Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Clients tell recruiters what they really, really want

Despite the recruitment industry turning over billions of pounds, are agencies always meeting clients’ needs?

Lawrence Hargreaves, managing director of Nicoll Curtin Recruitment

With turnover in the region of £23bn in 2011-12, the UK recruitment industry is clearly meeting a need. So it may come as surprise that there is a huge disparity between what recruitment agencies are delivering and what clients actually want.

New research carried out for IT recruiter Nicoll Curtin illustrates the extent of the gap of this ‘delivery gap’. For example, only 4% of hiring managers say they are “always confident” in the ability of their recruitment consultant to submit candidates of the right quality.
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A massive 75% of hiring managers [only 30% of whom had worked with Nicoll Curtin] believe this stems from the consultant failing to understand the requirements of the role.

Similarly, 72% of the 140 hiring managers interviewed believe that recruitment consultants care more about placing a candidate to secure their fee than finding the best candidate for a role.


For many recruiters, and especially for those who have worked hard to raise standards in the industry, these will be sobering statistics. Yet for Lawrence Hargreaves, managing director of Nicoll Curtin Recruitment, they are no reason for despair: “The good news for us is that more business can be won and better relationships achieved, and it is not rocket science.”

It all comes down to listening, not overpromising and ultimately delivering. A focus on quality, and spending time understanding both the role and the market, will ultimately pay off.

As Hargreaves expounds: “Many clients will review an agency’s performance based on fill rates that stretch past the probationary period; so it pays to spend time understanding the nuances of the position and encouraging consultants to become experts in their markets. This will lead to PSL positions and even sole agency status.”


When it comes to the criteria used by clients to select an agency, one figure stands out. With 83% of hiring managers choosing an agency based on a previous relationship with that agency, it is clear that getting this aspect of business right is key.

It is vital for agencies to invest in their consultants. Naturally this will include financial reward, though this should not only apply to sales but also to assimilating industry knowledge.

“Knowledge definitely is power; the more they know about the industry the quicker it will be for them to spot the right candidate to match their client company,” says Hargreaves.

With clients above all else demanding quality, 82% of hiring managers call for more in-depth screening of candidates. For some consultants, especially those who submit candidates without meeting them beforehand, this will undoubtedly require a sea change in behaviour.

While Hargreaves accepts that “more in-depth screening of candidates takes time and effort at the early stage”, current practice, including the “fundamental misdemeanour” of consultants bluffing they met the candidate, is clearly a major contributor to the ‘delivery gap’.

The unremitting focus of clients on quality may require agencies to consider other significant changes. Chief among these is that consultants would do a better job in finding the best candidate if the fee structure was no longer commission based. “This is a radical move for many agencies, although some do take this approach,” he says. Giving consultants individual SLA [service level agreements] that incorporate quality and not just sales targets helps.

Despite the many agency shortcomings identified by hiring managers in this research, those in the industry should be encouraged by the 54% of hiring managers who say that consultancies can save them time and money.

The overall message from this research is clear and uncomplicated. “Clearly there is a strong place for agencies, but it will be a marathon not a sprint to change the ingrained perceptions. But the good news is it’s easier than we think.”


 -   Tell customers what you can reasonably deliver and then ensure you do it
 -   Invest in your consultants’ knowledge and development
 -   Work on getting the basics right rather than pursuing the latest buzz such as social media
 -   Quality is never an accident. It is a choice made from many alternatives
 -   Work harder in understanding the positions you are hiring for

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