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RecNet – The words that got away



First and foremost an apology if you came to last night’s Recruiters Networking event and were disappointed by my lack of coherence.  In honesty, I was tired, my mind was elsewhere dealing with a few problems and cameras do nothing for my level of concentration.

Secondly, if you have any interest in what I was saying in my head (that failed to come out of my mouth) it is this:

As a principle, you should only outsource those aspects of your business that do not add value, but where efficiency is important.  The only exception to this is where the subject knowledge is so highly technical and infrequently used that it makes no sense for these skills to sit within the business.  You should never outsource your core.

If you believe that within your organisation, people are a part of that core, then why would you allow anyone else to be involved in the sourcing and recruitment?  The simple answer to this, is that most HR people do not see it this way.  They see recruitment as a chore, as a menial task something that gets in the way of their preferred modus operandi…..”being strategic”. 

Part of the problem here is the generalist/specialist divide.  It won’t come as a surprise to know that I’m no great fan of the Ulrich model, but I do believe that there are people who are “recruiters” and people who are not.  In the absence of any in-house specialists, recruitment tasks tend to get devolved to the lowest common denominator, normally an HR Assistant who, unless they are very good, can’t be expected to understand all the facets of recruitment.

The answer is not to essentially outsource your recruitment.  Recruitment agencies are like wasps.  They add little known value or purpose, they aggravate and annoy and they have a sting in the tail. But, we accept them as a necessary part of our ecosystem.  The answer is to improve your in-house capability.  OK, so I accept that if you are a SME, this may not be financially viable and your workforce may not be big enough to maintain a recruiter or even an HR generalist at all, and of course then you need to work with outside agencies. Or you may be a FTSE100 business opening up a new centre and requiring some support. There are always exceptions.

But for most companies, working in most markets, there is a clear cost benefit argument for bringing the process in-house – not to mention the benefits in quality.  Personally, some of the best results I saw were when we brought a team of agency recruiters in-house, freed them from the constraints of selling, quotas, commission and client visits and allowed them to do what they loved and were very talented at.  That isn’t to say that we didn’t measure success, we had a range of quantitative and qualitative measures, but we measured in the long-term, not on the weekly hires.

So my recruiting friends, I don’t hate you, I actually think you have a lot of value to add but I think the existing B2B model that exists just doesn’t deliver the goods.  There are (and this seemed to be the consensus last night too) too many cowboys in your profession, but a seeming unwillingness to allow for any sort of professional standards or regulatory body. 

The answer has to be to take the skills, the passion and the knowledge that exists and to bring that in-house to combine with the passion for the brand, the knowledge of the business and link it all together in a seemless approach to our people.

Because after all they are our greatest asset……..right?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 09/23/2010 08:40

    How very true. The very idea of outsourcing such a core part of your business as the recruitment of the people who work there is madness. The answer is to question and challenge yourselves.. stop seeing recruitment as a chore. Look at why it is a chore and work on changing that, don’t just dump it all on someone else who is currently driven by all the wrong motives.

  2. garethmjones permalink
    09/23/2010 08:58

    Oh I don’t know?! you were not bad considering you were in a room of recruiters including some from the ‘dark side’!

    I personally struggled, as i know did @mervyndinnen with the concept of debating the support of putting your recruitment with agencies in the debate last night because I fundamentally don’t believe its right. Now, there are many reasons for that including those that you have outlined above. But also because, as we also touched on, we have some shocking practices in the industry and I’m afraid to say its the majority not the minority.

    Over the last 40 years and in particular the last 15, the recruitment industry has refused to change its business model, its modus operandi. It put its head in the sand during difficult times or when clients complained or started doing things themselves, choosing instead to convince themselves that they can ‘ride out the storm’ and that it will all come back sooner or later. The arrogance astounds me. Instead of listening, getting involved, evolving and changing they just ploughed on, perpetuation the same old nauseating model. And in the main, they (we) got away with it. Markets did come back. Job boards didn’t wipe us out. Clients did continue to use us. But the game is changing.

