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Pretty vacancies. Are recruitment consultants letting us down?

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Redundancies, renegotiations, restructuring and rotten revenues. Tough times in the creative industry. Tough times everywhere. Sorry folks, but there's no longer any room for passengers in this business. So here's a thought: why don't we take a very large magnifying glass to the recruitment consultancies? Set up to match talent with opportunities, creatives with employers, I think some of these outfits have now become more of a hindrance than an asset.

Of course it's important not to bundle all these firms together, put them in a sack and chuck them in the canal of condemnation. I won't, but I could name a handful of recruitment agents who are consummate professionals, work hard for clients and candidates alike and take their responsibilities very seriously. But perhaps they are the exceptions. Almost everyone in advertising, branding, marketing, art direction, copywriting and the like, has been involved with the recruitment sector at some point. Whether that was at the start of a career, looking for that vital first job or when, at a more senior level, new challenges or rewards were sought. Remarkably, when I discuss these encounters with almost any colleague, their reaction is mostly the same: frustration, and exasperation. There is the odd positive report, but only in the same way there tends to be a couple of edible grapes in a bag of rotten fruit.

It would be unfair of me to quote anyone else's story, but I can certainly share one of my own. Looking for a new position, having left a company that was downsizing rapidly, I put myself back on the market and received a call from a consultancy in West Yorkshire (I lived about an hour away). Their client needed a senior creative to head a team in their well known advertising business. Would I care to attend a meeting to discuss the possibility of taking the role? Without hesitation, I agreed and we met me, the consultant, and the employer. The first question the employer asked me was this: 'How do you see a copywriter successfully leading a team of designers?' 'I don't.' I answered 'It would be impossible'. You see, in his desperation to fulfil his brief, the consultant had put me (a copywriter) forward for a high ranking design job. As I left, he was still asking whether I was interested.

On the other side of the table, as a recruiter, I was once sent the CV of a film director when I was looking for an art director and songwriter when I was trying to hire a copywriter.

If these were rare incidents, I would gladly laugh them off and just wheel them out as amusing coffee break anecdotes. Unfortunately, I could probably write a book packed with similar gaffes. You could probably write the sequel.

So, what's going wrong here?

This is tricky. I have never worked in one of these consultancies and can only surmise how they actually operate, but here's what I suspect. The business model for such an agency must be built on the fast turnover of briefs and hires, otherwise the revenue dries up. This produces more of a sales environment than a genuine consultancy, with a pressure to keep the conveyor belt moving. This, in turn, can lead to a lack of proper consideration for the brief and candidates being viewed as commodities rather than customers. There's also a tendency to over promise and under deliver. A service which offers to develop your career and find you the perfect position should do just that. When they merely send you a clutch of vacancies which are either totally unsuitable or turn out not to exist, disillusion soon sets in. Add this to a tradition of not returning telephone calls and the disappointment is complete.  

Again, this is just an educated guess. If I'm wrong, I'd be delighted to hear from consultants wishing to set the record straight.

I do know the fees charged for this service are not insubstantial ( I was once quoted 27% of the candidate's starting salary) and the candidate experience seems to be miserable in more cases than I consider acceptable.  This cannot be good for the industry, either financially or professionally.

You may have noticed that Creativepool, as well as being a popular blog, is a platform for job advertisements. Some of these vacancies are handled by consultants and I have no evidence any of these are guilty parties. Indeed, I'm happy to say I have had a very productive relationship with a brilliant agent who found me right here.

So, please don't take my concerns as a cue to avoid the consultancies. After all, if they never produced satisfying results for anybody, they wouldn't exist. Nevertheless, I would implore every recruitment agency to remember it is people's hopes and aspirations they're handling possessions that should always be treated with the utmost respect. If you don't, the talented people who make up the industry may start to see you as an unwelcome passenger.
 

Magnus Shaw - copywriter, blogger and broadcaster

www.magnusshaw.co.uk
www.creativepool.co.uk/magnusshaw

 

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