Why the bad and the ugly will be found out

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The Independent Online
OUR DESTINY is set; there is no escaping technology. Furthermore, we have to meet new challenges as more and more human resources departments are becoming profit centres, expected to provide a return on the capital invested in them.

By and large, recruitment organisations are facing up to this change and delivering what is expected of them, but there is a minority who, in my opinion, continue to tarnish the reputation of the majority. And worse still, this small group is often oblivious of its actions and the members can be some of the bigger names in our industry.

The Ugly

Some agencies abide by the "numbers game" approach today. Very little consideration is given to the candidate's presentational skills, their character, charisma and, sometimes, their intelligence. So long as the candidate has enough commercial experience and is within a broad match of the requirements needed, the agency will send out the CV. This model (versus that of the recruitment consultancy) may well suit some businesses, but as the costs of recruitment escalate, those responsible for recruitment will come to realise that they are not getting value for money.

The Bad

Today, anyone can set up business as a recruitment consultant. Our industry is, by and large, unregulated and therefore has no specific standards that must be maintained. Examples of bad practice include:

t distribution of CVs of known candidates without their approval.

t poaching candidates from companies where the consultant had placed them a short time previously.

t not conducting face-to-face interviews with candidates before the distribution of their CVs.

t failure to check candidates' credentials and references.

t devaluing the industry by substantially dropping their fees in order to gain a quick score.

The last point may be viewed as just sour grapes by some, but the value of the service provided lies in the time taken by the consultant to understand the business of the recruiting company and the specific requirements of the client. Additionally, we have a responsibility to the candidates to ensure their requirements are fully understood. This will not be effectively achieved by consultants keen to undercut one another just to get the business. Indeed, many recruiting managers are tending to avoid the cut-price merchants because of this.

Since the recent abolition of the Employment Agencies Act that was set up in 1973, the Trades Union Congress has been lobbying for the reintroduction of the compulsory licensing of employment agencies. One may sympathise with their view given the activities of unscrupulous agents. However, it is widely accepted that licensing didn't work when we had it, and we believe that the way forward is for self-regulation and the possible establishment of a Charter. Certainly, no recruitment consultancy that practices in a professional and ethical manner should fear regulation.

The Good

When Hemmingway was established we were adamant that the company would operate as a human resources consultancy, not a recruitment agency.

Some might say there is no difference between a consultancy and an agency, that the end result is the same - finding people to fill vacant positions. But to us, and to many in our industry, the differences are not only stark but appealing. As a consultancy, we are retained by clients not only to advise on recruitment issues, but also to advise management on a number of human resources activities.

With recruitment assignments there are two parties a good recruitment consultancy will take into account; the client and the candidates. Before progressing with any recruitment assignment, these companies make sure that they have a comprehensive understanding of their client's market place, the culture of the organisation, the corporate business plan and the position required to be filled.

From the outset, we, for example, were never afraid to embrace technology as a means of developing our business to high standards of excellence. This has not been without considerable cost but the long-term benefits, plus those we are experiencing now, will more than justify the expenditure. Indeed, with many assignments we have taken on over the last eight months, we have reduced the recruitment time for our clients by over a third - largely through our state-of-the-art video/pc technology called "Screen- to-Client".

Other firms use video conferencing to good effect, particularly when dealing with an international assignment, and the internet is playing an increasingly important role, both for candidates and companies.

Although the recruitment industry may not be able to totally control the bad and the ugly of our profession, we can at least reduce the downsides of their activities. Certainly, the market itself will weed out the undesirables as the process of recruitment and, more generally, human resources becomes increasingly accountable to the corporate profit guardians.

Rapid growth in human resource and customer service functions has been predicted over the next four years with human resources rated as one of the outsourced services providing the greatest potential benefit.

Recruitment consultancies may never find themselves in a better position to provide the market with the types of services it will be increasingly seeking. But only those with the vision and the willingness to take up the challenge will reap the rewards. As an industry we can deliver but we must maintain the highest levels of professionalism possible, right across the board.

Jon Sotnick is MD of Hemmingway Executive Recruitment