Agencies – Evolve or die, 8 crucial issues


In the 1960’s my dad worked as a trainer in the Scottish School of Salesmanship. For Thirty-Bob (£1.50 payable by jobseekers), he would train individuals and guarantee interviews for jobs as travelling salesmen (yes, they were all men).  The training was very basic, but such was the appeal of working in sales in the ‘60’s, that there was no shortage of customers.  Employers were canvassed thoroughly and presented with graduates of the “school”, for no charge.  It didn’t occur to him that employers might even pay for the privilege.

The recruitment world had changed enormously by the time I joined HMS in 1987, but has remained strangely static since.  Here are the 8 key issues recruitment agencies need to resolve and define, to survive in the Internet era.  If these continue to be ignored, the agency model will die.

  1. Who does the agency represent, the candidate or the employer? Neither side has a clear understanding of this, and this is at the heart of most issues.
  2. Is the agency exclusively representing a candidate in an application for an individual vacancy?  Multiple applications are often made on behalf of a single candidate, where only one can be recognised as legitimate.
  3. Is the agency selling information, or a service?  If it’s the former, then nothing else matters, if the information leads to an employment offer.
  4. Can an agency recruit for, and headhunt from, the same employer?  If not, then they can only offer a limited service to candidates, and other employers alike.
  5. Contingency fees. In the USA it’s common for lawyers to work on a “no win, no fee” basis, but at least there’s only ever one lawyer on the case. Multiple agencies competing on this basis is a crazy business model.
  6. Retention of candidates.  Can employers retain candidate’s CV’s for future recruitment, yet pay no fee?
  7. Temp to Perm.  Should employers be able to recruit an employee (i.e. the temp) of the temp agency without paying a fee?
  8. Guarantee periods.  How can an agency possibly guarantee a candidate that they didn’t select for the job?  Surely the agency responsibility ends, the day a candidate begins employment?

If each one of the issues are not addressed, industry-wide, then recruitment agencies will not be able to direct their own path.  In a fast flowing river, a vessel with power has no means of steering.  Decisions, that have been long procrastinated over, need to be made now.  (PS. I know legislation governing some of these issues is often disregarded)

Have I missed anything?

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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