Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's not WHERE you work, it's HOW?

Recruiter magazine 24 November 2010. That age old debate about in-house versus agency side recruitment!
The debate appears to be positioned as the two being in different tribes.

As Victor Meldrew might say, "I don't believe it." That is rather over simplifying things in my view. A core difference is that agencies have encouraged sales lead cultures. Look where that has got the recruitment world, reputation wise!

The model of in-house is different to the agency model, that much
is true. Objectives vary for a number of reasons. But that does not mean that PEOPLE, individuals, can not transfer their skills and move into a role and an environment that throws up different demands and pressures. That's one of the amazing things about people. We can adjust and adapt in ways that make us what we are. We are amazing. Lots of recruitment companies are not however....

And does the in-house versus agency model HAVE to be SO different? I'd suggest that to a degree perhaps it does, but perhaps not quite to the degree and in such black and white terms that were mentioned in the piece by Colin Cottell. At the end of the day, it has to be about the people, their behaviours and values. And the employer has a large role to play in being responsible for those behaviours and values. They provide the rules, the environment, the standards and practices expected and demanded of their people.

So I believe we should stop generalising with comments such as these.

"the typical agency recruiter is target driven, whereas in-house recruiters are more interested in managing the process, delivering the service and are a bit more strategic" as stated by one recruiter boss.

In one way, they are right, but we need to ascertain the reason as to why this might be the case, rather than accept it. I believe it's the broken and outdated model of agency recruitment that has driven a commission structure and consequently encouraged the industry to be target driven. If agency recruiters are less interested in service as the comment suggests, then what sort of offering is that? From what I can see it's a "bums on seats" approach, nothing more, nothing less.

Granted, many recruiters roles can be very operational, but they should be encouraged to contribute more - more insight, more knowledge and true expertise - and bring it to the table. A commission structure that determines whether they get any sort of pay cheque at the end of the month only perpetuates the poor practice of recruitment in general, much of which has been the result of target lead cultures.

This I believe is the big reason for agency and in-house recruiters being "different beasts", because of the way many agencies go about setting themselves up. A skilled recruiter should be able to transfer their skills and adapt their approach to a different environment I would argue, a point well made by Jacqueline Clarke at Carlyle Research. As Isabelle Hung rightly pointed out, the focus for agency recruiters is on sales. Well stop focusing on sales would be my message to agencies.... You'll then have to focus more on service. And if you give great service, guess what is likely to follow....? Trust me, it DOES work!

If you work agency side, try this exercise.

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer.

What do you want?

A) To be sold to or B) to benefit from a brilliant service?

If you are honest, then you'll know the answer is not A!

As a candidate or employer would you rather work with someone that spends every moment wondering where their next sale comes from or a service that includes a truly expert and consultative approach, sound planning and genuine knowledge and insight?

One contributor mentions many people who enter the world of recruitment at the beginning are mainly money driven. That might be the case, but that has traditionally been the attraction "strategy" of agencies for years. Essentially, that is code for "lets hire someone who comes cheap and we can't lose".

Hiring people who need to think first and foremost about how much commission they will earn is the wrong way round - especially in a world which is all about PEOPLE! Recruitment agencies spend huge amounts of their time telling their clients that they need to pay more £ to recruit and retain top talent. Then, in the blink of an eye they then recruit their own, poorly paid, commission hungry phone jockeys who don't give a monkeys for the client or candidate relationship. Low and behold, the industry reputation is what it is!

So I don't think it's a case of the agency or in-house recruiter needing to adapt to enable them to make a transition. It's the recruitment world in general and the agency side in particular that needs to adjust and update an old fashioned, out dated and "customer unfriendly" reward structure. The one thing that should be removed, irrespective of which side of the recruitment fence you sit, is being target / commission driven. By all means have clear objectives to strive for - and reward your people for achieving them, but make those objectives ones that are of value to the customer and in turn that will make you a successful business whether you are agency, in-house or a one man band.

Friday, November 19, 2010


A fellow recruiter I bumped into the other day was giving me their twopence worth on the current state of play in recruitment and the world in general. The upshot being, what on EARTH was I thinking in looking to collaborate with the enemy. For enemy, read RECRUITMENT PROCESS OUTSOURCING.

Good question, I thought. They ARE the enemy, right? Well in actual fact I think it depends where your thinking is at. Is it in the past, present or future? Ideally it will be a combination of the latter two. The past, other than a reference point to help us understand and learn how we are doing now, is not actually that helpful. Just as the Australians might go on about their fantastic record as a cricketing nation, at present they are a shadow of their former selves and no longer own that most sought after of urn's, otherwise known as "The Ashes".


