My last post on why I believe LinkedIn will never kill the professional recruitment industry seemed to generate a lot of attention. While some of the numerous comments made a lot of sense, I can’t help feeling that there are still a lot of people missing the point.
Recruitment can mean different things to different people. There are a plethora of different business models within the staffing industry, so I thought it might be a good idea to define what I believe good recruitment is. This will perhaps put into context why I don’t believe that LinkedIn — or for that matter any other web-based product — can ever replace the service we provide. I expect this will be particularly helpful for those who seem to feel that they are qualified to comment on the impending death of our industry without having ever having been a recruiter, or in some cases ever having recruited a person themselves.
Talent Is Not an Online Commodity
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Getting the best possible talent to join your company is not the same as purchasing a product online. Talent has opinions, options, and time constraints. Talent can be unpredictable, irrational, high maintenance, and uncommunicative. A product you buy online will always show up if you have paid the appropriate price and followed the correct purchasing process. A product won’t have any thoughts or feelings that it wants to discuss with a third party. It won’t have any opinions on how well you selected it. It won’t wait for a better company to buy it if it doesn’t like your communication style or your company values. A product won’t consult with family members, professional acquaintances, and even someone it met on the train to provide fresh objections about why they aren’t going to show up at your company.
Recruitment Is a Professional Service
The reasons above are precisely why a professional recruitment service is uniquely positioned in the digital age. The number of intangibles in any hiring process is the very thing that prevents it from being a replicable and reproducible process. The freedom of thought from all of the parties involved in the ultimate decision making prevents the viability of a “black box” recruitment solution.
The Barber Shop Analogy
There are many other more tangible reasons why service businesses won’t be replaced in the digital age. A good analogy is that the Internet won’t put barber shops out of business just because you can buy hair clippers on Amazon and get them delivered the next day. The margin for error and potential for public humiliation when cutting your own hair will prevent most sensible people from trying it themselves.
You may choose your barber shop based on price or service and it’s likely that when you have found one that you are happy with, you’ll not only return many times but also probably tip handsomely for the privilege of getting your hair cut just the way you want it without even having to ask. My barber shop is a busy place and I imagine that for my barber to be able to cut everyone’s hair in the style that they have asked for takes considerable skill, years of experience, and a huge amount of patience.
Similarly, the margin for error, the potential for embarrassment, and the risk of public failure is huge when attempting to recruit for yourself. If it takes too long or if it turns out to be a bad hire, that can be a lot more expensive than a recruiter’s fee. Just like your barber, a good recruiter makes the process look easy not because it is — but because they have years of experience, considerable skill, a huge amount of patience, and a raft of other qualities.
What the Client Gets Out of Using Recruiters
A good recruiter can help you qualify what it is you require. Sometimes a client hasn’t quite worked through exactly the balance between what they want and what they actually need. Talking this through with a recruiter to define a viable role can save a lot of time and heartache further down the road.
They can also give you advice on whether that role exists at your competitors, how they structure their departments, historically what has worked for them — and crucially what hasn’t. This can prevent you from heading down a blind alley when planning your department structure or defining a role that is not consistent with others within your industry. That’s not to say that you may still wish to pursue this path, but being aware of whether it is going to be easy or difficult sets expectations accordingly. Attracting the right talent isn’t always about paying top dollar. Money can’t buy something that doesn’t exist.
A good recruiter will also advise you on what type of candidate you can expect to get from varying levels of compensation offered; an indication of how straightforward or challenging it should be to find the skills you require; intelligence about who else may be looking for the same skills; and ideas on how to position your opportunity and company to appeal to candidates in the market.
A good recruiter will not merely source and present multiple candidates but they will also make you aware of what their hot buttons might be so that you can sell the role effectively. They will inform you of which candidates are most interested — and therefore most likely to take an offer. Crucially they will also keep a backup warm for you should your first choice not accept — so that you don’t have to go back to square one.
A good recruiter will manage and organize the whole interview process for you. Then they will manage the offer process. Contrary to popular belief, a quality recruiter won’t be looking to maximize their fee by demanding the highest possible offer. They will be aiming for you to secure your preferred candidate at the best compromise for you and the candidate so that both parties are happy. That way they will get repeat business and referrals. “Shoot and move” recruiters don’t tend to be able to maintain longevity in their markets; good recruiters, on the other hand, understand that easy business is repeat business, and a happy candidate will lead them to more good candidates. It’s not all altruism. It’s just that good service = good business.
What’s in it for the Candidate
A candidate will want to interact with a recruiter for all the same reasons that people deal with realtors rather than buying houses from pictures on the Internet. Prospective house buyers want to deal with someone who can show them around, give them advice, tell them things they wouldn’t otherwise know about the neighborhood, etc. The system might not be perfect, but dealing with an agent or consultant when you are buying a house is something that’s the norm the world over.
A good recruiter provides a whole range of services completely free of charge to a candidate. These will include a cross section of opportunities with different types of companies. Often a candidate has a clear idea of exactly what they think they want, but when presented with an exact match it frequently doesn’t feel right. A good recruiter can present a variety of options — and candidates regularly end up going for the option that matches their initial ideal the least on paper.
A good recruiter will negotiate the best salary without pricing you out of the market. This is a lot harder to do by yourself or direct with the company.
A good recruiter will prepare candidates for interviews with information on the person they are meeting, their background, interview style, and typical questions. They will give the candidate ideas how they can sell themselves and provide coaching on difficult questions. They will fill the candidate in on the company values, goals, successes, and in generally provide an insight that they would not otherwise get.
A good recruiter will expedite the recruitment process so that if multiple offers are likely, they will come through at the same time — and they will also coach a candidate through their resignation to make the process as painless as possible.
All of the above applies equally to permanent and contract hires. However, with contract hires the recruiter will also normally take care of all the employment and payroll issues both for the hiring organization and the candidate making the experience of hiring a contingent labor force truly hassle free. With the growth of contingent labor, particularly in the U.S., this is a huge value add for companies and candidates.
It’s Just Good Business Sense
A good contingent recruiter will fill approximately 1 in 6 of the roles that they work on but they will still provide the same service to all. They won’t place every candidate with whom they interact but they will still provide the same service. They will do this because every person they deal with will become a candidate again or they may become a client. Similarly a client may become a candidate.
Every time they deliver a below-par service they will lose money not just on that placement but also multiple other missed opportunities for repeat business or referrals. Contingent recruiters only charge when they are successful so the smart and successful ones deliver quality service every time to maximize the chance of success. You get so much service for free, it doesn’t make sense not to engage.
Disengage at your Peril
Just as successful retail companies in the digital age tend to employ multi-channel strategies to reach as many customers as possible in order to thrive, the really smart companies will obviously use multi-channel strategies to source their talent.
However, organizations that stop engaging with recruiters will be missing out on a huge amount of information and therefore cutting off a vital resource for their talent attraction strategy. Despite recent economic woes and a degree of ongoing uncertainty, recruiters who provide a quality service are thriving in this market and will become even more critical during an economic recovery.
Recruitment is innovating and evolving in order to adapt to the modern world. Those who predict its death alongside other ancient business models that are unfit for purpose in the digital age have, I’m afraid, fundamentally missed the point. The mobility and flexibility of talent in the global generation is the most valuable corporate currency of the future. Being able to see where talent is in a social network just doesn’t cut it. Talent never has and never will hop and skip from one company to another — and no digital strategy will influence that. The ability to attract, extract, and deliver talent is — and always will be — a high-touch service which will continue to put recruiters at the very epicenter of the corporate future. For recruiters and recruitment companies who provide a genuine service the future is very bright.