So you think you’re a “Recruitment Consultant” do you?


A few weeks back I started a discussion thread on LinkedIn titled “In-house recruiters rejoice! The cold call is dead. Long live Socia...” – It turned out to be a bit of a monster and with 129 comments was the biggest topic in the IOR (Institute of Recruiters) group for approximately 3-4 weeks.


There were some great debates. Yes, there were the few who couldn’t resist the temptation to self promote, and there was the odd wide-boy wading in with what I and others perceived to be some rather aggressive, bullish opinions (that did nothing to dispel the negative perceptions some have of that industry) but in the main it was quite an interesting thread. Conversations spun off in several directions – from the importance of good advert writing to consultants defending their right to be called consultants rather than sales people.  It’s this latter point I’ve been thinking about.  For some reason it’s been bugging me.  I know,  I really should get a life but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  After all its just a title. Why get so hung up about it?  To be honest I don’t know but let me explain why I think, in many cases (not all) the title, “Recruitment Consultant” is misleading, inappropriate and for some unknown reason, has the ability to wind me up.


For me the term “Recruitment Consultant”, whether intentionally or not, implies a service where advice, counsel and knowledge is provided across a significant proportion of the (if not whole) recruitment life-cycle.  When agency-side I really didn’t appreciate the concept of this “whole cycle” thingy m’bob.  Like many of my peers at the time I fell into recruitment pretty much straight out of Uni (I blame my parents for a lack of direction).   Again, like many,  I was deluded to the fact I was the critical component in any businesses recruitment drive.  Why wouldn’t I think this? I’d had no real prior experience in business up to this point and this notion was drilled into me in a cult-like fashion since my early days at Hays.  I looked around at my spiky haired (I know what you’re thinking.  “You had hair?!”), fat-tie wearing compadres and thought, “yeah man. Check me out. I’m a consultant” (although commuting in my beat up MK1 Vauxhall Astra had a tendancy to bring me crashing back down to earth :(   ).


The atmosphere was intense.  The air was regularly filled with phones ringing and slamming down on their bases, bells and / or claxons and / or cheers sounding off at the news of any new placements made, and banter (often of a non-pc nature) bounced around the office on a regular basis.  Whiteboards donned the walls with targets and KPIs of cold calls to make, client meetings to attend, e-shots sent out, postal mailers distributed, candidate interviews lined up etc. And god help you if you weren’t hitting them.  How dare people imply we were sales folk.  I mean come on, does that sound like a sales environment to you?!


It wasn’t until my final couple of  years in the industry I awoke from my Matrix-like agency slumber and thought to myself, “hang on a bloody minute! White board? Check. Cold calls targets? Check. I’m wearing a tie with an oversized knot in it? Check.  For some strange reason, when I speak to people on the phone a adopt a perculiar Chris-Tarrant-on-the-Capital-Radio-breakfast-show-esque voice. Check……  AARRRRGGHHHH!  I’m a salesman!”


I continued in the industry but the last year-and-a-half or so were pretty tough.  I’d mentally resigned from the role. I’d managed to come 3rd out of 25 billers in my first full year in a particular market and discipline but my whole existence was feeling somewhat hollow.  Money was important. I had bills to pay and food to buy god damn it,  but it didn’t get me out of bed in the morning.  Damn you Maslow and your theory of self actualisation!


I know there are some great recruitment firms out there and some really true consultants within them.  This post isn’t aimed at you.  My issue / frustration relates to the individuals that work in the Boiler Room environments I once found myself in and who are often one or a  combination of: a) the larger firms;  b) IT recruiters or; c) high street agencies. 


Let’s play a game.  Let’s look at a very top line end-to-end recruitment cycle and see where these types of agencies I’m referring to contribute.


I’m only using a basic diagram for illustrative purposes.  If you knew my Myers-Briggs type you’d know my brain likes to work sequentially.  I don’t for one minute think this is a process whereby you must complete Step A before moving to Step B and never shall you be permitted to return.  Each element is intrinsically entwined and must be considered simoultaneously throughout but this is how my mind tends to visualise things.


I’m also aware this isn’t the full cycle. For example, I’ve missed off the onboarding section from the end. The stage where recruitment and L&D meet but this will do for this little experiment.


So, as Lloyd Grossman would say on Through the Keyhole – Leeets look at the evidence. (apologies to non-UK readers or UK residents born post 1985 – this little attempt at humour will probably mean absolutely nothing to you)


Recruitment Marketing: In other words when I company works on their employer brand and goes to the market with these key message to attract talent.  In its most basic form it answers the candidate’s question of “Why would I want to work for you?”


Can we see any agency recruiters contributing in this stage? Consulting to help their client’s shape this?


