What’s the Deal with IT Recruitment Agencies?

This blog post is written in response to the article with the same name, by Mitch Sullivan. I encourage you to read it for more context: http://bit.ly/1MDjdRw. Thank you Mitch for suggesting I write this; been meaning to express my thoughts on the matter for some time.

A lot can be said about the way IT recruitment agencies or recruitment agencies in general work, especially negative aspects as Mitch pointed out. So why do they continue to have such a bad reputation? Why haven’t these agencies done anything about it? The short answer: because they don’t have to. They don’t have to hire more experienced people, they don’t necessarily need to stand out, they don’t have to do more than just basic research. In order to explain, let’s consider the “consumers” of the services provided by IT recruitment agencies.

Candidates (in this case IT professionals) often don’t care much about the qualifications or experience of the recruiter they work with. They strongly prefer not to work with a recruiter in the first place. However, when they want to find a new job (either because are not happy with their employer, they are getting bored or just want a higher salary) they will work with any recruiter who contacts them with an interesting proposition. At that time, providing the job matches a couple of the right keywords on their profile and the hiring company is a good one, they will rarely hesitate to work with any recruiter. It doesn’t matter how bad that recruiter has been in contact with other potential candidates, or that they do not have a good understanding of technology — the software developer will most likely go ahead with the process.

In many cases, this is exactly why playing the numbers game works. Candidate loyalty to a specific recruiter is rare (no matter how good they are), IT professionals rarely recommend good recruiters to colleagues or friends, negative reviews are only aimed at recruiters in general, and so on. When I ask potential candidates why they chose to work with a specific recruiter in the past, the answer is rarely “I did research on them and liked the information found on multiple channels online, so decided they are a good recruiter to represent me”.

Clients (in this case companies hiring IT people) usually try to avoid working with IT recruitment agencies. The reasons are usually the same: they are very expensive, they flood HR with CV’s that are not suitable, we had bad experiences, etc. However, ask a hiring manager or HR person why they decided to work with a recruitment agency in the past and the (real) reason will almost always be the same: they were recommended by someone or we were desperate.

Rather than deciding based on reputation or doing some research about an IT recruitment agency, companies decide to start a collaboration because they are desperate to hire, having tried and exhausted the usual channels. So what do they do? Accept to work with 3–4 agencies (sometimes more) on the same position without critical assessment and hope that one of them will come up with suitable candidates. Similar to candidates, HR managers will never leave negative reviews about specific IT recruitment agencies and rarely do proper research before agreeing to collaborate with one of them. Sounds familiar?

This process goes on and on, it’s almost a vicious circle. Since it seems to work (considering they are still in business), most IT recruitment agencies probably believe they do not have to change anything. I’ll explain further.

Agencies keep getting candidates if they can offer mildly interesting jobs or if contact with them is made at the right time (playing the numbers game increases the odds). Even if the candidate does not have a good experience, worst-case scenario is they write a negative review online about IT recruiters in general. Even if they would leave a negative review about that particular IT recruitment agency, the next candidate won’t bother to find and read that review.

Agencies keep getting clients (or companies that allow them to work on their jobs, as Mitch would put it), because bombarding HR in many companies with generic approaches will eventually result in finding some desperate ones who will give them vacancies to work on. Best-case scenario, the HR person will ask another HR person if they know anything about that IT recruitment agency. Worst-case scenario, they don’t even bother checking they agency’s website or the LinkedIn profiles of the recruiters working for them.

One of the reasons why I have been with Caissa for quite a long time is that (besides having great colleagues) I’m always encouraged to do proper research, understand technology and write excellent emails. Unfortunately, these are not general requirements within the industry, definitely not a must. In order for that to change and for IT recruitment agencies to improve, clients and candidates need to be more finicky and become smarter “consumers” of their services.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find it useful. If you’re interested in topics such as technical recruitment, hiring software developers and/or working with 3rd party recruiters, we should connect on Twitter.

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