I am constantly being told about how recruitment and executive search organisations dismally fail to achieve any level of efficiency. They are frequently blamed as the reason many job seekers fail to get positions. I’m not talking about outright “gangmaster” type of crooked practises, but more about low levels of competence and professional ineptness which has been signalled as the death knell of the weakest in the industry.

More often than not I scramble to the defence of fellow professionals. But in other sectors there are clear barriers to entry, and I think these should apply to recruitment.

The development of LinkedIn and sophisticated Google search skills has given everyone open access to an unlimited online global data base. The value that recruitment agencies and search specialists add is being able to identify and then attract the best talent from this morass of unqualified information. They then have to expertly assess those candidates and complete an effective triage of the top-tier to present to their clients.

If they fail to do this successfully over time, they will indeed eventually die. However, I would go one step further say those bodies should not even be there in the first place.

A recent experience

This week I heard of the abysmal experience of a senior candidate who was involved a search process for a high level interim talent management assignment. The contact ticked all of the boxes, and then some so was interested to hear more about it at least. To be clear, the organisation approached her – not the other way round.

It wasn’t so much there were a few things not right with the process, more that everything (by that I mean everything) was completely and horrifically wrong. At every stage of interaction whether with the researcher, the admin and finally the consultant, communication was incomplete, inefficient or non-existent. Commitments to call or get back to her were not respected. She took three hours out of her day to meet a consultant who had no idea why he was seeing her and for a position that had seemingly been filled in the meantime. A call to up- date her within 24 hours was not made and when she called him a week later he had no recollection of their meeting. The second promised call has still not been made. There are more dismal stories relating to the admin in between, but you must be getting the message about shocking service levels and the company’s understanding of their business.

This encounter is apparently according to my other contacts, just a drop in the veritable ocean of diabolical experiences that candidates are obliged to endure on a daily basis at the hands of recruitment agencies.

So agency incompetence indeed can be a reason for candidates not being processed correctly.

What do I recommend?

  • There should be barriers to entry with proven qualifications in the field. There has to be some regulation to prevent people who are not qualified, being able to set themselves up in business and calling themselves executive search consultants or recruiters.  A LinkedIn profile and a lap top should no longer be sufficient. There should be some sort of qualification achieved after a period of study followed by examination. This is common in many professions such as accounting. Just because someone has worked in corporate H.R. for example, does not mean they can assume the role without any training.  You would be surprised how many people conduct interviews and make selection decisions with no training at all. They may have industry and functional insights, but the specifics of conducting multiple searches simultaneously will be new to many.
  • When they are operational they should be legally mandated to provide minimum training levels for any staff. Candidate sourcing, development and attraction require specific skills. Interviewing and assessment require additional areas of more sophisticated competence. They are not divine gifts but can be learned, so therefore need to be taught by someone who knows what they are doing.  Having remote employees working in isolation without supervision is also a recipe for disaster. This should also apply to any in-house recruitment managers.
  • There should be a regulatory body to monitor complaints and performance.  Persistent complaints should result in detailed investigation. Penalties should be imposed and if necessary they should not be allowed to operate and their license suspended or revoked.

Word of mouth and natural justice metered out organically by the business cycle is no longer enough to curtail this type of rogue operator to maintain high professional standards.  They are still capable of doing a significant amount of damage  to the profession during the time they are loose on the market.

Barriers to entry are the only way to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Dorothy Dalton is an international talent management strategist, working on both ends of the spectrum on executive search and career transition coaching from “hire to retire.” She is fully qualified. She is Co-Founder of 3Plus International set up to advance the careers of professional women through coaching, mentoring, training and sponsoring programmes.