I've just watched a very interesting interview conducted by Shane McCusker with Greg Savage about the future of the recruitment industry. (If you don't know about Shane it really is worth checking out his blog - http://www.intel-sw.com/blog/ -the recording of the interview can be found here as well).
Greg is pretty well known in the industry and his influence spreads far beyond his native Australia, so I was interested to hear his views and I would encourage you to watch the interview. He pulls no punches about the current state of the recruitment industry and sets out in typically non-nonsense fashion what the consequences of current poor practice have been for the reputation and success of the industry. I agree with much of what he says. Except in one pretty fundamental area.
Greg's view is that the successful value-add for agency recruiters in the future will be finding talent that their clients can't find for themselves. Now I understand why he says that. Corporates are increasingly moving recruitment in-house, and the growth of digital has 'democratised' the networks that used to be the preserve of recruiters. I know of many recruiters who would feel that they are in competition with their own clients to find talent. So yes, it is important to find talent that they can't find for themselves.
But this has always been the case, even in the pre-digital age. If a client could make an appointment using their own networks they would. They just weren't very good at it then. But they are good at it now, and they will get better at it in the future. And that's the point. At some stage, if not already happening, corporate in-house recruiters will become at least as good at finding candidates as agency recruiters. Why wouldn't they be? Do you really want to base your future success on being able hold back the dual tide of increasing availability of information on one side, and the increasing skill of corporate teams to access it on the other?
But recruiters are not paid to find candidates. Recruiters are paid to find the right candidate. Whether you work in-house or for an agency, the value-add for your hiring manager is to be able to find candidates he or she wants to hire. Recruiters have got to be able to say "You will want to hire this person because..." The critical skillset is and always has been to understand the nature of the role you are trying to fill and to assess and present candidates against that requirement. Hiring managers want to work with recruiters who understand their need and meet it. They don't actually care very much about where or how you find your candidates.
In much of the comment I read around the industry, the strong impression I get is that sourcing talent is seen as a critical skill (boolean, social media, talent pooling, market mapping etc), and that assessment of talent is either an assumed competence in all recruiters (!) or just not considered as important. Of course, acquisition of good candidates is an ongoing challenge for recruiters (it has never not been the case) and there are more and more ways to find and manage relationships with candidates.
But in a market where increasingly everyone has access to the same basic information, differentiation and successful operation will come to those recruiters who can evaluate that information most effectively to produce the best match-ups between vacancy and talent.