Tag Archive | "recruitment industry"

Recruiters – the only people who seem not to understand the value of uniqueness


How would you feel about a business where you didn’t really understand what the product is and were selling to someone who also doesn’t understand what it is but whose understanding was different to yours? But nevertheless the overall business has an annual turnover close to £30 billion.

Because that’s the Recruitment industry these days.

I was in a meeting recently where an account manager from one of the local agencies gave a talk on how the agency interacts with the contractor and all the various add on services they provide. Made for several PowerPoint slides of things ranging from de-risking payments to providing help and guidance And very interesting it was too, until another speaker, this time a contractor, stood up and gave their view of the same relationship..

Guess what? They didn’t really match.

To be fair to the agency, they do find the business and they do factor the money and they will, if pressed, negotiate rates and the like with the end client, all of which is pretty valuable if you want a quiet life. Where it goes wrong is how they represent us to the client.

Every agency tries to tell the client that they have this pool of highly expert staff ready to fulfil any role the client wants filling. And what is more their sophisticated search facilities and in-house databases match candidates to roles with unfailing accuracy. So explain why, if that’s what they do, why is my Inbox getting three or four emails a day from agencies offering me a whole series of roles, almost without exception ones that bear little or no relationship to my actual skills or location. Could it be that what they do and what they tell people they do aren’t exactly fully aligned?

And, of course, this same doublethink has permeated the client HR departments. Because they get contractors from the “recruitment” agencies and those contractors are presented as individuals, rather than as service providers, they see us as a slightly weird form of employee. OK, we may have different email addresses to the permie staff and we might miss out on things like car parking rights and canteen access, but ultimately we are still seen as just another worker.

So why is this important? As long as we get paid, does it really matter?

Well yes it does, actually. In fact it’s getting increasingly important. The career contactor has to demonstrate more and more to HMG that we are free-standing businesses; small ones, admittedly, and ones who probably won’t ever grow too much, but still businesses with all that implies. Sadly, that argument gets cut off at the knees by the way the market treats us as a lightly modified employee with an inflated salary.

Of course, deflecting this juggernaut from its path is not going to be easy; in fact, it may not even be possible. After all, £30 billion a year is something with a lot of momentum. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The freelancing model we have in the UK is certainly unique in Europe, and pretty much unique in the rest of the world, with only Australia and the USA coming close to the level of operational freedom we enjoy.

So it’s a real shame that the very people we have to deal with to get our skills to work are the only people who seem not to understand the value of that uniqueness. I think it’s time they found out.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

Image: HAIER kids by boni_face

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So who are you again?


You have to feel sorry for the poor recruitment industry. I mean, after several years of being beaten up by the bean counters who run their business these days to improve throughput and efficiency, they finally get to the point where the process is as effortless as it’s going to get.

Preferred Supplier Lists mean they get first sight of any new work. Keyword searches mean they don’t actually have to talk to candidates, but simply send in the first few CVs with the right keywords. Write-only answer phones mean they can’t be contacted. Back Office systems and so called “self-billing” arrangements (which aren’t but let’s not quibble) mean payment processes are self maintaining. Life is simple and efficient.

Then Primark got prosecuted for using illegal workers

Let’s remember that agencies’ main concern is the avoidance of risk. That’s why the contracts are usually so complex; it’s mostly to ensure the agency doesn’t get caught for the mistakes of the contractors it supplies nor for any taxes or other costs the contractor or client may incur for any reason whatsoever. So naturally their reaction to Primark was typically understated.

It used to be that you could go for a job with only a cursory check on your actual existence. Of course, having actually spoken to you – or even met you in person – the agent could be reasonably sure you were who you said you were. These days, as I’ve said before, the agent would much prefer not to talk to you, much less take time away from the telesales work actually to go and meet you.

When the need to demonstrate you had checked the candidate’s ID first cropped up, this got extended to you sending a bastardised copy of your passport – not that that’s a proof if ID, of course – and maybe a utility bill or similar to prove you had a real address (none of which, needless to say, can possibly be faked).

However Primark made them realise they could be prosecuted for a whole new range of things. As a result half of the agency’s time is now taken up with people running around looking at candidates holding passports, paying other agencies to run ID checks and doing a whole host of credit checks and other activities. All this, note, before you get sent for the interview.

As an aside, there are also concerns about what happens to all this data once it’s in the agency’s hands. A typical contractor might well supply half a dozen copies of some fairly personal data in a year, and I’m pretty damned sure not too many agencies will have paid to be ISO27001 compliant.

Thing is, of course, 99% of this is totally unnecessary, since it applies to employees, not contractors. Since the agency goes to enormous lengths to demonstrate that legally you are not their employee, nor the client’s, why does this whole scenario apply at all?

Perhaps if we ever get IR35 sorted out and have a clear test for whether or not you are a supplier or an employed temporary worker, then we can stop all this pointless activity.

Meanwhile, can anyone explain why my Company Secretary can’t sign a letter asserting all my company’s staff, be they employees or directors, are allowed to work here and accepting full responsibility should that prove to be untrue?

Do that and the agencies can go back to their usual state of happy indolence again.

© 2010 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Vintage ITT Telephone Handset by mightyohm

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