The extinction of the agency IT recruiter… is this really happening?

To give you an idea of my age when I got into tech recruitment I was recruiting Y2K Testers. Y2K spiced up the industry with Armageddon like impact. At the time the market was going mad hiring almost anyone with a heartbeat to do Y2K testing roles. Janitors were getting Test Manager gigs, it was nuts and ironically all for nothing. This was a time when it seemed like every recruiter in Sydney was fresh off a British Airways flight and looking to make a quick buck whilst having a whale of a time basking in the sun of Manly, Coogee and Bondi. It’s no surprise I was the minority, an Aussie, in our Sydney office. Good times and I learned a lot, often what not to do!

There’s a school of thought that us recruitment agents are on our way to extinction. Apparently our industry practices and approach in general is adding less and less value to both candidates and clients. It’s hard to argue as there’s definitely a lot of truth to this. 

We all know that generally recruitment gets a bad wrap from the majority of industry professionals, often rightly so. We’re seen to be only interested in chasing a dollar and not at all fussed about attaining the right long term outcome for our clients and candidates. I recently advised a client not to proceed with a candidate due to a suspect reference report, it’s quite sad that I was looked at with complete dismay from the internal recruiter who didn’t think this was actually possible coming from an agency recruiter! Agency recruiters recklessly ‘spray and pray’ resumes around hoping one will stick, clogging up in-boxes and consuming the time of busy clients. Directors of the typical recruitment agency beat their consultants with the proverbial KPI stick telling them its purely a numbers game, the more you throw out the more you’ll get back. We’ll only call you when we want something, asking asking asking but rarely giving. I could go on and on, this is just a small snippet from the countless ‘bag a recruiter’ chats I’ve had with many friends, clients and candidates over the years.

So the question beckons, is the role of the agency IT recruiter dying?

With the emergence of online social & professional networking and the ever increasing investment in more sophisticated internal recruitment teams the role of an agency recruiter must evolve. 

If our clients are going to pay our fees we must provide them access to the top 10 % of candidates available. Unlike other disciplines, Accounting or Marketing for example, this can be particularly hard in the ever broadening world of technology. I find it quite amusing when I hear “I’m a specialist IT Recruiter”, okay so what do you specialise in? “all of IT”.. If you’re going from recruiting an SAP FICO Consultant one minute to a Virtualisation Engineer the next, then your chances of stumbling across top 10% talent are very slim. Those that are what I call ‘Specialist Generalist’ IT Recruiters will struggle to add any real value or depth to a client and candidate conversation, and you’ll typically get the old “What’s your rate? What’s your availability? Can I send you over?”  type service. This approach will usually involve a very superficial coffee chat followed by some scribbled notes being handed to a fresh grad resourcer who is hungover back in the office surfing LinkedIn, resulting in a shortlist that has some key words but no real relevance, sound familiar?

It’s one thing being an actual specialist but this alone is not revolutionary and will not necessarily stand out in the more competitive markets.

How do we reach that elusive top 10%??? This is what will keep us relevant. I’ll spare you a candidate sourcing 1A training rant but in short we need to dig deep, search under rocks for those rare in demand skill sets. Posting an ad and sitting back waiting for the gold to arrive in the inbox will get us nowhere apart from further driving the nail into our recruitment coffin.  

Providing a forum to express your depth of market knowledge is something that both clients and candidates want and also something that internally focused onsite recruiters will never be able to compete with. We are effectively information brokers, our stock is not just human capital but the intelligence we build about the inner workings and nuances of the markets we work in. The big global recruitment firms throw out their annual salary surveys that are usually based on a 2 second chat with a rookie recruiter who simply says add 5% on to from whatever we put last year, rather than real market data. The knowledge of a quality experienced and specialised recruiter enables clients and candidates to make informed decisions about their hiring strategies and personal careers. Once again not a strength of those ‘generalist specialists’.

In my opinion it will always be hard to dramatically revamp what we do as agency recruiters, so sometimes just doing it well and with ethics will strangely be enough to differentiate us and maintain our value. The quality ‘human touch’ side of recruitment is so often compromised in our industry that it will always be in demand. The simple but effective mantra of ‘doing what you say you’re going to do’ and open and transparent communication will always hold strong. No online sourcing algorithm will ever replace that.

A specialist IT agency recruiter who knows their market inside and out will always add value and be in demand, but the future of the generalist specialist version is on the way out, soon to be completely replaced by a mix of internal recruiters & technology. The internal recruitment managers that are too buried in their own agendas to see this value and not utilise specialist recruiters for our complimentary capability will be doing their firms a disservice as having best of breed talent is what separates success from failure.

I envisage a culling rather than extinction. There are many exceptional operators in our industry that will ensure it lives long.