    Forget the appalling standards for a moment, our business model is way out of date and its now, only after the internet has matured over 10 years, that its really starting to show. And its too late in my opinion for many to do anything about it. They are simply too entrenched. There is no desire to innovate. I look around and see recruiters now desperately trying to cut fees or fold in ‘added value’ services to make them more attractive but its all bollox frankly. Its lipstick on a pig.

    Social connecting – if you get involved properly – can change the whole dynamic. And that’s why for any corporate out there of any reasonable size, constructing an in-house team now is so much better/easier/cheaper/more effective than it was last time it was done in earnest some 10 years ago.

    The recruitment agency model, if it survives in its current form, will morph into an SME only solution, or as Theo suggests, for exceptional niche scenarios. Even some of the big recruiters have realised this and are strategically developing other more large scale solutions, positioning their once great traditional recruitment infrastructures to mop up what falls out of the small company requirements. Of course, we will continue to supply, but not directly, via RPO’s and Managed service businesses. But even that clashes with our business model.

    Hate to say it, but I’m with Theo on this one. We are, I hope, in the cusp of a massive change, where organisations HAVE to take their people seriously. As that change rolls out, recruitment or resourcing or whatever you want to call it will need to be so woven into the overall fabric of the business, it will seem completely ridiculous to even think about handing it out to a third party.

  3. 09/23/2010 12:30

    This is a superb post. I don’t agree with all of it and neither would I be expected to, but it shakes all the right trees.
    Cowboys in the industry, yep, you got it and I hate them as much as the next man or woman who gets short change and crap service from them. They are the kind that make me embarrassed in certain situations to say what I do for a living.

    That said, the time has come for HR and internal resourcing teams to take a sense check. I whole heartedly agree that recruitment briefs should only go external when the case has been made for it. There are not many more frustrating situations than a brief that you spend time, energy and passion on to find that “oh, we’ve filled it internally” – bad recruitment, bad succession planning!

    But worse still, HR and internal resourcing teams knowingly continue to work with the cowboys. We all know who they are and how they operate, but a lazy “I just need a load of CVs on my desk in 48 hours to look busy” approach is, quite frankly still happening. Appalling! And there are recruiters quite happy to chuck CVs around and hope one sticks.

    In addition, briefing multiple agencies for a particular role as the norm is NOT good practice. If you PARTNER with a recruiter in the true sense of the word, let them understand the business, the people and the wider strategy of what you are trying to achieve, then they will pull up trees for you. Not only that, they’ll get the results because they won’t be entering into a ridiculous arms race to “get 4 CVs by close of play on Friday”. Nope, they’ll be understanding the brief, challenging and questioning you on what you REALLY need – even if it means turning round to the client and saying “sorry I can’t help you on this one” THAT’S PARTNERSHIP.

    So I hear all the arguments and agree with many of them, as to why recruiters are crap and why it should not be outsourced. But it has to work both ways. Some of the briefings I’ve had from HR people would cause others in the industry to feel the way I do about some of my peers – sending a brief by email for example and then saying “send me some CVs if you have anyone”!!! Brilliant!

    And finally, I’m proud to say that I don’t actually earn commission as a recruiter. Instead I get a good base salary that rewards me for being good at what I do and a bonus that is dependent, yes, on annual fees derived, but more on feedback from clients, candidates and colleagues – measures that ensure that I am true to our company values and build relationships. And if I build relationships rather than chase a fee then everyone should benefit. Bring on the ever evolving changes in recruitment and good riddance to the cowboys – on both sides of the fence!

  4. 09/23/2010 13:10

    Interesting take! Brought back a flood of memories.

