30 January 2013

Australia’s best recruiter? An uneven playing field

The recent retirement from test cricket of Ricky Ponting set off another round of those periodic debates about where Ponting ranks in Australia’s list of ‘best ever’ batsmen. Ponting’s test batting average (51.85) certainly qualifies him to be among the elite but is he the ‘next best after Bradman’ as some have speculated?
Comparing sportspeople across eras is a very difficult and subjective issue. Modern sportspeople have access to much higher levels of coaching, money and knowledge about opponents than their past century peers had. On the other hand the rise in the standard of living within previously-labelled second and third world countries has given many more people from many more countries the opportunity to compete against the traditional first world sports powers like Germany, UK, USA and Australia (to name just four) and succeed.
The same argument can equally be applied to recruitment and trying to make some sort of judgement about who might be the ‘best’ recruiter in Australia.
Until now we have only had the Fairfax Employment Marketing Awards (seemingly now permanently retired, an apparent victim of Fairfax cost cutting, as the FEMA website is no longer active) attempt to make this judgement with their Recruiter of the Year award (the most recent winner, Launch Recruitment’s Katie Borton who left the industry in May last year).
With the demise of the FEMAs Brisbane recruitment agency owner, Shaun McCambridge has decided to step into the breach and launch Australia’s Best Recruiter Competition 2013. Nominations are currently open until 8 February.
Up for grabs is $15,000 in cash and an opportunity to spend time with coffee entrepreneur, Phillip DiBella.
The criteria that applicants will be judged on are as follows:
  • Values as a recruiter
  • Greatest achievement as a recruiter
  • Prior awards and/or recognition and promotions of note
  • Overview of your style as a recruiter and highlights of your career thus far
  • Be prepared to provide references from one jobseeker and client (line managers for internal recruiters) 
I spoke to Shaun last week and amongst other things, I suggested that as much as I admired his attempt to highlight excellence in our industry there were some hurdles in having the competition gain traction, namely: 
  1. Both internal and external (agency) recruiters are competing for the same prize:
    It is very difficult to compare the accomplishments of the two different types of recruiters given both groups are assessed differently by their respective employers. A vast majority of agency recruiters are primarily judged on fee income (billings or margin) whereas internal recruiters are more likely to have a broader criteria to fulfil (eg volume, quality, tenure, performance own-sourced hires versus agency sourced hires).
  2. The applications for the award need to be submitted via the website of Shaun’s business, Stellar Recruitment:
    I would imagine not too many recruitment agency owners would be willing to allow one of their very best recruiters to submit a detailed application to another recruitment agency
    no matter how far Stellar Recruitment is from being a real competitor to that aspiring Best Recruiter’s employer.
  3. Shaun is a member of the judging panel:
    The same concerns about confidentiality apply as per the previous point.
  4. Getting the word out:
    Unless you have a media or association partner (eg ShortList, Recruitment Extra, RCSAA, AHRI etc) to help promote the competition it is tough to reach the majority of the people who would be the target audience for applications.
Here are some further points that I would regard as important in attempting to compare recruiters against one another to determine who is the best: 
  • For agency recruiters billings, fees or margins are important but they don’t tell the whole story (eg inherited a desk, got allocated a PSA, started a new division from scratch, tem or perm or mixed desk, has leadership responsibilities, capital city market v suburban or regional market etc). Context needs to be applied to all financial indicators.
  • Consider performance across the medium term (ie three to five years) not the short term (twelve months). To me one of the most important considerations in assessing the genuine best against each other is the consistency of results across a number of years. This is clearly the case in international sport (think how often the comparison of Grand Slam singles wins comes up when great tennis players are being compared) and so it should be the case in recruitment as well.
  • Quality versus Quantity: In the book The Facebook Effect (Ross Recommends, InSight 171) the author David Kirkpatrick details the impact that Silicon Valley recruiter Robin Reed) had on bringing in quality staff when Facebook was no more than a 20 person business. I am sure Reed doesn’t make a lot of placements per year and her annual billings may not be huge (eg she accepted slithers of equity in Facebook, circa 2005/2006, rather than fees) but look at the value of the company she has played a part in creating.
  • Company resources versus self-generation: This relates to a point I made two weeks ago in the lead article The grass is not greener: Why star recruits rarely shine, InSight 264 when research discovered that many ‘stars’ underestimated the impact that internal resources such as training, leadership and support infrastructure contributed to their success. For the purposes of a ‘best’ assessment, how do you realistically hope to genuinely compare a recruiter who works for a no-name recruitment business with few internal resources generating, say, $400k in a year, versus a recruiter who works for a global branded business and who bills $500k a year? There is no way that this can be a purely objective assessment, you have to subjectively give weight to the resources that each recruiter has to draw upon to help them do their job. 
Good on Shaun for his initiative in launching the competition; I really hope it is a success and given that Greg Savage is one of the members of the judging panel, you can be assured that whoever wins the award will genuinely be the best of those that have applied given Greg’s benchmark for ‘recruiter best’ is very specific and  public. 
If anybody can be close to genuinely assessing what ‘best’ looks like in our industry, Greg is that person.

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  1. With 30 years’ experience in the recruitment industry (in and out, impossible to successfully stay that long continuously!), I believe the Recruiter of the Year Award is ridiculous.

    The variables some of which you highlighted, are way too numerous to mention however, an obvious one is the impossibility of evaluating internal recruiters with the same criteria as external recruiters.

    For example, the criteria for external recruiters should be around levels of customer satisfaction (client and candidate), repeat business, longevity of client and candidate relationships, number of retained and exclusive assignments – temp or perm (hello? Focusing outward on the customer or client rather than inward on some outdated internal measures which are still propagated by some of the so called ‘gurus’ of our industry ?)

    And of course, the criteria for internal recruiters would be vastly different.

    You then have a whole range of other difficulties to contend with that makes the idea just plain silly.

    Anyway Ross, I do read your newsletter with interest and appreciate the time and effort you take to bring to the table some interesting and often contentious issues.

    All the best for a successful 2013!

  2. I would have to agree Ross with having one of the Directors of the business promoting and hosting the competition as a judge on the judges panel makes it hard to know if nominees put forward will be judges accordingly.

    It will also make it very hard for any former work colleagues or employees that perhaps hasn't seen eye to eye with Shaun to be judges fairly if also nominated.

    Anyway good luck to those that may be nominated.

  3. Great to see this idea renewed but wrong execution regarding the judging panel. I have to agree with Anonymous above, how can you run an unbiased competition with the Director of a recruitment company involved? I have been in the industry for 10 years and I certainly won't be applying simply due to the association with Stellar. If you ask me it looks like an opportunity for Stellar to build on it's pool of potential internal consultants without having to go to market, the talent comes to them.

  4. I think you have hit the nail on the head! Just a clever way to build Stellar's pool of potential internal consultants. Certainly one way of getting out of a few Rec-to-Rec fee's! I am sure they would have used this so called 'award' as a business development tool as well; a reason to call their cold and dormant clients. The concept is great, but Stellar’s execution, promotion and motive is laughable.

  5. Agreed! Aparently Stellar have lost a large number of their most experienced personnel over the past 12 - 18 months. Make's sense that they would be involved in this in an attempt to try and regain what they have lost. Someone who does not have alterior motives or whom can benefit from the competition needs to take the reigns before the best in the business will actually get involved I feel.