Cue no doubt, ironic chortling.. Not a trick question though. Trust and Recruitment. Two words that are rarely found in a sentence together, even though the former is usually the determining factor in which recruitment businesses you engage with – whether to find your next challenge or to seek out that game-changing hire.

As a Recruiter, even I had my favourites (Rec2Recs), and I always found it both amusing and reassuring that even the very best recruitment companies rely on other recruitment companies. It is an affirmation of the highest order, that industry specificity and acquired knowledge, has yet to be deposed by the ‘generalist’ hive mind.

Having been both hiring manager and candidate – the answer to the question might seem simple; the ones I have always trusted will be the ones that deserve my trust going forward and now is not the time to reassess.

But there is a nagging doubt. Is the recruitment business that emerges from the post-COVID-fog, the same as the one that went in? With resources (and budgets) likely to be extremely precious, should I be compelled into a reassessment?

Scant few industries have celebrated economic success in recent months, and the recruitment industry is no exception. Businesses have not been hiring, and the ONS noted that March to May 2020 saw the largest quarterly decrease to the vacancies total since the current series started in 2001, with an estimated 476,000 vacancies in the UK; this is 342,000 fewer than in the previous quarter.

Successful Recruitment businesses (contrary to the image cultivated by what seems like 1 in 3 contestants on The Apprentice) do not charge steep margins for the service delivered and such an unprecedented and immediate collapse in the jobs market only leaves big business holding painfully high fixed costs relative to income.   The furlough scheme has been a real success at preserving the livelihoods of many a recruiter in the short term, but the longer-tail B2B pipeline won’t be fixed with a meal voucher and job losses seem inevitable – indeed many haven’t wasted any time and made cuts early.

Recruitment businesses have a choice – preserve their USP (and their capability) or be forced to trade down on their USP (and maintain profitability). Here are a few simple tests, which can help guide you on which is which:

1.Specificity Aggregation

Economic shock can cause a ‘specificity dizziness’, that can lead to recruiters becoming the ostensible arbiters of role categorization. Any recruiter will tell you tales of the endless dilution of any niche vertical in the hands of success/sales hungry remit aggregator. Using a laptop is a Tech role and adding up belongs to the Finance Recruiters.

If the recruiter you have always chosen shows signs of generalising, chances are it has hollowed out a skill or does not wish to prioritise your niche any longer. Choose instead to work with a business that doubles down in your niche – you will be better served.

Rob White, Managing Director of the InsurTech specialists, Redimeer notes:

“Redimeer’s focus on our key markets translates to confidence for our clients. Too often, recruitment companies cast their net wider as the economy contracts, when the opposite should be true. The team at Redimeer work hard to refine our niche, so we can deliver for clients.”

2.Breadth of Capability

A successful career in Recruitment is of course challenging and it is certainly not quick. Indeed, dispelling the dream of “buying a house in year 1” has become a public service for almost all serious recruitment managers, in the hope that we might spare the world from the next iteration of Stratton Oakmont. During the long years it takes to develop the knowledge and network required to deliver at the highest levels, the best recruiters diversify their capabilities as their market moves and adapts and their clients seek growth in different ways other than ‘more people.’

If the recruitment company you work with cannot point to breadth in its service, chances are it has not invested in new ideas or worse – it simply does not have any. Choose to explore what different service offerings your suppliers can extend and challenge them to show you how that will help grow your business.

Andrew Jukes, Director of the Keystream Group observes:

“It is no longer enough to just deliver consistent quality of candidates and service. Recruitment firms need to embrace change, adapt, innovate and, most importantly, listen to their customers. If your customers are lacking a service or element of a service that you could provide – and provide well – then you should seize that opportunity.

Too often, recruitment companies focus inwards, on their own goals, rather than their customer. By understanding, listening, and acting upon your customers’ needs, you can fill that void and take your service delivery to the next level.”  

3.Size

An obvious one, but often overlooked. Recruitment companies that expand or contract rapidly, often do so at the cost of service.

Expansion (usually M&A) leads to remit and capability overlaps from a workforce usually comprised of the individually focused. At best the service can represent the staff uncertainty, at worst it can manifest any lived animosity.

Contraction in this instance can only mean loss of skill – either the superstars of today or tomorrow. If a company has shrunk by removing function, then it has responded as documented in Point 1 (specificity) or Point 2 (service breadth) – all covered above.

Enquire as to how the footprint of your trusted supplier has changed. Choose to engage with those businesses that have maintained or taken the opportunity to invest in a complimentary manner, as opposed to in-bulk, because distressed businesses are cheap. Biggest isn’t always best.

Alex Bond, Director of specialist financial and professional services Recruiter FinPro:

“You can work with the big brands in executive search, but they have rigid structures and inflexible pricing. FinPro is consciously small. If you want to work with us on assignment, it is a true partnership and we create a service that works for you.

You can go to a designer store and buy a suit. You know and like the brand and it is a great suit, but it is not made for you. You could spend the exact same money to get a bespoke suit built exclusively for you from an expert tailor.”

4.Adaptability

No business can guarantee success – a lesson we have all learned afresh in recent months. You can, of course, ensure you are best placed to capitalise on opportunities if you are adaptable. Evidence of embraced change should be essential, when ‘relearning’ our relationships with supply partners.

A goal of ‘achieving BAU’ may sound temptingly laudable but serves to highlight that no lessons have been learned and opportunities for service improvements will not be capitalised on. Employee expectations have changed and an insistence on any return to antiquated work practices will surely see a steady flow of talent out the door to competitors as the job market stabilises and confidence ebbs back. Make sure you understand the culture of the recruiter you choose – does it share your work view, or is it doggedly pursuing its own agenda?

Beagle work with fewer clients, providing greater service. We are focused on mutual growth, in the full knowledge that an expansive network is not enough. Beagle combines search & selection skills, sales capability and true Digital & MarTech expertise to remove bottlenecks and drive our client’s competitive advantage to the next level. 

The team at Beagle understands that service is the creation of value. We listen and deliver your agenda, instead of broadcasting ours.