There’s no doubt that recruitment is big business and with nearly 30,000 agencies in the UK alone, together worth around £37 billion, it’s also seriously competitive. However, although bodies such as the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) are doing some good work in establishing standards for quality across the sector, there’s still room for improvement. At present, anyone can set up an agency and those with unscrupulous practices have damaged the wider reputation of the industry. In order to examine the current public perception of recruiters, I commissioned independent research which, unfortunately, revealed the worrying extent of an inherent mistrust. If people’s faith in the industry is to be restored, it’s vital that everyone in the staffing field is aware of the real issues in order to drive change. Here’s what we found.
Almost half of people are using agencies less
The research, conducted by Explain the Market, analysed the responses of over 1000 people who had used agencies as clients or candidates in the past year. Ex-recruiters were also interviewed. In a nutshell, the results paint a picture of an industry with a poor reputation: it’s clear that the bad practice experienced by many has gone right to the core of whether people feel they can trust agencies with their careers and businesses. While there are certainly some good, reputable firms, they are all being ‘tarred with the same brush’ and, as a result, rather than avoiding certain firms, 45 per cent of those polled said that they are using agencies less in general. This shows that you certainly don’t need to be one of the ‘dodgy’ practitioners to be affected and we can no longer afford to ignore this problem. If anything, the most reputable agencies need to take a stand against ones that aren’t.
A perception of dishonesty
When firms and candidates are effectively placing their livelihood in your hands, that comes with real responsibility. However, the research found that more than half of all people (52 per cent) that have used recruitment agencies in the last year do not feel they were dealt with honestly. This is truly shocking – can you imagine if this report came out saying the same about independent financial advisors or mortgage brokers? Worryingly, it seems to be commonly tolerated. One respondent, who had used an agency as a candidate told researchers: “Recruitment firms contact you just to find new leads for roles. They see what you’ve applied for and then go after the role themselves with other candidates.” If candidates don’t feel they can trust an agency, you can bet they will pass this view onto future employers.
It goes without saying that jobseekers use agencies because they hope that recruiters will be able to match them with a great opportunity. However, a shocking number of respondents – a mere 4.2 per cent – said that they would trust a consultant with the specific task of judging whether a candidate or job was right for them. One reason for this is that a number of respondents felt that recruiters don’t seem to know their market well enough: one ex-recruiter revealed: “There’s literally no training, as a new recruiter you get given a phone, five contact details and are told to and get some leads.”
Another ex-recruiter told researchers that, in their professional view, “They shouldn’t be called recruitment consultant. They are recruitment sales – selling roles and selling candidates.” For the agencies that have teams of ethical, knowledgeable professionals who have undertaken rigorous training and really know their stuff, this should be a warning. At present, 95.8 per cent of people think recruiters can’t be relied upon to tell whether an applicant is suited to a role – and they group highly trained, ethical and professional recruiters in this category.
Another key complaint was that recruitment is becoming increasingly impersonal. A staggering 94 per cent of individuals wanted recruiters to stop using computer algorithms to determine if applicants are suitable and, instead, rely more on human beings. One frustrated candidate said: “Sometimes I feel like I’m written off before anyone has a chance to get to know me or even talk to people who know what I can do.” It’s clear that recruiters need to be seen to be able to recognise individuals’ potential simply beyond matching a job description.
Recruiters will no doubt be aware of the pressure to provide value for money to clients, but they may not be aware that the majority of people (54 per cent) believe it isn’t reasonable for agencies to charge fees over £7,000 for recruiting a £50k per annum job – a fairly typical figure. One candid ex-recruiter revealed: “It’s a sales model from the 1980s. How many calls a day, meetings a week, ringing a bell when a candidate is placed. There’s a lot of greed.”
Finally – and most worryingly of all – the research revealed that a significant majority (80 per cent) of job hunters are very concerned about where the recruitment sector is heading. It couldn’t be clearer that urgent action is needed in order to clean up the sector and restore trust in recruitment.
Time for change
As uncomfortable as it is, this research shows that people are calling for something better and agencies need to listen. If recruiters are to regain the trust of candidates and clients alike, greater transparency is needed.
This isn’t about ‘recruiter bashing’ or making sweeping statements about all agencies being bad. It’s about recognising the fact that the poor practices of a number of recruiters are tarnishing the reputation of the industry as a whole. We aren’t talking about an individual hiring a useless plumber only to be left with a leak, or receiving a cold meal in a restaurant. Bad practice in recruitment means there could be dishonesty about margins, a detrimental effect upon someone’s career or an impact upon the profit and loss of a business. The knock-on implications of unethical recruiters’ actions can be incredibly far reaching and we cannot continue to tolerate this in the way that we have.
In Germany, for example, there is a much greater level of regulation. While I’m not necessarily proposing that there’s an official regulatory body, I do believe that there are some guiding principles that companies could base their choices on when considering their recruitment ecosystem. I’d like to see more fee transparency, just as we now see with independent financial advisors. There certainly needs to be more clarity about hiring methods, including the ways that agencies are managing data responsibly. Managers should also move away from rewarding recruiters based on the number of hires made – a better approach is to look at the longevity of the roles of placed candidates as this will curb the careless ‘do anything to get bums on seats’ model of recruitment. Finally, agencies should be open about how they are cultivating diverse talent pools – and perhaps hiring firms need to ensure that the people sourcing are also more diverse themselves.
Yes, this research will likely cause a level of outcry in the hiring industry, but I believe it should in fact be the springboard for a new, better model which recognises and advocates real expertise. As a starting point, I’d urge people to make better use of their own professional networks to connect with knowledgeable, trustworthy people as a means of sourcing talent and looking for opportunities.
We’ve recognised the challenges facing the sector. The next step is to work out how to restore people’s faith so that the industry can move forward and flourish. It’s my firmly-held belief that this can only happen when all professionals within the staffing industry work together. It’s for this reason that I’ve launched the Trust in Recruitment campaign and I’d love to hear from people that want to help drive change for the better.