The pain and pleasure of the job hunting process: Recruitment Agencies

With Summer now over, there are an army of recent graduates and school-leavers about to descend on the job market. Having likely spent August recharging their batteries on holiday, or  updating their personal statements and preparing for potential interview questions, they are fired up and ready. Moreover, it is now that job vacancies are starting to appear with more frequency, and therefore the perfect time to share some of my experiences and observations from years spent navigating the recruitment minefield.

In my current role, I have sat on a number of interview panels, but now that I am looking for a new challenge, I am also experiencing being on the other side of the table again. It is for this reason that I would like to pass on some of my experiences of the process, starting with recruitment agencies.

Living in the digital age as we do, passive recruitment is growing. This is the term used to describe LinkedIn and the numerous job boards and sites to which we commonly upload our CVs. We fill in the application forms, specify our preferences, upload a CV and wait to be contacted by recruiters with a fitting vacancy. With our lives so busy, this feels like a blessing as it saves countless hours which would’ve been spent visiting the careers pages of companies which interest us and searching for a suitable role.

It is important to stress that there are two very different types of recruiter, the first of which works for an agency servicing one or more industries and countless companies therein. Companies pay large sums to these agencies to create the job adverts and source candidates. If the candidates interviewed are successful, further commission is paid to the agency. So, it is fair to say that getting as many candidates signed up to the agency is a big deal and potentially worth a lot of money. Note here, that profit is prioritised over the needs of the candidates. The other is an internal recruiter, who recruit solely for the organisation in which they are based. In this capacity, there are still KPIs to be met and bonuses to be earned, but the focus is on finding the right person for the roles. It is the former which I would like to address below.

It is all too easy to hear the word “recruitment” and picture an industry geared towards matching suitable candidates with jobs. The idealist will believe that recruiters have their best interest at heart. Some agencies do employ this approach, but in my personal experience they are the exception to the rule.

Recruitment is a sales role. The salary is low, but the commission and bonuses are very attractive. It is for this reason that KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) take priority over people and their needs. If you doubt this, then please do an internet search for Recruitment Consultant job adverts. Yep, it’s a sales role.

Having long been curious as to the workings of the recruitment industry, I interviewed for a number of roles in recruitment and even worked shortly in the role. What I experienced was far from reassuring. At their worst, recruiters can be manipulative and economical with the truth. I witnessed the use of fabricated job adverts in order to entice people to register with the agency, but more alarmingly, I saw people being encouraged to leave full-time jobs in order to take up short term contracts. People, often with children and mortgages, were being convinced to leave stable but unchallenging jobs for a new role which would give them more responsibility and a higher salary. What they weren’t told was that they would be leaving a permanent role for a short-term contract and the uncertainty which that would bring. This behaviour was not uncommon, as targets had to be met in order for the consultants to keep their jobs and secure their commission.

While the picture above could be viewed as pretty bleak, this is far from the truth. There are a large number of very good, conscientious recruiters out there. This is, in part, due to the large body of business research which points to the importance of empathising with others and working hard to forge relationships. Those who are able to do both successfully, tend to progress further in their careers.

I have found that by asking yourself the below questions, it becomes easier to differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly of recruitment;

  • Has the recruiter actually read my cv/ application? Recruiters read, or are passed, hundreds of cvs daily. How well do they know yours? It is unrealistic to expect that they know it well, but if you have to repeat everything to them, then alarm bells should start ringing.
  • Is the recruiter actually listening to what you say, or are they pushing you to visit the office and complete the registration process? Are they discussing roles, location and the strengths/ weaknesses of your cv? Are they open about your prospects and how they might be able to help you?
  • Is the recruiter trying to build a relationship with you? There will likely be several emails and phone calls exchanged before you visit the agency to complete the registration process. During this time, are you dealing with one person who is looking to establish a working relationship with you? Or are you communicating with somebody different every time?

Recruitment consultants offer a potentially great help with the job searching process. That said, I would strongly advise exercising caution in your interactions with them. Unfortunately, the high commission on offer can lead to unscrupulous behaviour among some in this industry. Thankfully, they are seemingly a dying breed.

Please don’t be put off from the use of recruitment agencies, but I would ask that you proceed with caution and eyes wide open. While I would always advise taking calculated risks in life, as they can either propel you forward or provide a valuable learning experience. In this instance, however, I would ask that you don’t rely solely on one agency for your job search. Speak to as many as you can, and sign up for several of the most promising. They can prove to be a great help, but at the same time do not give up on the direct approach.

It is worth bearing in mind that some organisations do not advertise vacancies through agencies as they want to avoid the associated costs. So, in light of this, don’t stop directly applying to the companies which interest you. The internal recruiters working for this company do have, after all, a vested interest in filling vacancies with the strongest candidates.

I hope that you have found this useful, and have some food for thought. I wish you the best of luck in your search.

10 thoughts on “The pain and pleasure of the job hunting process: Recruitment Agencies

  1. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such fantastic info being shared freely out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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