    I started my career as one of those agency recruiters as a good job in “HR” was hard to come by for a newbie then. I hated the idea of “selling” a job to someone and I felt miserable on most days sandwiched between the candidate and the client… but that job taught me a LOT. While I didn’t do too well “quantitatively” on that first job, I talked to several job seekers day in and day out. End result? It honed my communication, empathy, counselling skills. Also, I had greater confidence dealing with all kinds of people, especially those pesky clients who wanted the sun and the moon and more.

    And that experience stood me in good stead in my next stint (and even now) as an in-house recruiter for a large setup. Hiring was less stressful – you were hiring for your “own” workplace and not for a “client”. But I also stayed true to what I learnt. And then slowly looked at handling other “HR” responsibilities. Though the down side was I only got potential job calls for a “recruitment-centric” profile 😐

    Now, I’m with a small-ish firm… Tried my best to set up the HR function and get the best talent on board with all our constraints. And that continues to give me great satisfaction when I see young stars emerge.

    Recruitment’s really tough in today’s crazy times – the hair’s greying every second as I write this – and the challenge may not excite me as much as it did 8 years ago (I must be really getting old!), but I believe all those seeking to be HR pros must get a sense of hardcore recruitment at some point in their careers. The ups and downs are absolutely worth it.

  5. 09/23/2010 13:18

    Oh, and I forgot to add… I completely agree. We must develop and nurture in-house recruiters. Having been one myself for most of my career, I can safely say it really helps to bring relevant and bright talent to your fold since you’re talking directly to candidates. If you are proud about your workplace, it will definitely resonate in your voice and body language… and that will in turn make an impact on your potential wide-eyed employee.

  6. 09/23/2010 13:55

    I used to work with a wide range of recruiters when I was a client service professional in recruitment advertising agencies. From the biggest like Reed and Robert Half, to the one man band’s of this world. I would often question the validity of the services some of them offered (mainly the smaller ones if truth be told) and was always happy with the answer i got which was invariaably about how they added value by getting to know someone’s business and having a network of contacts, some of whom had been candidates but were now clients and some who they just kept in contact with throughout their career so that if someone was looking to move they would come back to the same recruiter that placed them the last time. I guess you’d say that was a really effective way of doing things. Indeed i know some of those recruiters from back then who are still placing the same people they first placed maybe 15 years ago, and making a nice living out of it.

    The other thing I used to think to myself was, if the money paid out to recruiters on placement fees was out of the HR person’s pocket rather than the company coffers, would they recruit people themselves rather than outsource the task? It sometimes struck me that it was a combination of ease and laziness to be able to pick the phone up with a requirement and have a bunch of CVs on your desk the next day, when you could do the advertising and recruitment yourself and generate some useful publicity for your organisation along the way.

    Anyway, I am rambling, but the point is this, I do think that recruiters can add value, but, in the modern way of doing things it seems that using a recruiter is a lot more transactional -a wham bam thank you ma’am scenario – rather than the long term relationship build of old. Does that add value? Does the recruiter get to truly know about the workings of the company they are finding people for? Do they sell the culture and ethos of the organisation or merely go through the motions, safe in the knowledge that they are moving on to the next assignment soon anyway? In short, I think recruiters will have to show how they can really still add value and bring a huge element of worth for their fees.

    The bubble has burst. These are hard times. There is no shortage of candidates but there is a tightening of purse strings and fewer jobs around. Together it must surely make companies think twice about the need to use external people supplier in the future.

  7. Aussie HR Chick permalink
    09/23/2010 23:16

    I don’t understand HR people who see recruitment as a chore or a menial task. As HR people isn’t our first responsibility – our first strategic goal – to get the RIGHT people into the RIGHT jobs at the RIGHT time?

    The first thing I did when I started in my current HR job was to bring the recruitment function back in house. We used to spend a fortune, and I just couldn’t see the value of that spend against the talent that had been introduced. The problem wasn’t that the agencies we worked with weren’t any good, but we used so many different ones based on cheapest cost that the in depth understanding of our business just wasn’t there – particularly around our values – because WE DIDN’T GIVE IT TO THEM. By bringing it back in house we’ve reaped the rewards financially and most of all, culturally.

