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Making recruiters work for you!

Julian Smith photo 

Julian Smith

The recruitment industry doesn’t have an equivalent of the ‘Magic Circle’, so I’m not likely to be struck off or disbarred, but I am hoping to be cold-shouldered by my less ethical peers within the sector as I attempt to lift the lid on an industry not widely known for best practice. So be it; bring it on!

Let’s face it, mine is a sector which is not exactly highly thought of. The barriers to entry are pretty low, and if you have a pulse and a couple of brain cells, many agencies will give you a shot at working for them – and over the years I’ve met people who I wouldn’t trust to pick me out a sandwich, let alone find me new staff – yet they’re happily manning a desk, and in charge of high-profile accounts and the future destinies of thousands…

Recruitment has a reputation which sits up there with real estate in terms of honesty and transparency, but I’d like to help you get the most out of a recruiter, whether you’re a client or a candidate. To avoid confusion, whilst both parties are technically clients, for most recruiters, a client is the person who actually pays for the service, namely a person or organisation who employs a recruiter to find new staff for them, whereas candidates are the means to a fee!

This is probably the most important difference to understand. I can’t think of many industries where one service user pays and the other gets almost an identical service for free – and actually, recruitment certainly isn’t one of them! Candidates don’t pay recruiters anything to sign up with an agency, but their expectation is that they too will be treated as if they were clients. Unfortunately the only agencies who can work in such a way are the employment advisors who work with a caseload of candidates on government-backed, back-to-work schemes, where individual advisors are often targeted with the number of individuals whom they help into work. Generally speaking, recruitment doesn’t work in the same way…

The second point I want my readers to understand is that most recruiters are paid commission – but only if they hit certain revenue targets, and these targets can only be hit if they successfully place people in roles. As with most target-driven roles, there is always likely to be a certain pressure to perform, and so there may be stresses going on behind the scenes about which you’re not aware, yet which might affect the service you’re being given. If you’re aware that your recruiter might have an ulterior motive, you can watch out…

Ok, so nothing new so far, perhaps, but understand the mind-set of a recruiter, and you’ll understand how to play them, before they play you!


Advice for candidates:

As a candidate, you may not be paying a fee for a service, but you hold a lot of the power. Without you, a recruiter won’t get paid. He or she can have the best vacancies in the world, but without the perfect candidates, this means absolutely nothing. At the end of the day, my advice is to make the most out of the recruiter; make him or her work for you…

The ways in which a recruiter can best serve you are outlined below:

What else do they have? I always explain to my candidates that if I have 50 suitable roles, they can go forward for all 50. We want to secure a fee, yes, but we also want a happy candidate, since they’ll be our marketing going forward – and a happy candidate is one who feels that the recruiter always acts with their best interests at heart.

Research on an organisation: what is the agent’s relationship with an organisation? Have they worked together for a long time? If so, what is their track record of placing candidates with the organisation, and who can you talk to, to get a more informed ‘feel’ for the organisation. Can the agent get you hold of supplementary documents, such as strategic plans or annual accounts?

Interview preparation: who will be interviewing you, and what does the recruiter know about them? What is the format of the interview? Has the recruiter been to the offices before, and what is the best way to get there? Are there any tests, and if so, what are they likely to cover?

Interview practice: haven’t interviewed for a while? That’s not a problem – ask for interview practice, or a mock interview with your consultant. If they claim to be too busy, remind them that they should make time for you, since you will be making them a nice fee…

The go-between: if you get offered the role, talk to the consultant about any concerns you have – and let them negotiate on your behalf. A good recruiter will be able to do this – and an ethical recruiter will be very open and honest between both parties, brokering a deal which leaves both sides feeling that they have ‘won’.


Advice for clients:

As a client, you are paying for a service, so you too hold the power. Without your business, the recruiter and have as many fantastic candidates as possible, but they’re worth nothing unless he or she has jobs for them. Remember, since you’re paying for a service, you can reasonably ask the following of a recruiter:

Negotiation on fees: before you start, is the agency offering a fair rate? Any agency who charges in excess of 20% should be IMMEDIATELY written off. Don’t sign terms which allow the agency to claim a further fee in year 2 – and check what the maximum fee you should be paying for a role is. Never accept the status quo, when it comes to fees and contracts – and feel free to call or email me if you think that something my competitors are doing isn’t quite right…

Help with a job or person specification: if you’re having difficulty filling a role, maybe something needs tweaking, such as the salary, title, person specification, etc. A good recruiter will be able to advise you what you need to do to find the right candidate.

Interviewing candidates: has the recruiter interviewed all of the candidates? If not, why not (there may be perfectly reasonable expectations, such as time pressures, or logistical/geographical reasons – but otherwise, before you see the candidates, ask for the recruiter’s thoughts on each one. Why are they putting them forward for the role, for example?

Assistance on the day: if I’m working on a vacancy on a sole-agency basis, I should be an extension to your organisation, so I or somebody else in my team will be there to help you interview, to greet or to shuffle candidates between rooms of necessary. I can even arrange for you to recruit at my office, should you prefer. Will your recruiter do this? If not, why not?

Negotiating offers: You should be able to trust a recruiter to secure the candidate at the optimum salary level for both them and your organisation – and not just suppose that the recruiter will talk up the salary, to increase his or her fee. We often cap our fees at a certain salary level, where a candidate is looking for a higher salary, and you should ask your recruiter if they are willing to do the same.

Chasing references, etc.: Since you shouldn’t pay an agency until the candidate starts, you might want to use them to chase up references on your behalf, especially if your organisation doesn’t have a dedicated human resource administrative function. Ensure, however, that the agency declares any conflict of interest (apart from the obvious) up front, and also ensure that referees’ replies are sent directly to you…

If you think you’re being played by your recruiter, get in touch – and I promise I’ll tell you what you should or should not expect from them. I’ll be blunt and to the point, and won’t stick up for the profession, unless I genuinely feel that your recruiter is doing the best by you. Ethical recruiters, you have nothing to fear from us – in fact, you might even want to join us! Why not send me your CV, to julian@iamenterprises.co.uk or call 020 7148 6749 for an informal chat



With a recruitment career spanning 13 years, Julian Smith coaches professionals on their career paths, as well as helping people who by their own definition, find themselves ‘stuck in a rut’. He runs CV workshops and 1-2-1s, as well as working with Life Coach of the Year, Charlotta Hughes, on the popular ‘Find a Job you Love’ workshop. Details of all of the I Am Group’s events can be found here.


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