Skip to main content

Face It, Companies Do Not Want to Use Recruitment Agencies

By March 13, 20146 Comments

Have agency recruiters forgotten how to recruit?  And by “recruit” I’m talking about the full cycle of prospecting, building relationships, understanding a client, gathering market intelligence and then making approaches to suitable candidates.

Or did most of us never know how to really do that properly and just sailed through those halcyon pre-recession years billing big bucks off the backs of our quick wit and questionable charm?

The good news is that the economic recovery is full steam ahead.  Interest rates are starting to climb again (something predicted with even more certainty than the forecasts of Auckland getting hammered by Cyclone Lusi this weekend) and the story from Australia appears to be the same with Ross Clennett meeting “recruitment agency owners over the past 6 weeks and almost without exception they are all smiling again…

But hold that smile a moment, won’t you please?  Because the bad news is that, whilst business confidence and hiring intentions are clearly back with a bang, companies’ interest, or appetite, in using recruitment agencies is NOT.  You see, since they last wanted to hire people all of the time and good talent was hard to find (as in 2006, say) there has been a growth in technological advancements and recruitment agency alternatives that they have largely utilised to save money and get by.  The thing is, that new sense of frugality hasn’t gone away.

So it’s kind of cringe-worthy to bump into HR leaders and hear stories about recruiters pestering them for a meeting just because they happen to work in the same building, and then having absolutely nothing new to offer, or share, when the meeting is reluctantly granted.  And stories of recruiters turning up in packs of three to spend an hour incessantly talking without ever asking a question or listening to what their client might actually want from them.

Or, even worse, when a client does engage with an agency again, they make completely bumbling and ham-fisted efforts at headhunting like in the story amusingly related by Mark Sumner earlier this week.

There are two truths facing recruitment agencies today:

  1. The economic recovery is well underway, hiring intentions are up, and opportunities lie ahead
  2. Companies do not want to use recruitment agencies to satisfy their hiring needs because they don’t see anything new or fresh in what we have to offer

I think that, even for the best recruiters, they will be faced with a certain level of reluctance from clients when they do begrudgingly start engaging with  them again.  It’s probably going to be impossible to avoid that, for now, such is the reputation we have curated for ourselves over the past few years.  But I also think there is a clear opportunity here to elevate yourselves above that mire.  We all have parts of the recruitment process we’re better at than others (I know I certainly do) but the one thing that must reside in the back of every recruiter’s mind is:  How can I truly add value to my client?

Recruiting like it’s 2006 isn’t going to cut it anymore I’m afraid.  Offering insights, knowledge, market intelligence, and listening to clients so you can properly represent them to the increasingly fussy jobseeker market just might do it.  And properly understanding your client’s brief when you do finally get the work coming back in will always help too – just ask Mr Sumner!

What are you going to do differently, now that the opportunity to grow is upon us again?

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.


  • Yvette says:

    From an internal recruiter’s point of view (and I can say this because I’m ex-agency), recruitment agencies need to step up to survive and offer fresh thinking, strong networks, industry expertise and market insights that add value.

    Just yesterday, I received a call from a recruiter trying to market a candidate to me with the opening line of “she’s young and Asian but really good with numbers” (no sh*t, she’s an Accountant) and after giving him a telling off for his totally inappropriate language, he then went on to call two hiring managers in the business with the same “young and Asian but…” spiel (and one of those hiring managers is Asian, which went down like a cup of cold sick). It’s shocking to think this is how recruiters are approaching new clients and representing their candidates. If all agency recruiters were like the Rice Consulting crew, the world would be a much better place.

  • Matt Pontin says:

    Nice blog Jon. As an internal and many moons ago before you were a twinkle in the recruiting milk mans eye – an ex agency recruiter, I want to say that we do need and want to work with agencies. However we need to work with true partners to help us best perpetuate our brands, leverage their networks with passive talent and ultimately become an extension to our own teams. So yes the 2006 run a business out of your garden shed or spam cv’s like there is no tomorrow days are hopefully long gone. But also yes there is relevance in good agency partners supplementing strategic sourcing channels and helping businesses to find the best talent. So for all internals who avoid building these partnerships I say – you may have forgotten our role is to find the best talent for our businesses, and to all “agencies” who can’t think partnership – please stop spamming, asking for meetings and offering me your latest unbundled solution and find out what I actually need. Now that was a lot to type on an iPhone on a train!

  • Excellent post Jon.
    Maybe the agencies believe they are still stuck in time warp, back in 2005? (This isn’t limited to NZ by the way).
    Technology has moved on, people behaviours have moved on, and importantly for recruitment agencies, the likes of social media and social networks have levelled the playing field for everyone. The companies know this, the candidates know this but many of the agencies still have their heads firmly placed where the sun doesn’t shine!
    Thy still think it is a numbers game – more calls, more CV’s, and more KPI’s – all the while ‘believing’ the economy growth predictions, and rubbing their hands in anticipation of all the extra dollars they are going to make . But they are still thinking and operating like they were back in 2005!
    There is one skill in recruitment that differentiates the good recruiters from the rest. That is the ability to listen, and I mean properly listen to what a person is saying. None of this lip service BS but interpreting what they are saying, and acting accordingly. Both Mark’s and Yvette ‘s examples demonstrate this perfectly.
    Matt is also very public telling recruiters what hey need to do to work with ASB – listen to what are needs are and the way we work. Adding value should be a given in today’s 2014 economy, but you can’t do that unless you are listening to what the companies want and need – two things that are not always the same.

  • Ben Brown says:

    I have heard this for 25 years! Bottom line is our industry is easy to get into, but hard to find good trainers that teach good prospecting skills, and even harder to find a recruiter with great sales skills and client development abilities. Pressure, volume, give her or him a try…equals weak recruiters with weak client development skills and a poorly trained recruiter. Some can only do gravy recruiting. Some are better at client development. Many are terminated in 6 mo or less. Someone with abilities to do both very well ….Priceless

  • Mason says:

    Music to my ears people! Selling CV’s to businesses like door-knocking vacuum salespeople is not what our market wants or needs. The shame of it all is the tarnished reputation it gives partnership orientated recruiters who are trying to broaden their client base.
    And it has to be said, it takes two participative parties for the partnering to happen and when “clients” don’t partner effectively, in my humble opinion, they reduce great recruiters’ abilities to provide a full consultative service.

  • This is a bit of a chicken and egg issue.

    Hiring companies are increasingly growing weary of recruitment agencies because of the amount of dross behaviour some of them display, whilst feeling like they have to use more of them in the hope that one of them will have the right candidate.

    When they do, they assume that agency to have some special talent for finding candidates, (which invariably they don’t) and so then get disappointed when they go back to that agency and they don’t have the right candidate.

    These hiring companies also don’t realise the amount of trading agencies are doing with the better candidates, often with their competitors.

    It’s like a self-inflating balloon.

    Hiring companies just want an agency that can ‘definitely’ fill their jobs. Agencies only know how to recruit on a ‘maybe’ basis.

    I suspect the way forward is for hiring companies to get better at choosing agency suppliers so they can work with each of them on an exclusive basis. If that means choosing the best of a bad bunch and teaching them how they want their recruitment assignments handled, then so be it.

    It also wouldn’t hurt if agencies learn how to sell and deliver ‘certainty’ rather than ‘maybe’.