Who you going to consult?
Published in The New Zealand Herald, 10 February 2010.
Good recruitment specialists need to demonstrate a personal touch, says Robyn Webb.
After the challenges of 2009, the recruitment industry is enthusiastically responding to increased activity within the employment market.
2010 has commenced with a reduction in the number of recruiters, following retrenchment during the past two years. The indication from the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association is "30 per cent of consulting roles across New Zealand and Australia are estimated to have gone".
Not all businesses are RCSA members, but industry representatives agree there has been significant reduction, with Richard Manthel of Robert Walters stating "some companies have reduced by up to half" in response to the reduced recruitment spend in 2009.
How is this reduction in numbers affecting consultancy performance, effectiveness and outcomes?
Odette Shearer manages contracting opportunities for Pohlen Kean and bases her impression of a smaller industry on the number of consultants she has interviewed during the past year who have left the industry and sought contract positions.
Shearer observes affected people include consultants, support staff and account managers. Consultants have needed to be flexible - in working hours or position. With the necessary sales focus, roles such as candidate managers, specifically responsible for candidate relationships, have not been retained or have had their roles changed.
But while retrenchment has occurred across the industry, some companies have kept staffing numbers constant.
"The value of good people is too high," says Jacqui Barratt, director and consultant at Salt Recruitment, whose team of 18 has remained steady. Barratt acknowledges that unlike a global corporate, a private company has the flexibility to adjust financial objectives during a recessionary period.
Another example is Evolution Group in Takapuna, which has continued to strengthen its relationships and reputation when other small companies have closed their doors.
So what did the industry "survivors" do differently? Is it fair to assume those remaining are the good ones? How can their performance be judged? What should candidates expect from their consultant and how can they evaluate the service they receive?
With increasing market confidence, would 2010's candidates feel empowered by applying consultant performance measures?
Louise Elliott of Evolution Group is passionate that "ensuring a human touch in all that we do is preferable to churning out impersonal emails". This personalised approach might be more realistic for smaller firms; the important point is candidates are given an expectation of time frames, which can vary according to the role and its level of specialisation.
"While technology has a part to play, the personal touch and real communication will never go out of fashion and cannot be overrated," agrees Barratt at Salt. "Although the sheer volume of responses makes it impossible to ring every candidate, we do respond to everyone."
Shearer believes a consultant's primary responsibility to candidates is honesty: "to tell it how it is and do what we say we will."
The difficult employment market has also seen an increased expectation from candidates. "There is greater emphasis on the advisory and support aspects of our role, and more accountability to candidates. A great consultant will say what we are going to do and do the best by the candidate."
Barratt asks whether your consultant demonstrates a genuine interest in you and your career.
"While not every candidate can be placed, an effective consultant will add value through feedback, information and recommendations. Even if not suitable for a role, candidates should be armed with information and be supported in what they need to do to be more marketable.
"Consultants should not be afraid to have these dialogues," she says.
Does the consultant instill confidence that they know their particular market and their client's business? Can they paint a picture of the company, its culture and the particular challenges and opportunities within the role? Are they willing to share this information, to enable effective evaluation of each opportunity?
Eimear O'Shea speaks from the perspective of a former consultant, recent candidate and now business manager of Learning Seat.
"Consultants who commit to finding the right individual for the role and the right role for the individual are soaring in this environment. They are the ones who will remain. They seize the opportunity to expand their expertise, while inspiring the same attitude amongst their candidates."
"Actively taking candidates to the market," says Barratt, "means understanding the drivers, organisations of choice and reasons for interest. It does not mean "flicking CVs" to advertised positions. Effective advocacy stems from strong market knowledge, effective client relationships and an understanding of the candidate's objectives."
When referring a candidate, a great consultant will present all available and relevant information, highlighting the candidate's "offering" to the business and presenting a balanced recommendation.
Barratt believes reference information is integral to the profile she provides to the client: "Reference information is an important sales tool and contributes to the balanced, objective validation leading to representation."
Even if a former position was left on a bad note, Barratt reminds candidates that "smart recruiters can read between the lines and present balanced information to the client."
A great consultant will be available, within reason, to talk outside normal hours and provide a "sounding board" to discuss alternative opportunities and career options.
Ultimately, the candidate should have confidence in their consultant to actively support their job search process, through genuine recommendations, proactive representation and relevant feedback.
Richard Manthel recommends candidates remain proactive throughout the year and keep recruiters current with their plans and ambitions for 2010: "Ongoing relationships with professional recruiters will ensure access to outstanding market information."
In establishing such relationships, is it simply dependent upon who is advertising a particular position? How can candidates identify a great recruiter? How can they develop and manage consultant relationships to best effect? What are the candidate's responsibilities in the process?
Gareth Berry describes an innovative approach in consultant selection. When contacted by Evolution Group via a network referral, Berry offered the consultant "one month's exclusive marketability of me".
Evolution Group responded to the challenge: "I knew my consultant was out there working for me, marketing me incredibly hard to businesses, having discussed where I wanted to work.
He did what he said he would and communicated the state of play. He really cared about my future, thought outside the box and was excited when describing opportunities."
"Do the research," recommends Berry, "then align yourself with two or three recruiters." Confident in his marketable skills, Berry was looking for (and found) proactive advocacy.
Consultants confirm the importance of researching the right companies to approach. "There is little value in forwarding your engineering-based CV to a company which does not work in that space," explains Barratt. "Targeting appropriate companies is more likely to result in a positive response."
Shearer suggests actually asking, "do you think you can help me and represent me?" Asking this question will ensure you are talking with the right consultants and gaining their commitment to working with you.
Says Barratt: "Honesty in communication is a two-way street. A no-surprises approach allows us to manage everyone's expectations."
"Keep your consultant informed," recommends Shearer. "Tell them about changes in your situation. Update them as to your job search to date. If you've already applied elsewhere for that position, tell them."
Share the responsibility of regular communication, says Elliot. "Establish time frames and call your consultant with feedback, or to clarify information."
Consultants are more likely to deliver on expectations if they understand individual requirements and receive feedback.
Barratt: "Partnerships take time and energy from both parties. It is difficult to manage multiple relationships - there needs to be a connection. Ask 'is this a company I want to work with?' Then agree on the parameters."
Once working together, Shearer believes it's important to trust that the consultant knows the organisation and knows who will fit: "The rigorous process is beneficial towards a successful long-term placement."
With the potential increase in employment "churn" in an improving employment market, collaboration with an exceptional recruiter will benefit career opportunities, whether through placement, networking and referral or market information.
In establishing beneficial consultant relationships, 2010's candidates have options and alternatives, but also responsibilities.
Feedback to companies regarding the way their employer brand was represented during the recruitment process is another way of encouraging great performance from the recruitment industry, in 2010 and beyond.
By Robyn Webb