Recruitment agencies have often been seen as fee-hungry cowboys who – in the same Stetson as the estate agents of the 80s – don’t care who they place as long they get their fee. A myth, perhaps, that the agencies, and many who work with them, are quick to dispel.
Like many businesses, the recruitment industry is built largely on trust. However, this trust can be hampered if you are working with a partner who is wrong for your needs.
Identifying the right recruitment partner to work with can be difficult. But, with more than 6,000 recruitment agencies in the UK turning over £24 billion, it was never going to be simple.
Jill Gilchrist, a director at Quantum Recruitment, says: “There are literally hundreds of recruitment agencies in Scotland, all vying for a slice of your budget. You have to decide how well they know your market. Firstly, if you are in marketing, for example, you should probably speak to a recruitment consultancy that is well versed in that particular field.”
As always, it is never long before the ever-important question of money is raised, as Gilchrist continues: “Most clients are looking for a good deal – as are we all – but service should still be the key. Clients who use recruitment agencies use them because of the service levels. If you weren’t bothered about the service levels, you could just go to a magazine direct and put in an advert. So, if you want a service, you’d better make that service good.”
In saying that, the service does have to be cost effective, both in terms of money and time. “And it is,” argues Gilchrist. “Take into consideration how long it can take to source an advert, place an advert, sift through the CVs, compile a short list, invite a first round of interviews and then a second, and finally make the crucial choice. Time and money equate.”
This is something that David Pollock, principal consultant at Denholm Associates, agrees with. “All too often, clients will sacrifice specialism and expertise for price. What the uneducated client doesn’t realise is the cost of making a mistake when recruiting far outweighs the cost that comes along with using the expertise and knowledge of a reputable consultancy with a proven track record in recruiting in their field.”
“Clients should look for best practice,” continues Jane Wylie, a director at Stafffinders. “Price shouldn’t be the biggest consideration; first and foremost, the client looks for the right candidate. To attract the right kind of candidate though, the agency needs to have the right profile - Not necessarily just the biggest.
Therefore, to attract the right candidates, the agency that you are considering should be highly regarded, or at least highly visible, in your specialist sector.
“Clients shouldn’t just want candidates to fill a gap, they should want recruits who are a little bit special, and, to supply the client with what they are after, the recruitment agency needs to have access to a quality candidate database.”
But despite this, for some clients, it is still important that the recruitment agency remain competitive – particularly in the current economic climate. The service has got to be value for money as well as valued.
Derek MacSeate, manager for sales and marketing at Michael Page Recruitment, says: “Clients should still look for competitiveness, especially at present. Often, an agency can negotiate a fee laterally in terms of performance.
“It isn’t often that consultancies will barter with costs. However, if they do, most will want something in return. Perhaps exclusivity.
“However, placement ability remains at the forefront of importance. You can’t afford to get it wrong.
“If (like us) consultants work on a non-commission-based basis, they will take more time to make sure that they get it right first time. That is perhaps something that clients trawling the recruitment market should look for.”
Initially, a good recruitment consultant will be commercially aware and know your market inside out. This knowledge should enable them to identify the issues and challenges that you face and understand the needs of your business. Especially in recruitment.
Alex Stewart, principal consultant at TMP Melville Craig, says: “You should speak to your consultant to establish your exact needs and allow the consultant to establish a close working relationship and help create the best possible solution to meet your needs.
“Larger companies tend to prefer to formalise recruitment processes with Preferred Supplier Agreements, but smaller companies may not need or want this more formal process.
“Clients should look for the best all-round solution to meet their needs but many businesses appointing a recruitment consultancy for the first time go for the cheapest option. However, most find out soon enough that is not always the best for their business. A combination of experience, level of service, size, specialism and location will provide the best value service for clients.”
Linda Park, director at ID Recruitment, agrees: “It all comes down to the client as to how they choose their recruitment consultant. Some will look for the ideal partner, rather than the cheapest, especially in the local marketing arena. Although some still go for cost.
“In a specialised sector, you have to be able to understand the needs of the client and be able to offer a good level of service in the area. But every client is different. Sometimes the more experienced a client is in using agencies, the more they realise the importance of a good placement and a job well done on behalf of their recruitment partner.”
In recruitment, be it through an agency or direct, there is always an area of uncertainty. Anything involving humans has that uncertainty; recruitment agencies just try and make it less uncertain.
But Quantum’s Gilchrist says that recruitment agencies should now really be becoming even more accountable.
“Agencies should now start tracking the success of the people they place. In times where finances are tight, this need is greater than ever before. It shouldn’t be just the number of people placed that is tracked though, it should be how long the people last, how many people last at least a year and how many are promoted.”
Getting it right first time every time is not always easy, but the professionalism of the agency should be maintained, says Pollock. The agencies should not be bombarding you with useless candidates: “Clients should not see tens of irrelevant CVs. Agencies are employed to find a handful of relevant candidates, based on information they have provided and the consultant’s understanding of their business.
“It is always important to place the right candidate in the right job. Therefore, it is imperative that the client and agency work closely together and very important that the agency spends time getting to know everything that you want in the new staff you plan to hire; not only in terms of skill-set but, equally as important, personality and ability to fit in.”
However, the last bit of advice for anyone who might be looking at prospective recruitment agencies to work with comes from Alex Stewart who says: “There is a common misconception that the more consultancies you use, the wider the selection of candidates you will get. The more agencies a client appoints, the higher the risk of their whole project becoming completely out of control and taking up more and more of their time.
A knowledgeable and cost-effective solution from one agency will provide the best possible service and value for money as well as the right candidate.”