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Candidate Ownership: The Recruiters Headache

By September 10, 20155 Comments

Your usual blogger is now off on his holidays, leaving The Whiteboard quill in my paws for the next 5 weeks.

Catching up with a candidate the other day, I was reminded again just why we as an industry have a reputation second only to Heinrich Himmler’s ill-fated day care centres. The candidate, let’s call her “Rosie”, had been represented by an agency for an Internal Recruitment role. All fine so far. The agency legitimately representing Rosie were then told by the client that they had already received her CV from another agency. Obviously, and sadly typically, Rosie had not given any other agency permission to represent her. Being recruiters, you can guess the rest; Candidate ownership issues, a pissed of agency, a pissed off candidate, and a hiring manager no doubt feeling smugly justified in her comment at the last HRINZ “Out West” morning tea that agency recruiters “only do it because they can’t get a job in HR. Am I right Margot? Oooh Lamingtons! My fave”.

Sadly again, at least one Whiteboard reader will be having this issue today, and in my experience, most candidates just want to secure an interview with the least amount of fuss possible. Often the moral right of representation is ignored in favour of a “I sent it first” bun-fight mentality.

Thankfully in this instance, “Rosie” is a recruiter. She also previously worked for the agency who had permission to represent her. At the time of our beer however, she hadn’t had a chance to find out which chancer had (mis)represented her.

She promised she would. And she did.

“Don’t meet your idols” is what they say. A point aptly demonstrated by the antics of Messrs Saville, Cosby, Harris & Co (which is a fine name for a tailors I believe). When “Rosie” told me this story, I assumed her CV had been floated by one of the usual suspects. You know the agencies I’m talking about; the likes of {removed following legal advice}. Alas no. The agency representing Rosie without permission was one that I had always respected. Truly one of the good guys. I’d compare them to a wholesome celebrity, but you can’t even do that anymore without inadvertently praising a sex offender.

When Rosie called to discuss why the agency had been representing her without permission, the response, and one that I believe was well practiced through semi-regular use, was “we sent it through as a benchmark to see if we were getting the fit right”.

Ah, so it was a benchmarking exercise! Of course! I knew an IT recruiter once who sent 200 “benchmarks” a week. It’s amazing her bench was still f*cking standing. And I’m sure if the client had liked the “Benchmark” the agency would have refused to arrange the interview, or more importantly, send the invoice? Right?

Many years ago, agency and internal recruiters alike were promised a solution. The Applicant Tracking System. Every CV was to be submitted via a “portal”. A portal, I believe, is like a normal webpage, but more….portally. These systems would remove any doubt regarding candidate ownership. They’d also be highly searchable, reduce admin, and do away with the agency recruitment industry within 3 months. Several years later, I’ve uploaded a total of 4 CVs over 4 years to an ATS, businesses are still paying fees for candidates already on Taleo, admin is grinding recruitment teams to a halt, and there are more recruitment agencies than ever.

The reality is, the system doesn’t work. My clients are predominantly Internal Recruitment Managers. 90% of whom use an ATS, and I next-to-never upload CVs to one. The issue of candidate ownership is based on trust, which has to be earned before it’s given. In the instance of Rosie, are we so lazy that we couldn’t have had a two minute conversation with her before flicking her CV into the ether? Are we so desperate for a fee that we’ll damage our reputation with both a client and great candidate? The recruiter looking to cut corners may even be reading this. I’d love to know their thoughts. I recognise that I’ve only heard one side to the story, and would gladly be corrected. Comments to The Whiteboard can be anonymised, so feel free to update us. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking.

Anyway, happy Friday everyone. You’ve got 6 hours to hit this week’s KPIs, so get sending those CVs.


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.


  • Craig Watson says:

    A cracker & bang on the money! Well played Mr Walters!

  • Jane says:

    Oh dear oh dear! This is a horrible situation and one I have encountered many a time. If I am to be honest it was ONE of the contributing reasons why I left Agency recruitment after a solid 15 year career in the industry.
    For some, ethics have gone by the board along with good manners and a sense of fair play. But I think we have to stop and ask ourselves why? Perhaps it is the lack of great consultants joining the industry? Perhaps it is shrinking margins that are breeding such bad behaviour? Or maybe it is the fact that agency recruiters are made to feel like the underdog and don’t stand up to such cavallier behaviour from their competitors.

  • Frank says:

    For every good, honest & ethical recruiter – I’ll guarantee there are two to three bad ones and therefore these tactics don’t surprise me as this has been going on for as long as I can remember in the industry. Whilst agency recruiters are still governed by the amount of revenue they bring in, you will never overcome this issue as the industry is still based on a ‘first in – best dressed’ mentality and he/she who gets there first, gets the placement & the fee.

    I’m certainly not saying all think this way, but candidates are merely a product to be sold to the first willing buyer.

  • Patrick Cairns says:

    Great article mate, so topical and something I have (frustratingly) battled at least 5 times over the last few months. There seems to be a lot of people out there focused on the short-term wins.

  • Brad Stewart says:

    Sean… You have a career in story writing if recruitment goes to the dogs mate. A finely executed piece. Thanks for the break in my arvo.