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Crowdsourcing Recruitment: the new way to work hard for nothing

By December 1, 20112 Comments

Contingent recruiters have long held a universal gripe about the nature of their work.  As recruiters working on a contingent basis, they often find themselves working on multi-listed roles, as in worked by a number of competing recruitment firms at the same time.  The contingent part of the whole process means that they only get to bill the client a fee for the work they have done if they are the “lucky” firm to find the right candidate and secure the placement.  The others?  Well they get nothing.

This process, of course, is scoffed at by the braver, and probably smarter, recruiters who refuse to partake in this often futile and desperate exercise.  The recruiters who have the guts to walk away from work that is listed with multiple competing firms, work that demands you spend time, money and effort for often no reward.  These recruiters that work only on roles if they have it exclusively, and often on a retained basis too, making sure part of the fee is paid up front so some money is made even if there is no eventual successful placement made.

But, as we all know, the world of recruitment is fast changing.  As HR departments learn how to advertise themselves on job boards, and more savvy, switched on internal recruitment teams are formed, then agency recruiters find themselves increasingly marginalised and having to compete with more recruiters for less business.  I can argue all day long for the quality that can be brought to the hiring process by a professional recruitment agency, well-networked, with expert knowledge in their chosen field, and why roles should be given to them exclusively and also on a retained basis.  But sadly the world is changing.

There is a new word nowadays for businesses doing lots of work for nothing.  It is called Crowdsourcing.  Heard it?  Here is the definition from Wikipedia:


Crowdsourcing is the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or community (crowd) through an open call.

Jeff Howe established that the concept of crowdsourcing depends essentially on the fact that because it is an open call to a group of people, it gathers those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas.

In fact, this has been going on in recruitment for some time now, even before the term was coined.  I remember one of my first recruitment meetings in New Zealand was attending a “function” at a large engineering consultancy in Auckland.  Nibbles were provided and I discovered I was one of about fifteen other engineering recruiters of various shapes and sizes, all gathered to be briefed on  the same major power generation project that was in project planning stage in Asia.  About ten hard-to-fill roles were dished out to the hungry gathering, and off we all went to try and fill the roles.

More recently I heard that Hewlett-Packard in New Zealand do the same thing.  Dispensing with the cosy familiarity of the on-site meeting, they have found even greater efficiencies by gathering all of their preferred suppliers onto a conference call and wheeling in the hiring manager to brief the listening recruiters on their current vacancy.

With advances in technology this concept of Crowdsourcing Recruitment is appearing in increasingly smart ways.  In the US is a New York-based online marketplace that connects internal corporate recruiters with a network of headhunters.  The idea is that a company registers its vacant position on the site and sets the fee it is willing to pay.  They are then contacted by recruiters interested in working the role and the hiring client can review the recruiter’s profile and past history before allowing them to recruit for the role.  This may sound pie-in-sky kind of stuff but it has recently raised $5 million in new Venture Capital funding.

Here in New Zealand the recently-launched NBR Talent is pulling on similar influences.  The original plan of having recruitment firms upload the details of interviewed candidates to the “Talent Database” for employers to search through to fill roles in their organisation (at a reduced fee of 10%) has faltered under the basic crapness of recruiters having no time or patience to do the admin piece in uploading and skill-matching their candidates.  But flipping it around, they are now proactively putting up their vacancies, for the recruiters involved to see, who can then put forward candidates they might have on their books.  This is similar to the Bounty Jobs idea, and seems to be generating more success, as even at 10% it is a way recruiters not on the large PSA’s can still make placements into large corporates and make the most of candidates they have interviewed that might not be quite right for their existing vacancies.

So whilst the prospect of many people doing the same thing for little or no reward seems like madness, this is in fact a phenomenon that has existed in recruitment for quite some time now.  Efforts by more altruistic recruiters to rebuff the contingent model, to demand they only work on roles exclusively, are made harder and harder as the concept of Crowdsourcing Recruitment takes hold.

But here is where it all falls down:

Crowdsourcing is supposed to gather those “most fit to perform certain tasks”.  Do the above online apps really contain all of the very best recruiters in the market?  Bounty Jobs only contains recruiters who have taken the time to register their profile whilst NBR Talent seems to contain a range of well-known but seemingly arbitrarily chosen recruitment businesses – under what criteria were they invited to join?

Crowdsourcing is supposed to enable the solving of complex problems.  This is highly relevant in recruitment.  This is what we do, particularly on hard-to-fill roles in a talent short market.  But the driving force behind these apps seems to be to reduce cost and increase speed of response.  Will a recruiter really put as much time and effort into a crowdsourced vacancy at 10% or less, compared to the role he has on with a client who he has met with, got to properly understand their business, and agreed a fee of 15% or higher?

Crowdsourcing is supposed to unearth the most relevant and fresh ideas.  What these apps are promoting is the provision of a recruiter’s B-grade candidate pool (or worse).  The top ones (you know, the ones referred to as walking placements), are not going to be coded up and dumped into an online talent database, they are going to be well-treated, looked after, listened to, and steered or coaxed towards the recruiter’s favourite clients, who probably also pay 15% or higher.

We knew it as Contingent Recruitment.  It is becoming known as Crowdsourcing Recruitment.  But the outcome is the same.  The concept will increase the options at a client’s disposal, provide opportunities for collaborative problem solving, increase speed of results, and reduce overall spend.  But will it actually enable a client to really partner with an expert recruiter and ensure they get delivered the very best talent on the market place?

Probably not.

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.


  • Gary Beattie says:

    As a Specialist I totally agree. We have been in a talent driven market for a long time and the companies who take care and develop a close relationship definitely hear about the best talent, and often hire them, before the open sourcing companies. Also the added benefit for them (company and candidate) is we have a close relationship with the company and understand their culture and get the ‘best fit’. Therefore, the people we place stay longer with the company – win win for them.

  • Paul Heath says:

    Well said Jonathan