There’s no point denying it, IT recruitment agencies have a PR problem.
A simple Google search gives a clear picture of what most people think about us.
Job seekers and employers alike rarely have a good word to say about IT recruitment agencies. And as the saying goes, “there’s no smoke without fire”.
So what is it they find so undesirable?
Well, quite a lot of things have contributed to this PR disaster (more on this later). But generally speaking, the problems can be traced back to traditional, outdated approaches to recruitment. Think cold calls, spam emails, and other aggressive sales tactics.
These strategies show a complete lack of regard for both candidates and clients. And they’ve clearly had enough. People are sick of being sold too. Adblocker and spam folders exist for a reason. Nobody wants to work with a recruitment agency that will harass them at any given opportunity.
The future is bleak for agencies who refuse to acknowledge this. The all-to-common ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ mentality will be the death of them.
But not all agencies are the same. Those that work hard to tailor their service around what their customers actually want are now going from strength to strength.
A brief history of recruitment
The recruitment industry is now heavily reliant on technology (online job boards, CV databases, applicant tracking systems etc.) And technological advances such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning continue to drive new and innovative industry trends.
But recruitment existed long before computers. In fact, the first modern recruitment agencies appeared in the 1940s. As soldiers were called to the frontlines during WWII, huge gaps were created in the workplace. The modern recruitment agency was born in an effort to fill these gaps.
Agencies sprung up all over the UK and began sourcing suitable candidates to fill vacancies left behind by those who went to war. When the war was over, the same recruitment agencies began to find work for returning war veterans, often incorporating the new skills they learned in the military.
In the 1950s, people began to create handwritten CVs depicting their personal profiles and skills. During these early years, the main aim of a recruitment consultant was to satisfy the requirements outlined by candidates and ensure they found employment.
But there was a shift in focus in the 1970s as a result of the economic boom. Recruiters began to work with clients as rapidly expanding businesses began to outsource their hiring needs to external agencies. However, this was still before the rise of the internet and modern technology so recruitment was a completely different game.
The main tool used by recruiters during this time was the humble bulletin board, which slowly gave way to paid newspaper ads. Simple and effective, but very expensive.
For agencies, storing all the relevant information was a highly labour-intensive affair. Spare a thought for recruiters of the past who spent countless hours sorting through and retrieving CVs from massive paper storage archives.
Shortly after the invention of the computer came Applicant Tracking Systems and candidate databases. These innovations made life much easier for recruiters. No more long days spent hunched over the archives.
Then along came the internet in the mid 90s. Initially only used by the tech savvy, this soon changed, giving rise to a recruitment industry revolution.
Online job boards emerged to steal eyeballs from newspapers and print media. Great news for recruiters. Online jobs ads are (relatively) cheap and easy to track and manage.
Recruiters also began sifting through massive online CV databases. The concept of ‘head-hunting’ began to gain traction and strong emphasis was placed on sourcing niche skill sets. However, this is also when the reputation of the recruitment industry really began to suffer.
The Gold Rush
The 1990s through to the late-2000s were a gold rush for recruitment agencies. Proprietary CV databases gave them an information arbitrage, and they could charge employers a premium. The industry was flooded with all manner of people looking to get rich quick.
Many agencies were sales-intensive environments with few rules. And thus the cliché of the plaid jacket wearing, email spamming, snake oil salesman was born.
Agency owners became rich. Everyone else became pissed off.
As Google search suggestions clearly show, the recruitment industry has yet to shake off the hangover of this era.
Old habits die hard. Many IT recruitment agencies are very reluctant to move away from the tactics that brought in so much money in the past. But they are growing less effective by the day.
To understand why, first let’s look at what those strategies actually are.
Questionable recruitment agency practices
It’s quite obvious some agencies place profit over people. In a desperate quest to quench their thirst for growth, some agency owners ignore reason and dictate targets so unattainable that their employees resort to unprofessional and unethical means to achieve their goals.
In many cases, what may have started off as inventive tactics and fresh ideas quickly morphed into underhanded business practices. By using questionable methods to achieve results, these agencies violate the trust of clients and candidates. As a result all recruitment agencies tend to get tarred with the same ‘untrustworthy’ brush.
