Given the popularity of LinkedIn and the many organisations choosing to look after their hiring needs themselves, you’d be forgiven for wondering why any company would still hire a recruitment firm. And yet business is booming, if the number of recruiters taking on staff themselves is any indication.
The recruitment sector slumped by as much as 70 per cent during the recession, as hiring freezes and job cuts became the norm. It has been a tricky couple of years for the industry, but with the economy getting back on track and more people returning to the workforce, it’s seeing good times once again.
The sector is worth about €1.73 billion a year, according to a recent estimate from the National Recruitment Federation in Ireland. This figure is expected to grow in the coming years.
“The sector had an annus horribilis in 2009, but has rebounded again significantly since then. I’d argue the number of companies that see value in what we are doing has also grown,” says Adrian McGennis, chief executive of Sigmar Recruitment.
With so many other options open to organisations, why on earth would they still turn to recruiters to find personnel?
"You'd think it would be easy for companies to just go in and look after the process, but recruitment is about much more than matching a CV to a job spec. Technology can easily do that these days, but it's not so smart at going beyond that," says Richard Eardley, managing director at Hays Ireland.
“You can sit someone down in front of LinkedIn and they could probably have a reasonably good go at finding candidates who look suitable. By the time they’ve done all the knowledge acquisition required and drilled down past that, however, they’d have spent far more time than it would take to get in experienced recruiters who know which people are actively looking for work and are prepared to move location and so on if necessary,” he adds.
Jenny Navan, a manager at CPL, the only Irish recruitment organisation listed on the Irish Stock Exchange, agrees.
“There is still a huge need for recruitment consultants because they are the ones who are actually talking to candidates and can assess factors like soft skills, cultural fit and their interest in the job. Networks like LinkedIn are really valuable, but will never be able to understand a person’s attitude or the potential chemistry between employee and employer,” she says.
Navan adds that when many of us are happy to tell the world on LinkedIn that ‘we’re open to new opportunities’, it can be hard work establishing who really wants a job and who’s just keeping an eye out.
“Another factor to consider is that a large proportion of jobs we fill are with passive candidates – people who are not actively seeking a new role. It takes considerable time and skill to identify good passive candidates and convince them this opportunity is too good to pass up. LinkedIn won’t do that by itself,” Navan added.
A spokesman for LinkedIn said some of its biggest clients are recruitment agencies and that it doesn’t mind how its members discover career opportunities.
‘Our biggest focus is on adding value for our members, whether that means they get a job through an inhouse recruiter or an agency.”
Charley Stoney, managing director at the Alternatives Group, a boutique recruitment firm that specialises in the marketing sector, says agencies remain essential for candidates as well.
“There’s a huge trust built over time. Consultants come to know candidates for many years, help them manage their career and guide them on where to go next, as well as providing practical assistance such as interview tips,” she says.
Stoney adds that as with other recruiters, she has a love/hate relationship with LinkedIn and other social media networks. As much as they aid the recruitment process, they can also create the impression it is far easier to do than it really is.
“The problem with LinkedIn and other networks is that everything on it is self-published so you only get one side of the story. What we provide and what is our real value is the insight behind what is put up online,” she says.
Moreover, Stoney says that with many HR departments having slimmed down in recent years and with more organisations now holding longer recruitment processes that often involve multiple interactions with candidates, companies simply don’t have the resources to manage the process.
“The biggest issue in recruitment is that it’s incredibly time-consuming. It is often underestimated generally, but for any one role, you have to sift through hundreds of applications and turn this into a long list of maybe 20 to 30 people, who you then screen over the phone.
“After isolating those you’re going to send for interview, you then bring them in for a chat, prep them and go through the list of competencies ahead of them meeting the client. Then you follow up after they’ve met. Most organisations simply don’t have time to do all this,” she says.
Part of the reason why the recruitment process has gotten so drawn out is that it has become more sophisticated, according to McGennis.
“Recruitment has become a lot more customised and more focused in recent years with cultural fit becoming increasingly important to clients. We’ve done a lot of work with FDI companies in particular and for them it is a huge issue. As much as they want to know about hard skills such as level of experience, qualifications and so on, they want to know whether someone will fit into the organisation on a personal level,” he says.
Eardley says, meanwhile, that working closely with clients is essential for getting good results.
“When you work well with clients, you get a good feel as to what kind of people they are looking for. As a recruiter, you should then be aiming for an interview-to- success ratio of at least one in three. If the ratio is higher than that, then arguably you’re not doing your job effectively,” he says.
There was a widely held perception that some consultants got a little slack during the boom years when they didn’t have to try too hard to win business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, recruiters can be defensive about a perceived lack of standards in the sector during that period.
“I wouldn’t say recruiters got lazy. If anything, we were working incredibly hard during the boom, but it’s fair to say that at that time we were probably focused on different priorities because it was a candidates’ market then.
“It’s about both candidates and clients now, which makes things more rewarding for recruiters but also more challenging, because essentially you’re a broker between two sides who are entering into what may well be the most important relationship of their lives other than marriage, so it’s not easy,” adds Eardley.
Stoney says that recruiters have to be hardy and able to deal with what can be a difficult and ever-changing dynamic.
“You have to be resilient working in recruitment as there are so many variables. When it comes down to it you’re not selling a widget. At any point the hiring process can change and there can be frustration and upset such as when you’re letting candidates know they haven’t been successful.
“But at the same time, there are also extraordinary highs, such as when you get a good strong match and everyone is delighted. Those moments are what keep you going in the business and I’m not sure that they can be achieved so often without recruitment consultants,” she says.