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Recruitment Unbundled #3 - "Avoiding the cowboy recruiter and the shotgun approach"

In the third edition of the series Recruitment Unbundled the subject is one which seems to cause the most irritation and frustration and frequently lights up social media - 'the cowboy recruiter'.

Another week goes by and more negativity is written about recruitment. What amazes me is that people have so much time to write articles on Linkedin and Forbes about what terrible people they deal with in the recruitment and human capital world. Interesting too that for an industry worth £35bn in the UK and globally something like £385bn there are few stories of happy customers. There are over 25,000 agencies in the UK according to Sonovate and over 10,000 of them turnover more than £250,000 per year. Therefore the assumption being that nearly 40% are one or two people businesses - I say assumption as most recruiters would expect to bill well north of £100,000pa.

So taking this all into account I can only assume that for all of those tens of millions of people a year who are helped by a recruiter to find their next job that only the unhappy ones are prepared to say anything. My own experience is that most of us just keep our heads down and work hard to help our candidates and clients and don't get involved in the press.

So why am I writing this? I am here to help as many people as I can with their careers and that does not always mean I get paid to do so, I believe in giving everyone some of my time if I can, even if that is a 15 minute conversation pointing them in another direction. I have seen enough comments and requests asking how to find a good recruiter and my last post explained how to do so. This post I hope helps you to avoid a few of the common pitfalls in using recruiters are at least avoid those more unscrupulous ones who are only driven by money and not offering career advice.

The cowboy recruiter is someone that you definitely don't want on your side. Quite simply they are not acting in your best interests, they may well find you a job but they also can cause a lot of damage in the process. Their primary motivator is making money and meeting their KPIs and as such they have little or no interest in your career, in you the person, the candidate, the human being.

The thing is that these cowboys and mavericks operate in many of the so called leading recruitment consultancies, and their leaders reward them for behaving like that - why? Again cold hard money, the more cash they generate the more commissions they make and the more profit the company makes. Let's be really honest this is not recruitment this is just shoving bodies at jobs. In fact it has become so bad that recently a connection of mine discovered that I was in recruitment and gave me a long hard look and said that they did not expect that of me. Tarred by the same brush. It does not bother me as I know what I do and the standards that I keep but I was surprised by the look of horror that a normal decent person could be in the recruitment industry. Recruitment never has been and never will be seen to be glamorous but it can be enormously satisfying and rewarding. Most of us just tend not to talk about it. I have always been a headhunter and that generally conjures up a more favourable response but to some it is all just recruitment - perhaps I should just remind them that I was a barrister (not barista), though that comes with its own degree of false cudos and that is another story.

I have heard former recruiters and headhunters from very well respected consultancies who are now working in-house talk about money and the bottom line being the only driver for the whole industry. Personally I think that is more of a reflection on their perception of the industry and perhaps that it just did not suit them, that KPIs or commissions, cold calling and headhunting was just not their thing.

However, make no mistake recruitment owners are in business to make money and profit, they are operating a commercial business so why should they not reward their employees and shareholders with maximum profitability. The good ones will do so ethically and professionally.

I was talking to a a friend who has been in this industry for a long time and we were discussing a very well known agency, one that is well respected but still employs the shotgun approach to recruitment.

What is the shotgun approach and why should you be wary of it?

If you have had a conversation or experience that has gone something like this then you will most probably have been the subject of a cowboy recruiter and/or one who uses the shotgun approach.

Here is the likely scenario......

You spot a job ad on a website etc posted by a 3rd party recruitment agency and you click apply or send in your cv. The name of the company is not disclosed.

The agency:

  • They don't call you back about the job that you applied to but eventually someone tells you that you have been rejected. The thing is that you never knew who the company was anyway and you certainly never authorised your cv to be sent.

  • A few weeks or months later and having heard nothing you apply directly to a job or through another headhunter (a professional one) and find that your cv has already been submitted and you were rejected as there was no job or your cv was poorly written. This is news to you and you discover it was submitted by that agency.

  • The agency does contact you and convinces you to apply to as many roles as possible to give yourself the best chance, and to do so whenever a role comes up - the shotgun approach.

  • The agency takes your cv submission as your permission to do as they please with your cv and send it to as many 'clients' as possible.

(alarm bell #1: if the recruiter does not contact you after you have applied for a job then they may well have sent your cv to the client without asking you beforehand - so always check with them).

The slippery recruiter will try and convince you that by clicking apply to their ad (where the client is not named) this gives them express permission to do with your cv as they want. This is both unethical and unprofessional and does not really help you.

Why is this important? Well just ask yourself whether you should apply the same standards to your own job search as you would apply to the job that you currently have.

You will no doubt want to know which company is going to receive your cv and also you will want to find out a little bit more about the position before your decide that it is for you. There could be any number of reasons why you don't want to apply to that company, you may have done so already, you are not sure about their work and values, you want more information on salary and benefits, you don't want to undertake that type of work or simply that you want to find out more about them before committing to sending your cv. There are a few questions to ask to find out if they are a good recruiter or not (see my last post #2 on this subject).

It is also a common professional standard that every applicant must have expressly authorised the release of their cv and most employers will expect this of their suppliers, indeed it will often be a clause in the employers terms of engagement with the recruiter.

I want to add that the vast majority of recruitment consultants do an excellent job and will certainly help you to manage your career. Many will offer you help without any expectation and will give you wise career advice even if they cannot help you. Why? Because most of us enjoy helping other people and amazingly much of our time is spent working with people who are undecided about their career path. We nurture relationships and build trust over time. You may well end up being a client, may refer a colleague or become a candidate a few years down the track.

In my next post I discuss the pros and cons of 'registering' your cv and how the shotgun approach damages both your reputation and your chances of success.

Ed Andrew is the founder of the Human Consultancy, a specialist legal headhunter in London. Ed has over twenty years helping lawyers manage their careers around the world and his mission today is to put some humanity back into careers.


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