This is a shame because recruiting is a much needed skill. Especially when technical talent is in such short supply.
The very essence of recruitment is to provide the right candidate for a given role. But for some agencies, the human roots have been abandoned and replaced by financial gain.
So where are these recruitment agencies going wrong?
Doing no background research before emailing clients/candidates
This is really basic stuff. When contacting a candidate or client you have no prior relationship with, you need to do some homework to avoid wasting their time. Obviously it’s impossible to know everything about them before reaching out. But a recruiter needs to at least make sure they are working in a similar industry or role to the job they are seeking to fill.
The ‘shotgun’ approach refers to contacting anyone who matches a basic keyword in the hope of finding that one person who might possibly fit an open role. This tactic has arguably done more than anything else to ruin to the reputation of the recruitment industry. Yes, it works. But it annoys thousands of people in the process. It’s so commonplace that the level of ‘agency bashing’ on LinkedIn has now reached prolific levels.
How did you feel last time you picked up the phone to answer a PPI sales call?
You probably weren’t thrilled.
But for many recruitment agencies, cold calling is the ‘norm’ to get clients. “Smile and dial” …. over and over and over again. It creates a demoralising office environment and simply doesn’t work anymore. It annoys clients as it interrupts whatever they happen to be doing the moment the phone rings. Hubspot suggest that the approach now fails to engage with nine out of ten decision makers, with further research suggesting there’s a 1% chance of actually securing a meeting from a cold call.
Sending CVs without candidate permission
Forwarding CVs without the explicit consent of the candidate isn’t OK. In fact, with the arrival of GDPR, it is now illegal.
Recruitment agencies don’t ‘own’ CV’s. Candidates do. And they should be treated with respect. A job seeker, whether active or passive, should always remain in control of where their CV goes. Recruiters who send CVs to gauge interest without asking for the candidates aren’t just behaving unethically. They are breaking the law. A CV contains highly personal information, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But even with the enactment of GDPR, the sad reality is that this kind of thing goes on all the time.
Wrong candidate, wrong position
Some recruiters push candidates to apply for jobs which are not in their best interest as they don’t fit with their desired career path.
This again comes down to ‘profits over people’ mentality. Recruiters are, of course, under pressure to hit their own KPI’s and are forgetting the origins of what they do in the process. When candidates are out of work or wanting to change jobs, they are in a vulnerable position. This makes them an easy target for recruiters who take an aggressive sales-led approach. Recruitment agencies should be place their focus on quality and relevance, not quantity and pace.
Posting fake jobs to get good CVs
Sometimes unscrupulous recruitment agencies will see a job posting on a company’s website and cut-and-paste the role onto their own website to collect CVs for their database. In other words, the agency is encouraging active candidates to apply for a position that they don’t actually have. It’s not rocket science, smart candidates can quickly figure out what’s going on.
Every agency works hard to develop a database of candidates, but trolling candidates with non-existent jobs? This is a blatant bait-and-switch that makes all recruitment agencies look both shady and lazy.
Not telling candidates who the clients are
There are some cases where non-disclosure is warranted. If the client has indicated that they want a very high level of confidentiality with the search, it makes sense to withhold the company’s name when first telling candidates about a role. But these cases are the exception, not the rule.
Non-disclosure is usually more about protecting the job from other recruiters than protecting the anonymity of a client. How can a candidate really judge if a position is right for them if they know virtually nothing about the organisation they are considering? There has to be a level of trust.
Will AI kill recruitment agencies?
The claim that the recruitment agencies will soon be extinct seems to be quite trendy at the moment…have you seen Linkedin lately?
But it’s wrong.
The facts tell a completely different story. Recruitment agencies aren’t dead or dying. In fact, they’re flourishing. The industry is growing and has been for quite a while. Just in case you were in any doubt, government statistics revealed in the first four months 2017 alone, 900 new agencies opened their doors for business.
The role of an agent in the recruitment process is as relevant now as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. So, in the interest of clarity: recruitment agencies are going nowhere.
