I vividly remember being at a business networking event a few years ago, and being taken aback when I overheard the conversation between a group of people standing behind me.
“Why is it so damn hard working with recruiters?”
“Tell me about it. If I’d known it would take them so long, I would have just done it myself”
“Talk about over-promising and under-delivering”
Now I’m not exactly the shy type so, on cue, I turned around to introduce myself.
“My name’s James Koh…”
“Have you had problems with recruiters too, James?”, one of them asked.
“… and I run an executive search firm specialising in the advertising, media and communication space”, I added.
How to break up a party in one swift move.
I stood there for a second, feeling agitated that after being in the game for as long as I have been, recruiters are still getting a bad rap. To be honest, it’s probably because you think we’re working against you! Trust me when I say we are not (all) trying to rip you off.
Believe it or not, most of us won’t manipulate you into taking someone on board who isn’t right for you; or try to convince you to pay someone more than they deserve just so we can charge you a higher fee. We actually want to find you the best possible candidate. We’re on your side. We really just want to let you get on with what you do best, while we get on with what we love to do – and what we do best.
But… despite what many people think, we’re not mind readers, wizards or magicians. We might be good… but we’re not that good.
If you want to engage a magician to find your needle in a haystack, a diamond in the rough, a purple unicorn, or [insert any other clichéd description here for ‘the impossible’ candidate], I’m sorry, but I believe David Copperfield is busy performing every night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
In the meantime, here are few things you can continue doing as a hiring manager to quickly discover that your recruiter is not a wizard.
1. Don’t bother properly briefing your recruiter
I once had a client email me to tell me that he actually didn’t have time to speak to me. He just wanted to email through his job description so my team could “get on with it”.
When we say we need to speak with you (or ideally even meet with you) to get a better understanding of what you’re looking for, there’s a reason for it. If we don’t get to know you and your business properly, what might end up happening is that you won’t like anyone we send you. And that’s when all the complaining starts.
Nobody knows your business better than you do. And if you want us to help you grow your team, you’ll have to share some of the information in your head with us.
Every company is different. So even if we’ve recruited a hundred account management candidates for other organisations in the past, the person you’re looking for will be different. Spending some time with us up-front will save a lot of potentially wasted time.
There really is no such thing as pulling a rabbit out of a hat!
2. Don’t provide us with a job description
I’m not a yes person. So if you asked me to find you a Digital Transformation Lead for your business and then said “Come on, James. Surely you know what I’m looking for”, you know what? I might think in my head… “ok he is testing me” and will quickly start asking you questions that will form the base of the JD that I will write when I head back to the office but…
a proper job description will be ideal.
And you know what else? If you scribbled a few bullet points on to a Post-it Note and gave it to me, I might not consider working on your brief. If I do take it, you are lucky – because I know my industry. My team and I have the experience to fill in the blanks but most recruiters aren’t able to do that.
It’s not uncommon for employers to know that they definitely need to bring somebody new into the business, but to not have carefully thought out exactly what it is that the new team member would be doing. This is a dangerous way to start.
There is no question that every candidate expects to see a job description if they are even going to consider a career move. If a recruiter can’t provide a potential candidate with a job description, what sort of impression will that create? Trust me – the candidate will probably think the job doesn’t even exist – no matter how good a sales job the recruiter does.
We can’t create a potion to make a candidate believe that a position is real!
3. Have a completely unrealistic salary expectation
We had a client brief us on an Associate Creative Director (copy based) role recently in a Shanghai with one of the highest costs of living in Asia. The base salary on offer was RMB$40,000 per month (gross, no other benefits) | SGD$8,000 (gross).
When the recruiter challenged the client on it, the recruiter was accused of already coming up with excuses as to why they wouldn’t be able to fill the role. Irrespective of an uncapped commission structure, it would be practically impossible for someone outside of China to even consider a base salary of SGD$8,000 (gross per month) with at least 8 years worth of experience. What about taxes? Rental?
There’s no magic wand or spell for that one either.
4. Don’t provide us with any feedback
Working with a recruiter is a two-way street.
We send you profiles and résumes, we organise interviews, and you meet with our candidates.
Along the entire process, candidates will crave feedback – even a quick update will do – they’re just eager to hear about potential next steps. If we don’t keep them updated, they’ll naturally think that we have forgotten about them (or that we don’t even care about them). Never once will they think you haven’t been able to come back to us with feedback.
So please… if we send through a handful of résumes, please call us (or at least email us) with your initial thoughts. If you interview one of our candidates, please don’t just delete and ignore those voicemails that we leave you over the next 24 hours asking for your feedback. Please call us to discuss how the interviews went.
We just want to keep your candidates in the loop.
One of our clients recently decided to wait 17 days before returning the recruiter’s call soliciting feedback. When the recruiter explained that the candidate had chosen to pursue another opportunity because of the delay, the client bluntly accused the recruiter of “not even being able to keep a candidate warm”.
You might think we’re wizards, but we certainly don’t keep candidates simmering in a cauldron!
5. Deny the reality of a poor employer brand
A client briefed me personally on a role a few months ago. She admitted it was “a bit of a toughie”. When I asked her why, she told me that there had been five people in the role over the last 2 years.
She didn’t even flinch when I responded with “that means each person only lasted around five months”.
A quick search on Glassdoor revealed an absolutely horrendous rating. There were comments from candidates claiming to have been kept waiting in interview rooms for up to two hours; several references to a “toxic environment”; and reading between the lines, probably even a few harassment claims. When I explained that it probably wouldn’t be right for us to take the project on, she got quite defensive and desperate to the point of saying “but I’ll pay anything”.
Nope. We’re not into smoke and mirrors. We’re not illusionists. We’re not into making things appear differently as they seem.
That’s what I’ve been getting at. Let me reiterate:
We’re here to help you find the best possible candidates for your organisation. However, we won’t be casting spells or employing sleight of hand; we won’t be making candidates drink magic potions; we won’t have magic wands or consult crystal balls; we’re not mind readers; we look at resumes – not Tarot cards.
In a nutshell: recruiters aren’t wizards.
You know what you’re looking for. A good search firm will know who you’re looking for.
Our business is evolving, and so is the language. Here’s a little Rosetta Stone of sorts to help you talk the talk.
It’s not a competition. Fostering a good collaborative relationship either way can lead to better efficiency – and even better hires.
No one likes being left dangling. A little honesty can go a long way in maintaining professionalism and a positive reputation for your organisation.