Life is like a box of recruiters – too many at once will make you sick

A cautionary tale of more haste less speed

Picture the scene: it’s 6pm on a Friday and you’re about to log off, when suddenly you get a call to say a key member of the team has just resigned. There’s a big project due to start in three months and now you have no one to run the damn thing. Fighting back a mix of anxiety, anger and general frustration, you cut and paste a generic job spec into a group email and send it to your entire PSL. 6.01pm and the crisis is over. You can go home now and relax, it will all be fixed by Monday morning, right?

Wrong! You’ve just opened up Pandora’s box and this time, once all the evils (sorry, I mean generalist recruiters) of the world have flown out, it’s not Hope that remains at the bottom of the box, it’s just a great big empty bloody box staring back at you.

In this scenario, your Monday will go like this: you open your inbox to find over 50 agency CVs waiting for you. The first few are way over budget. The next few work in industries that have no relevance whatsoever to yours. The next few look familiar… oh, that’s right, they are the same as the first few but have been sent by other recruiters. You park them in the ever-growing “agency candidate duplication Battle Royale” section of your inbox and move on. The next few are too junior but ‘just need someone to give them a chance to step up’. Not exactly what you need to lead a complex project in three months is it? By that point you’re losing the will to live, and as a result you gloss over the next few CVs who are actually spot on, but are already at second stage with other companies and so will be off the market by the time their recruiters chase you for feedback later in the week.

Sitting back to wipe the sweat from your brow, you notice the little red light blinking at you from your phone. Oh crap. The first few messages are from recruiters shouting about how they own a particular candidate and if you don’t let them represent them, they will send you the bill anyway. The next few contain mumbled questions so asinine that you can’t even bear to listen to them. (Editor’s note – for any recruiters reading this that don’t know, asinine means stupid, pointless or foolish. Slightly ironic that you didn’t know that…). The next few are from recruiters you’ve never heard of, but who have seen the role advertised and have the ‘perfect’ person to send you – despite never having spoken to you or anyone at your company ever before. (A word to the wise for any recruiters reading this who think that ad-chasing is a valid form of long-term client development: the problem with chasing an ambulance is that, by the time you catch up, the emergency is already over!)

In a fit of despair you delete the remaining voicemails. And yes, you guessed it, you delete the ones that contain the sensible, well thought out and relevant questions from those agencies who want to find out more before submitting anyone. I doubt they’ll bother calling back once they realise how many agencies are all over this role.

And so it goes on. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s rewind back to 6pm on Friday…

Who you gonna call?

So here we are again. You hang up the 6pm call and sit back. This role requires a mix of urgency and competence. (Well, that should narrow down your PSL options for starters!). You pick up the phone and make two calls – one to each of your two most trusted recruiters. You spend five minutes on the phone to each of them, calmly explaining that someone has resigned and you need to replace them, and you ask if they are around on Monday morning to come in for a meeting to talk it through in more detail. 6.10pm and you’re on your way home. There won’t be any CVs in your inbox on Monday morning and there won’t be any voicemails either. But that is a good thing. Why? Because you are going to have a sensible and productive meeting later in the day with the two recruiters who you will partner with to smoothly complete this process.

Can you guess the most important word in that last sentence? It was ‘Partner’. It’s a term that recruiters fling about with reckless abandon, but have you stopped to think about what it really means and how to tangibly assess if the recruiters you are working with are true partners or just chasing the fee?

Time for a real solution

Fear-ye not. Here at Ernest Hunter Green we have thought long and hard about what the word partner really means, how to articulate it – and more importantly live up to its expectations. Print off that list of PSL agencies and see how many of them tick the following boxes.

·       Are they consultative in their approach, not just constantly selling to you but taking the time to listen to what you say, take it on board, ask meaningful questions and offer genuine and evidence-based advice?

·       Do they show an understanding of your business from the overall long-term strategy down to the candidate culture fit? Are they respected internally by your functional directors and have they taken the time to meet them, even when there are no live roles to work on? In other words, are you comfortable that they can represent your company effectively to candidates and be a competent brand ambassador for you in the market?

·       Do they add value by offering market and competitor analysis, salary benchmarking, help drafting job specs etc? In short, will they go the extra mile for you without expecting payment?

·       Do they have balls? Will they challenge you, confront issues head on with you and offer alternative suggestions, or just nod their head and agree with everything you are saying?

·       Are they transparent and open in their negotiations – whether that be negotiating fees with you or negotiating salaries on behalf of candidates?

·       Do they know their limits? The best recruiters are niche specialists and are confident enough to say no to a role they know they cannot fill, and would rather wait for a suitable brief. It’s amazing how many recruiters panic at the idea of playing the long game and building a reliable relationship. In fact, some of the strongest long-term relationships can start with the word ‘no’.

·       Do you have a personal relationship with the individual consultant, not just an awareness of their company’s brand? The best people are still the best people, no matter where they work. You should follow them – their loyal candidate networks certainly will!

A flower cannot grow when it is surrounded by weeds

Hopefully you haven’t shredded your entire PSL by now. With a bit of luck there are a few names still on there. If so, they are your best friends in times of need. You should reward their loyalty and dedication by getting rid of the others who just slow down and complicate the process. Partnership is a two-way street, so give the best recruiters a little love and attention and they will give it back to you in spades.