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What Has Become of us Recruitment Agencies?

By February 6, 201426 Comments

What has become of us recruitment agencies?

I’m sure that, once upon a time, the concept of recruitment as a professional service was lauded.  Providing outsourced recruitment expertise for companies, so they could concentrate on doing what they do best rather than waste time recruiting, was eagerly welcomed by industry.  But fifty years or so on, it is starting to appear to me that we have created a beast that is getting out of control.  Jobseekers fear us, prospects avoid us and clients either revile us or use us begrudgingly.

Here we are in 2014 and the range of “recruitment alternatives” out there continue to gather momentum.  Apart from the growth of in-house recruitment models, businesses like One Shift are also moving into the New Zealand market, a business that upset Ross Clennett towards the end of 2013 with their public damning of our industry:

The recruitment industry is broken. It’s completely exploitative, and is responsible for huge amounts of dissatisfaction on both sides of the employment equation – jobseekers and employers.  If you’re still using big recruiters to find your talent, you’re relying on an outdated, needlessly expensive and ineffective process. Stop wasting your money.

And of course, facing such scorn from the wider business community, we also love to turn on ourselves.  Customise Consulting, a recruitment agency here in New Zealand that relies on a more flexible, technology-lead model to deliver to its’ clients and house its’ recruiters, has started spreading a video that heaps yet more opprobrium on the traditional recruitment model:

Then, to round the week off nicely, I received a call from a mutual contact who works in an IT services company yesterday. She had a story to relay to me about something she regarded as shocking behaviour from a recruitment agency.  The funny thing is you’ve probably heard most of it before (certainly from this particular agency, a global recruiter who are probably complained about significantly more than any other agency out there).

Here’s the bit you probably hear all the time – and may well happen in your own agency:  A client of this IT services company had decided she wanted a new job, and being impressed with the work delivered by this company, she had a coffee with them to inquire about employment opportunities in their firm.  That same day, she also registered with the IT division of this global agency who had her sign a registration form.  The next day the company she had already met with for a coffee received her CV from the agency, unsolicited, and in a bulk email containing a few more CVs too.  Finding out about this the jobseeker told them she was already speaking to them and hadn’t given permission for her CV to be sent out.  As it turns out, though, she had.  The form she signed, and didn’t read properly (it’s 2 pages long in very small writing, but hey – “buyer beware” and all), gave them the permission they needed.

So far so what, right?  It’s embarrassing behaviour but seems to have almost become de rigueur in how we operate nowadays.  The interesting bit is when she went to the recruiter’s manager to complain.  Upon being told that she had signed permission for her CV to be sent out anywhere, she dug in a bit further to find out how many places her CV had been sent to?  What number are you thinking, right now?  Really?  OK try upping it a bit.  The number of “clients” her CV was spammed out to was… 30.

Yep.  Thirty.  Three Zero.

And the kicker?  She was told, with great hubris, “this is just what all recruitment companies do these days”.

Brilliant eh?  Doesn’t it make you proud to be a recruiter?  Where once we took in a job brief and filled roles for growing businesses, we now spray CVs around like confetti at a wedding, hoping that some of it lands on the happy couple before the other guests realise it’s a wedding you hadn’t even been invited to in the first place.  It seems, to me, that a lot of recruiters are these days just trying to scam money out of clients’ pockets in any way they can, the main aim being to send a CV in before a competing firm does, and hopefully before your “client” has a chance to meet the jobseeker directly through their own means.

Nice work, recruitment.  No wonder we’re seeing businesses like One Shift and Customise take aim and fire.

The question is though: do we have any defence?

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.


  • Amanda says:

    This just makes me think of recruiters as a whole bunch of people that candidates don’t know and trust, placing people in roles with employers who don’t know or trust those recruiters. Does the future of recruitment have a place for building good relationships with candidates and employers well in advance of actually placing roles?

  • Wow, that Customise video is certainly taking a big swipe. Hadn’t seen it before today. It has got to a new low when our industry is so publicly attacking itself from within like that. How depressing.

