of our industry and the results were not pretty. There’s simply a lack of trust.
There’s a very clear reason why this has happened – the lack of a long-term vision amongst recruiters. Some players haven’t done themselves many favours in the boom years, with the focus very much on the day-to-day job of placing good people in the right roles. With a lack of a unifying, strategic vision, the industry has drifted into the dreaded ‘commodity’ zone for a lot of business leaders. Few long-term relationships have been fostered and precious little trust has been allowed to flourish. The result? An industry lacking in many true strategic relationships.
Unifying any industry with a single direction is a lofty ambition, and one that is arguably unachievable in most if not all industries. I’m realistic enough to admit the recruitment industry is unlikely to wake up tomorrow with a single, cohesive agenda. But we can, and indeed must, work to change the nature of the industry and the way it works. The individual direction that specific consultancies take may differ, but the overall approach needs to evolve if we’re to truly add value for our clients and make that step up from ‘commoditised supplier’ to ‘partner’.

A new approach

So what is this new approach? Its overriding characteristic needs to be a long-term commitment to our clients. That commitment needs to be backed up with the capability to understand our clients’ business and the expertise to deliver what they need to succeed.
That means high day-to-day standards that are well-communicated, monitored and managed. The people on the ground need to be very process-driven, delivering excellent service day in and day out. Over time, that kind of service will help raise perceptions of the industry, presenting a much more professional face and helping set the foundations for more two-way relationships.
That has to be a minimum standard though. Beyond that, recruiters need to listen to their customers and shape their service delivery model to ensure it provides what they need. There needs to be a realisation that different employers need different things: an approach to recruitment that works for a legal firm may not work for a local authority. If consultancies persist with a ‘one size fits all’ model, it will simply add further fuel to the ‘commodity’ label. Speaking with clients, understanding their needs and then tailoring the service to meet those needs will bring recruitment consultancies and their clients much closer together.
The know-how, vision and insight that exists within the recruitment industry should also be leveraged. Sharing industry knowledge with clients in a way that is both accessible and relevant will help break the image of consultants who simply sit at desks pestering candidates and employers. The industry is home to a great many respected professionals with a unique view of the business world – sharing that view will be vital in changing the recruitment landscape.

The promised land

Through these changes, recruiters can build an entirely rejuvenated industry. The nuts and bolts will remain – we will still be dedicated to placing good people in the right roles – but the machine around those nuts and bolts will be better.
The impetus behind these changes is a real concern over the future of the industry. Without adopting this long-term, relationship-building approach, the industry will continue to suffer from the ‘necessary evil’ perception and remain at the mercy of the wider economy. In the good times, there will be money to be made, but when the pendulum swings there will be very few companies convinced of the value that recruiters bring. Few will see recruiters as a valuable resource that can be trusted and used to help them through the storm.
For our part, this is a mission we’ve been tackling in one way or another for a few years now. Tightening up our internal standards, framing new delivery models and increasing the quality and quantity of our client communications have all been part of the jigsaw. As the recession continues to bite, now is the time for the whole industry to make changes. Without them, recruiters will be forever consigned to the ‘boom and bust’ approach that has left their professional image amongst the lowest in the business world.
Neil Wilson is managing director at leading international recruitment consultancy Badenoch & Clark

4 Responses

  1. … and change in two directions!
    As an experienced user of the services offered by recruitment firms as both a hiring manager and also as a job seeker, I can offer an opinion from two different perspectives. Here, I’d like to focus on my recent experience as a job seeker which has, to say the least, been mixed.

    At its most basic level, the customer service offered by a significant number of recruitment consultancies is shoddy and discourteous. Given the technology that is widely available, the current norm which is for many recruitment consultancies to not even acknowledge receipt of an online application or an e-mailed CV is unacceptable. Even the “if you have not heard anything within 14 days from the closing date, assume that you have been unsuccessful” approach falls below the standard of what we as HR professionals should regard as baseline service, never mind best practice. The sophistication of applicant tracking systems has increased significantly over recent years, and brought software that will keep all candidates – successful or not – updated as to their progress well within the financial grasp of all consultancies.

