A couple of months ago, a Sydney recruiter started typing into Google “recruiters are…”. It would be fair to say the list of autocompletes Google offered up to end this sentence were far from flattering for the recruitment industry and led them to ask: does our industry need a make-over?
We put the question to four professionals and the answer seems to be “yes, a little bit” with calls for a focus on improving the way we communicate with candidates (notably those who were unsuccessful) and improved self-regulation. James Purtell, Managing Director of Cox Purtell has had more than 20 years’ experience in the sector and believes the industry could only benefit from all agencies being members of industry advocacy groups.
“I believe industry associations need to spearhead this make-over because the industry is quite fragmented and largely made up of smaller agencies which, on their own, don’t have a loud voice,” Purtell said.
Purtell said any campaign designed to improve the sector’s reputation should start at attempts to improve accreditation through industry-approved training and certification and “controversially, perhaps some minimum standards which go beyond broad codes of conduct.”
“We also need to encourage more agencies which aren’t aligned to an association to join one and adhere to their codes of professional conduct,” he said.
“Many of the stories I hear are about agencies and consultants which don’t belong to associations. Not only do they give the industry a bad name, they are freeloading off the hard work of the major associations who are trying to advance our cause with Government and the public.”
Rachael Nelson, a Human Resources and recruitment expert at Forsite Recruitment, believes that while Google prompts can sometimes “be unfair,” they do reflect public sentiment and the sector could benefit from “some touch ups” and improved self-regulation.
“There are great companies and individuals out there that act with professionalism and integrity but as with any industry, there are those who do not,” she said.
“Most of the industry’s blemishes could be treated with sound values, ethics and an industry minimum level of professional competence. Any practicing professional should adhere to the Professional Code of Conduct and any client looking to engage a recruitment specialist should ensure that they are a member of RCSA.”
Nick Waterworth, co-founder and Group CEO of Ambition Group, believes the sector does not necessarily need an image make-over, but he does believe ‘some recruitment consultants operate without adhering to the highest standard of integrity” and that self-regulation left scope for bad behaviour on the part of a few.
“However, investment banking is highly regulated and that industry just about sent the world broke in 2008,” he added.
Waterworth also pointed out that a Google search of many occupations would bring up similarly unflattering responses noting, “sadly, many industries have their reputations tarnished by the few bad apples.”
“When I first worked in the industry in 1985, recruitment was very much a cottage industry and the leading players were primarily the chartered accounting firms,” Waterworth said.
“The profile was low, it didn’t have a bad reputation; it virtually had no reputation! Recruitment is now a big industry in Australia – probably worth more than $11 billion – so just the sheer scale of it has changed things immensely.”
Ross Thompson, managing director of labour hire company Workforce XZ in NSW’s Nowra and Wollongong, also believes the sector needs to do more to self-regulation.
“We strongly believe in our industry on the [NSW] South Coast and I compete against some real fly-by-nighters who give the labour hire industry a bad reputation,” Thompson said.
“You do see some of these companies just use and abuse people and no-one appreciates that. A lot of labour hire companies just treat people as if they are numbers because of the numbers of staff they are recruiting.
“It comes down to a lack of respect and stories about companies that don’t pay their guys for weeks gives us all a bad name.”
All agreed that the lack of communication with unsuccessful candidates was often the greatest cause of frustration and anger and with the advent of social media, bad reviews and posts were able to spread quickly and without context. These bad experiences more often than not seem to be around consultants not contacting candidates to let them know they were unsuccessful or from consultants behaving unprofessionally.
“The biggest gripe from candidates is, and always has been, recruiters not getting back to them,” Waterworth said. “Even if it is to say they’ve been unsuccessful. I hate seeing ads that say they’ll only respond to people selected for an interview.”
Waterworth said the negative perception some have comes down to what are likely bad experiences with as little as five per cent of those working in the sector who do not adhere to standards and these complaints very quickly gaining traction on social media.
“Like many professions, experiences of bad feedback can rapidly escalate and go viral,” Purtell added. “There are also now so many job review sites and ratings sites that recruiters are hyper aware of how quickly a negative experience can spread and I think that is actually driving up service levels.”
Nelson said recruitment is personal and as people we are hardwired to process negative events more thoroughly than positive ones.
“We regularly deliver bad news and even the most ethical recruiter is not immune to criticism when the person they are speaking to does not get the outcome they want. “I hear often from clients and candidates that their previous experiences have been poor and that they have felt frustrated at the lack of communication.
“Most people agree that as an industry we can do more to keep people informed and that there is no excuse for not getting back to someone, which has been the number one issue cited for candidate frustration, especially with the technology that is available.”
Thompson said while it was important for the sector to make sure it communicated with candidates, there was also a need to better communicate what the sector actually does and why we do it.
“We need to be communicating better with our industry partners that you get what you pay for so you if you pay the lowest possible rate, you will get the very basics,” he said. “We pay above award wages to attract top talent and while that means we are more expensive on the job on the short-term, we provide quality. We also help to change people’s lives through the provision of jobs, job guidance and advice, help to build the infrastructure as well as contribute economically to the community.”
For Purtell, the solution is in sharing positive stories.
“We need to build an understanding in the community around what we do and how clients and candidates can interact best,” he said.
Nelson agreed that the solution to community perceptions can be changed through education.
“The more we spread the word about what recruitment can and should be, the more educated clients and candidates will become on what they should expect,” she said.
“Let’s make sure we get the basics right. Improved communication, integrity and putting people before profits are some ways in which we can all drive our collective reputation forwards.