Recruitment and Career Change

Photography by Nicolette Wells Photography

Photography by Nicolette Wells Photography

Each month we theme our articles from business columists in order to provide a consistent thread through the magazine and to give you a variety of opinions on a particular subject. This month, we chose recruitment or more generally “career change.”


In an attempt to extract the latest and the most relevant from the recruitment agencies currently operating in the UK market, some 135000 of them, we tried to solicit some feedback.
We received none.
Not a sausage.

This, I admit, fuelled my concerns regarding the nature of the recruitment ‘industry‘ namely that of regulation, governance and standards. I was hoping to find some consistency in the assessment of the industry, the common problems being faced by recruiter and recruitee alike and a view on the developments in the UK job market.

I did manage to find a report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), an industry body that claims to offer both ‘informed choice‘ and an ‘influence‘ on Government for it’s members. It does not, hower, say how many of the 135,000 companies in the UK it can claim as members.

Some statistics, then, to help put some meat on the bones, all taken directly from various recruitment agency websites and press releases:

* 60% of UK workers are considering changing their current job

* 1 in 10 workers are dissatisfied with their job/role

* the unemployment number in the UK dropped by just over 3,000 in February

* the number of those claiming Job Seekers allowance rose by just over 25,000

* careers advice is acknowledged as being woefully inadequate or non-existent in many areas

The REC report picks up on the theme:

“At a time when you are feeling you most vulnerable and maybe a little battered and bruised, it’s heartening to know that there are over 135,000 recruitment agencies in the UK*” What is less heartening is that there currently is no regulatory body controlling these organizations – in fact, the person you are trusting to mastermind your next career move could have been standing in your shoes last week.”

Well, excuse me but I take very little heart from the fact that some 135,000 agencies are sitting in wait for me to jump or be pushed and particularly less heartened when, by their own admission, “there currently is no regulatory body” controlling, monitoring, guiding, regulating, governing and, from our perspective, managing these agencies. At this stage I am reminded of the reasons why ABTA was formed within the travel industry in the 80’s and why estate agents have the reputation that they do. There are no formal qualifications, no codified system of regulation and, unsurprisingly, no formal redress procedures.

The report continues;

“The Recruitment and Employment Confederation may help you identify those who will truly work in your best interest and those that are out to benefit from the hefty placement fees to be had.”

Well at least there exists an acknowledgement that some agencies are “out to benefit from the hefty placement fees” and it is this point that I would like to discuss a little further. In my own, direct experience I have registered with several recruitment agencies; local and national, online and direct, ‘placement‘ and ‘career management‘. None have been any more effective than the other. I DO receive lots of emails. I DO get weekly offers to re-write my CV. I do not get professional support, proactive job management nor a career plan. Thankfully I do not need one but many people do.

I have registered on ‘free‘ sites to later find out that the services that actually represented any value where chargeable at fees from £50 to £2000 – up front, no guarantees.

I have met with ‘executive management and placement‘ agencies that re-wrote my CV, told me I was bound to find something because they “get the jobs before they come onto the market” and took my £2000. They never found me a single interview let alone executive placement.

I may have been unlucky but the last thing you need when you are trying, or having to change job is to play fast and loose with those specialists that are supposed to be on your side. Over the past few weeks in my research for this article I have sent my CV to 12 agencies of varying size and speciality – the result? My CV rewritten 12 different ways because “employers like to see it this way these days. Your old CV was fine but would not get noticed”. What total bulls*hit. I actually sent my original CV directly to some of the potential employers and got an acknowledgement of consideration by return!

It seems that if you don’t know what to do or say, re-layout the CV. How creative!

So, back to the REC, the following are directly taken from their report;
“REC is proud to be:
Recruitment’s biggest lobbying voice
The source of recruitment knowledge
Raising recruitment standards
Helping individuals develop successful careers in recruitment
Exceeding members’ expectations through business support”

It goes further and defines the criteria you, as a recruitment consultant, need to meet to be “granted membership”,

So, what are the criteria?

“Membership is granted to organisations whose Directors, Principles or Managers have:
a. Had at least one year’s trading within the recruitment industry; or
b. Had at least one year’s individual experience within the recruitment industry; or
c. Completed the REC 3 day ‘Starting Up A Recruitment Agency’ course”

Well, unless I am mistaken, the REC represents some, but not all, of the UK’s recruitment agents. They are THE professional body “influencing Government” and THE body helping you avoid charlatans and “hefty placement fees” but the qualifications for membership are essentially a year working for another recruitment agency (or yourself !!) or a 3-day course !!!!!

My fears become manifest. Despite their requirement that “All Corporate Members are required to agree to the Code of Professional Practice, which is enforced through our complaints and disciplinary procedures”, I am still not placated. It is an industry that offers much, criticizes more and guarantees nothing. Well, nothing except that your fees will be taken in advance and that there are, in fact no guarantees because “it’s really difficult in the job market at the moment, you have to be patient”. Totally under-whelming, amateurish and unacceptable. In fact, my guess is that it requires more qualification and stringent control to become a lollipop man/lady!!!

You may think that I am being a little prejudiced; a little jaundiced maybe but no; I assure you my independence remains intact as it is you that I represent. Not the under-qualified, high expense, guarantee-less, non-regulated agencies.

You may feel that I have given the REC a hard time, maybe, but it is their own content that I have relied upon. Essentially the industry is unregulated, ungoverned, under controlled and, by logical conclusion, under-professional.

My advice;

* try to find someone who has had previous success with the agency.

* Try to get them to give you actual proof of their client placements.

* Ask for evidence.

* Ask for their qualifications and experience.

* Deal with the boss.

* Don’t pay anything – at least until you have secured something back.

* Use the internet to do your own research there are hundreds of sites offering free career and CV services, try them first.

Final advice, become a recruitment consultant! You only need a 3-day training course and a year taking cheques to the bank for your ‘hands on‘ experience with an existing agency………and at least you aren’t an estate agent!

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