Whilst Australia face the turmoil of change, England, along with some of the emerging nations have looked at the past experience and performance of the boys in the baggie green caps to see how they can learn and build for the future, because if they were not to look and learn and subsequently change what they were doing, their very presence at the top table of world cricket was looking decidedly dodgy. Just look at what happens if you wallow in the past. Think West Indies and, whisper it quietly, Australia. The answer is backwards!

The emergence and subsequent emergence of RECRUITMENT PROCESS OUTSOURCING (RPO) in the recruitment world has I feel, brought some much needed changes to the industry. And instead of being in denial, the sector needs to wake up and begin to engage them, rather than bury our heads in the sand and stay in denial. If you don't believe me then click here to read this well written post by Damien Stork, Director at Ochre House. If you work on the agency side it's scary. And if you work on the agency side and are not sitting up and taking notice, it'll only get even scarier.

I'm going to take notice. Take my own employer, the Stopgap Group. Our market position as specialists in marketing and HR recruitment as well as the reputation we have built over the years, means that we work with many of the FTSE 250 organisations; however the last five years has seen a number of them outsource some or all of their recruitment activity to third parties. Consequently, an increasing proportion of our business is being done through these companies and we wanted to recognise that these RPO's and Managed Service Providers (MSP's) were important customers too. As a result and from what we can tell looking at the current market, we have been the first recruitment company to make a commitment in creating a bespoke role within it's business, through our"Head of Commercial Partnerships". This innovative new role is designed to focus largely on developing and managing relationships with RPOs, MSPs and other third party providers. And it's this that was the foundation of the "enemy" jibe.

I passionately believe that this is a great opportunity. We already have some valuable relationships with these organisations and work hard to meet our objectives with them though service level agreements and and KPI's. However, I believe that there is a missed opportunity to work more proactively across the wider business, building on our existing relationships and exploring new ones too. We believe that it will be great for our business and our customers to have a full-time focus on this growing and ever changing area. Recruitment is changing and evolving at a pace not witnessed previously and it's exciting for Stopgap to be leading in some of that change.

And are the RPOs the enemy in the same way that those age old adversaries Australia and England are? No, why should they be and more importantly, they can't be! They will continue to play a key role in constant change in recruitment and the agency side can choose to be at the party or not.
And we have to be honest here. RPO have already brought some improvements in to play. We are already seeing some of the better, smarter outsourcing providers develop additional offerings - outside of core recruitment for example. So it's ALREADY in a state of evolution with offerings or added value including "employer branding", bespoke talent attraction strategies and so on, as well as including the improvement in some organisations ability and efficiencies in identifying and maximising talent they already have within their own building!

Furthermore, whilst outsourcing requirements will grow and the suite of services expand or shift, I sense that there will be a trend in RPOs and the like, specialising in certain areas to differentiate themselves.
In turn, whilst some HR departments relinquish recruitment as part of their remit, I believe that there will be some movement towards more employers introducing their own in-house teams as they learn enhanced processes, sourcing techniques and the importance of strategic employer branding from the very RPOs that they have employed to that point. So we'll all need to get smarter at how we collaborate with these teams too, because this is another trend that is already very current....

Along with other trends such as the rise of social networking and the in-house model mentioned above, RPO is playing an instrumental role in effecting change across the recruitment industry. Much of this has been for the better, such as bringing more rigour, structure and discipline to bear where, lets face it, it was sorely needed. The rub is that I sense an over emphasis on cost reduction could detract from the offering and the genuine opportunity to collaborate with specialist agencies. Driving out unnecessary cost and making recruitment a leaner business is 100% the right thing for all of us to be doing, but if it is the lead objective in any recruitment, not just where it has been outsourced, then corners will get cut and the potential benefits will not follow, meaning that the best talent won't either.

So the message is, certainly from what I am witnessing in my conversations with RPO and in-house recruiters, that we need to up our game on the agency side. The fact of the matter is though, that the recruitment industry or recruitment agencies typically follow market trends as opposed to leading them or innovating to add value when change occurs. We need to look at ways to change that dynamic, and we are taking the approach of looking to collaborate with "the enemy".

So far the prognosis is really encouraging. I've met a lot of super people during the early days in my new role and had some very good, open, frank and yes, collaborative conversations. There is a general agreement that RPOs do want to move their rather transactional relationships with recruiters on to one that has greater depth and transparency.

I have though, encountered some suspicion or mistrust from the odd RPO in what we are looking to achieve with them. This may well be a manifestation of competing for the same ground some or much of the time, but the overall indications are hugely encouraging and that we can build closer ties to become true partners rather than simply suppliers.