  • Andy says:

    Another great blog Jon. 2 points to make. Firstly, a quick investigation of the Customise website led me to an advertisement for a recruitment consultant that had at least 4 spelling mistakes, with some sentences making no sense at all. Maybe their cutting edge technology platform doesn’t involve spellcheck?
    But seriously, there are recruitment companies out there that do not follow the KPI model. Having met 5 or 6 agencies around town a couple of years ago, the ones with overseas shareholders have the KPI’s, but the locally owned firms rely on your experience in the market (and the fact that you are an adult) to work appropriately and be a success.
    And unsurprisingly, in my field, the locally owned firms are the most successful.

  • Jennifer says:

    Excellent blog again thanks Jonathan. Really shows the lows some organisations have sunk to but it allows the good recruiters to really have the opportunity to shine and impress with genuine service and recognition of individual client needs.

  • Fi Harland says:

    Let alone the number of unsolicited Resumes I receive for Roles that I advertise under our clients name… with my email… But they haven’t taken the time to do research first to realise that the email doesn’t fit the company! The lack of confidentiality in regards to the candidate is shameful.
    I can’t believe that CV slinging is still happening. Could it be that these consultants are not on Social Media or other platforms so they never hear or read about what they are doing to the industry?

    • Kevin Chappell says:

      Fiona, they are mandated by their bosses to achieve quotas. And part of their quotas is slinging x-number of CVs out there, no matter what. The problem is, having been trained this way, they know no better!

  • Kevin Chappel says:


    Well, you know my thoughts on some of what others refer to as “colleagues” in recruitment, but I don’t! And my previous “industry shooting itself in the foot” comments. And the bad experiences with some of the “imported multi-nationals”…. But all is not lost. There are some of us who have been around a long time and I believe are respected, and behave in a way that keeps the industry alive, and gives hope to the ethical and professional “newbies” who see recruitment as a great opportunity. There are times when we complain about how clients treat us, but I suppose lawyers and accountants and doctors also complain about how their clients treat them. So as a profession, we’re not on our own.

    My observation is that the proliferation of the UK-based multinationals has created this situation. And clearly your comments echo that. I suppose we just have to hold our collective breaths and hope that the pressure of trying to cover their high overheads with high fees in a “fee-reasoning” market will see them ultimately pack their bags as they get smacked around for not meeting revenue targets. May it happen soon!

  • Kevin Chappell says:

    Must be Friday….can’t even spell my own name!!

  • Kevin Chappell says:


    A further comment about Customise Consulting. Don’t know if you’ve checked the Partners’ backgrounds, but they sort of fall into the One Shift category in that from their profiles on LinkedIn, none of the partners have more than 7 years’ experience. Don’t know how they can maintain they know best – when they have that little experience!

    • How many years does it take? I have eight…!

      • Kevin Chappell says:

        I suppose if you’re setting yourself up as a great critic of a sector, then single digits aren’t really enough. If my maths is right, one of their partners only has a little over 4 years’ experience. They are promoting “experience” as their catch-phrase. I don’t think less than 10-15 – or more – gives you the right to purport to be an expert and be critical of those with a lot more experience. Whilst I agree with the unjustifiable overheads, in the video I could be as critical of their approach because they still have revenue targets, just lower. It’s misleading. Anyhow, just my opinion after 32 years in the sector….

  • Liza Viz says:

    Hi Jonathan ,

    An interesting blog regarding some recruiters in the Industry using what we call a “Spray and Pray ” or “Flick and Stick” technique without seeking candidate permission to represent their cv.

    Just thought as an industry leader that I would let you know on the back of your blog , that certainly not all organizations in the Recruitment industry operate this way .There are many professional and ethical operators here in NZ and global who provide outstanding consultative service to both clients and candidates .

    We need to recognize this rather than flout the demise of the industry .

    We as a Beyond business ( and I think you remember this having worked here ) do not spray cvs around . This goes against our ethics and everything that we stand for . We ask the candidate their permission to represent them, whether this is for a specific role or for a sector / client organization that might be looking for their specific skillset . We call our candidates regarding each position we are working on and where we would like to represent them because of for e.g. their aspirations , their skill sets , their competencies . We first debrief a candidate so that we can ensure they “want” and have given permission to be represented for the role / and to the client in question .

    I agree with you . As a business we find this ”spray and pray “ behaviour unacceptable . As a Beyond business we come across it all the time . Blanket permission to represent a candidate for anything and everything without consultation is simply unprofessional .

