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Commoditising Candidates in Competitive Times

By July 28, 20163 Comments

Hello again.  I’d rather have started with “Talofa” but my recent holiday to beautiful Samoa seems to sadly be a distant memory already! Whilst I can wholeheartedly recommend switching off from “the grid” and shutting down all mobile devices and sources of news to achieve a truly relaxing break, you do need to be prepared for the jarring deluge that accompanies the simple act of turning your phone back on.

The ensuing torrent of terror attacks, police violence, attempted coups and whimsical apps appearing from nowhere to dominate the digital world was at least offset by familiarities in our local recruitment scene:

Good talent is still incredibly hard to find, and the ability of top recruiters to find, engage, consult and influence this talent remains as critically important as ever.

This blog was initially going to be about a recent resurgence in what I call the swindler’s list.  You know when you interview that candidate and you start getting excited because they could be perfect for your best client that you have an intimate and truly consultative partnering relationship with?  You reach the end of the interview and, just before you embark on your impassioned pitch for what is so wonderful and perfect about your client, you double-check, just in case, where the candidate has maybe been covered off by another recruiter already?

This is when the swindler’s list is produced.  The sheepish candidate, aware enough to realise they are dealing with a recruiter who actually knows their stuff and actually has a relationship with that client, produces a (often signed!) list of businesses that another recruitment firm has promised to represent them to.  A list sometimes exceeding 20 business names in length.  And of course your client is on that list.  And of course you know your client hates dealing with that other recruitment firm but there it is, your hands are tied.

This is not recruitment consulting, people.  This is commoditising a candidate and ring-fencing them as a source of personal income, rather than offering them the insight and advice they think they are there to get from you.

But I digress.  You see, I brought this resurgent practice up during conversation with a senior engineering recruiter recently, who admitted to having seen this practice more and more of late too, but then actually flipped it on its head.  We’re now operating in a time of such talent shortages that if you work on such a desk, and find a good quality [chartered accountant] | [.net developer] | [structural engineer] | [quantity surveyor] | [IT recruiter] – delete as appropriate – that it’s almost reached a stage where the more of your clients you commit to send them to for interview, the bigger amount of grief you’re going to get when you have to tell all but one of your clients that your purple unicorn of a candidate is turning down their entreaties and going elsewhere.

It’s a rock and a hard place for recruiters right now.  As a sales and performance based industry agency recruiters are on the one hand having to guard against another recruiter enforcing a swindlers list and bombarding your candidate with confusing options, and on the other hand fighting the temptation to do the same thing themselves, knowing it is not in the candidate’s best interest and will only lead to some awkward conversations with clients anyway.

There are of course several solutions to this. Convincing a candidate to work with you exclusively. Informing your client from the very outset what other clients you have introduced your candidate to.  Even, dare I say it, proposing your client consider upping their fees (I can hear the cackles of laughter out there but seriously, it worked for Leighton’s back in 2005 when I was recruiting construction project managers in Sydney).

Easy to write down, harder to put in practice.  But hey, it’s hardly a bad problem to have and speaks to the strength of the local economy right now.

However, the number one thing to always keep front of mind, in my opinion, is what is in the best interests of your candidate.  You’re in this job because you’re ambitious, competitive and motivated by results.  But don’t lose sight of who and what your candidate is, and what they are experiencing when they see the dollar signs lighting up in your eyes at a time of great indecision and stress for them.  Put your swindlers list away but if they’re suited to more than one of your clients then have the courage to give them options too.

What we do is a fine balancing act, now more so than ever.

Jonathan Rice

Director of New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice & Co, co-founder of freelance recruiter platform JOYN, and people-centric technology firm superHUMAN Software. Recruitment innovator, agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.