UK Recruitment Agents, the New Frontier
An enlightening conversation at a social gathering gives insight into yet another short sighted position from recruiters.
A recent conversation at a social gathering run by a recruitment agency shed light onto a number of factor which helps explain some strange facets of candidate selection. As someone who sits on both sides of the divide, it’s been quite startling to see the progressively poorer quality candidates come through to me and also I’m quite surprised that, as someone who never had a problem due to the lack of agents calling up, I’ve suddenly got a problem with agents calling up.
Agents as Filters
The conversation was revealing on a number of fronts.
- That agent would not put forward a candidate if they already knew the company or the hiring manager knew them. What wasn’t clear was why that is!? The agent failed to explain this one adequately. Was it because there was a negative experience? What about natural ends of contracts? If it is outside the “post appointment” phase of the contract, they still wouldn’t do it if the hiring manager was there. But why?
For those unfamiliar with this, most IT contractor contracts have a clause stating the candidate will not go through a different agency with this same client for X months or years (often 2 years). This is a way to enforce exclusivity and protect commercial advantage by enforcing it through the candidate contract, not the client one. However, 3 or 4 years afterwards? What then?
- This agents uses social media to examine what the contractor or permanent employee says or does. I asked this question with a gradual increase in the amount of information I gave them. The idea was, I wanted to see what they answered and when they cracked ;) The agent admitted they look online, through Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook etc. to determine if the person’s commentary is “negative”. Now, I’ve covered this before, but this one is a huge, subjective mess! More on this later.
- This particular agency doesn’t do the whole “rack ’em, stack ’em and pack ‘em” which is a nice change, but this led to a really high risk position for them. The business works very hard to engage quality employees with clients. This means they [allegedly] go above and beyond. They don’t just do the keyword search, which is good. The problem you have is that this model doesn’t scale too well. Other crapper agencies [negative, I know] will get through dozens to hundreds in a day. This agency doesn’t perhaps 5, between two agents.
Now, make no mistake, this is a good thing on the whole, and it doesn’t affect me any. The problem is that as a business model, this runs the risk of both backlogging work and losing integrity as the company hits constraints in throughput. Either way, nice change, but in reality, they have to decide whether the rate of failure is fully offset by the amount of effort expended up front.
The subjective mess: I’m An A**hole!
As you can tell, I a huge, bug, f**k off a**hole! Except, when people truly understand why I’m being an asshole and the light-bulb goes on. It’s never as clear cut as people think.
The problem with agencies that try to cover this off, through the use of social media, is they get presented with one particular view of a person. This is no great secret. Employers themselves have been checking out candidate social media accounts for years and still fail to get good candidates. This is in no small part, due to the propensity to reject as many great employees as it does bad employees and not pick up bad employees/assholes. It’s the same type 1 and type 2 statistical errors that exist in every sample space. The reason? People who are passionate about causes, charities and the well-being of others, argue and advocate vehemently for those causes and this often looks like they are being assholes. I know I do!
There are a few companies out there that support passionate advocacy. Many of them are very new, social good organisations. However, ThoughtWorks is a big one. Walking around ThoughtWork’s offices, and attending as many events as I do, they are not just encouraged to follow a passion or cause important to them (they prefer people like that, just as a baseline) ThoghtWorks itself has a first class, social responsibility pillar! It’s ingrained in their psyche. These are the people TW wants. What else is unique about them? That passion directly translates to the work the people do. They are experts and deep divers in many tech arena precisely because of that same passion. They prove both on a technical and a social front, that engineers are not all created equal.
I have to admit, I’ve never seen a commercial IT company as big as TW advocate for that as much as ThoughtWorks do (indeed, even we don’t, though aspire to). Their events cross many divides and here’s the crux. Despite the commercial success and technical prowess they have, they don’t use recruitment agents. This is because, like me, TW find they are evaluating the same number, yet worse quality CVs and candidates through the recruitment process.
Agencies, as a profession, are almost a total waste of money precisely because as an industry, they don’t add value, anywhere, on anything, but cost money that could be spent elsewhere, and result in a poor quality experience for everyone. Clients who lose good employees are left with a huge loss but in the case of contracts, the agency is the one the agreement is with. Even if the client is a great place to work, the candidate can get hurt by the agency and then have to leave, which hurts the client too.
The question I’ve always had is why? Why am I evaluating just as many CVs as going direct to market and worse, why is the quality of candidates poorer?
The answer lays in that subjective assessment of candidates. Take a look at this. You’ve probably seen something like before (Myers-Briggs personality types). Anything diametrically opposite is fractious. Recruitment agencies are Social thinkers, Software Devs are analytical. This leaves
This is something I’ve covered in the technical arena before. After all, no recruitment agent is technical and hence, they are in no way able to evaluate a candidate effectively on the technical scores. The technical examination happens at interview stage. Hence, agents leave themselves in the position of having to compare keywords (assuming the weighting is the same between someone who just started and someone who wrote the very platforms in which they work) and then judge on social or other information.