This is an exciting time in recruitment. The pace of change is unprecedented and by looking to truly engage with third parties and bring a specialist approach to how we work with them, the future can be as bright as I'm sure England's visit to Australia will be this winter!

Monday, November 15, 2010

17 ways an inhouse recruiter can build better relationships with external recruiters

I was inspired and motivated into penning this post thanks to a super observational as well as amusingly written piece written by @recruitgal on her experiences with some of the John Wayne types from the agency side of recruitment. I've just subscribed to her blog and recommend anyone reading this does the same. You can see it here.

Before anyone thinks I'm writing this as a defensive response, forget it. There's not a single aspect I disagreed with that @recruitgal raised. On the contrary, I added my comments supporting the observations made.

If there could be any criticism of the post itself, it might be that recruiters are a soft target. That may perhaps be true. But come on, who's fault is that? Precisely!

Now, I don't want this post to be viewed as a "tit for for tat". Please don't. It's honestly not intended that way whatsoever.

I do though, feel that the issue of poor recruitment practices need to be looked at holistically. By which I mean, if the agency recruiters get their act together (that's people like me) then will the result be a world where recruitment best practice is fixed and we can all worry about something else?

Well, from where I'm sitting, unfortunately not. At least, I think not....

I'm very aware that for a multitude of reasons there is a decline in the use of clients engaging traditional recruiters to do their hiring. I do passionately believe though, there are HR and in-house professionals who could perhaps review certain aspects in the way they recruit to enhance the overall process when they utilise recruiters, from making the candidate experience a hugely positive one, to educating internal stake holders of the importance of the hiring process and how it can impact positively on them, personally as well as the wider organisation.

And it's because of that passion that I though I'd share some of my thoughts with the wider world. Not sure if I'll get heard or not as I'm hardly a prolific commentator on these issues and my on-line foot print is somewhat in it's infancy. But If I do gain any traction or response, I sense I might get a bit of a kicking from some. After all, I'm offering views that may be disagreeable to some, either to the people who hold the purse strings and make the decisions about whether they will work with us or not or my peers who are content with the status quo. But I'm not looking to offend, just to put out there some views (and experiences) that some others share but won't say it for fear of losing business.

But I've always been honest with my clients, the only difference here being I'm exposing myself to a wider audience to be criticised. That's fine, but I'd argue that if we accept the status quo then it's not much of a partnership. That's just being a supplier and that's not good enough when the "product" you are supplying are human beings. Some I sense, view people as purely a commodity in the process rather like in Roald Dahl's "Big Friendly Giant" or "BFG" where the scary giants just went about treating people as purely a commodity for their own benefit, as opposed to the BFG himself who demonstrated real compassion for HUMAN BEANS.

So here I share my thinking on how we all might look to enhance the recruitment offering and propose that those who use some of the practices I've highlighted below, perhaps look to work in alternative ways.

1. Tell me upfront if internal candidates are in the mix and If you are just hedging your bets or genuinely open to external talent. And if you do tell me, I can tell you honestly and objectively if I think you already have the best person versus what is out their in the market or in my network.

2. As much as possible, please try and avoid briefing me with just an email or portal without the opportunity of being able to talk to a real person. Be receptive to your recruiter offering their own thought and insight and truly getting under the skin of your brief, the team, your organisation.

3. Communicate and share with me any changes that impact during the process, such as if you have offers out or any other relevant info so I can manage my candidates expectations.

4. Don't insist on going through "standard process" when you've already met a candidate you just KNOW is anything but standard and is perfect for the role and your organisation. Be flexible, agile and receptive to working around "standard process" if there is a clear benefit in doing so.

5. Don't do the classic. " I need 5 cvs from each agency". You don't. You need one great candidate to be the "right one" based on the elements agreed in the brief. By all means agree some parameters and minimal requirements / expectations but please don't perpetuate the volume game some agencies ("purveyors of cvs") do so well already. Quality not quantity!

6. Don't brief a multitude of agencies believing you are "covering the market" or getting more time and effort. You're probably not. One of the best posts I read on this sometimes thorny subject, was by @greg_savage, where he spells out the issue far better than I ever could....but there is still a huge piece of education to be done on this, which when the penny drops will be to the benefit of most. Everyone involved in the recruiting world should read this.

7. If you avoid multiple briefings as above, then you'll also avoid those toe curling "catch all briefings" where competitive agencies sit around the same table and either ask dumb questions in an attempt to be visible or will refrain from asking any insightful questions for fear of giving away competitive advantage.

8. Avoid changing candidates interview times if possible, just because it's easier than pushing back on internal stake holders. The effort they sometimes make to see you can be journeys in their own right!

