Wednesday, 27 July 2011

All that is wrong with the Recruitment Industry

Money & greed. It really is that simple.
Let's break it down to bare basics. A Recruitment Consultant should be an individual that helps speed up the recruitment process and take a significant workload of your plate. The better Consultants should be well connected and be able to provide you access to strong candidates that would be otherwise impossible to gain access to. The consultant should be transparent, honest and most importantly, non-intrusive. The way the model should work is that you will elicit the services of a consultant, fill them in on your current recruitment needs and the areas you have been struggling with, agree on a defined timeframe and budget, and then let them work their magic whilst you get back to doing what you do best.
If you currently engage a recruiter and they fit the description of the above to the letter then congratulations. What you have found is an individual rarer than a quark.

One thing that is unanimously agreed about utilising a recruiter is that it is incredibly expensive. I'm not going to waste my time trying to justify the costs, we all know it's expensive and I'll address the reasons why later.
Here's the bottom line: If you engage a recruiter to source an employee who will cost you an annual salary of £50k then in all likelihood you will end up paying said recruiter anywhere between £5k and £15k depending on what agency you engage. That's a lot of money for an introduction.
The significant sums of money involved have caused a drastic shift in how recruitment companies approach their clients. Most have abandoned the mature, well informed consultative approach and instead replaced it with a high volume, sales orientated approach. If you were to walk the floor of any decent agency it would feel like you stepped on to a trading floor in the heart of Wall Street. You will be surrounded by young, sharp salesmen & women with phones glued to their ear whilst admin staff run around frantically processing CV's & contracts and when you leave, your ears will be ringing from the intense volume of people shouting frantic orders to their support teams. Those that own and run recruitment companies know that the consultative approach gains them respect however the sales approach pays the bills.

There are a number of reasons clients get a dozen calls a day from recruiters. It's generally the same reason job-seekers get calls from recruiters who haven't taken time to have a proper look at the CV. Targets. Most recruiters are heavily targeted to the point where they have to speak to at least 10-20 potential hiring managers and 10-20 job-seekers every single day.
The old adage stills rings true in this industry, 'It's a numbers game'. If you speak to enough people, someone will eventually listen to you. When I first started in the recruitment game I was a victim of a heavily targeted environment. My bosses couldn't care less about how much trust & respect I've built up with potential clients, the fact of the matter was if I hadn't spoken to 15 different hiring managers before close of business then I was in trouble. I made great money with that employer but I hated every minute of it. I had to sacrifice my dignity in order to generate business and I was calling CTO's & lead developers and pissing them off simply because they didn't have the time to speak to another recruiter and I would then have to insist why it was worth their while talking to me specifically which generally only enraged them even more. I used to be a developer. I used to work for these people, I know how busy they are and I know how often they got pestered by people just like me and like I said, I hated it. So why stick with it you may ask. Refer to the first line of this post. Money & greed. I soon discovered that if I was willing to sacrifice dignity and allow the abuse and hatred to roll off my back, I will eventually speak to people who are in desperate need to hire new staff. If I fill those roles, I fill my own pockets with commission. There was zero monetary incentive for me to build a relationship of trust & respect, the short term gain was far more appealing. Every single one of my colleagues felt the same. We were all hired because we stated that money was what made us get out of bed in the morning.

I blame Hacker News for pushing me over the edge and making me want to take a stand. I got involved in the community originally because, as I mentioned, I used to be a Developer. Deep down in the dark recesses of my slowly withering heart there was still a flame burning for emerging technology and cool, inventive, ambitious start-ups. Tuning into the Hacker News community opened my eyes to the level of disdain for recruiters and like every good hacker, I saw an opportunity. I realised that if the vast majority of the industry is seen as a necessary evil then surely there is a gaping hole for a Recruitment Company or even a lone Recruiter to take a stand, make themselves known and try and build a successful business based primarily on trust and respect. My partner had recently given birth to a very handsome baby boy and it was simply too much of a risk to go out on my own and launch my own business with no solid income given my personal circumstances. I came incredibly close to ditching the recruitment industry when out of the blue I was contacted by an agency that had noticed my activity on Hacker News as well as Twitter & LinkedIn and asked me to come work for them. During the interview I figured I had nothing to lose so I made it impeccably clear that if they wanted me on board I was to be let do things my way. No intense daily or weekly targets and I needed them to trust that I was capable of building a recruitment desk based on the original concept of what a recruitment consultant SHOULD BE. They agreed on one sole condition, that I generate a certain level of business on an annual basis, the bottom line is that they were hiring me to make money but were willing to let me make money my way instead of the 'used car salesman' way.