The problem companies have in finding quality candidates (including us) is the agency excludes exceptionally good, gifted, passionate candidates, on non-technical grounds, before the company ever received that CV. Hence, we don’t see them! After all, if we as clients don’t know candidates are there, and are not sent their CV, how can we evaluate them?
This is a colossal waste for us and an injustice to the candidate (sorry, that assholeness/passion again) and the giveaway is whether the candidates application history seems to have dozens or even hundreds of applications without so much as a phone call from the agency and then boom, a 100% success rate at interview. That is totally incongruent, but sadly pretty common.
This shows us that the majority of agencies have certainly missed that opportunity and it has taken just one chance for that person and that person got it.
The issue with passion, that many classical companies face, is the individual is both smart and evidence driven. Competent companies embrace this, the incompetent, fear it.
Agencies, sadly, don’t understand that difference. The reality is, managing passionate, intelligent, capable people is an art! It is one of the highest levels of skill managers can develop and attain, mainly because they won’t come across genius developers that often in their career (perhaps once in every 150 — 200 hires) but also because a team of them is like herding cats. If you can manage a team of gifted developers so they feel valued, you can manage anything! This is a problem with the management, not the individual. Yet, agencies are looking for fit and managers that can manage gifted staff are significantly rarer than gifted staff.
Anecdotal Case Study
I don’t like anecdotal case studies. However, I know what I was thinking at the time, so can provide the narrative for such cases.
There was one particular case where a lady was inappropriately harassed on LinkedIn. A lot of commentators threw their hands up and claimed that this lady, the victim, was taking advantage of LinkedIn just to get sympathy and connections.
I didn’t see it that way. Plus, even if she was, this person that perpetrated it did exactly this! Regardless of what she then did with the situation. The evidence was right in front of everyone for all to see. Yet, in essence, the people commenting were blaming her for being a victim of this!? Is it just me who sees this or what? it certainly felt like that at the time.
The problem is that my approach to trolls is to often fight fire with fire. This is not because of the trolling incident itself, it’s because standing around when someone is getting kicked, may protect your shit from bloodstains, but does nothing for the victim, who can die in the incident!
I sadly use a shed load of evidence. For anyone who has followed me for any length of time, they’ll have seen my articles cutting down fake news and it just keeps coming.
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The issue with all this lot is it has become the mainstay of most of my social media. Anyone searching for me on Google, Medium or even LinkedIn will see evidence and what looks like quite a “negative” perspective.
Here is the crux, if you stand up for someone, especially if you end up shouting back, you are seen as being “negative” or perhaps lacking empathy. I don’t buy that for a number of reasons:
- You are empathising, but not with the perpetrator. You are empathising with the victim. Look back at the image from LinkedIn previously and think about this with that in mind. The perpetrator carried out an act, hundreds of comments in support of the perpetrator, mostly from male sales folk and a few lone voices for the victim’s position. In a criminal case of murder, where the murder was caught face first on CCTV, that is like blaming the victim for being murdered. Was I right to step in, in defence?
- Firing below average employees — A logical, less fractious negative comment. This one seems to have got a lot of worldwide traction with 4.4K upvotes to date.
- Complaining — This one is a good thing in progressive companies thhat classical companies face. Employees and some IT contractors alike are internal workers. They can provide feedback on the bad parts of an idea or a process before companies have to then clear up a huge PR mess later on (United, anyone?). I covered this a while ago before leaving LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/often-complaining-good-thing-ethar-alali)
The difficulty this agency has, and it affects any agency or company that employs these sorts of practise, is that they immediately exclude the very people they need to push their services across both new and innovative spaces, as well as improving the current offering.
Even after a previous post, the feedback was taken on board by the organisation it pertained to (I was even approached to help with more detailed feedback).
The problem clients and candidates alike have, is recruitment agents are naturally short-sighted people. In my experience alone of some 90 agencies, when they claim to analyse, they don’t really know what that means. Their ability to discern fact from fiction, and back up how they analyse potential candidates is non-existent.
As someone who’s got very heavy, scientific bent, I find the whole way of getting a feeling for someone through social media both false, degrading, unjust and disparaging to the candidates. That’s certainly not how we recruit! Not least because testing for the personality through the use of social media, doesn’t tell you if a person is even genuinely negative. After all, they could be doing all of the trolling through a different social media account and keeping their desired public persona clean.
The only difference with folk like me, is we are honest about it, and last I checked, such integrity is also what we and other companies want in our/their staff. Otherwise you get nothing but a political machine, often with a subversive, dysfunctional nature which in itself, is damaging to the company and the team. No thanks! That’s not how we’d like you to represent us to the candidates.