As a candidate for executive positions my experience of recruitment companies is fairly uniform. Normally I will only sign up with a recruitment consultant as part of the process of application for a particular post I have already found on the internet. The recruiter, acting as a middle man filtering applications, then makes an initial decision on whether my details should be passed on to the client company with the vacancy.
The question I want to ask here is: To what extent the internet, or might the internet make the recruitment consultant redundant?
I shouldn’t go outlining any thesis on the future of recruitment consultants on the basis of my experience alone. If any company knows the job of the recruiter it has to be Michael Page, ‘ranked No 1 executive recruitment firm in New York, fifth year in a row’ as it states on its website. Helpfully they provide the answer to the question ‘What does a recruitment consultant do?’ here
Let me abbreviate it.
- A recruitment consultant is the intermediary between companies seeking to recruit professional staff (The Client) and professional staff (The Candidate) seeking a career move or contract assignment.
- You talk to and meet potential and existing clients to find out about their business, their culture, their current and future recruitment needs, and to develop a loyal and powerful relationship with.
- You talk to and meet job seekers to assess their skills and experiences, their career goals, and their suitability for different positions. The more information and therefore the more knowledge you have, the more opportunities you can create in bringing your clients and candidates together in a successful match or placement.
Let’s examine those three points separately.
‘A recruitment consultant is the intermediary between companies seeking to recruit professional staff (The Client) and professional staff (The Candidate) seeking a career move or contract assignment.’
On the farmland prairies of America farmers needing temporary hands can drive to local gas stations each morning and take their pick from itinerant workers gathering there. These gas stations are unofficial repositories of labour. In a sense recruitment consultants are the intersection, the ‘gas station’, where white collar professionals and the client companies, the ‘farmers’ with a vacancy, meet.
In the internet age candidates don’t need to contact recruiters, to go to the old gas station, to find vacancies relevant to their work experience and skills. Searching Google they can find vacancies themselves. Similarly, in the internet age companies don’t need to set recruiters on the hunt for candidates. They can post vacancies on jobsites and in career pages on their own websites. Google is the new ‘gas station’ for both candidate and company.
The internet has removed one of the recruiters’ selling points – their position as a meeting point of vacancies and candidates is no longer unique, and it’s not even the most convenient.
‘You talk to and meet potential and existing clients to find out about their business, their culture, their current and future recruitment needs’
Now of course, recruiters do more than provide a place for candidates to send CV’s and clients to post vacancies. They act as a proxy of the client and the only way they can do that is by understanding, like Michael Page say, the clients ‘business, their culture, their current and future recruitment needs’ by meeting with the client.
Clients could just talk to candidates themselves but the recruiter saves the client the trouble of reiterating culture and need for every candidate. The client only has to explain it once to the recruiter and it is the job of the recruiter to broadcast the message.
But hang on! Broadcast? Aren’t we all broadcasters today? Every day On Facebook people routinely broadcast their views and their discoveries in text, audio and film. Twitter can bulletin the planet in seconds. Those same facilities are available to companies wishing to communicate their culture and needs to the world. There’s no need to reiterate. The message can be available day and night to be read, heard or watched by anyone on the planet with a computer, smart phone or tablet. Shell knows it, GlaxoSmithKline knows it and Next knows it.
With information of the sort available in comprehensive career pages linked above candidates can determine the culture and needs of companies themselves and gravitate toward the positions that suit them best.
‘You talk to and meet job seekers to assess their skills and experiences, their career goals, and their suitability for different positions. The more information and therefore the more knowledge you have, the more opportunities you can create in bringing your clients and candidates together in a successful match or placement.’
The traditional recruiter filters the candidates and brings only those with the greatest potential to the attention of the client. For lower to mid-level executive positions, and I speak from experience, this filtering is largely done on the basis of the information available on the candidates CV.
If the candidate ticks 2 or 3 important boxes, including formal qualifications and relevant work experience then he or she is offered to the client as a potential interviewee.
From the moment the candidates are processed to interview with the client their appraisal effectively becomes the sole responsibility of the client.
In the case of lower to mid-level executive positions online application forms set up by companies or organisations such as Edinburgh University are easily capable of doing the initial filtering of candidates into those who tick certain boxes. Even without a system of automation it need not take an HR assistant a great amount of time to do the initial checks on university degree and work experience on applications sent by e-mail.
Of course many clients may require more nuanced filtering before candidates are processed to interview stage and this is where direct contact with the candidates is important. But is this function uniquely available to recruitment consultants or might companies also perform it easily themselves?
- To narrow a field of candidates the company will have many different criteria. Going beyond the skills and experience of each candidate it’s a question of character. There’s a lot a company can discover about a candidates background in addition to that supplied on the CV.
- The candidates’ route to applying can give some indication of their suitability if the company has placed its vacancy ad strategically across the net.
- If the candidate has found the vacancy via a LinkedIn group, Facebook or Twitter then there will be a trail of clues to their character and energy all over the net – their likes, their interests, their activity, their dedication and even their affiliation to a certain ethos. This trail of clues will include the candidates own input – who they follow on Twitter, what they like on Facebook, what discussions have they contributed to on LinkedIn, and also the reaction of others – direct via endorsement in LinkedIn for example, or indirect via a conversation conducted on Twitter or commentary on an industry blog.
Taking the Michael Page description of a recruitment consultant’s job it can be argued that through judicious and regular use of the internet, and social media in particular, practically every aspect of the recruitment consultant’s job can be achieved by companies themselves.
- Recruitment consultants are no longer gatekeepers to the pool of candidates. A pool of suitable candidates can be quickly established and renewed via Google, via Twitter lists relevant to an industry, and via industry specific groups on LinkedIn.
- companies can permanently broadcast their recruitment needs, their character, their ethos in a variety of mediums, including text, audio and film and attract suitable candidates
- companies can further filter a subset of candidates via research of each candidate’s online presence prior to inviting any to interview.
Recruitment consultants are under threat from the internet. Removed as gatekeepers to a pool of talent, redundant to the process of projecting a client company’s needs and ethos and circum-navigable on the process of initial filtering they are will come under increasing pressure to promote other benefits their involvement can bring.
What could the future of recruitment consultants look like? For one thing I’d suggest the best will get smarts on social media and perhaps start helping by developing and refining metrics capable of calculating a candidates suitability from his or her online footprint.
Just one man’s opinion
I can’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of recruitment. What do you think? Please feel free to comment.
For further posts on social media and recruitment go here.