Yes, the recruitment industry must adapt to technology and an ever-changing employment landscape. Recruiters themselves are having to adapt and become more agile in the way they work.
AI-enabled sourcing tools will make all recruiters more efficient. They’ll help find suitable candidates faster than ever before and get rid of many tedious admin duties in the process. This is great news. Anything that reduces time to hire should be fully embraced by all agencies. But such tools can’t turn candidates into new employees with the click of a button.
No new fancy algorithm or AI-wizardry is going to replace the need for human recruiters. Here’s why:
Humans like interacting with other humans. Particularly when we need advice, convincing, and reassurance. Would you feel comfortable going to an AI-bot for these things? Algorithms can quickly identify active or passive talent, but it’s the softer skills and salesmanship of a recruiter that brings open-minded talent willingly to the table.
A candidates’ CV may be missing the right ‘keywords’ for a given position. Thankfully, recruiters can listen and see something besides raw data on a resume. They can see potential. Left to an algorithm, the same candidate would immediately be evaluated as ‘unsuitable’ with no further investigation. The candidate would never get the chance to succeed in a role that was actually a great fit for them given their potential and willingness to learn.
As far as life decisions go changing jobs is up there with buying a house or choosing a partner – most of us like to talk it through with someone neutral that isn’t friend or family.
Increasingly, recruiters (like our team at Venturi) are focusing deeper within specific sector/market niches. The more niche a recruiter is, the more valuable it is to be able to tap into their expertise and candidate network.
Recruitment is time consuming and hard. It requires focus, so outsourcing it to a dedicated, third-party specialist makes sense.
The recruitment agency service is valuable (albeit somewhat flawed in its current sales-focused guise).
For these reasons recruitment agencies aren’t going to disappear or be made redundant by technology.
However, it’s obvious that the industry needs to change.
Recruitment agencies need to acknowledge the fact that most people don’t like doing business with them. By understanding why that is, they can work to restore their reputation.
In short, recruitment needs to evolve from a sales-centric industry to a customer-centric industry.
Why customer-centric recruitment is the future
Not every recruitment agency uses these tactics.
We don’t. And, more importantly, we aren’t the only agency that doesn’t. Believe it or not respectable recruitment companies do exist.
Shifting our focus away from targets and profits in favour of doing a good job ethically and passionately is helping us stand out in an industry that has stagnated.
Putting candidates and clients first is helping us achieve our goals organically.
A major reason for our success comes from a deep understanding of how the internet and social media have completely transformed the hiring process for both job seekers and employers.
The Great God Google
What did you do last time you were looking for a solution to a problem?
Unless you happen to be Amish, chances are you went straight to Google to search for answers. We all now have the ability to make very informed decisions based on the information we obtain online.
Buying decisions are now routinely made before contacting the supplier. Accenture’s widely-cited 2014 State of B2B Procurement Study revealed that 94% of business buyers do some form of online research before purchasing:
74% used Google search
84% check business websites
34% visit a 3rd party website
41% read user reviews
In the four years since the study was published, it is safe to assume these percentages have only gone up.
The internet has empowered both candidates and clients to make informed decisions when weighing up recruitment agency options. Obviously there still needs to be some direct communication between client and agency. But it should be the client picking up the phone, not the other way round.
Recruitment agencies should now be focusing their energies on impressing online audiences (aka candidates and clients) enough to make them want to get in touch.
In order to succeed in this new environment IT recruitment agencies should be investing in content marketing, social media, and SEO to begin their relationships. Spamming and cold-calling should be left behind in the 90s where they belong.
Given that this is true today, it’ll be even more so tomorrow. According to TeleSmart, by 2020, 85% of the buyer-seller interaction will happen online through social media and video.
How IT recruitment agencies can add value
So what are we doing as an IT recruitment agency to account for this major shift in candidate and client behaviour?
Well, where do we start? Even if we say so ourselves, we are way ahead of the curve on this one.
