Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Managing Recuitment Consultants as a Job Seeker


Generally of course, I recommend not going through rectruitment consultants, but instead targeting firms you really want to work for, in geographical areas which suit you ,  and applying speculatively or networking your way to openings.

When a consultancy advertises a position I like the look of,  I have often rung them up,  taken the name of the employer, said I am not interested and moved on to a direct application in the guise of an open applicatioon or personal recommendation to apply.  I heartedly recommend this because it can save the employer a lot of wad and it shows initiative and a winner instinct.

This has won me jobs several times. On two occaisions the recruitment consultant did not even want to put my CV forward!! Recruiters being involved in the converse, ambulance chasing positions I am already in line to get, have messed up a couple of serious career possibilities.

I speak very badly about them because 99% of my experiences have been either disappointing, lead nowhere or been outright unpleasant. However, a couple of times in life they have set my career on the right path and one day when I was sitting about feeling a bit sorry for myself I got an odd call from a well known agency, out of the blue but very casual ..." I don't suppose you have thought about working in advertising agencies who specialise in....?". So they can be worth all the hassle just to dig to that one gold nugget which could change your life for the better for ever " 

Some Times, Recrutiment Consultants are an Unavoidable Hurdle.

They are - to  paraphrase- an unnecessary evil for the job seeker, but in many cases they are the only route in through the doors of attractive employers and also they can have a larger hidden market and "quickies" which just skip the advertising cost because you were in on that day and they can send a few candidates immediately.

That is then a good place to start in "How to Manage Recruitment Consultants".  How they and the process operate.

Why Firms Use this Necessary Evil?

Consultatnts are used in large part these days to 1) save clients time in the siv stage 2) manage down wages to new starters. They may have a framework agreement which includes a total saving, a freeze on rises over previous year or percentage under inflation for example.

This can affect even jobs which are agreed to be a higher level at the client interview you have: this happened to a top qualified marine architecht I know, with whom the client company discussed an excellent package and relocation to London, while the rectuirment consutlant made an actual offer at "Price Parity" to his current  wages, stating his motivation to move company as being enough compensation!! Lose lose all round on that one.

Being Human

They are only human and they have often two goals which are actually in conflict:
  • get the employer the best candidate quickly, 
  •  do this for the lowest wage.
The higher the wage, the higher the income per placement because they work a %. However, to get a retainer / framework exclusivity they offer to hold wage expectations downwards. Thus, they then need to spend less time on each placement and in times of high unemployment like now, they can often afford to do this for jobs there is ample people supply for.

To be fair I have had consultants fight my corner maybe a couple of times, spelling out to companies they have to put a company car on the table or what the market rate actually is....but usually they are out to keep to a framework target of reducing or putting a lid on inflation. When the basic salary train drivers earn emerged a decade ago, a lot of "Yuppies" felt very dispossesed as they struggled on less than that with 50 to 60 hour weeks without any over time! Serves them right actually.

So, they have a bit of a conflict in time: they need to send a range of candidates who may work for the lower salary. Further more they need the employer to make a decision quickly so they win the commission and don't spend more time on it. Or worse, lose it to open tender as is often a get-out-clause for framework contracts.  So sometimes they have a prefered candidate they have actually spent time finding and qualifying,  while they think the rest are window dressing to make that one stand out.

 This is where lady luck and your own persistance and skill come in.

When handling a  recruitment consultant it is important that you have some short selling points which are appropriate for them.

Client Centered
Rectruitment consultants claim to either operate geographically, as stand alone or chain-branch-offices, or by industry or job type. However, they are only human and will take what they get from a sales call or their networking: so often they "bleed over" into other areas of just end up being a jack of all trades.

What is important for you here, is that they go by CLIENT first and foremost, often to the exclusion of all other competitors in an industry. They go by who they are pressing the flesh to now and especially now in the last three years of recession, are very opportunistic just to survive.

So this is the most likely situation you will encounter if otherwise, like me, you hate going through them: that an employer stone walls you because they have outsourced all their new rectruiting and bemanning. You  like the employer, you must like the recruiter.

