Making agents special to win the jobs game

Colin Christie, managing director at Christie's Recruitment, believes that many IT professionals have been disappointed by recruitment agents. All the more reason to develop the relationship, he argues


Colin Christie, managing director at Christie's Recruitment, believes that many IT professionals have been disappointed by recruitment agents. All the more reason to develop the relationship, he argues

It is a confusing recruitment market out there. Some jobs are being offshored, some aren't; some companies have active recruitment campaigns, some don't; some appear ageist, some look for years of experience.

The three-way relationship between clients, applicants and agents looks complex, but really it isn't. Are recruitment agents driven by the desire to do a good job? Do they wish to represent their company or themselves in the best light? Are they motivated by money?

In the main it is money. Once you understand this, really understand this, you will see that agents are not and never will be ageist, sexist or any other "ist". They are simply trying to take the path of least resistance from A to B: their bank accounts.

Think of recruitment agents as catalysts, CPU cooling fans and automotive fuel injection systems. Processes still work without them, they are pretty useless in isolation, but as part of a thriving culture they can benefit all parties immensely.

The client is always king, no matter what skillset shortages there may be. Clients pay agents; applicants don't. Agents have nasty bosses who monitor all sorts of key performance indicators all day long. Larger agencies will account for virtually every second of an agent's working day. Micro-management is not accurate: nano-management would be more suitable.

Ask the right questions
So if your CV is disappearing into black holes here are some tips.

First, always be pleasant. Agents get it in the neck all day long from above; they don't need you having a go at them too. Yes, yes, we know they are all stupid, don't know their C# from their D minor, etc. Just smile to yourself and be polite.

Use them. Ask what skills you should be emphasising. Get them to rip your CV apart. I am always amazed at the inability of some senior IT professionals to present their CVs correctly.
Ask them what would make you more marketable. Are you pricing yourself too high? Do you need sector-specific skills? Find out what they want and you will be amazed at how often you have what they are looking for.
Lastly, effort is required. Always tailor your CV to specific roles. Yes, laborious, but worth it. Remember, agents have square holes: provide them with square pegs.
Clients: the agent's main driver (money) is also relevant to you. As successful business leaders, clients will be aware that money has two parameters: size and distance. To motivate agents, increase size and decrease the distance from the agent's bank accounts. Simple. If you can't do both, try to do one.
Skillset availability
Of course, distance too has many parameters (speed, effort, availability and terms) so there is plenty for you to consider. Ask agents about skillset availability, ask them about costing, ask them about alternatives before finalising those specifications. Clients are often guilty of turning wish lists into essentials. This reduces availability and increases cost.
Always develop a working relationship with your agent. You don't have to meet them. I also have an aversion for wide ties and hair gel, but they need to understand your business, your business needs and your recruitment drivers. If you are happy that they do understand you, then take shortlists seriously and be open-minded to candidate motivations. Agents only submit candidates they believe can do the job.

Finally relate. Develop relationships over time. Clients should reward their recruitment agents with repeat business and knowledge, and applicants should reward them with knowledge. Tell them what you have been up to, tell them what the company is up to, and keep in touch. How many permanently employed people out there can remember the name of the agent who placed them?
I have not covered any of the reasons agencies exist or any of the many business drivers that make them useful. I have taken that as fact. If you find any agent unsatisfactory, don't use them. Good agents, after all, will only deal with good clients and good candidates.
Colin Christie is managing director at Christie's Recruitment

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