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Are We Discriminating? Or Just Failing to Communicate?

By July 27, 2017No Comments

From time to time the words I type into this WordPress page and send out through various digital channels manifest themselves into real life reactions. A recruiter moving back from overseas gets in touch. An invite to attend or speak at a conference arrives. A bellicose threat of legal action, perhaps.

Last Friday afternoon I was busy beavering away at my desk (yes, really) when reception called up to let me know that someone had come in without an appointment and was asking to see me.

He had read my recent blogs about discrimination in recruitment and wanted to see me.

The young man I encountered in reception was well-spoken, impeccably presented and came across as earnest but with an interesting edge of ambition. He had been in NZ most of his life, was a Citizen of this country and had gained a Business and Marketing degree from a New Zealand University. His name is Asian sounding.

Having spent the week attending three interviews with three big-brand recruitment agencies he was feeling dejected. On each occasion he had encountered junior recruiters who had all “failed to get him any interviews” and who had given him no feedback nor any form of communication since he met them.

He felt it was due to racial discrimination…

In fact, the real issue was that he applying to jobs that he didn’t have requisite experience in, he was failing to adequately explain his reasons for seeking a new role, and what he was looking for wouldn’t actually play to his strengths anyway. I was able to work this out after a 5 minute conversation and a quick review of his cover letter and CV.

Unfortunately the junior recruiters he met didn’t feel able or willing to offer him this kind of constructive feedback themselves and so the recruitment industry ends up getting a bad rap from another job seeker who, searching for some meaning, decided that it must be due to discrimination.

Now we all know that our industry is characterised, like many sales jobs, by high staff turnover and rates of attrition. The main upshot of this is that we are constantly feeding eager new rookies into the recruitment game, often with minimal training and support. It is there, right at that point, that we are letting ourselves down as an industry and self-perpetuating our bad reputation.


Very few recruiters are racist. Most just want to fill a role and make a fee. However we don’t do ourselves any favours when we fail to arm the new entrants to our industry with the requisite consulting skills to give candidates candid, honest and constructive feedback.

Since this topic has gained such publicity the RCSA recently held a webinar to discuss the issue of racism in recruitment, featuring Charles Cameron and John Harland from RCSA, Troy Hammond from Talent Army, and Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.  It’s well worth a listen and you can access it here.

Don’t be put off by the apparent recording length of 3 1/2 hours, it goes for one hour and explores the issues of unconscious bias, learning how to advise clients around the benefits of diversity, having the confidence to walk away from openly discriminatory clients, and a discussion around how Government engaging recruitment firms through the AOG contract might find a way to allow a more consultative approach rather than just a system of mechanically procuring CV’s via email. Interesting developments ahead.

For our part, the young chap who had the courage to pop in and see me last Friday is now on interview today through one of our own virtualRPO recruiters. Fingers crossed for him. It’s surprising what can be achieved when we’re open to having honest and robust discussions when providing recruitment advise and feedback to jobseekers.

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.