Why only 5% of recruitment agencies are useful

(I’m happily consulting now – this was published back in May – my experiences didn’t get better….)

I’m currently ‘looking for new opportunities’ which, apparently, together with ‘freelance’, is what you say so that people feel comfortable talking to the person who hasn’t got a permanent role. 
I’ve been lucky enough to do some consultancy work, but I’m still looking for a home. Which means job seeking. And job seeking isn’t something that I’ve really had to do before. Since it has been a hellishly unfun process I thought I would share some of my learnings and frustrations, so that if anyone else is in a similar position they can think ‘wow, it’s not just me finding that….’
So let’s approach things in a completely non sequential order 

Is this the one where you rant about not having a job?Yes. Completely. It isn’t even really a controlled rant. I’m hopeful of a new role, the market seems to be picking up, but I’m also stunningly disappointed by a whole clutch of agencies. 

So…what are you doing in your job hunt now? 

I’m going social media crazy.Twitter has been a great tool, allowing me to feel part of a community and to discuss and input on HR issues. I’m writing this blog due to people inspiring me with theirs and my first blog post attracted more views from across the world than I thought was possible. The HR community in New Zealand have been an unexpected bonus addition to my network and I hope I retain my loyal readership in Canada!

I suppose I started doing this in the hope someone might spot me online and think ‘I like the way he thinks’ – now it is more about adding purpose to my days and I’ve met some great supportive, smart people.

I do have a couple of agencies that have been absolutely great and understand what Kierkegaard meant when he said ‘if you label me, you negate me’. I mean this in a broad sense, I haven’t made them take a Kierkegaard interpretation assessment. 

They are working hard for me, but  I’m aware others have my CV gathering dust in a ‘I might have to do some work to earn commission on this, I’ll wait until someone phones me and specifically asks for a David D’Souza’ pile.
So you used social media to circulate your CV to cut out the agencies? 

Yes… I designed an online CV http://goo.gl/fySbh that hopefully does more justice to my capabilities than my normal one (more of that in a minute…). This CV has been generously shared by a few people that I am thanking here – and some others that I’ve already thanked online….I’ve thanked Neil Morrison in two blogs in a row, so I will never mention him again, in order to prevent him checking my blog every day to see a new tribute.
@recruitgal @neilmorrison @GarethMartin46 @sukhpabial

The CV has got a pretty good reception, so if anyone wants to steal the template or any advice then let me know.
So why, with such awesome award winning recruitment agencies about today did you have to rely on appealing to the kindness of strangers to tweet your CV? 
Great question, glad you asked it.Very convenient. 
It became clear to me after a short while of trudging around agencies that they fit into three categories

i) great – interested in you and prepared to be proactive on your behalf  (about5 per cent)
ii) competent – if you have a straightforward skill set and will accept anything they offer (25 per cent)
iii) abysmal – not interested in anything except  ‘HR Manager, CIPD qualified, worked in Blue Chip multinational matrixed environment in FS’ . This is to the extent that if I had walked in and declared a desire to be King of America I might have had more feigned interest (70 per cent)

I’m looking forward to my next role and vengefully striking the 70 per cent off that company’s PSL. This may seem an overreaction, but 

  • putting someone forward for a role and then not giving them a progress update  then not replying to emails and calls from the candidate to get an update? Shocking. I’ve had 3 large agencies do that. Forget business ethics, forget efficiency. Manners still matter. 
  • Travelling an hour to meet someone who hasn’t read page 2 of your 2 page CV? Done that too.
  • Another genuine exchange…’We reviewed your CV and thought you would be interested in this role as a qualified Occupational Psychologist’. ‘but I’m not a qualified Occupational Psychologist’ ‘oh, what do you do again?’. 
Maybe you are just a really poor candidate?
Possibly,even if I was, poor candidates deserve to be treated with dignity too. Agencies should be managing the candidate experience across the piece – not just for candidates that progress.
My CV, on its own, doesn’t bring to life that I’ve done and what I’ve contributed, I’m just awkward like that. Have I managed the agencies well? Probably not. Is it still reasonable to expect more from them? Yes. 

Having done a fair bit of recruitment in my time I know the questions that will be in the mind of the hiring manager  e.g. Why leave this place at this time? How big was that company? He claims to do several things – what is he actually? Why would an OD Manager have a Shared Services Manager reporting into him?  He just sounds too charismatic and good looking to be real?

So I’m smart enough to know that I probably haven’t passed the initial CV sift. I accept that, but if you met me for coffee it would be a different story,  I just don’t fit well into a box. 

In an industry where people are talking consistently about challenging the status quo, being commercial and looking for diversity that should be a USP, not a block. I do culture, data, operational and strategic – why would you want someone to do less? 

And if agencies aren’t prepared to challenge perceptions and promote my capabilities  – how are they earning a fee and what are companies paying them for?. 

I don’t want them picking up a fee for placing me if they haven’t done any work – and when I get my next role I will be resisting paying them a fee for simply shuffling paper towards me without more context. Rant over. Enjoy the video if you haven’t seen it..

3 thoughts on “Why only 5% of recruitment agencies are useful

  1. I could feel myself getting more and more cross as I read this, recognising a lot of it from my own experience of agencies too! Their customer service and genuine care for the people they’re ‘serving’ is generally pretty shocking! Another example to reinforce my belief that commission is the root of all evil!
    Although it might not help you get the average job on the market, hang onto the fact that you’re ahead of your time, ahead of the narrow-rule-following market. One day soon the perfect opportunity for you will appear.


  2. I think your experience resonates with many people, including me.

    However the reality is that you will forget who the bad recruiters were – and even if you do remember them, your experience will be blamed on a “rogue recruiter” or someone who “no longer works in the business”.

    Then one day, you may be struggling to fill a particular role and one of those agencies will spontaneously present you with a CV on a candidate that looks very suitable.

    And so the cycle will continue.

    I think the best way for you to become part of the solution is to never again use an agency (when acting as the client) on contingency. Select one competent agency that understand what to do when they HAVE TO fill a job and retain them.

    If all hiring managers did this across all permanent jobs across all salary levels, I think the problems you talk about here would largely disappear.


    1. Hi Mitch, this was written a while ago and resurrected as a request. It seems to be doing the rounds… I agree with the approach of narrowing the field to one person/company that you trust. It will be a change I’ll push for if I ever end up in charge of a PSL again. I should have done more to check the candidate experience when I was on the controlling end of it. Thanks for the comment and suggestion. Have a great Christmas


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