It's working! As a result of this blog, Hacker News, Twitter, client recommendations and extensive face to face networking, I have reached a point where the majority of my business is based on companies and hiring managers approaching me and asking me to help them out instead of me pestering them on a daily basis trying to convince them I am not another soulless recruiter. This isn't intended to be a self-aggrandising post, my purpose is to highlight the fact that the original recruitment model still works. I have no doubt that there are plenty of other recruiters who take the same approach and I have no doubt that a lot of them are more successful than me but unfortunately the vast majority of recruiters out there are still money-hungry, greedy, self-centred sales people. I can play a very small part in changing that however the readers of the post can play a bigger part. If you encounter the sales driven recruiter then refer to my previous post 'Questions from my experience as a Recruiter on Hacker News' on how to deal with them and still get the job done. If you come across a recruiter who actually knows his Ruby from his Perl, embrace them, recommend them and encourage them to keep fighting the good fight.

The current recruitment model is dying a slow death. The global recession played a large part in eliminating the fly-by-night recruiters and retained those in it for the long haul however there is an underlying feeling within the industry that we are on our last legs. It was my new boss of all people who highlighted the shift. More and more companies are developing internal recruitment teams to tackle the increasing recruitment costs and more companies are reaping the benefits of having a team in-house that know the business inside out and can do an infinitely better job of selling the company to prospective employees than what any 3rd party recruiter could ever do. It takes a lot of initial investment, time & resource to set up in internal team but those that invest the time and effort are now in a position where they very rarely have to engage a 3rd party ever again. Start-ups can't afford this luxury, however I for one have noticed that start-up organisations are becoming more aware of the poor recruitment model and are investing more of their time in learning how to make their recruitment process more efficient. Gone are the days of the dreaded 'Where do you see yourself in 5 years' questions and instead clued in hiring managers are investing time into digging through candidates GitHub repo's and design portfolios and focusing more on treating prospective employees as a fellow human being rather than just another payroll entry. Long may it continue.


  1. Great post - and refreshing to see that at least one recruiter does now get it. However, you don't mention things like Careers 2.0 from Stackoverflow - which gives direct access to pre-qualified people, and their entire online portfolio. It's developer-centric, for sure, but does provide a pretty impressive alternative to the numbers-game players. (NB there will always be room for relationship-based consultants)

  2. Is "rarer than a quark" really an apt analogy seeing as how quarks are subatomic particles that make up protons and neutrons? This in fact makes them more commonplace than an ill-fitting analogy.

  3. That's a refreshing post. Still a sale pitch but it rings true and that's What matters. What seems to be lacking in many Tech recruiters i've met and talked to is the focus on finding a good fit beyond the hard skills.

    We're developing matchFWD so us and our users rely more on our contacts than on recruiters to hire, but if you want to give it a try, you're welcome to do so.

  4. @hqrsie Awesome! Rarely does such a succinct comment garner a laugh... well done :P

    Great post Steve, I would dearly love to build a relationship with that kind of recruiter... glad to see that someone other than me values quality over quantity. If you're ever in Toronto, call me, I'd like to grab a coffee... or a beer. It doesn't matter how busy I am as a developer, I will sacrifice time to spend and talk to people with this perspective.

    But in this Wal-Mart and Ikea throwaway society where everything is about cheap, reproducible results, too many people have come around to that way of thinking. It makes me cry inside because in my mind, quality is sacrificed everywhere I look.

  5. Being super-geeky about it.

    The author is right in his use of "a quark" as they are usually found in groups of twos and threes rather than individual 'units'

    Also, the heavier flavours of quarks are not found in nature and can only be seen in particle accelerators.

    So, as far as ordinary everyday people like me, are concerned, the analogy works.

    BTW, hqrsie - I love your 'About me' - if you ever figure it out, let the rest of us who are trying to figure out the same thing regarding ourselves, in on the secret.

  6. Having been a computer science graduate last year I can attest to the amount of recruiters would are, for lack of a better word, arseholes. I got a 2:2 and boy did I pay when it came to looking for a job, I actually had one hangup on me mid sentence because I didn't hold that magic 2:1.

    Has anyone ever thought that there a lots of decent graduates who are struggling to find a job who would benefit from having a single recruiter they trust putting them forward for jobs they are suited for? I know I would have loved it...

  7. This is exactly why I made HoneyComb (

    It doesn't replace a good recruiter, but it allows companies who can't afford recruiters a much easier way to user their network to find the right person.

    It's great to see a recruiter out there doing it the right way.

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