Along with used car salesmen and estate agents, recruiters probably come fairly high up on the list of “people you’d least like to get stuck in a lift with”! Why are recruitment agencies so bad though? The answer is quite straightforward — they suck up your most valuable resource, your time, they take remorselessly, often without giving very anything in return. Once they have finished taking you never hear from them again.

There are a some passionate, genuine and highly professional recruitment consultants out there who DO have your best interests at heart.  There’s no smoke without fire though, and for every great recruiter there are many who leave a lot to be desired…and we mean A LOT!!

We explore what makes recruitment agencies bad, and more importantly, how to spot and identify a poor recruiter early. So how do you recognise a bad recruiter?  

Their first communication is utter drivel

An email saying you would be perfect for a UX Designer role when you are actually an Android Developer. “Perfect” Marketing Manager role when you have been Marketing Director for 5 years. Don’t give these people a second chance, it will only end in time being wasted.

Did you ever hear about DHH (the creator of Ruby on Rails) being approached by a recruiter about a role at Groupon?

True story: I actually get sent LinkedIn inmails all the time from recruiters who are adamant they have the perfect opportunity for me because I am perfect for their amazing role.

They like using buzzwords a bit too much

“Amazing client with massive plans for growth,” everything is “agile”, “innovative”, “cutting edge” even “bleeding edge.”

Everything is perfect, you’re perfect for the role — and the recruiter has not spoken to you yet.

There is always going to be a level of ‘buzzwordery’ going on but the recruiter needs to give you something of substance before you give them your time. If the fluffy buzzwords persist into the initial telephone screening then this recruiter is most likely going to be a massive waste of your time, proceed with caution.

They are too interested in your references

There is never a need for a recruiter to start asking about references until you have a job offer. These recruiters are wasting your time and are merely looking for names, numbers and email addresses so that they can sell their services to your referees.

They are too interested in where you are interviewing

Recruiters don’t really need to know where else you are interviewing. This is yet another lead gathering tactic. The bad recruiter will want to find out where you are interviewing so they can send candidates over to the company themselves, therefore diluting your chances success.

They are Brash and Gimmicky

Statements such as “you’re a perfect fit” and the “perfect role for you” should be flagged up as red in the extreme.  These recruiters don’t know you yet.

You have only just answered the phone! They know nothing about your salary expectation, your career aspirations, your personal circumstances, how far you are willing to commute, your ability to relocate.  We could go on. A recruiter who is wasting your time will approach you about ANY role without taking the time to discuss your requirements, skills and experience first.

Another red flag is a recruiter who appears to be too focused on one particular role and continues to steer you toward that one job.  If this is the case, then maybe you should ask yourself if they are interested in fulfilling your career aspirations or if they are just interested in filling their job and pocketing their cheque.  In short, are they working toward your best interests at all times?

They look a bit too much like ‘The American Psycho”

Not a game breaker but beware those in suits, there is an industry correlation between how corporate a recruiter looks and how likely they are going to waste your time, the shinier the suit the higher the likelihood! (This excludes executive head-hunters).

Suits are synonymous with volume recruitment, the type of recruitment where time is money. They’re a throwback to the time when recruiters had hardnosed KPIs to meet. Some recruitment agencies still operate in this way because frankly, it does still work — your time could be the collateral.

They aren’t able to answer your questions

Any recruiter worth your time will be able to answer your questions.  In order to assess their credibility, it is worth taking some time to enter into a game of 20 questions.

Here are some pointers about the types of questions you should be asking:

Question them about the industry that they profess to “specialise” in

With the high street awash with recruitment agencies, many recruitment consultants profess to “specialise” in a particular discipline.  If this is the case, they should have no problems in providing you with some industry level information.

For example, are they up to date with current news and trends within their “specialism”?  Can they tell you the up to date salary gradings for someone with your skills and experience for example? Or who are the leading innovators in your industry at the moment? If they can’t answer your questions accurately and without a pause (in which they are frantically Googling), then this is a red flag.  

They don’t have to know as much as you do about what’s going on within your industry, but some added value and career insight should be ‘table stakes’ before letting a recruiter into your life.

Are Recruitment Agencies a Waste of Time?

There is bad recruitment practice going on out there. It’s hard to believe, but believe it or not, there are recruiters out there who approach candidates purely to bolster their inventory rather than when there is a genuine opportunity on offer, further reinforcing the idea that recruiters are a waste of time. 

To make sure you are not just making up the numbers, ask the following questions to assess the legitimacy of the job:

Time waste alert #1: They don’t provide the name of the client

Ask for the name of the employer – If they won’t divulge this information why continue to let this recruiter waste your time.

This doesn’t apply if you ask for the name of the client straight away, you have to give them some time first.

They may, however, ask you to keep it confidential. If this is the case, then that’s different and you shouldn’t be alarmed. This is actually an example of best practice and doesn’t mean there is shady business going on. 

Time waste alert #2: They don’t provide a job spec

Ask for a job spec – a real job with a real company will have real requirements.  If your recruiter doesn’t have these details then there is either not a job at all or there is no relationship with a decision maker or hiring manager.  Either way, unless there is a very good reason for them not being able to provide an internal job spec from the client this recruiter will just be using you to open a door. 

Time waste alert #3: They don’t know the reason for the vacancy

Can they provide the reason why there is a vacancy in the first place?

Ask about the history of the position – A recruiter with a legitimate job will know the reasons for the vacancy and be prepared to share this with you.  If they won’t (or can’t), this is either another example of a poor hiring manager relationship or evidence of poor practice. Both are to be avoided.

Time waste alert #4: They cannot tell you about the interview process

Ask about the next steps – A genuine recruiter who is not wasting your time will be able to give you an overview of the entire process.  They should know timescales and interview processes.

They will be able to tell you who you will meet and at what stage. They should know the names and positions of the hiring panel and decision makers.

They will be familiar with company culture and be able to tell you commute times, the nearest tube station and even what you should be wearing.  In short, they should be able to equip you with all you need to ace every stage. The rest is up to you!

Are Recruitment Agencies Worth it?

Of course, but make sure you do your recruiter due diligence. Before entrusting a recruiter with your next career move, we’d recommend that you spend some time on research.

Are they accredited?

Before you sign up with an agency or an individual consultant it is worth doing some background checks.  Have a look to see if they have industry accreditation to APSCo,  it is good practice to align yourself alongside these agencies of repute. 

Can we help you?

I thought I would whistleblow on some of these industry ‘practices’ because it’s not the way we run our operation.

If you would like to speak with an experienced recruiter about your career then please contact us.

About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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