IT’S NOT A COMPETITION – (yes it is)


I hold these truths to be self-evident.  Confidentiality between a recruiter and client, and between recruiter and candidate is sacrosanct. A good recruiter must represent the client employer with the utmost professionalism, and must act on behalf of each candidate with absolute probity.   Any and all information, given in confidence, must only be relayed to other parties with express permission.

Competition between recruitment agencies is an entirely different matter altogether. I’m not quite saying the gloves are off, but a recruiter has no responsibility to rival recruiters and agencies, when it comes to getting their own job done.

It should go without saying that the recruitment sector is an extremely competitive business. I say should, because all too many believe they need pay no attention to the activities of their rivals, and concentrate solely on aspects of their job which don’t involve the outside world.

Let’s be blunt here. We win business from clients, and our competitors would like to win that business from us. Conversely, we would like to secure clients from our rivals. This is especially true in contingency recruitment, where rival agencies are working on the same assignment. We want to find and submit the successful candidate before our rivals do, otherwise all time spent on that assignment has been wasted, and we don’t get paid.  Every contingency recruiter should know by name their closest rivals, who cover the same sector, and covet their client-base.

So I happened to mention on the @Animal Show last week, that as a recruiter I was always very competitive. I told @Animal that having established a niche sector of my own (in injection moulded plastics manufacturing – yes I know), I would actively discourage any other recruiters from getting into my field. I worked with every manufacturer in Scotland, tried to represent every candidate, and made appearances at most industry events. If another recruiter advertised a job in my field, I would do everything I could to find out whom the client was, and fill the job. I wanted them to think “There’s no point working this sector, as O’Donnell has it sewn up”.  I don’t mind saying that in some cases I would respond to an anonymous advert, just to find out the name of the client.  At no point would I see this as unprofessional or even devious behaviour.

As an agency owner, I would expect the same from my recruiters, and that they had a detailed picture of who their rivals were, and which clients they recruited for. We would target these clients accordingly, and sometimes even try to hire rival recruiters, who had a growing reputation.

Many recruiters state that they never consider their competitors, and never keep tabs on them. These are usually the same recruiters who are surprised when they lose accounts to rival firms.  Contingency recruitment is a zero-sum game. If you don’t fill the job, someone else will. They call it business for a reason.

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

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