I left university in 1998. Like many students, I had no money and even less idea what I was going to do next. I had a law degree, but neither the means or the necessary inclination to take this career forward. So a few weeks after graduating, I found myself wondering into a local temporary staffing agency, looking for work. Any work. I quickly found myself answering the phones on their reception desk, and three weeks later they offered me a job as a trainee recruitment consultant.
With the promise of commission payments ringing in my ears, I accepted. It took me a further few weeks to realise that my job involved little actual recruitment, and even less consulting. What it did involve was sales calls. Lots and lots of sales calls. 100 a day was my target. I was despatched to the in-house training school to learn how to telephone sell to best effect. There was no training at all on recruiting, interviewing, or any of that stuff. Just sales.
I learned how to get past the receptionist, by lying if I had too. I learnt how to identify the decision maker. How to ask for a visit. How to overcome every objection. I learned how to take people up the ladder of ‘yes’. How to ask for the business. I remember it all, very well indeed. Partly the reason that I remember it so well was the sheer repetition of it. It went a little like this:
Me: Do you use recruitment agencies to help with your recruitment needs?
Fed up person on the other end of the phone: Yes.
Me: I am glad to hear that you see the benefits of using recruitment agencies. Let me tell you…..
The main problem was this. I was really bad at it. My calls often went a bit more like this:
I am sorry to bother you but I wondered do you want any temporary workers at the moment do you have any needs that we can help you with no ok thanks then bye.
My subsequent resignation after a few months was a great relief to both parties.
But there is another reason that I remember this stuff so well. Because I get these same sales calls, every single day. It’s like someone recorded one of my own calls in the late nineties and it is echoing through the decades.
Some of the calls I receive are utterly random. How do I recruit for logistics employees in the Midlands, when I work in healthcare in Yorkshire. What would I do if I realised tomorrow that I needed a PA in London? Panic I suppose, as it would mean my company had relocated and I hadn’t noticed. As the sales calls continue, so do the speculative CVs. From agencies I don’t work with, from recruiters I don’t know, for jobs that I am not currently recruiting for, for roles that we don’t have in the company. I regularly get an email from one agency, attaching up to five CVs for candidates that have no resemblance at all to my industry. It is relentless.
I can only assume this stuff works, somehow. Give enough typewriters, etc. But in all the time that I have been working in HR, I’ve never replied to a spec email CV. I have never passed a vacancy over in response to a cold call. When I get asked if an agency I don’t know can visit me, which happens at least once a day, my answer is always no. Someone will undoubtedly come along and tell me that it’s not all about that. It’s about starting a relationship, building dialogue for the future when there is the right role. And maybe that is true, although that was not how I was targeted when I was training.
In this very changing world, this is an industry that I am not seeing changing much at all, especially when it comes to the business development approach.
If all this stuff about the hollowing out of the labour market holds true, and everything suggests that it will, this has profound implications for the recruitment agency industry. Add on top of that the low barriers to entry to doing it all yourself through social recruiting and a big change, and fundamental challenge, is coming. If we end up with a labour market that looks like an hourglass with high paid knowledge workers at the top, and people in low paid work that cannot be outsourced or automated at the bottom, this will impact many recruitment agencies. The exec search firms will still do well at the top. The agencies that supply the warehouse packer or the cleaner or the person to work on your reception to cover a two week holiday will probably also still survive and thrive. The one thing we know of in our labour market is that there is plenty of low paid, atypical, flexible but insecure work.
But where does this leave the rest? The stuff in the middle? I would argue, increasingly threatened.
One of my favourite speakers is Gary Vaynerchuk. He does a fantastic rant, available on YouTube, in which he tells companies that they need to start marketing their business in the year in which they live. Not marketing their business like its 1998.
Here’s the thing. I find the suppliers I need in the social space. The employment solicitors I use I follow on twitter and through that I know what they are like. The last time I needed their advice, I sent a DM. When I needed a training provider and I didn’t have someone in my network already, I sent a tweet and got a recommendation from a social media contact who did. When I needed to work with some leadership development folk, I engaged with people that I know through their tweets and their blogs and their shares, because through those I know them. I am not alone in this. But even if you are not sourcing your suppliers in the social world, are you finding them via a cold call? Somehow, I doubt it.
The contingency model of recruitment does not work effectively. The labour market is changing. Work is changing. Marketing is changing. Recruitment is changing.
I am not here to bash recruiters. It is a very hard job. I know because I tried it and I couldn’t do it. But I am saying that you need to find a new way, a 2014 way, to engage with potential clients.
Or, at the very least, could you just take me off the call sheet?
I agree with this. One of the problems I see is the fact that no one has thought, do you know what, lets not make 100 sales call a day, lets not telephone bash or do one piece of contingent recruitment for 35% and then never work with said company again.
The ones that will survive are the ones that having something different to offer – strategically aligned recruitment partners.
And whats wrong with a warm introduction on Linkedin, a thank you for connecting and see where it goes. God knows I don’t want to be called when I have 100 things to do and I don’t expect the potential client to be all that receptive when Ive just interrupted something of importance to them.
the reason why this will probably never stop is down to internal management within said recruitment business’s / agency. The sooner the boiler house recruitment mentality stops the better for all.