The diagram below provides an overview of our efforts to keep smiles on the faces of our candidates and clients. We’ll explore the reasoning behind some of our initiatives in greater detail below. But at the crux of everything we do is a desire to add real value.
Despite what Google may suggest, we aren’t parasites, we aren’t scum, and we aren’t a waste of time. We put a lot of effort into fighting against the ‘recruiter prejudice’, so unfair accusations are pretty frustrating.
Venturi’s Voice Podcast
The podcast industry is booming. A 2017 report from PwC indicated that podcast revenue had grown by 85% since 2016, bringing in more than $220 million.
On the other hand, radio and traditional broadcasters are dying a slow death as they fail to compete against niche online content. These days it’s simple and easy to find media tailored to your own unique hobbies and interests. Whether you’re into rock climbing or knitting, there’s a podcast out there for you.
But while podcast audiences continue to grow year on year, very few businesses are experimenting with the medium. You’ll definitely struggle to find another podcast produced by an IT recruitment agency.
This places us at the cutting edge of a market which is set to expand rapidly over the coming years. Obviously, we aren’t quite at the level of Rogan or Maron, but our audience has steadily grown since we started publishing back in 2016. Venturi’s Voice currently averages around 25,000 Soundcloud plays per month.
We have now released more than 200 episodes. Each one brings you a personal firsthand account of a tech leader driving change within their organisation. The show intentionally has a relaxed and informal style. Nobody wants to listen to a robotic, forced interview full of corporate jargon. It’s painful.
As a valuable resource for managers seeking to stay on top of their game, our podcast helps us attract and engage strong passive candidates – a notoriously difficult task for recruitment agencies.
Venturi’s Voice Blog
Blogs allow anyone to get online and share their opinions and ideas. And there’s certainly no shortage of them out there. But let’s be honest, most personal blogs are of very little interest to anyone other than the author.
Good business blogs are different. They have a clear intention – help customers make a purchasing decision by providing helpful or educational information.
Indeed, Roper Public Affairs found that 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of informative articles versus advertisements. So that’s exactly what we aim to provide through Venturi’s Voice blog.
To give you a flavour of our written content, here are the titles of some past reader favourites:
We write these blogs in the hope they help our candidates and clients address specific issues they encounter when job seeking or hiring. Pooling the knowledge and experience of our entire recruitment team helps us identify, address, and offer solutions to difficulties which crop up time and time again for our customers.
As a business that relies on customers that value quality over price, our customer reviews are extremely important to us. It’s a win-win. Our reviews help you make a more informed decision, and they help us build a better business.
According to the Tech City UK Impact Evaluation study customer advocacy resulted in 48% business growth for small businesses in 2016-17.
So given that customer reviews are pretty much a no brainer, why do so many IT recruitment agencies shy away from them? What are they trying to hide?
With the masses of other IT recruitment agencies out there, we knew our reviews had to make us stand out from the crowd. That’s why we partnered with TrustPilot.
TrustPilot are the gold standard when it comes to third-party reviews. More than 500,000 reviews are posted on the platform every month.
Very much customer service orientated, customers can rate our service out of 5 stars and leave us a comment. If you’d like to hear what our customers have to say about us you can check out our reviews here.
Some have described GDPR as the end of modern recruitment as we know it, akin to a biblical tidal wave leaving nothing in its wake.
This is a pretty ridiculous claim. Although not everyone is a fan of recruitment agencies, they perform a vital function in today’s economy and won’t disappear anytime soon.
But while GDPR has yet to burn down the recruitment industry, it has definitely shaken things up. It can only be a good thing that all recruitment agencies must be more transparent about their service and how they capture and handle client and candidate data. GDPR has helped the whole industry step its game up.
We embraced GDPR as it gave us yet another opportunity to earn the trust of our customers. Some of our processes were tweaked and amended. But more importantly, every member of our team passed a rigorous GDPR awareness exam delivered by London Management Consulting.
We take data protection seriously. You can rest assured your information is safe with us. It’s encryption protected, handled transparently, and only used for the purpose it was explicitly intended for.