*Let me just check behind this door…. No. Definately none in here.*


Yes. they may run with the messages’ their clients provide them with when approaching candidates but do they consult in the shaping of a clients employer brand?  I’m guessing the majority don’t.


Forecasting: In other words looking at people planning. analysing churn, attrition, turnover, bench planning etc and forecasting where new employees will be required in an organisation.


Are there many agencies here? Consulting their clients on this part of the recruitment process? 


*Hang on, let me see behind the sofa….. Nope. None here either.*


Again, there may be some (remember this piece isn’t directed at you) but i’m guessing not many. And no, cold calling someone and asking, “have you got any vacancies coming up?” doesn’t count.


Sourcing: Ah. Now we’re getting warmer.  Sourcing is a strategy within itself and can have multiple channels. Some companies may have specialist teams for each channel.  There may be an online strategy, which in turn could be broken down further to a social media strategy.  Agencies are one element of a clients sourcing pipeline.  Agencies will advertise online for their clients and in trade press etc. so to a certain extent it can be argued they tap into other sourcing channels on behalf of their clients.  This is definitely an area where agencies can put their flags in the sand.  But how many actually consult with your clients on the best approach to take relevant to their business and vacancies or do you just place your “My client, blah blah flamin’ blah” advert on the job boards and hope to strike it lucky?  Some do the former and do it very well but too many are still doing the latter.  Just check any job board out there if you don’t believe me.


Selection Process: Interviews, testing, behavioural profiling, assessment centres etc.  How many agencies out there regularly consult with their clients on the best selection process to adopt?  Or do you simply book candidates on the various stages set by your clients?


*Wait.  Allow me to look behind this curtain…. Ah… Oh… No, sorry, I thought I saw some movement but it was nothing.*


Tracking / monitoring: From a clients perspective this means looking at time and cost per hire, employee satisfaction and engagement, assessing quality of hire etc.  Some agencies will provide stats for the service they personally provide but how many consult and advise a client on how to do this within their own business.  So yes, many agencies will contribute but not so many will advise / consult.


*A quick look in this cupboard…. Aaaannd no.  Nada.*


David.  It’s oooover to you. (again, apologies to non-UK readers or UK residents born after 1985…)


Based on this very non-scientific process it would appear the majority of agency recruiters out there, of the type I referred to earlier aren’t recruitment consultants at all (*shock horror*).  In the main, many are associated with one element of the sourcing component – which in itself is a small, but very significant section of the whole recruitment cycle.  Ah. That’s it.  From a clients perspective you’re a “Sourcing Sales person”.  Maybe that’s a tad harsh. How about… errrrm… “Agency Sourcing Adviser”? Would that be fair?  Whatever title you end up at you’ve got to admit the majority out there really shouldn’t be calling themselves recruitment consultants should they. 


Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an agency sourcing advisor and I’m not for one second look downing at people who operate within this space. I was there once myself and to this day have very fond memories of great laughs and incredible, hard working people. When I was responsible for head office recruitment there were some sourcing advisors with whom I had a great working relationship and who provided a fantastic service.  Where they recruitment consultants? Does it really matter? Does anyone really care?  Probably not but I’m glad I managed to clear it up in my own head.  Thanks for going on this journey of clarification with me.  I hope you enjoyed the ride.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at - training and coaching through recruitment complexities.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy

Views: 1792

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 27, 2011 at 11:15pm

See what happens when somebody hangs a fancy title on you that doesn't mean what you do.

If somebody had told you that you were a recruiter who sold the service of finding people for companies, then had to find them, then had to qualify them, then had to present them like a good salesman presents a world class sports car and then had to get somebody to sign on the dotted line who knows you might have been the world's greatest recruiter if you had only known what you were doing instead of trying to fit a title that didn't fit the job.

Comment by Ben on May 28, 2011 at 4:51am

If only you were in my life 12 years ago Sandra.  I wouldn't be so emotionally scarred and I would have saved an absolute fortune on my shrink's bills! ;o)


I agree with you but when talking about the art of convincing a candidate to accept or pursue a role they were initially reluctant to consider / accept I feel it cheapens the industry to call it selling.  In this scenario, if, as a recruiter, you can prove to them why the role is a great match i.e. in terms of personal and professional development and / or  it will be a clearer career path they’ll receive etc then I would argue this is actually consulting but in an agency-to-candidate relationship.  In this relationship, the frustration I have is when you have the agencies who push roles on to the candidates they're representing even if they know in their heart-of-hearts it’s not a good match - these are the ones who are only thinking about one thing - their commission.