Carlos, thanks for the comments. I read recently that the office worker is interrupted every 3 minutes on average, and then it takes them 20 minutes to refocus again and reach the same level of concentration. Sales calls are just one of the things that cause this interruption, which as you note, must people just don’t need more of.
The recruitment industry is no different from many others, in that there is a way that things have always been done, and it is hard for people to see how they can change, or must change. But in our increasingly changing / fast world, those that cannot will simply become irrelevant. There are plenty of corporate corpses around as examples of those that are unable to change their thinking and approach.
Totally agree, I took 3 years out of recruitment just to have breather. The industry hadn’t broken me but I wanted to get more operational experience in a business environment, I actually witnessed some pretty interesting recruitment processe’s which changed my entire perception of how recruitment should be done. This is probably the reason why I haven’t made a single sales call in the last year, not 1. And i have been fairly successful by creating a niche and sticking to it.
I digress, until the bigger companies stop the boiler room style then the industry will always have a taint of used car salesmen etc.
I have an appreciation for the process now – HR / Internal recruiter that I never had before and I wouldn’t dream of making a cold call (My directors may read this and think what???) but my proposition is totally different to those doing the same as me.
Can you imagine the amount of wasted time if the 20 minutes is accurate?
Hopefully with all the new tech and other platforms such as Hiring hub etc companies can be ever so slightly more diligent in how they recruit, whether its social media direct sourcing or internal referrals – eventually the boiler house style will become as extinct as the dinosaurs.
I really enjoyed reading this blog and feel free to connect on Linkedin.
Working in HR it appears to be an occupational hazard to be bothered several times a day by intrepid recruiters trying to get to the gatekeeper – however when I am a candidate and don’t get any feedback – it was always because they couldn’t get hold of the hiring manager – strange that isn’t it?!
Seriously though until recruiters actually can demonstrate they add value then the current models are fast becoming redundant.
I think as a candidate you should be responsible for really giving your recruiter a hard time. And by that I mean interrogate them about everything from culture to benefits package, thats when you know your working with a trusted recruitment partner if they can happily tell you as much about the company as the hiring manager.
Speaking as someone who graduated from University and actually sought out Recruitment Consultant (RC) role as a career choice I find this Blog particularly interesting. It’s very useful to hear the thoughts of somebody on the other side of the fence and I can understand your frustration.
You acknowledge you are not “hear [here?] to bash Recruiters” and I appreciate the candidness of the post and I regularly read (and share) your blog. I’m assuming you would agree the Recruitment industry is fundamental in allowing businesses and the economy to strive. The industry is far from in decline and the latest figures show growth. http://bit.ly/1wDb1Gd – copy and paste into a search engine.
Going back to your point about change in tact and approach needed, I agree. I think many are catching on, but many of our industry’s leaders still believe the more sales calls an RC does, the more money the person, and more importantly, the business will make. The problem with that thought process is that it’s labour-intensive and the priority must always be providing the service and energy to filling the roles the RC already has. I have found that technology and particularly social have absolutely changed the face of what we do. And for me that’s better.
Interestingly Gemma, I’m also pretty lousy as sales calls. I have never been brilliant at sales calls. I’ve been fortunate to have a natural flair at the recruitment side of what a RC does and I’m confident I add value to any person who wishes to engage me in their recruitment process. While ostensibly it’s a simple job, I see recruiting as an art, rather than a science. The more a RC understands the nuances of each role, the people, the company and its culture; the better they will match. All I have ever needed in my career is a chance and maybe the difference between us is I was lucky to be given chances early in my recruitment career. Repeat business, reputation, word of mouth brought more business and now, online marketing and social media is changing the way RC’s can (and should) promote themselves to ask for that chance.
Thanks for commenting Leon. I think your agency gets social well; there is often someone in my timeline from your place. Simply, that is effective branding. Being present, so when the role is there, you are top of mind. And much better to be top of mind for that reason than because you are spamming! The industry is going anywhere, but I do think it needs to adapt to continue that survival. HR and orgs have a key role to play too – while we still expect agencies to work on a contingency basis then we drive unintended consequences – of which this sort of sales is one. As with all industries – there is good practice and bad practice. At the moment, I am feeling quite a lot of the latter, which is sad as it reduces the standing of those that act ethically.
Thanks Gem – suggested this is read in conjunction with this equally great piece by Barry Flack:
I first started in recruitment in ’87 and your induction into sales training sounds like mine did!
A few years ago I decided to check out another firm, met the MD and thought that we had a meeting of minds, went back to meet the management team and all they wanted to know was how many sales calls I made each day and how many CVs I sent out. Not once was the client/customer or the word ‘quality’ mentioned. The fact that as a search consultant I’m paid up front was irrelevant. It was all about throwing mud at the was and seeing how much stuck. Hugely disappointing that those attitudes still exist. No wonder the recruitment world gets such a bad name.