The relationship between job seekers and the agencies who undertake to find candidates for roles for their clients is frequently a fraught one. The agency is paid by the client, and that's where their focus remains, and so they have the dominant position in the relationship with the job seeker. The candidate is their means of earning commission, but all too often is not treated as a supplier or partner, but as a necessary evil. There are many recruiters who act responsibly and ethically towards their candidates, but regrettably there are more - and it seems to be a growing percentage - who treat candidates poorly. These are some of the ways.1. Keeping the candidate in the dark
The candidate is only informed if there is positive news - requests for more details of the candidate, requests for interview, and of course any job offers. If the candidate has been turned down, or not short-listed, then he or she will only find out by contacting the agency for information - if of course they can get hold of a responsible adult. If there is no news, then how many agencies will contact you to explain the situation, to advise what actions they are taking and what they consider the implications of no progress to be? The rule seems to be: if you are on the client's radar, the agency is all over you; as soon as the client's interest wanes, you are dropped faster than a toddler's ice cream.2. Not returning calls
When you try to contact the agent for information, they are often unavailable - not unreasonable, as they spend a lot of time on the phone or with the client. However, if you leave a message requesting an update, why do so few agents return your call?3. Not notifying unsuccessful candidacy
Mostly, unless you are shortlisted by the agency, an application goes into a black hole. There is often an automated response that "we have received your application", then that's the last you hear. It isn't rocket science or huge effort overheads to enable standard "sorry, not this time" emails to be sent to unsuccessful candidates. That way we don't have to waste time and effort trying to contact the agent to find out if anything is happening.4. Not providing feedback on unsuccessful interviews
When you attend a client interview, and it hasn't had a successful outcome, then you want to know why - so you can learn from the experience and do better next time. Most agents have no real idea - they don't ask the client (it's not of interest), and some may even try to make up a reason, but you can usually tell if it's their assumption rather than hard feedback. Wouldn't it be nice to know?5. Posting job specs that are unclear
I just spent a couple of hours on two applications where the job posting sounded like a perfect fit for my background, which is services, products, and software. When I got to speak to the agent it became clear in both cases that hardware development experience was essential. Nowhere did the job description mention this. These applications were thus a complete waste of my time, and made me wonder if there was a way to waste theirs in return.
It seems that virtually all candidates - myself included - have experienced agencies who engage in dubious practices, such as advertising jobs that don't exist, and initiating candidate searches for positions which the client has not yet confirmed and does not have signed off. I am now hesitant about applying for jobs advertised online unless I can speak to the agent, as not only do they frequently go nowhere, but all too often it is not even possible to follow up with the agent.7. Basing contract fee rates on pro-rata permanent salaries
There seems to be an increasing trend for contract opportunities to be offered at "pro rata permanent salaries", which is a nice way for the employer to obtain temporary staff without any overhead costs (National Insurance, tax, holidays, pension and so on), which the contractor must then fund out of their fees, as well as funding the gap between contracts, meeting limited company costs and the necessary accountant's fees, and so on. I was approached recently by an agency for a short term project management role, demanding significant experience, at a day rate well below what I'd expect net of tax as a salary. Clearly the agent was failing to challenge their client as to the wisdom of the fee rate being offered.8. Acting as curators of CV museums
The large Interim Management agencies claim thousands of interims are "on their books." In fact, they only actually provide opportunities to a core few hundred favored candidates, and the remainder will never hear anything: the vast majority of potential candidates are just there to inflate the size of their CV pool so that clients will be impressed. I keep in touch with a couple of the leading IM agencies, not because I expect any opportunities, but because I'm interested to see if they ever contact me.9. Sending you details of jobs you aren't qualified for
I register with some agencies for email alerts of new job postings, and I get some calls from agents who find my CV on job boards. It is clear that some agencies are better than others at keyword searches, and even when I get called by recruiters, they sometimes seem not even to have read my CV before contacting me. My best example to date was a request for applications from airline captains with experience of 747-400s and fluent Russian. My background is systems implementation project management, and my only Russian is "da" and "nyet".10. Being unsympathetic
I regret that some recruiters I've spoken to over the years have been somewhat abrupt in their manner. I've known some who were distinctly lacking in social skills - a bit strange for a people career - and those who can't wait to get you off the phone and aren't prepared to hide it. Worst of all in some ways are the ones who at the start of the conversation say, "How are you?" and clearly couldn't care less what you answer. I regret to say men are generally worse than women in this regard, but not always. Come on guys, be nice, it costs nothing, takes no time, and people do respond more positively as a result.
These kinds of treatment by agencies are very short sighted on their behalf - whether I undertake a contract as an interim manager or as a permanent member of staff, I frequently need to recruit other staff to resource the program I am working on. Naturally I will favor those agencies I consider have treated me responsibly and fairly. Those who have been cavalier, I avoid giving further business to. Like many interim or permanent managers, I now maintain a list of both individuals and agencies whom I trust or abhor, and act accordingly. Indeed, there are now 'consumer rating' websites to share experiences and score agencies. Recruiters, beware...
Roger Emmens is an independent IT Projects Manager in the Telecoms and Media industry.