ITers find recruitment consultants a frustrating bunch. Their lack of industry knowledge and their tendency not to return phone calls and e-mails can be maddening, and all too often they put jobseekers forward for inappropriate or phantom vacancies. But how does the industry defend itself?
The first point anyone who works in the recruitment industry makes is that it is a sales-driven industry, populated by sales-driven professionals. "Of course we are not professional IT people," says Ania Usewicz, recruitment consultant at IT recruiters Best. "We are paid to match, not to understand IT." The fact that the industry is commission-based irks many IT professionals, but that is the nature of the job.
Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco), says jobseekers have to accept that recruitment is a commercial process. "It is a sales industry. We Brits think of that as being something negative, but we should not be ashamed to say it."
Swain, who has more than 20 years' experience in the IT industry, working in recruitment, HR and training, admits that some agencies are unprofessional and deserve to be called cowboy outfits. "In some situations, it is fair to call them that, but selling and cowboy status should not go together. There are some people who behave inappropriately, but you get that in every industry."
This is where bodies such as Atsco and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) come in. They exist to set standards, work with members, consult with industry and government figures and push for reform.
The Department of Trade & Industry is currently looking at ways to improve the service provided to jobseekers, but Toni Cocozza, managing director of recruitment agency DP Connect and chairman of the IT division at the REC, is not convinced by its plans. "The Government is keen to make positive changes on behalf of workers, but the recruitment industry feels that much of the new legislation has been poorly thought out," he says.
Should an agency that is member of Atsco or the REC fall foul of industry standards, it could face punitive measures, including a fine or loss of accreditation.
If a jobseeker is unhappy with the quality of service they are receiving from a recruitment consultant, the first step should be to tell the agency. It could be that the agency is unaware that there is a problem and will be keen to sort it out.
"Expectations need to be set between candidates and consultants," says Swain.
If your expectations are not being met, it could be that you require a more senior consultant or one that specialises in your field of work. Of course, it might be that you need another agency altogether.
The primary criticism levelled at agencies by jobseekers is consultants' poor understanding of technical matters. While consultants can obviously not be expected to have in-depth technical knowledge, IT professionals do need them to know roughly what they are talking about and understand how different disciplines work together.
However, Swain thinks IT professionals need to give consultants a little slack when it comes to the latest skills - even ITers find it hard to keep up-to-date. "It is very hard to know everything, but consultants need to have a broad range of knowledge of things that change all the time," she says.
"There will be times when consultants are not as up-to-date as they should be, but they should be reading magazines like Computer Weekly and Freelance Informer. Some companies and individuals out there don't see the value or think it is worth the effort to keep up, but they should."
Agencies need to invest in ongoing training for consultants. This has to include sales training, technical training, interview training, profiling etc. There needs to be induction training for newcomers and refresher courses to keep consultants up to speed.
The typical recruitment consultant is a graduate in their 20s. These people are likely to need comprehensive training to enable them to get to grips with all aspects of their job.
While the more experienced recruiter should provide a better service, Swain warns against trusting senior consultants just because they have more years in the industry. "There can be problems at the senior end as well because they can become lazy. If time is short, you assume more. But when you are starting off, you go by the book," she says.
Again, Swain is keen to point out that candidates cannot put all the blame on the recruitment consultant. "When a job specification is given to an agent, there are times when it does not match the job. That often happens when HR gets involved. Consultants should push hard to get information and ask lots of questions so that they can pass it on to the candidate," she says.
She has also seen clients change their minds about what they want, particularly if they are recruiting a team. "If you are recruiting a team, you put out a job specification and by the time you have recruited some of them, jobs may have changed subtly," she explains.
What emerges from any kind of discussion with jobseekers and recruitment consultants is that the IT industry as a whole needs to become more open and consultative. Many IT professionals are clearly unhappy with the level of service provided and recruiters feel their profession is unfairly maligned and misunderstood.
Some agencies do need to clean up their act and listen to the needs of jobseekers and employers. But government and industry figures should be looking for ways to iron out the problems so that ITers feel they can trust consultants to find them a job.