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Lies, Damn Lies…and Recruitment Statistics?

By September 15, 20115 Comments

This is how PR and press releases happen in the recruitment world, particularly from the larger agencies:  The PR department of a recruitment company issues a periodic online survey to their company’s database of clients or candidates, asking leading questions designed to elicit responses around a particular topic.  The responses are received, collated and reports are created.  The PR department studies the statistics produced and try and design news-worthy stories from them.  The story is dressed up with a few buzz words such as “war for talent” or “perfect storm of skills shortage” and usually the story is bent and beaten into the right kind of shape to make the reader believe that the services of a recruitment agency are imminently going to be required.

Then, the PR department, which is usually not even based in New Zealand, will attach the name of the New Zealand GM, attribute a couple of quotes to them, and issue the press release to hopefully be picked up by some widely read media outlets such as the Herald, Stuff, NBR or Knitting Weekly.

These days the story is then often noticed by social media activists (a bit like myself) and, if it is really interesting news, can go viral across the web via Twitter, Linked In and other channels.  This is essentially free advertising for that recruitment firm’s brand and their name is associated in people’s minds with expert knowledge of the recruitment and employment sectors and one to be trusted and revered by clients and candidates alike.

Well that’s the idea anyway.

Unfortunately for Manpower their latest press release about hiring intentions being boosted by the Rugby World Cup has backfired on them.  Picked up by the NBR on Wednesday they reported that 29% of New Zealand employers intend to increase hiring in the final quarter of 2011 and that:

“Employers in manufacturing and services, including hospitality, have shown the most optimistic hiring intentions for this year’s final quarter”

Usually these days these kinds of press releases are just glazed over by most readers as they plough on for the next soundbite from the media.  But this time the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) and the National Distribution Union (NDU) rubbished these statistics, saying that trading conditions in these sectors continued to be soft, and the Dominion Post reporting the story saying:

“In its release the company said the increase in hiring intentions – to levels “unseen” since 2007 – was attributable to New Zealand’s “national pride and optimism” triggered by the Rugby World Cup and Christchurch rebuild. The survey did not ask respondents any questions related to the Rugby World Cup or Christchurch rebuild.”

Ouch.  Bit of a blow to Manpower’s press release there.

But here’s the thing:  This kind of thing goes on all the time and Manpower certainly aren’t alone in this kind of reporting.  Check out this press release from Hays back in June at the launch of their 2011 Salary Survey:

” Increased hiring intentions declared by employers;
• Demand in key areas drives market from employer-driven to candidate-driven;
• Yet to see widespread salary increases, despite rising demand -a ‘perfect storm’ brewing.”

Then at the end of June we had Hudson gushing forth similar declarations of increased hiring intentions, for the July to September quarter, and guess what reasons were given?

““There are so many influencing factors – the rebuild in Canterbury, as well as the uncertainty cast by ongoing geological activity, the impending Rugby World Cup and national general election, the record high New Zealand dollar and improving business confidence,” Burrage added.”

And just last week we heard from Robert Half that the employment market for accounting and finance professionals may be in a state of transition:

“The Robert Half Global Financial Employment Monitor found that 83 per cent of New Zealand hiring managers believe it is challenging for their company to find skilled financial professionals in today’s market. This compares to 67 per cent globally.”

So let’s be honest here.  It seems Manpower have been made a scapegoat in this whole thing and they’re not the only recruitment company issuing these kinds of press releases.  At a time of fragile business confidence and intense risk aversion, it can often be quite a fillip, quite a boost, to read reports that are taking a positive view on things.  Clearly we can’t expect that from organisations like the EMA though, who seem to take some kind of perverse pleasure in pouring cold water over New Zealand businesses attempting to claw their way back into positive growth territory post-recession.

Pointing towards the Rugby World Cup and Christchurch rebuild as opportunities to feel positive about our future economy is nothing new anyway.  It is all anecdotal really, but I’ve been hearing people like John Key and Bernard Hickey going on about that for months now.  What’s wrong with Manpower jumping on the bandwagon and suggesting the same?

The real issue here, for me, lies in the nature of these press releases though.  They are all getting a bit same-old, same-old now aren’t they?  One week we read about the rising optimism of employers, the next about Eurozone market woes holding us back.  Then next week it is all about skills shortages, the next about tumbling consumer spending.

I say we need to break away from this monotonous cycle.  Come on big-recruitment-company PR departments, it’s time you started breaking out some INFOGRAPHICS.

Oh yeah, pictures are the way forward nowadays.  That’ll get your brand going viral online, which is all you really want anyway.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • George 3636 says:

    Just confirms that multinational recruiters have little or interest in NZ as a market – rehash and re deliver the same drivel over and over – and their recruitment process and delivery is no different – no wonder locally owned company have done and will continue to kick them around the park

  • Brad says:

    Quite an interesting analysis of how it works with these guys… Personally I stopped downloading the big agency reports a few years ago.  Get the inside word following their recruiters online via Twitter feeds or blogs. 

  • Stewart Farr says:

    I agree with George here. Many times I have hit a global application for a NZ job. Get to step 1 of a 15+ step process, close window and find another job. They simply don’t have a clue because they think they are bigger than the role they are advertising. In my years of dealing with massive firms such as Siemens and GE…..never have I had to jump through so many hoops for so little outcome. They need a reality check. 

  • Kiwigirl32 says:

    As a former recruiter in NZ I still like to keep updated about what is going on in the market and totally agree with your sentiments Jonathan. Also reminds me of a regular recruitment column in the NZ Herald that churns out the same old stuff every time ….. Tell us something interesting that we don’t already know guys.

  • Adrian says:

    I used to work for one of the Global Recruiters.  Our suveys came quickly around and were only enjoyed by the Recruiters who could use them as an excuse to ring clients.  They were largely seen as a chore by a lot of the staff, and the Results were dodgy to say the least.  The desired outcome was all about branding, and little to do with any meaningful research outcome.