differentiating recruitment agencies

A friend of my wife recently asked me what I do for a living.  I told them I specialise in making people’s lives better. “Oh really?” he asked, intrigued by where this was leading, “Yes, I work in recruitment” I answered, immediately seeing the burning interest in the conversation shift in his eyes.

Now I love my job, I’m passionate about it and I’m extremely proud of the service I provide but as soon as I mention what I do I can sense the character badge being handed out, earnt by association with an industry which has no barrier to entry and whose reputation can all too easily be diluted by individuals who might not have made the grade had such barriers existed.

According to the latest figures there are over 23,900 recruitment agencies in the UK employing more than 103,000 people. Recruiters help over 600,000 people find a permanent job each year. On any given day during the past year, over one million people were working on a temporary or contract assignment they secured via a recruitment agency. That’s not to mention those who applied and were part of that recruitment process for a time.

It is a hugely fragmented and competitive market and there are clearly a lot of people experiencing recruitment services in some dilution. Each person will come away with a view of the industry, and expectation of it, set by that experience and it’s not always necessarily a positive one. So unless a recruiter can find a way of differentiating themselves and services from the majority, all they will ever be to clients, candidates, friends or family is just another of those 103,000 “consultants”.

As soon as a client instructs an agent to go to market, that agent immediately becomes a visible extension of the client in the market place. In my view that’s quite a privilege and a responsibility.

As soon as a candidate registers with an agency, they should be confident that the agency genuinely understands their personal as well as professional needs and will treat them with the respect deserved.

Whether someone is a client or a candidate (and let’s face it, they’ll be both over time), they equally have a responsibility to ensure that the agents they engage with truly have the skills to represent their interests confidently and appropriately and that they come from the camp of agents who are driven by quality of service and building proper business relationships.

Every recruitment agency has its own culture, values and set of business objectives and there are some absolutely superb ones out there but there are also too many putting the cart before the horse and driving their business by profits. The latest wave of career confused graduates get absorbed, briefly trained and liberated into the market as a “Specialist Consultant”. The targets are high, the whip is cracked, the service level becomes tertiary and the sector’s reputation takes another hit.

Of course, every agency needs to bring revenue in but recruitment is a service. Our product, if we have one, is a human being with thoughts, feelings, emotions, views – and a memory. It will tell its colleagues when it has a good experience and warn them when it was bad. Word spreads. As Warren Buffet would argue, it takes 20 years to build a good reputation but only 5 minutes to destroy it.

If every recruitment consultant were to focus on the relationship, strive to provide clients and candidates alike the most knowledgeable, honest and professional service out there, treat everyone as they’d hope to be treated themselves, do what they say they are going to do then perhaps the wider perception of the industry might change. These are values that run through Howett Thorpe’s blood and I think they are the most powerful differentiators there are.