    The power of the internet is also there to be used by recruitment consultancies, but the governance that is in place is again unacceptable. Two general examples will illustrate this:

    First Example: As of lunchtime today, People Management magazine (i.e. the journal itself) carries adverts for 32 roles; the online equivalent carries adverts for 587. Is it really the case that there are 555 more roles available than are currently advertised in the print version?

    Second Example: When genuine roles are being sourced, many of the recruitment consultancies indulge in a feeding frenzy to identify the most suitable candidate, with the same role being advertised under slightly varying terminology. This results in a confusing situation for the candidate who may therefore have a choice of two or more agencies to whom he could direct his application. Admittedly, if the hiring organisation has charged more than one agency with the task of finding a suitable candidate, then they are similarly implicated.

    In all the examples outlined above, the common failing is that of governance. It is needed urgently, especially as the number of individuals seeking work increases.

    As a candidate therefore, my plea – or rather my challenge – to recruitment consultancies is plain and simple: today I am your candidate, but tomorrow I may well be your client. If today you treat me discourteously as a candidate, tomorrow I won’t treat you with a similar level of discourtesy; I won’t even give you the time of day.

  2. I agree!
    I don’t think i have ever agreed with a full post AND it’s comments!

    There is a site that rates recruitment companies but until it is more widely known it can only have a limited impact. The site is and i have no affiliation, indeed i haven’t even added a profile etc. I am just aware of it’s existence.

    Regulation needs to be brought into the recruitment industry. It is the only way to make a real change. Unfortunatley i don’t see recruitment companies changing their ways anytime soon and a large proportion are still going to be chasing vacancies rather than building relationships. In fact if some of the “fixed fee” pricing models that have emerged continue to grow then i believe that encourages an almost disposable recruitment service rather than the consultative service we should strive for.

    Obviously budgets are tight and i think recruiters must adapt their offerings to reflect this but the ultimate aim should always be to have a long term, trusting relationship with your clients.

    Fingers crossed

    Grant Bodie
    Mount Recruitment

  3. Recruitment Industry
    I welcome the changes that the current downturn will have on the recruitment industry which after all contains a lot of people who really shouldn’t be working in recruitment at all. Many of them – and I have worked with a great deal of them, forget that they are dealing with eptheir candidates lives and how they pay their mortgages – hence why I don’t work for an agency any longer. Too many people in agencies are only thinking of their own commission and pay packets and forget that they are dealing with both businesses and candidates livlihoods.

    I like to perform recruitment as it should be done – over the phone to get the basics and then face to face with a technical interview if it’s a technical position – that is how I think recruitment for a client and / or internal positions should be dealt with.

    I now have the added benefit that I recruit both internally and also for our clients for a flat percentage and do both contract and permanent positions at all levels, so my job is both varied and satisfying.

  4. A change would be good!
    I absolutely agree that the recruitment industry should do itself a favour and change but despite the current difficult circumstances I’m not optimistic that it will happen as quickly as we might hope.

    In most markets “the market decides” – great providers flourish whereas poor providers wither and die (generally speaking). It apprears to me that this natural selection doesn’t work quite as it should in recruitment – maybe because information doesn’t flow as well between buyers as it should.

    Recruitment is a somewhat confidential business and for very understandable reasons employers aren’t keen to share information about their good and bad recruitment experiences with the wider world. Even large recruitment assignments are fairly small compared to say a major IT project and so recruiters performance tends not to make it into the general media.

    Even with estate agents (another industry with a poor reputation) I will tell my friends if I have a particularly good or bad experience with company X. With recruitment this information tends not to be shared.

    Maybe what we need is a “” for recruitment to get information out there and flowing – then the market can do its work. Just a thought! Hopefully we at are doing our bit to improved standards in the commercial property recruitment area.


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