Appointing a consultancy

By The Drum, Administrator

May 15, 2002 | 8 min read

'I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go.' It's a sentence almost as terrifying to hear from your boss as from your parachuting instructor.

Unfortunately, as many in the marketing industry know, it's a sentence said all too many times to people who, for whatever reasons, just haven't worked out in the job they were hired for.

When this happens employers often have to take a share of the blame. After all, as the employer, it's your job to make sure you have the right people with the right skills in the right places.

To say that this is often no easy task may well be preaching to the converted. How many times have the employers of Marketeer-land hired somebody only to have to let them go again a couple of months down the road? How many hours of work has this wasted?

The appointment of a recruitment consultancy to cut down on these wasted hours is not a new strategy. But how do employers ensure that the consultancy they choose will cut down on wasted hours as opposed to creating more? How do these employers know which consultancy will be the best suited for their particular market sector or industry? And how, once you've found your consultancy, do you make the most of the relationship?

As with choosing any other type of agency or consultancy, initial research is key to knowing which companies to approach. Word of mouth is a strongly recommended method for finding out about the recruitment consultancies in your area, as is keeping an eye on the trade press (such as, for example, The Marketeer...). Ask around. Which consultancies have a good reputation for finding good people? Which ones don't?

Past experience in your industry is also a factor to take into account, as stressed by Leon Hampson, creative director at Anderson Baillie, who says: "First and foremost is that they have knowledge in your industry. A lot of the companies that cross into different sectors don't really know them as well as the companies that specialise in just one. Go for the specialists."

Some companies, particularly larger ones, will work with several specialist consultancies. A consultancy that recruits your marketing team may not necessarily be the one to go to for IT staff.

Once a list of consultancies has been drawn up it's crucial to get to know them. Personal contact, as opposed to communicating solely over the telephone, is recommended as the best way to do this.

"The thing we've found very, very useful is spending time with the consultants so they understand the company ethos," states Trevor Lorains, managing director of Barrington Johnson Lorains. "That way they don't send us people we can't work with. An hour explaining to them your company ethos will save hours of company time."

This is echoed by Mike Carter, operations director at recruitment consultancy Orchard. He states: "For them to achieve their goal, which is recruiting the right individuals, the main thing is for us to have a good understanding of their company. It's good for us to go round and see their company, see what they do and how they work. It's the stuff a lot of companies don't want to take the time to do, but it is really important. What they need to do is trust the consultant. If they trust the consultant we can get them the right individuals for their positions."

As with appointing any other kind of agency, pricing can also be an issue. How does each consultancy charge its clients? Different consultancies have different ways of charging (with some working on a retainer basis and some requesting payment only after supplying candidates) and to make sure you're going to get your money's worth it's a good idea to check them out before deciding on one.

Philip Horn, resourcing manager at ASDA, advises: "What you're looking for if you're going to a recruitment consultancy are things like speed of response and whether or not they are paid on results. There are some companies that still get paid on a retainer basis, in stages, so they get money before they've even done anything, but more and more are doing it so they get paid only on a result."

When your consultants have been chosen and are standing by it then becomes time for them to earn their keep. This, of course, is crunch time. The whole point in hiring a recruitment consultancy is for the consultants to do the groundwork of finding applicants for your job vacancy. More importantly, it's for them to find the right applicants for your job vacancy. The industry is filled with horror stories of recruitment consultancies sending unsuitable applicants to interviews, wasting both the client's and applicant's time. To avoid this, it's crucial that your consultancy knows exactly what it is you're looking for.

"A good brief is at the heart of a good relationship with your consultancy," says Katherine Nicholson, the UK marketing manager for Schwan Consumer Brands. "So they understand what you're recruiting for. I've seen CVs from other consultancies and they've been so far off the mark it's been a waste of time, whereas the consultancy I have now really understands us. It's about being very specific about the personality and what core skills you require from that person."

Clare Ramus is the PR and communications manager for Best Western Hotels.

She says: "When I was recruiting I made sure it was a very tight brief for exactly what I wanted. I was fairly adamant that I wasn't going to waste my time seeing someone who wasn't appropriate."

Even after your consultancy has sent you the right person for your vacancy and your company, it's recommended that you stay in contact with them. Talk fairly regularly. That way, when you know you've got a vacancy coming up in a few months' time they can give you an idea of the sort of people currently looking to change their jobs.

"It's definitely worth keeping in contact with your consultancy from time to time because sometimes they can come to you with things you might not have thought of," says Julian Carter, regional sales director for Capital Radio.

"What I've noticed about recruitment consultancies lately is that they are coming to us and saying 'We've got someone in this position, are you interested?' It's good, I like it when people are proactive."

Horn, at ASDA, recommends forging relationships with more than one consultancy in any particular sector.

He advises: "If we can't find someone for a position we'll go to a number of specialist consultancies. That way you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. You can still have a fairly strong relationship, but just with more than one company. When a company's new it can take them a while to get up to speed so it makes sense to have more than one working for you."

Once you start developing your relationship with a consultancy or, for that matter, consultancies, it can also be a good idea to find out what their methods are like for treating candidates. How well do they actually know the people they are sending you?

At Orchard Recruitment Carter states that: "If we send someone to a client, we know them. We've interviewed them and gone through a myriad of stuff before we even send the client a piece of paper with the candidate's name on it."

Some have found that not all recruitment consultancies do this, however. Again, ASDA's Horn steps in with some invaluable advice. "The other thing is to measure how effective they are," he says. "You can see how responsive they are, but not how they actually treat the candidate, so always ask the candidate when you see them. Did the consultant see the candidate face to face or just speak over the phone? It seems a bit unfair to be paying these companies if they're not even having personal contact with the candidates. If you go to a recruitment consultancy you expect them to know the candidate they put forward."

Recruitment is a tricky subject at best. Even someone who appears to be the right candidate for the job can sometimes turn out to be anything but. Add to that the fact that some recruitment consultancies will doubtless try to offload any candidate onto you in order to make their commission and things get even trickier.

But if you take the time to find out about a consultancy, and get to know them, before signing on the dotted line your chances of finding the right person are definitely increased.

A good recruitment consultancy will strive to keep its clients happy, and to know as much about their candidates as possible. Who knows, they may even help you find someone you'll want to hold onto for years.

Then all you'll have to worry about will be the headhunters...


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