    As part of educating our clients and our candidates we do our bit for the industry by challenging this . And ,yes , we come across it everyday .

    Interestingly many of these operators would state ( advertise) that they abide to industry ethics .
    It would be great if you highlighted the fact that not all operators behave in this unethical manner . It would be good for the industry too for your IT contact to know that there are many ethical professional operators in the Recruitment Industry .

    Lets celebrate the professionalism in our Industry .

    Liza Viz
    Beyond Services

  • Hi Jonathan
    I like your writing and enjoy your style but I do wonder why there is the constant desire (not just from you) to self-flagellate within the Rec industry. No other industry tears itself a new one on such a regular basis. We are literally handing out the ammo to our critics. I’m not suggesting a Soviet Union style control of the message but really, can we stop beating ourselves up endlessly – no other industry would do this to itself.

  • Coincidentally I have recently blogged on just this ‘self-flagellation’ topic. I hope you don’t mind if I highlight the blog on your blog Jonathan.

  • Adrian Coysh says:

    Hi Jonathon,
    Rule number one in sales; never publicly attack your competition to clients. Why on earth you would want to denigrate your profession unless you have a startling new product or way to do things is beyond me.

    So who are these cheeky upstarts blemishing our good name? I’ll take Kevin’s word that their team have not been in the game long (as I can’t be arsed), but checked out the founder. Two years experience at Phoenix Recruitment (which went bust I seem to recall), prior to setting up Customise. No record of employment before that on LinkedIn, so don’t really know what business experience he has.

    Normally, the number of years in the business are meaningless, as it is the calibre of the consultant, prior business experience, and importantly how well networked they are in the area they are recruiting in that makes the difference. Rule of thumb for me is that it takes 18-24 months to fully understand our industry and all of its nuances. So the founder was only just cutting in teeth when he set up his fledgling business, and now feels confident to tell the business community how we are all rogues. He would have learned a lot watching his first employer going out of business, I will grant him that.

    So what great game changing things has this industry expert brought to the market?

    1. He rails at expensive premises, but has an office in the CBD. As they get bigger, they will probably have to move into bigger, er, more expensive and maybe even into a building that also may also accommodate a multi-national recruitment business. Good to see they also let their partners work from home; however a lot of us do the same – keeps costs down, and means your CBD office can be smaller. So nothing new there.

    2. Partners will be able to keep more of the pie, so can concentrate on working for fewer clients/jobs. However, there will be fixed costs to the business though, and the breakeven point must be reached before these drawings can occur. Hopefully this does not take long, as I am assuming the partners are not on a retainer, or a minimal one. This is the huge cost of multi-nationals, carrying the burden of the new, non performing recruiters rather than fat cats sitting in an office. If the partner is not performing, will shady recruiting practices emerge? They are advertising for new partners from existing agencies (so will not be training their own people), who can also bring in their own clients. Therefore their partners will all have their training from multi-nationals in the main with all their good and bad points. This is going to change the recruitment model?

    3. KPI’s. Always an interesting one. I am my own boss so can blissfully ignore them. Brilliant. However, if I do not call my existing clients, and have a program of trying to win new business; meet clients and contacts every week; interview candidates for jobs etc, I would just find out real quickly that my business does not exist. As always, it is the quality of the contact rather than the number that makes you successful. Well, that is industry standard, and again nothing new.

    4. A flash new CRM system. Yawn.

    So really, this is just another recruitment business just like the others. No commercial advantage at all. I do not know how the video is being circulated, but to me it is just an own goal.

    As for mass mail outs of candidate CVs. Don’t. Read Liza Viz’s email as to why not. In the example given though, the candidate was happy with the work the recruiter had done – however as a client being bombarded in the described fashion with unsolicited CVs, why would you give them your CV in when you have seen evidence of their modus operandi?

    Just a few thoughts. Personally I love the fact that the multi-nationals are there, as their practices reinforce to my clients how a good recruiter operates and I get repeat business.

  • George Smith says:

    I will be brief – Phoenix May have gone broke post Jenny Durno , but certainly not with her at the helm. After a 3 year battle with Cancer she passed away last year , so do not want any one reading this drawing any false conclusions on Phoenix Recruitment – what her old staff do is their business , but Phoenix under Jenny provided a lot of people a lot of opportunity for their recruitment careers.

