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Recruitment Agencies – Shysters Or Honourable? Updated

This is by way of me thinking out loud.  Recent experiences with certain so-called “recruitment agencies” have left me wondering just how committed are they to the people they have on their books.  In many sectors recruitment agencies are allegedly the best chance of securing a new position.

I’m not quite at the name and shame stage as far as dealing with agencies is concerned (though that might not be too far off) but it is fair to say that there are a number of supposedly reputable agencies who have gone a long way to convincing me that the whole recruitment agency scene is plagued with shysters and people of a considerably less than honourable bent.

Getting in touch with applicants is one area where most recruitment agencies fail like Gavin Hamilton in his only test match against South Africa (he scored a pair, failed to take a wicket and never played for England thereafter).  If an agency doesn’t get in touch with you (whether it’s good news or bad) then how can any kind of relationship be developed between the two parties?

A nice comparison is going to your local aromatherapist for a healing massage.  Beforehand you discuss what you’re looking for (in my case it’s usually loosening up the shoulders and lower back) and the therapist makes a number of checks (health, blood pressure, et cetera) before agreeing with you the treatment he or she is going to give.  If the recruitment agency model I’ve experienced were followed here, you would turn up, be thrown face down onto a carpet and beaten senseless with a splintered cricket bat before any words are exchanged.  Then a few months later you’ll get a bunch of phone calls from whoever beat you (they’ve moved on to somewhere else by then) asking if you would like the same treatment again.

I have trust and faith in my aromatherapist, sports masseur and osteopath.  I have very little in recruitment agencies.

Despite being a slightly nerdy techie I’m an old fashioned kind of guy at heart.  I prefer to take people at their word.  If someone commits to contacting me at a particular time in the day then I expect them to honour that commitment.  If they don’t and I have to chase them (especially more than once) then I want to know why they didn’t honour that commitment.  It’s a disappointing experience from people supposed to be providing a service.

But an all too common one with a number of agencies.  Then there’s the bulldust about having a good CV, good skills and experience and being sure that they can find something for you.  Followed by nothing in the way of communication from them despite chasing calls and e-mails.

“Feedback will be provided quickly” is another out and out lie.  What they really mean is

“We’ll look at your e-mail address and if it isn’t on our favourites list your application gets canned.  If you think we’re going to waste our time giving feedback then you’re extremely guillible and probably not worth offering a job to.”

Then there’s trying to find out why you weren’t put forward for a job which you would have suited eminently.  That’s when certain agencies get very defensive.  Oh yes.  Lacking the balls to admit that they have their favourites and you aren’t one of them, they launch into a long spiel about how they know the client’s requirements.   If the requirements were that detailed then why the hell weren’t they on the job spec in the first place?  It would have saved people wanting to apply a lot of time and effort tweaking CVs and writing more bloody covering letters.

Another good one is “the vacancy was filled internally”.  Which in some circumstances may be true but when a manager and his number two have expressed major frustration with being under resourced and lacking “that person with the right skills to come in and get things moving” to then say “the vacancy was filled internally” reeks of well, bullshit is the only word that comes to mind.  Does nothing to build the trust and confidence in the agency or the potential employer.

I try to take people at their word.  I want to see the good in people and organisations.  Perhaps there is some code of ethics to which agencies subscribe that runs along some kind of parallel universe track, a track which is invisible to me and many others.  If I want lies I’ll go into a second hand car sales showroom or an estate agent’s showroom thank you very much.

I know there are agencies out there who take themselves and their relationships with candidates very seriously indeed and strive for the highest levels of professionalism and conduct.  I can’t think of a handful of such companies out of all the agencies I have applied through.

That’s got to say something about the recruitment agency sector and the services they claim to provide.

Some may accuse me of being a cynic.  I’m not.  I am a realist.  I say only what I see and experience.  The easiest way of silencing a cynic is to prove him wrong.  Prove me wrong and I will happily revise my opinion.

Not too many people have actually done so.

So recruitment agencies, I lay down this challenge to you:

Prove to me that you are honourable, reliable and can be trusted.

It shouldn’t be difficult, especially in the current job climate.

Update: 19th March 2009

I had hoped that I wouldn’t need to update this entry.  Sadly I do.

If it isn’t mentioned on my CV then it isn’t there.  It’s a simple maxim and one to which I work.  Nowhere does it say on my CV that I am fluent in nine languages including Afrikaans, Swahili and Klingon.  What does that tell us?  That’s right, I am not fluent in nine languages including Afrikaans, Swahili and Klingon.  It’s not rocket science.  Nowhere does it say on my CV that I am a member of the MCC and was offered the captaincy of their tour to Kathmandu.

What does that tell us?

You’ve got it, I am not a member of the MCC and I was not offered the captaincy of their tour to Kathmandu.

So given this, why do agencies not actually read my CV (and attached profile where applicable) properly?

Five different agencies recently contacted me looking to fill a position as a database administrator.  Good money.  Good terms and conditions.  There’s one small problem.

You may be ahead of me here.

Nowhere on my CV are database administration roles mentioned.

What does that tell us?

You’ve got it, database administration isn’t one of my skillsets. Hardware, operating systems, telephony, support and project work are all there.  Not database administration.  I’d happily do the job if the employer trained me up to do it (you wouldn’t let an untrained person near machine tools so the same applies in IT, you don’t let an untrained person near mission critical databases) but the employer isn’t looking for someone to train.

It really doesn’t need James Burke-like intelligence to work it out.  If it isn’t mentioned on my CV then it isn’t there.  It’s also pretty disheartening that five agencies didn’t read my CV properly and got my hopes up about a possible job.

Equally as disheartening was a recent agency call about a contract position.  Looked ideal.  My gut told me that something wasn’t quite right with this as I hadn’t heard of the location.  So I asked “You do know that I don’t drive?”.  “Ah, you won’t be able to get to the place then,” comes the reply and end conversation.  Thanks a lot.  My profile on the particular website where the agency found my details specifically says that I do not drive.  Nowhere on my CV does it mention a driving licence.

What does that mean?

It means I don’t drive.

There’s a saying: “Never assume.  It makes an ass of u and me.”

It’s trite but it’s true.

I hope that someone in the recruitment field will be able to restore my diminishing faith in their profession.

I’m not holding my breath.

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