There are nearly 40,000 recruitment agencies in the UK. They all offer a range of services and specialisms. They all have some subtle personality and aesthetic differences. But – they all aim to find an employer the very best candidates they possibly can for a given job vacancy.
So, there are a lot of recruitment agencies out there and their raison d’être is pretty much identical. How therefore do you select the best recruitment agency for you? Which one is a nightmare and leaves you scared to open an email attachment? Which one is a sure bet and will work in harmony with you?
How Most Clients and Agency’s Meet
I have worked in recruitment for over a decade and it is fairly unusual for a new client to ring me! It happens of course, but maybe not as frequently as it should. Most clients I have worked with have typically fallen into partnership with me because I cold-called them!
Yep, somehow, I managed to show some wit, charm and charisma. I dodged their gatekeepers. I asked and answered a few intelligent questions, maybe found a means of objection handling their final line of defence…and boom – suddenly I have a new client, they have a new recruitment agency and we just see how we rub along together.
It is hardly the most scientific approach. Not when some recruitment consultants could be targeted on making up to (or beyond) 50 sales calls a day. It literally means the better a recruitment agency is at selling and cold-calling the more likely you could be to work with them. That simply does not make sense.
I should probably add, it is not all bad. Selling is a commercial skill, and hopefully as a client you have been profiled and approached for a reason. But…in a case of due diligence, how often is a client investigating and researching their would-be recruitment agency? Surely it should be a bit of a two-way street? And if you do your research – what are you looking for?
What do you need to fill?
The best place to start is a moment of introspection. What role do you need your recruitment agency to source candidates for? Is it a highly specialist role such as a nuclear engineer or is it a sales or account management role. Do you need one role filling or do you need more of a high-volume approach. Is it temporary or permanent? Junior or a C-level executive?
As you figure out your brief you need to look at your potential recruitment agency and start asking the question can they do this? It sounds basic, and in a sense it is. The role you want filling will obviously have an impact on what is the right agency for you. Like all things though if you fail to build a proper brief, if you fail to prepare – guess how well the recruitment cycle is going to go!
Do you believe everything you read?
The problem in today’s world is that pretty much everyone has an opinion. Anyone can seemingly do everything. So many websites for recruitment agencies offer an array of descriptions! Temp, perm, contract, white-collar, blue collar, specialist, generalist, industrial, education, HR, sales, accountancy…. literally every descriptor and catch phrase can be listed all on one site! You are just meant to believe and not question it too much.
Broadly speaking though you can probably split things down as follows:
High Street Agencies – Usually focused on the local employment market. They will recruit across a wide range of industries and seniority levels and will offer both temp and perm recruitment solutions. These agencies maybe small independents or large multinational chains with offices seemingly in every town. Payment is normally made on a contingency basis.
Industry Specialist – Typically focused on specific industry sectors such as education or human resources. They will usually operate beyond the local market. Again, they will typically offer temporary or permanent recruitment solutions and be paid on a contingency basis.
Executive Search – sometimes referred to as head-hunters. They will recruit for niche roles among senior executives. They will have a national reach, sometimes conducting work overseas. Payment can be on either a contingency or a retained basis.
Once you understand the type of recruitment agency you want, you can begin to narrow things down.
What to look for
First impressions really do count. When you are looking at recruitment agencies you will probably begin by looking over their website. Does it look professional, is it using the type of language that appeals to you?
What about online reviews and reputation – anything negative? One negative review is not a deal breaker given the number of candidates a recruitment agency probably works with. A higher number though should give distant alarm bells.
Do they have evidence of recruiting in the areas you are interested in. Have a look on job boards and look at the advertisements they are placing.
Examine the online testimonials, the social media activities and whether they are members of a professional body such as the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC). There is actually no right or wrong answer on these points, it just depends what ticks your boxes!
What NOT to ask
On rare occasions when a potential client questions me on my offering, I often feel they have their questioning wrong. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – far from it. I guess the questions reflect a distance or a misunderstanding of how I work.
My favourite is; “How big is your database?” Oooohhhh matron! Size really doesn’t matter (apparently). If it was just about having a few million candidates in a database then I would never have won any business! The question should probably more along the lines of “How do you use your database?” Any recruitment business worth its salt will be working with a collective of engaged candidates. How big that collective is depends on a huge number of factors. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that within that database there is what you require. Poor or inexperienced recruiters can easily get caught-up in sending you candidates from the database with a substandard skillset, but they “like” them because of their personality. Good recruiters consider the personality but also profile the relevancy of the skillset and the behaviours required.
What you should be asking is things such like:
- Tell me about the team and their backgrounds?
- Have you recruited for similar roles before and how did you find it?
- Do they have any testimonials they could share?
- Do they conduct background checks on candidates?
Again, there is no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is you feel you are given a transparent picture, the conversation is a two-way process with the agency asking you questions and you are left with the sense that this feels right.
Costs and Rebates
One of the most important aspects is costings and rebates. Recruitment (despite what some say) is not an exact science. We are working with people and I admit that even with my very best efforts, the psychometric testing, the two-stage interview process, and the reference checking…an apparent dream candidate has turned into a complete nightmare! It simply goes with the territory. No one wants this to be the case, but as a client you would want some kind of protection from this.
Therefore, you should ask the recruitment agency about a guarantee (better known as a rebate) in the event a candidate doesn’t work out. This should give you peace of mind. A rebate usually comes in the form of a reduced or waived fee, or the replacement of a candidate, but, only for a limited period of time.
In terms of costings, there can be differences. In some cases, big differences. On a permanent placement, high street agencies can be charging anywhere between 10%-16% on annual salary. While for an industry specialist it can be upwards of 20%. The bigger the brand, the less flexibility there is to negotiate these things.
Other factors can come into play such as providing the agency with an exclusive arrangement or requiring more than just one position to be filled.
I believe at the end of the day that my invoice should not leave an accounts department with chest pains of anxiety. It really should be win/win for all parties. If you don’t feel comfortable over the numbers then shop around.
Bottomline is your decision over a recruitment agency should not just be a financial one, albeit money will play a part.
Finding a recruitment agency is easy, finding the right recruitment agency for you can be a little more challenging. You need to take time to assess what you need and then you need to do your research. If it doesn’t feel right, just don’t do it.
About The Author
Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency with offices in Aldershot and Brighton that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond). Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade. He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.