Recruitment: focus on consultants

The relationship between HR practitioners and recruitment consultants can be rocky. The problem is that both parties blame each other for failing to hire the right candidates, according to a survey of 180 HR practitioners and recruitment consultants conducted by marketing consultancy Market Commun-ications and

HR practitioners say consultants focus on short-term commissions rather than giving long-term value, while consultants say HR professionals are too slow to give feedback, leading to lost candidates.

So where has it all gone wrong? Lucinda Brown, senior consultant at recruitment agency GRS Group, says it boils down to poor communications.

“Everyone wants to blame someone else when things go wrong, but relationships that work well are based on understanding,” she says.

Recruitment consultants need to step back and understand the pressures HR is under and HR needs to be clear about what it wants. If HR professionals don’t want to receive 100 CVs and a phone call five minutes after the interview, they need to say so.”

Trusting relationship

Angela O’Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, has seen things from both sides of the fence, having been a recruitment consultant for five years before switching to HR.

“I was one of those annoying people that cold-called,” she admits, adding that, as with any relationship, trust is important.

“We have great relationships with the recruitment consultants we use because we have built up trust over the years.”

And O’Connor believes that this is where some consultants let themselves down.

“Just recently we arranged to meet with a high-profile recruitment firm, but they sent an arrogant cowboy. He tried to hard-sell his services as if we didn’t understand our own needs. We won’t touch that company again. There is no point in over-promising. If we’re sold a dud, we will find out,” she says.

With consultants working on commission, they can be accused of focusing on short-term gains. But not all agencies are the same, says Janine Garm, training and development manager at recruitment agency Poolia Parker Bridge.

“Commission is the biggest focus for some consultants. However, HR should make sure that companies are not just chasing a payment, but working towards achieving a long-term relationship. If they feel wary, it is time to look at their suppliers.”

O’Connor says she is prepared to pay for the best service. “Money is not the most important thing,” she says. “I drive a hard bargain as there is responsibility to the public purse, but the main issue is getting the right candidate for the job.”

One of the main gripes recruitment consultants have is when HR does not allow them adequate access to line managers.

Garm says: “It can be frustrating when HR takes control. They are not making the decisions, they are just concerned with cost and processes. More contact with line managers would mean a better level of service.”

O’Connor agrees that consultants need to communicate with line managers, and adds: “It doesn’t pay for HR to be too territorial.”

Feedback process

But while feedback is vital to the recruitment process, Brown thinks HR practitioners are also too slow to respond.

“If I put a CV on the system I have to wait for HR to look at it and check it and they pass it on to the line manager to do the same. It can take up to two months to get back to candidates and then HR is surprised that the candidate has found another job,” she says.

Garm agrees than HR can hinder the feedback process. “Some consultants view HR as a necessary evil,” she says. “They can make it harder getting feedback by adding a middle-man in the process.”

However, Ann-Louise Hancock, head of the people division at financial services firm Skandia, says recruitment consultants can be guilty of the same crime.

“There are still some recruitment agencies which fail to keep either candidates or employers regularly informed and updated during the assignment,” she says.

To avoid these problems, Hancock says time must be taken at the beginning of the process to clarify expectations. “You need to ensure that the ground rules are clearly agreed and any assignment is adequately briefed. Difficulties and problems are exposed when this stage has either been bypassed or insufficient time has been taken,” she says.

If consultants are to find the best candidates, they need to understand not only the role, but also the culture of the organisation. The best way to do this, according to Garm, is to allow recruitment consultants into the organisation. “Consultants should be treated like internal colleagues,” she says.

One simple way to do this is to add consultants to internal e-mail groups. “This can improve communication so consultants are up to date with what the organisation is doing and they can better understand its needs,” adds Garm.

There are two sides to every relationship and both HR and recruitment consultants need to understand this if they are to work more effectively together.

How HR CAN get the best from a recruitment consultant

  • Clarify expectations.

  • Agree ground rules and assign a brief.

  • Treat consultants like internal colleagues.

  • Allow agents access to line managers.

  • Invest time in improving communications.

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