I'm not sure if the world class sports car example is the best one to use though.  If you're buying a sports car the chances are your mind's already made up before you get to the showroom! :o)



Comment by Paul Alfred on May 28, 2011 at 8:37am

Ben great post ... I think we really don't understand the power of the term selling no matter how you want to spin it Great Recruiters have to be great sales people.   We need to sell the client on why they should work with us over the other 5000 competitors - we need to tell the Client this is how you sell the candidate who is happy where he is on why their Company is a good move ( regardless of motive which is to make money and lots  of it while maintaining a great business relationships and reputation) we need to sell the Candidate on taking 2 weeks instead of 3 weeks vacation or close the candidate 5k lower and sell him/her on why they are valued at that salary.


Everytime We speak and someone listens their is a buyer and a seller - selling or buying something we say everyday...  Selling is everything...  my 2 cents ... 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 28, 2011 at 1:27pm
I was referring to presenting a candidate to an employer with the sports car analogy. If a client wants the best and a spot is open, find it, know all it's best features and be sure that person is presented like a world class performer. I don't really believe that we have the power to sell anyone an inferior product.

As to selling a reluctant candidate just to get a fee. I have never worked with a candidate who was so weak that any recruiter could sell them on something they really didn't want to do. I have worked with a lot of candidates who have concerns that need to be addressed. If I can help them get the information they need to make a decision about moving forward, my attitude is that I become a facilitator of information. I have heard a lot of idiot recruiters rattle on about how they "closed" a candidate. My take is that they simply supported the candidate to do what they wanted to do in the first place. The situations I have seen where some hot shot thought they actually closed a candidate who really didn't want the job resulted in a candidate who didn't start or got so much press from a hard sell recruiter that they called the employer direct and declined.

I do not believe for one minute that we have that much power over people who really don't want a job. We may be able to influence but I think it is narcissism in it's finest form to believe that we have the power to sell a client to buy a candidate they really don't want or sell a candidate a job they really don't want.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 28, 2011 at 1:46pm
as to "agency sourcing adviser". That is about as goofy and misleading as the rest of all the misleading funky titles.

If a bathroom is a room in which one takes a bath, an agency sourcing adviser would be someone who advises agencies on sourcing. Advisers and consultants do not take part in the process they simply talk about it. If one needs to be a consultant or an adviser motivational speaking, training or speaking at conferences about sourcing or anything else will match your title and prevent bi-polar personal confusion.
Comment by Ben on May 28, 2011 at 4:27pm

Hi Sandra - we appear to be on the same page.


I've been following you on recruiting blogs and you're obviously exceptionally good at what you do. Based on the contributions to make and the comments you leave I perceive you to be a true, professional consultant in your field. 


As i said in my post.  This artivle wasn't aimed at the recruiters out there who do a fantastic job.  It was directed the large proportion of consultants in the UK who behave in the way I describe, and that myself and many others find incredibly frustrating.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 29, 2011 at 7:49pm
That is a kind comment Ben, I do not consider myself a consultant, just a recruiter.

Your frustration is shared in the US by every good recruiter who has their ego in order,doesn't need some goofy , high blown title and understands what we are paid to do. A good recruiter is like a well trained bird dog. They don't hunt till you tell them to. They move fast,cast a wide search, don't get distracted chasing rabbits or anything but the birds. When they flush one they stop, give you time to shoot, follow the bird and bring it back to you. If it's really a good hunter it won't mouth the bird when it brings it to you, just drop it at your feet then sit stay until you send it out again.

There is nothing better than hunting behind a good dog. If you know how to train one, let it do it's job everybody wins. Pat it on the head and tell it "great job" it will hunt it's heart out for you.

The kind you are talking about have too short an attention span to be trained, they run in circles, pee on fenceposts, bark at the moon, lap out of puddles and most of the time end up at animal control waiting for the next fool to try them out. Eventually they often just take off chasing somebody's chickens and are never heard from again...and nobody misses them. Woof! Inbreeding deters from intellect.
Comment by Stuart Harvey on May 29, 2011 at 9:30pm

Nice post Ben.


I have worked with and come across a large number of the 'big tie, spiky hair' clan over the years, and the environment has always been the same, even when I have worked for companies that had a better culture and ideology the underlying principles were still the same.

I hope by going out on my own now I can put some of your thoughts and my principles into practice and with any luck become a "recruitment consultant".

Comment by Ben on May 30, 2011 at 8:59am
Lol! Sandra. that has to be one of the best analogies i've heard to sum up the difference between the good and bad recruiters out there. So good in fact I may have to steal it if thats okay? obviously i'll direct all credit to yourself. would that be happy for me to do this?
Comment by Paul Alfred on May 30, 2011 at 11:04am
For the first time Sandra I think you and I are in disagreement ( has to be a first time for everything) with the Power some recruiters have over candidates and clients ...  Some Candidates in my opinion have to be sold on a role - and in many cases do not know their value in the market place as compared to their peers.


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