    Recruitment is one of my favourite things. There is REAL power in this process – to change how a business behaves by introducing a new dynamic, or a skill set that they didn’t even know was needed. (This is my favourite thing – HR by STEALTH). There’s nothing I love more than seeing someone that you sourced, selected, inducted and let loose onto a workplace becoming exactly what you knew they could become.

    I’ve interviewed what feels like thousands of people over the last couple of years and our new hires now have that special something that is unique to our business but also have that something that we NEED – whether it be a skill, a personality type or a potential for the future. (ok its not thousands of people but it does feel like it)

    That doesn’t mean we don’t use agencies at all though. We only use them when we’ve done everything we can to fill the role ourselves – there are just some times where agencies have a better network. BUT we’ve taken the time and made the effort to build strong relationships with a small group of agencies that I know will understand exactly what I mean when we talk about the kinds of people that best succeed here.

    The balance is right.

    Philosophically, I don’t think it matters whether recruitment is done in house or is outsourced – as long as the understanding is there – about the position, the right kind of person, and most of all – the business.

    The agencies we deal with are an extension of MY team. And thats how I like it.

    And now that I’ve waxed lyrical about recruiting, I have to go assist a manager to discipline someone for being an asshat….you can do all the best recruiting in the world, but you still can’t stop people from being asshats when they choose to be.

  8. 09/24/2010 12:03


    I couldn’t agree with you more on most counts. I believe I offer the ultimate successful recuritment to my clients where I am an extention of their business. I know in this case it works, as I take pride and believe the right people are key to the success and failure of any organisation.

    Having freed myself from the restraints of sales KPI’s I am more successful than I ever was under the corporate target driven environment as I can allow myself the necessary time to spend understanding my clients.

    I really believe the time has come for the Industry to stand up and count the best of the best and remove the rest. I also believe that outsourced recruitment if done well is far more cost effective than bringing it in house, obviously this will always be an argued point and will often come back to the volumes and levels required.

    It is important for Industry to make their outsourcing partners more accountable, and question these partners. Do your recruiters meet every candidate before they put them in front of you? Does the recruiter undertake all of the screening for you, you should not be looking at cvs, if you are what are you paying a fee for? What are the costs involved in the process, are the fees really fair for what the recruiter is doing or is it a hyped fee , expectant with the industry to date?

    These are some of the key questions a company should move towards when working with the wasps!

  9. 09/29/2010 08:41

    @realityisanillusion – Thanks for taking the time to comment. Very true words, if it is a chore we need to ask ourselves why…..not just dumb it down.

    @garethmjones – Thanks for your support the other evening. I think your argument is about as sound as they get. Surely only some sort of standards body or regulation will sort this out and rid the industry of the cowboys?

    @Andy Young – Spot on. HR teams are as much to blame as they perpetuate the existence of the cowboy operators. And the salary point is a great one, you should just be paid for being good, commission based structures drive the wrong behaviours.

    @vodkaholic – I completely agree that all generalists should have a stint in a proper resourcing department, sad thing is there are few very good ones around.

    @Aloncalcia – I love your point about questioning whether you would spend your own money on the service! I often say to my teams, if you were an outsourced service do you think the business would spend their money on you? Often received with silence…..

    @Aussie HR Chick – Great comment…..and of course you’re right, there are partnership models that work, but the thing that really resonates with me is, “As HR people isn’t our first responsibility – our first strategic goal – to get the RIGHT people into the RIGHT jobs at the RIGHT time?” and of course the answer has to be yes.

    @Charlie Ryan – “Having freed myself from the restraints of sales KPI’s I am more successful than I ever was under the corporate target driven environment as I can allow myself the necessary time to spend understanding my clients.” – Amen to that one…….

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