Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Recruitment – the hardest job in the world?

I was watching television this weekend when a sports pundit asserted that a premier league manager had "...the hardest job in the world." Not half an hour later I heard the exact same phrase, this time as a descriptor for one of horse racing’s leading jockeys. It made me realise how many times I’ve heard people say this across all walks of life, and how daft those statements are. For starters getting paid to play sport can’t possibly qualify as a hardship. Secondly I’d have thought that those working in the likes of bomb disposal, fire fighting and heart surgery would hold more compelling claims to the title. Furthermore, if Vernon Kaye were to pose the question to 100 people in the street in all seriousness I wouldn’t mind betting that "being a mum" would be the top answer.

So, when someone commented to me this week that recruitment must be the hardest job in the world, I advised them accordingly. Yet it got me thinking, whilst recruitment can be very rewarding, it is undoubtedly a hard job.

Many people get into recruitment because they’ve been told it’s possible to make good money. And it’s fair to say the rewards can be attractive for delivery quality work. Yet the statistics show that around a third of new hires will leave the industry within their first year. Recruitment isn’t rocket science, you don’t sit at a desk unable to answer tricky questions. So what’s the problem?

In our view there are recruitment consultants and there are recruitment agents. The job I’m referring to here is that of a recruitment consultant. The priority for consultants is to build trusting relationship with candidates and clients in order to best satisfy the needs of both parties. If you do that well, the results will follow. Agents, conversely, care very little about the quality of service they provide. For them it is all about hitting KPIs and that inevitably involves cutting as many corners as possible. In my personal experience, both from my time at Fabric and also my PR days, true recruitment consultants are a rare breed. For every one good recruitment consultant there are a dozen bad recruitment agents. Little surprise, therefore, that the overall reputation of the recruitment industry isn’t overly positive and you’re facing an uphill battle before you’ve even started.

In recruitment there is nowhere to hide. Most recruiters leave their job because they are unable to hit their targets. They are either fired or jump before being pushed. That would imply it’s a cut-throat, pressurised world where only the hardest-nosed survive. It is relentless for sure, but cut-throat isn’t an accurate description. The real pressure in recruitment comes from the fact that we do not produce what we sell, yet we are constantly under pressure from clients to deliver the best quality product – i.e. the candidate. Add to that the fact that internally our performance is up there in black and white for all to see. We simply have to deliver tangible results day after day, week after week, year after year. The more we slip behind the curve the more the pressure grows. We don’t want to let the team down but most of all we know we risk becoming a cost to the company. Coasting isn’t an option because recruitment is about ‘all or nothing’.

 good recruitment consultant will be an expert at handling a myriad of variables including clients, candidates and HRs. In itself that is true of a number of occupations of course. However recruiting is uniquely demanding, and consequently frustrating, as it is the only industry that I am aware of where the ‘product’ in question can stop a deal from happening. If you want to buy a car, and the dealer has set a price which you’re happy with, you take that car. The car can not turn round and say "I don’t want this to happen". As a recruitment consultant we can spend months on a job, agree an offer which everyone seems happy with, and then be reduced to a blubbering wreck as the candidate decides he or she doesn’t want to go ahead. We have done nothing wrong, it’s not our fault the deal hasn’t been done. We’ve left no stone unturned, worked flat out, given excellent consultancy to all parties throughout and acted with skill and sensitivity. Yet we’ve got absolutely nothing to show for that time and effort. There is no time for sympathy, we simply have to get back on the horse and start from scratch again. Now imagine that has just happened for the third time in as many weeks. Frankly the whole thing can be soul destroying.

In my view people can’t understand what impact this all-or-nothing model has until they have tasted it. Firstly, bear in mind that basic salaries in recruitment are relatively low, as this is an incentive-based industry. Secondly, consider that the vast majority of work we do is known as ‘contingency recruitment’ – in simple terms there are no retainers and we only get a fee upon the successful placement of a candidate. We all work to ratios – for example the ratio of candidates CVs forwarded to a job to those then shortlisted for interview, those interviewed to invited for a second interview, those re-interviewed to offered, and those offered to placed. The ratios of CVs forwarded to placements will vary from consultant to consultant, with a ‘consultant’ having a much lower ratio than an ‘agent’ (see above). However what this all means is that as recruiters we do a huge amount of high quality work which essentially goes to waste, no tangible results at all. Worse still, the effort we’ve put in means very little. There may be some sympathy from a client or our boss in the short term, but ultimately this is a results business and that sentiment soon evaporates. Keeping yourself motivated against this backdrop isn’t easy. Pushing it all to the back of the mind and performing constantly at a high level is nothing short of demanding.

The recession years that we are experiencing have been painful for everyone but they have given rise to opportunities as well. Poor quality recruitment ‘agents’ who might have survived in a boom market have either been forced out altogether or resorted to increasingly underhand practices. It is something which blights our industry but in the long run it isn’t sustainable. The best recruiters have built relationships where they are seen by clients and candidates as a service, not a product. If we work with intelligence, integrity and deliver exceptional consultancy we grow relationships with the best people in our industry, to the point that a high volume of our business comes from referrals and recommendations. To my mind there is no better feeling than finding someone the ideal role or the ideal candidate and quite simply that’s the best way to succeed in what is a highly pressurised job.

Tim Court - Director

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