01 April 2009

The 6 Biggest Mistakes Recruiters Make in a Tough Market

Undoubtedly recruiters are working in a very challenging market. Whether you look at public company results, any job index you care to name or the headlines in the general media, it's all pretty sobering stuff.

I worked in two tough markets, 1991/2 in Sydney and then 2001/2 in Melbourne. Co-incidentally both geographic markets were ones I had just entered after moving from, respectively, London and Sydney. Working in a tough market is challenging enough without being the new kid in town. Both times I made many mistakes but managed to survive without losing my job, having a heart attack or needing to sell my precious collection of 1980's vinyl (Cold Chisel's Greatest Hits, anyone?).

As I work with, and talk to, many recruitment company owners and recruiters across the country I see many of the mistakes I made being repeated by people recruiting in their first down market. It's not that these mistakes are ones not made in any market it's just that they are significantly more costly in a jobs-short market. Here's my list of the top 6 mistakes.

Mistake #1 - Chasing Jobs Outside of Your Niche
Why it happens: Desperate recruiters panic when their job flow drops substantially and in an attempt to drive up their ‘jobs in' statistic they chase any old job they can bring in.

Comment: Have you truly called every single prospect in your current niche? Why would you think a job outside your niche is easier to fill than one in your niche? What message about your expertise are you sending to your current clients and candidates? Even if you filled the job how long would it take to fill it? What if you invest a lot of time and don't fill the job - could you readily place elsewhere any of the candidates you spent many hours interviewing? Would you be motivated to even start such an activity? Could you easily fill the job again if your placement bombed out?

Mistake #2 - Being lax with terms of business and credit checks
Why it happens: Overjoyed with bringing in a job the recruiter thinks that ‘the paperwork' will only slow things up and soak up critical time that may be used by competitors to fill the job ahead of them.

Comment: Haven't you read any business media recently? Cash flow problems, credit clampdowns, big-name companies going broke, and spending drying up. In other words many organisations, big and small, won't be able to pay their bills. In desperation they will use anything to dispute a due and proper payment. Not having your terms of business properly signed and returned (before starting work on any assignment) is such a basic error that, frankly, you deserve what's coming to you.


Mistake #3 - Not qualifying jobs
Why it happens: Sick of telephone prospecting all day, every day, the recruiter is excited at having a new job to work on and, finally, having a reason to stop calling and start recruiting, starts the assignment without properly qualifying the job.

Comment: You think not having jobs to work on is demoralising then imagine how it feels to invest hours or days on an assignment and then find out that the client isn't ready to hire now or the client hasn't gained proper hiring authorisation or that the client refuses to be at all flexible on the remuneration offered to your A1 candidate? You then really understand how Pete Best felt, after playing at hundred's of gigs over two years, when he was fired and replaced by Ringo Starr, one month before The Beatles' first single charted in the UK.

Mistake #4 - Interviewing too many candidates
Why it happens: After years of a shortage in active quality candidates there is now a reasonable flow of very good candidates seeking a new position. Like the thirsty alcoholic with the key to the liquor cabinet you now set to work overcompensating for the times of drought and interview every decent candidate who phones or sends in their resume.

Comment: The shortage is now in jobs, not candidates, so time allocated to candidate interviews needs to be carefully rationed. Interviewing masses of candidates each week will not bring in more jobs. When you interview it's a relief to avoid ‘you're the fifth agency who has called me today' for the sixth time that day but my advice is to find new job hunting tactics rather soak up precious time interviewing a candidate you have no short term hope of finding a job for.

Mistake #5 - Giving clients more control
Why it happens: In a market with fewer jobs to fill it's easy to feel more vulnerable to the impact of a client's commercial decision to give or not to give us an assignment to fill. In an attempt to avoid this happening the recruiter shows about as much resistance to client objections or disagreements as Shane Warne to come-on from a dyed-blonde skank in a bar. ‘Now is not the time to go push back on client demands' is the thought running through your head.

Comment: Has the changed employment market made the recruiter any less of an expert than they were before? In fact it's the opposite - our expertise is even more valuable and important in securing optimum recruitment outcomes. A poor hiring decision in the current climate could be even more costly for a client than in rosier times. Now is exactly the time to assert your expertise and provide your client with (potentially) unpopular but accurate advice about market salaries, quality candidate supply and the like. Who knows more about tax; a tax accountant or their client? Who knows more about architecture; an architect or their client? Who knows more about recruitment - a recruiter or their client?

Mistake #6 - Wishing, hoping or thinking things will get easier
Why it happens: Denial is a condition common to humankind across the world (ie Russell Crowe singing, Sting acting or Britney Spears parenting) and recruiters are no different. We would like to believe that things are not as they are and we act in accordance with our dream world rather than the world that actually exists.

Comment: Spending time thinking or talking about something you have no control over is about as useful as a hair care kit is for Peter Garrett. Results are caused by actions. If your current results are not to your liking your choices are clear - get better at what you are currently doing, do more of what you are currently doing, or do something different. 

The recruitment market over the past 6 years has been very buoyant and that has attracted many people into roles as recruiters. Often these people have been thrust onto a desk immediately, poorly trained (if at all) and basically left to their own devices to make money.

This short term tactic is exposed as a folly when a down market means the ‘easy money' dries up and the recruiter have few, if any, core business development and client influencing & negotiating skills to drive their success in a more challenging market.

That's when the 6 biggest mistakes are most likely to occur.

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