Venturi Video Interview Platform (VIP)
You can only tell so much about a candidate from a CV. How many times have you interviewed a candidate who looked great on paper but turned out to be rather mediocre in person? Our guess is it’s happened more than once.
We can save you the headache with our Video Interview Platform (V.I.P).
It enables you to have a quick chat with short-listed candidates in order to figure out whether they are suitable before bringing them into the office. Alternatively, we can do brief interviews of shortlisted applicants on your behalf and forward them to you for consideration.
The human brain prioritises visual information. In fact, more than 60% of the brain is involved in visual processing of some kind. This is why a video gives you a much better feel for who a candidate actually is than a phone call ever could.
Getting down to brass tacks, this translates into significant time and cost savings for your business.
Customer Success Initiative
How can we help our clients succeed? This question is critical to our continued growth and sustainability as a business. That’s why our Customer Success (CS) team are dedicated to finding the answers.
It’s all about open dialogue and communication. As you probably know, poor communication is the downfall of many IT recruitment agencies. Our CS team are always on hand to hear out the requirements and potential concerns of our customers. Building a deeper understanding of your business allows us to tailor our service around your needs. After all, no two businesses are the same.
We can help you make more intelligent hiring decisions through the following additional services:
Bespoke hiring intelligence reports
Salary benchmarking & competitor analysis
Access to AI-driven market intel
Tailored Customer Success plans
Talent acquisition audits (including cost per hire reduction plan)
Assistance writing job specifications
Advice on interview technique and onboarding processes
Training need analysis
Staff retention plans
Post placement report
We offer these services to make sure you get the most out of your experience with Venturi. In today’s market, all recruitment agencies should be capable of offering assistance beyond simply sourcing the right candidates.
The benefits of using a recruitment agency
With all the ‘agency bashing’ going on today it’s not particularly clear why anyone would choose to a use a recruitment agency in the first place.
However, the recruitment industry continues to grow year on year. According to UK government statistics, it is now valued at more than £32bn.
How could this be if recruitment agencies are as terrible as everyone makes out?
Well, the reality is that even recruitment agencies that invest very little time and effort into improving candidate and client experiences still provide a helpful service. If they didn’t they wouldn’t exist.
The diagram below provides a concise summary of the benefits of using an IT recruitment agency.
For more information on this, check out our previous blog posts which explore these benefits in greater detail:
A step by step guide of our recruitment process
We have now worked with organisations all over the world to secure the right technical talent in the right numbers, helping them grow as efficiently as possible. The diagram below outlines how our approach to recruitment typically works.
Here are a few examples of what we have been able to achieve through this process:
According to a study conducted by Walker, by 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.
Today IT recruitment agencies are not likely to achieve customer loyalty without investing the necessary resources to significantly improve the candidate and client experience.
As digital channels are now the first choice in most customer interactions, it’s critical that agencies prioritise their digital customer service to accommodate this change in customer preference.
But customer centricity is not just about offering great digital customer service, it means offering a great experience from the brand awareness stage, through the hiring process itself, and finally through the post-placement process.
Over the coming years, the market-leading recruitment agencies will be those who treat their customers with respect, great service, and build lasting relationships with them.
This is why we take customer-centricity so seriously.
Initiatives like our podcast, blog, slack channel, Trustpilot reviews, GDPR commitment and Customer Success program reflect our efforts to build our business around the wants and needs of our candidates and clients.
Remaining in the comfort zone of traditional sales-focused recruitment strategies would have been much easier. It’s very easy to justify that kind of complacency in recruitment because “it’s what everyone else is doing”.
But staying within the confines of your comfort zone means you can’t learn or grow.
Becoming a customer-centric organisation isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing journey, not a box that can be checked off and forgotten about.
But despite the challenges, it’s been worth it. We are now continually changing and improving our service based on customer feedback. Even small changes to our policy and processes have already had significant benefits for our customers.
Recruitment was the original people business. An industry born of the notion that people are responsible for the success of an organisation. So it’s a real shame to see its reputation in ruins.
It’s now time for recruitment agencies to redeem past mistakes by shifting focus from profits back to the lifeblood of the industry: PEOPLE.