As a recruiter of some 24 years now, I have become wearily familiar with my chosen profession being traduced and derided, along with other careers and jobs, such as estate agents, lawyers, and traffic wardens.  24 years ago this week, I got married.  I was only 21, and immediately afterwards (the next week) joined HMS Recruitment in Glasgow.  The residential training in Leicester was pretty rigorous, and they insisted upon a high level of professionalism in the job itself. 

HMS, at that time, had around 140 branches throughout the UK, so whilst many employers had never used a recruitment agency, the brand name was fairly well known.  This certainly helped a rookie recruiter make pitches to potential clients.   To be honest, I was effectively endorsed by the brand, and therefore appeared more trustworthy.  Now in recruitment (in most regards), the recruiter not only sells the service, but then also delivers that service.  This helps to ensure that no outrageous promises are made, as he or she would only end up looking stupid.  You may well say that it still happens, and I would agree. However imagine the outcome if a recruiter were not held to account in this way.  Back in the 80’s, I was surprised that HMS, like other agencies, had such a high turnover of staff.  Other agencies would tempt away our well-trained staff, and hope to benefit from clients being imported too.  Plus ca change.  This has always been the case.  So when I left HMS, my place was filled with someone else, who would try to retain the clients I had built a relationship with.  In this situation what does a client do?  Do they remain loyal to the agency, and deal with my replacement? Should they be pragmatic, and stick with me, no matter which other agency I move to?

This is the crux of agency owner’s legitimate fears over losing staff.  They know more than anyone how recruitment works, and how individuals want to progress their careers.  They can normally be philosophical about losing the recruiter, but extremely aggrieved about losing the clients.  That’s why there are non-compete clauses and restrictions placed in recruiter’s contracts, and why so many recruiters try to gather as much information as they can before they hand in their notice to leave.

The truth is an experienced recruiter is a self-contained business.  He or she sells the service, delivers the service, establishes relationships with clients and candidates, and builds their own reputation (or brand, if you like).  The only thing they don’t do (usually) is billing and credit control.  This means they themselves can easily be recruited by another agency (via the dreaded Rec to Rec).

What then, should Recruitment Agency owners do about this?  Well we know that many have rules which bar recruiters from publicising themselves, and thereby building their personal brand. This includes putting their names on jobs they advertise, attending industry events, and being named on the agency websites.  Many agencies would like clients to believe that they have a mysterious unidentifiable “team” of recruiters, who are all as talented and knowledgeable as each other, and that any one could deliver the same level of service. They fear their competitors learning of their star recruiters, yet keep dossiers on recruiters of all their rivals. 

Frankly, this antediluvian ethos belongs to the era before emails, internet, social media channels, and especially Linkedin.  The cat is out of the bag.  Everyone knows who your recruiters are, yet you insist on keeping them anonymous behind those stupid generic job ads, for anonymous clients, in unspecified locations, for “Attractive Salaries”!  As an agency owner, I kept a database of everyone else’s recruiters, and which clients they worked with.  Candidates, clients and even their generic job ads give us all this information.  I assume other agencies do the same.  So if everyone knows who they are, how can I retain my best recruiters?  Simple; put them in the shop window.  Show your clients, candidates and competitors how proud you are of your staff, and how they excel in their fields.  Demonstrate how valued they are, (and make sure they are properly compensated) and your loyalty will be repaid.  The days of hiding your recruiters are long over.  You will still lose staff occasionally, like any other business, but it won’t be because you suffocated them.  Recruitment agencies do not recruit staff, recruiters do.

PS. I have a dream, that one day every job advert by a recruitment agency will state who the employer is, and that agencies will shout about the vast expertise of their staff by name.

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

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