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: 1782

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 30, 2011 at 12:07pm
Always happy for anyone to plagiarize any of my drivel if they like it. One thing about West Texans, most of us do not have many illusions about what we do in the real world. We also know that like a good birddog, it's as much about a successful hunt as it is about the reward. If the focus is on the reward, the dog will eat the bird or chew it to the point that they aren't any good to anybody but the dog so nobody wants to use them for the next hunt.

@Paul, Yes we often have a lot of power because knowledge is power. What I think Ben is talking about here is the recruiter who will try to force the square peg in the round hole when they know that the candidate is either not capable or is not a fit for the role or the company. I think we have the knowledge that we can share to give either the client or the candidate the confidence or move forward if we know from our experience that the likelihood of success is solid but it's been my observation that forcing the wrong thing or trying to almost always results in a case of the dismals for everyone concerned. I think you will agree that a really good salesperson is more focused on happy customers who bring repeat business. When the "deal"becomes more important than the success of the fit we are no longer selling by providing knowledge we are guilty of coercion.
Power used wisely is a good thing for all concerned. Coercion leaves a bitter taste because when the dust settles nobody is happy and the "deal" is a hollow success.

In my part of the world we call those "Helar" deals. Hit em' a lick and run. We have probably all been tempted to oversell but I think you and I agree that a "helar "recruiter does not have much longevity. Just like the bad birddog they are a lot of action and noise but they end up with a lot of different owners because they mouth the birds, are not consistent and eventually nobody wants them. The "helars" I know are now selling cell phones or work for a "we tote the note" car lot. The raw sales talent is there but they are counterfeit when it comes to the use of knowledge as power. As you have been a consistent success for a period of time I don't think we disagree. :)
Comment by Paul Alfred on May 30, 2011 at 12:36pm
No disagreement with you Sandra on wise use of Power ... Happy customers in the end is what we all want in the long run...  Happy Memorial Day Weekend by the way !
Comment by Keith Plesha on May 31, 2011 at 2:52pm
That brought the beginning of my recruiting days right to the forefront Ben!  I always thought it was kind of funny talking to people about my recruiting expertise and my sales numbers in the same breath.  I understood early that there were different types of recruiters even in the agency setup.  You have those that truly want to help people and make a difference in their lives, and those that are there for a paycheck.  I saw 60+ "recruiters" come and go in my 4 years.  It's not that those that left weren't good recruiters...they mainly couldn't handle the sales aspect of the job.  I separated myself by diving into the technology (I was sourcing hardware and software engineers) and taking pride in my job by treating as a career and not a current docking space.  I forged great relationships with senior-level individuals...many of which truly used me as their source of industry hiring and wage knowledge.  I can honesty say I convinced several people to take jobs...not just jobs; contracts across the country.  If I hadn't sold them on the opportunity and the services my company and I can offer, I highly doubt they would have taken the contract.  I can recall being on my cell phone at 8pm on a Friday while sitting on my porch in the Summer talking to a consultant in Baltimore, MD about the reasons he should be on that 7am plane for Irvine, CA the next morning.


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