  • Leanne says:

    Hi there, I’m Leanne. I’ve got 20+ year’s consecutive industry experience and was a Director with an Auckland recruitment firm which I founded with two business partners in 1998, before starting my own boutique recruitment agency. I joined Customise as a Partner 6 months ago and haven’t looked back. Given the comments here, I thought I’d share my experience and reasons for joining.
    The idea behind Customise was to offer a better deal to experienced recruitment specialists while delivering a great service to hiring managers and job seekers alike. My colleagues all have many years of recruitment experience in their respective specialisations and clients engage with them exclusively because of the level of service they provide.
    For me, the business model is great. What appealed to me was the collaboration and being able to continue to build my own portfolio of clients – while still taking home the bulk of the rewards for my efforts. It might not suit everyone but it works for us.

  • David says:

    Amusing that the chatter has turned on customise… when the actual conversation should be about the unscrupulous behaviour of the multi-national; specifically their spray and pray tactics. Good on customise for trying something they deem different, if it works for them, good on them.

    • I have to say I agree. The main gist of this post was about the recruiting methodology and behaviour of the IT recruiter and wondering what has become of the way us agency recruiters feel we are adding value to the recruitment process of businesses. The fact most commentary is around Customise Consulting taking a swipe at the traditional recruitment model, and seeking to pick holes in their offering, rather than addressing the (in my opinion) bigger issue, says a lot about us all really!

  • Adrian Coysh says:

    I guess people talk about what upsets them most and I didn’t pick up that the gist was about the IT recruiter, although I did comment about that issue as well. For me the “holier than thou” attack on our industry when the author, Customise, did not actually really offer anything new actually ranked ahead of multi-national bashing. With respect to the latter, I guess crap recruiters will just do as their masters deem to be the methodology to success. To quote David “if it works for them, good on them”. Nah, that is not right either, the end justifying the means? In this case the two wrongs in the blog do not make a right.

  • Paul says:

    Hi Jonathon

    Changing the game means changing the rules. If you want a different result, you need a different mind set. From what I see of Customise, this is what they striving to achieve, change compared to the multi national recruitment firms – which seems to be the crux of your article and their video? They are questioning the way things have been done before, and challenging the institution to wake up and try something different.

    As a Director from one of the largest professional service firms, the spray and pray mentality of my CV was highly prevalent in the larger recruitment organisations. My experience was even more pronounced, towards the end of the GFC, when as a potential candidate, I started to consider a change of organisation. It felt like I went from being a “person” to a “number” as they looked to fill any semi relevant role that came across their desk. Obviously there are always exceptions to every rule and some boutiques will also spray, while some larger organisations won’t. Or wont until they get closer to year end and realise they’re behind budget or “Global” tells them another territory is doing badly so they need to make up the short fall.

    From my experience, the smaller boutiques, on the whole, do seem to spend more time to get to know you and the types of organisations and culture we want to be a part of. This is what both the recruiters “clients” really want, who are the person you are placing and the person paying your bill. As a candidate we want to have a true connection with a recruitment consultant, knowing that they really have your back, and are looking to place you in a role that is ideal for the candidate and organisation – not just for the commission they will receive.

    If Customise is the new kid on the block and challenging the way things are done (which seems to be specifically the larger recruitment organisations), then good on them – change and challenge is good. If the recruiter, candidate and organisation are happy with this new model, as more time can be taken to find the ideal candidate, because there are less costs to cover, then great! It’s a win – win – win situation.

    Looking at other global billion dollar industries, challenging the institution is what Richard Branson did when he went from music to the airline industry, and Steve Jobs going from the computer to the music industry. This was a shock to all those people with their years of industry experience, telling them they “can’t do that”. Both Branson and Jobs, would ask “Why not?” and look where we, as their “candidates” are now.

    New Zealand was created by people who broke new frontiers, challenged the norm, supported the under dog and have an entrepreneurial spirit – should recruitment be any different? Let’s embrace someone challenging the big guys, holding up a mirror to them and doing something different. My question as a candidate is “Why not?”