9. Don't let me or the candidate find out that the vacancy has been filled via an update on linkedin by the successful candidate - it's happened and does not look good, believe me!

10. If you are briefing out to recruiters because you've exhausted other chosen avenues then don't impose unrealistic deadlines that compromise a quality approach when there are only the most difficult and challenging stones left unturned. You have put it in the hands of a specialist. So let me take a specialist rather than bums on seat approach.

11. Don't Assume we are all on commission. I can tell you that I'm not. If we are, ask how much we have to gain. This will tell you a lot about who you are dealing with and how the agency treats it's consultants. And if consultants are not treated well, what are the chances of candidates getting respect and the right advice from them? If a large % of their income is reliant on sales rather than service, then there is a fair chance you know where the focus of their relationship with you will be. But if they give a focus on service then the placements and fees should follow.

12. Don't see giving feedback to candidates as a pain in the bum. It's probably one of THE most valuable parts of the process for candidates AND clients. And it can be notoriously tough to get real, quality feedback even from some of the most brilliant organisations.

13. Don't have PSL contracts that are toothless. When someone blatantly and dishonestly sends a CV without the permission of the candidate, (or breaches trust in a similarly terrible manner) please, PLEASE don't continue to use their services. Because by doing so you just assume we are all the same - and if you hire that candidate and pay the recruiter who rode rough shod over any principles or decency, the message sent out is that their methods work.

14. Don't grumble and groan about how generally crap recruiters are but knowingly continue to use crap recruiters.

15. Don't let line managers who don't appreciate or respect the fact that a candidate has prepped and invested time to get to interview bugger up all the hard work you and your recruitment partner have done to find and engage the right candidate. Insist that it's for their benefit as much as anyone that they should be involved and invest the time and effort in the process as a result.

16. Aim for a fair deal for you and your recruitment partner on fees. If you screw them to the floor and get something too cheap and it's too good to be true then the chances of expecting brilliant service probably is too! The likelihood is that in the longer term the recruiter will cut their cloth accordingly, offering minimal resources and sub standard service levels.

17. Finally, remove any obligation you may feel in taking cold sales calls by telling yourself and the perpetrators that you only ever select recruitment partners on a recommendation basis or at certain pre set windows for RFIs etc.

Thanks for listening! And if anyone is open to meet for a coffee in how we can further encourage best practice in the world of recruiting human beings rather than baked beans, irrespective of you being in-house, an RPO, competitor agency or anything else for that matter, then feel free to contact me at: or on twitter @andyyoung2 or via this blog (though I'm not here that often!)

Monday, November 1, 2010

5 things I learnt about twitter this weekend

I felt really lucky this weekend. I had a really selfish, indulgent weekend. "Me time" is probably what I'd best call it. I'm feeling a little guilty, as the children spent less time with me, hence my wife took up the slack and subsequent workload that I'd created for her.

Part of this "me time" I used by trying to get my head around this social media maze - I really want to embrace it, but I do struggle if I'm honest with you. The last attempt I made at writing a blog for example, was at the beginning of the year and now the clocks have gone back as we approach the end of 2010. I've now promised to stop concerning myself with having to write a blog, but to simply pen something when I feel I have something worth saying or to get something off my chest.

So whilst I spent time looking to learn a wee bit more about social media, one thing I did learn from following a number of threads (aware this makes me appear potentially voyeuristic!) on twitter was how some people appeared to be using the platform to be downright rude in a flagrant attempt to "big themselves up" and somehow appear important or relevant. I learnt that there is a minority who use twitter to shout at others, to poo-poo others views, to act aggressively and demean others understanding or view point of the world. In fact in certain instances, individuals were being completely ANTI-SOCIAL. And I was under the illusion being SOCIAL was a pre-requisite?? The raison d'ĂȘtre.

I am sure that these people are, when you meet them, completely sane, law abiding, interesting and lovely people (lets assume that for now anyway!). But like those fruit cakes who lose their minds when they get behind the wheel of a car, something overrides any common sense they were in possession of to begin with and they become a frenzied loon.

So my ultimate take out from all of this was setting myself 5 twitter rules that I will self police and apply religiously to myself and the people I follow.

  1. Respect others opinions and that they may not always reflect my own.
  2. Feel free to disagree, but do so with dignity and without demeaning the originator.
  3. Don't use passion and beliefs as a way of hiding behind being rude to others, It doesn't wash and is a tad insulting, to say the least.
  4. Use serious, informative topics that will impart knowledge and learning to others, feeling free to be trivial too.
  5. Remember to have fun along the way and don't take yourself myself too seriously.

Have a good week one and all and maybe see you on twitter one day!