Skip to main content

Recruitment Company Values (And Other Lies)

By August 20, 20153 Comments


Last week’s post highlighting the practice of (typically larger global) recruitment firms forcing an exiting recruiter to delete their LinkedIn connections generated a lot of comment and attention.

However, seemingly more attention was generated by my closing salvo:

pithy tweet

I only threw that in at the end in a pique of obloquy as an after thought really.  It didn’t actually have any bearing or relation to the rest of the post, and no, I wasn’t a few words short of my essay length set by my teacher.  But it clearly hit a nerve.

So, in true opportunistic blogging style (and rather than regurgitate some specious list of interview tips or what to wear to interviews – even though they would get shared more by people who didn’t even read the post), I thought I would have a go at getting some more mileage out of that accidental hero.

So without further ado…

My earliest encounter with this corporate phenomena came in the early 2000’s when I popped into my company head office in the armpit of West London that is Hounslow.  A tired old building shoved into the corner of an industrial estate had received a most welcome reception makeover. Along with two new pot plants there was a large, shiny, in-your-face placard listing our company values.  I had been with the company going on 4 or 5 years by this point, so the phrases listed stirred up some deep-rooted memory of my original induction in some sunnier and far more pleasant part of the world in Southern California.  But that was the last time I had heard of them, until that moment.

And I can’t recall them now.  The two things I remember about my six years in that company are two acronyms: DW and ESQI.  Damage Waiver was what drove company profitability, selling customers extra insurance to remove their excess liability on their rental car, and I was good at it.  ESQI was Enterprise Service Quality Index, a score generated monthly by customers receiving random calls and asked to rate the service they received.  If your branch didn’t exceed 80% you couldn’t get promoted.

I’m sure these two metrics were somehow incorporated into a flowery company value but I couldn’t have cared less, because good DW meant a bonus cheque, and good ESQI meant promotion.  Ten years on they remain branded on my conscious.

So I wasn’t too moved when, upon leaving London and moving to Australia, I got into recruitment with a firm who also had official company values.  They were at least a step forward though, in that the values would creep around my screensaver and so greet me every morning and at the end of every lunch break.  But I only really remember one, and those of you that know me probably won’t be too surprised:  Celebrate Success.

I was definitely good at that.  But really, is it necessary to spell it out?  Surely any recruiter unable to muster up the spirit to join their colleagues in a celebration of good results shouldn’t put themselves through the delicious torment of being a recruiter at all.

I finally got around to watching that excellent documentary about Enron recently.  A story of staggering corporate fraud, arrogance and greed perpetuated by a company who espoused its core values in its 2000 Annual Report to shareholders as Communication, Respect, Integrity, Excellence.  If only they had Tui billboards back then.

I possess personal values instilled in me over the years I’ve existed on this planet.  Firstly by my parents.  Then by my school.  Then by my community and then by my friends.  And finally by my family who teach me new ways to be a better person every day.  It’s those values that dictate how I behave when engaging with a client, when rejecting a candidate, when settling a dispute or when developing my team.  No company will ever be able to change the way I inherently behave by telling me that one particular phrase is more important to them than another.

So what are they really for?  Are they really any more than the construct of a recruitment firm’s senior HR bods trying to justify their existence beyond reminding their more roguish consultants how to behave at office Christmas parties?  Maybe, at a push, for pasting into PSA tender documents or Awards submissions to try and fool their way onto a recruitment panel or industry recognition.

A recruitment company’s values exist within the behaviour of the living and breathing actions of its’ consultants.  The culture, as ethereal and intangible as it may be, will always sit head and shoulders above the meaningless phrases encased in late 90’s photo frames on the boardroom walls.

Pay attention to what your candidates and clients say about your business.  Listen to what your staff say about working for you.  And if you don’t like what you hear, then your values are wrong, no matter what it says on your wall.  The absolute truth is that at least 90% of recruitment firms have one value that takes precedence over all others:  Bill As Much Money As Possible.

And that’s ok, you know.  But just be at peace with the fact.  Don’t try and hide it with embarrassed cliches and edicts, because everything else you’re saying is pretty much lies.  And your staff know it.

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.


  • Justin says:

    Company values are fine but when they are plastered onto a wall in front of guests, clients or candidates (that is not so cool) and I have seen this many times and the company look like try hards.

  • Adam Napper says:

    Well said Sir. Ultimately every individual has their own personal set of values that they live to and you don’t turn into a C3PO-type droid every morning when you step into your office. This has been a bugbear of mine throughout my career. I distinctly remember getting a dusting down by a director in the past for commenting that the company values were “a load of bollocks”. I think I failed to remember them on the spot and was trying to defend myself. Not too well as is turned out..

  • Key message here – actually for all companies:
    “A recruitment company’s values exist within the behaviour of the living and breathing actions of its’ consultants. The culture, as ethereal and intangible as it may be, will always sit head and shoulders above the meaningless phrases encased in late 90’s photo frames on the boardroom walls”

    Let’s look back at the evolution of recruitment companies – as far back as the 80’s and 90’s perhaps. A much ‘fatter’ industry back then, the phones just rang, the fees were higher, recruitment support (TC’s, EA’s, PA’s, Candidate Managers….) were in abundance, a recruiters database and personal network were gold (come in LinkedIn, Facebook, career sites). Today TC’s, EA’s, PA’s, candidate managers – for the most part, are gone. Fees have dropped, costs have risen, corporates are insourcing. The values that were so thoughtfully plastered across the walls are somewhat faded and forgotten. No time to read let alone ‘live’. The bubbles aren’t flowing so freely, and the candidate experiences I hear about are appalling. To close off on a positive – there are some great recruitment consultants out there who live and breathe their own set of selfless values and they are the ones that prosper.