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?