Armed with this and a will to show soveriegn motivation and drive to get on, you can say you love the employer and will die to work for them, but you are better off being a little coy and probing both the employer ( via contacts in Linked in or your other networks) to find out where they may need people, before then having a killer  targetted CV; or the opposite, a cover-many positions CV:

Be Direct, and Direct Your Chi on the Most Positive Point in Time

So to summarise this first approach, the stalking, come only to a consultant with the most poignant of application relating either to an advertised position or a demand you have sniffed out  and that could be you find your skills and experience level are actually in short supply in that area in addition to your sniffing around employers.  This is the way: rectruitment consultants are not blank walls, they are gate keepers at only one gate into the company's castle.

You must be very concise and very pertitenent as a candidate: ie very targeted communication which lights up the recruiter on the other end of the phone, or better still, in person.

I have done some very good general sales jobs on rectruitment consultants which have lead to sweet zero. This is because "nice guy, move on to the next really handsome one" ie the best candidate for the jobs in hand, you are an also ran.

Also Ran

Being an also ran extends unfortunetly very much into the interview rounds when you do get them to bite on your pertinent parts!

Recruiters want to send 10 to 20 filtered CVs (from maybe hundreds of applications- be grateful when they send yours forward, don't look a gift horse in the mouth at this stage)

After this they want to send between 5 and 10, averaging at 6 to an interview: or collect the 20 best at a one of the god awful "recruitment days" ( all 20 got sent home from a really expensive one of these I went to in 1993!, with a very disappointed and presumably fired consultant!)

As an also ran at interview, you do have a lot of chances though: one of your competitors will be just after a pay rise, one will be in a position to trade job offers against each other, one will mess up the interview somehow or turn up late or not at all, and then that leaves you and one other probably roughly equally qualified candidate.  The fact is, Mr or Ms Successful who is best for this position, is probably best for several others so that is actually on your side in pure probabilities, in that they take another job or don't move. Then Mr or Ms Loser has got so far on paper but is a dunce in person.

Can Start Yesterday!

One thing above all on your side as a job seeker, ie unemployed or in a "waiting room job", is that you can start immediately and WILL accept a so-so offer. We can come back to offer  bartering later, but now you should not let yourself get pinned to any money: you should push for job satisfaction and understanding this job and this company is really for you to shine in or not. You are available to keep that fifedoms head count up before the cut comes!!

Pay Strategy Pays

It pays to have a strategy to not commit to any pay level in interview rounds. There agter to not be forced into making a decision between just you and the recruitment consultant with respect to this.

This is the golden rule: establish direct feedback with the employer on salary offered , as they may not know the offer is at the low end or maybe needs reviewing upwards!!!

Play the long ball on the Jobs Content before Wage

A friend of mine recently worked in the public sector as a hired in consultant, in practice actually doing a marketing management job. It came time for him to either come into the body of the church as an employee or they could not budget for his (modest) fees.  He was very coy in not letting them define the job title as in the public sector this relates immediately to pay level and all the equal pay for sexes and races laws which are mostly enforced by jealous coworkers. Instead he said they should define the work tasks  and goals of the job forward to see if he was the right person for the job or if it was in fact a more junior or senior role. Some months later he had then painted his employer into a corner of definging responsibility level which he could then compare to other positions at the location and in the public sector, and hey presto, get the position upgraded. 

This is a consumate tactic or even a strategic approach you could say because it takes time to build it up. It can also help you define your own career goals and align your stregnths, limitations, challenges and need for training for the position.

If anything it is a good stalling tactic, which gives you time to talk MORE about the actual daily tasks in the interview, which is good. I had a two hour interview yesterday, with an advisor at hand, not through a recruiter as per my own preference: there was only 10 minutes on what I would be doing day to day and if that was both  within my set of skills and actually interesting to me.

If they try and pin you down, throw back to them what range they think it will be in. Then say it depends more on the other benefits and training the company offer more than a market level per se.  Finally, you can say, for the information you have it is too early and you can research what is reasonable a bit more in between times. This shows you can negotiate and not be pressed into a corner :

Be prepared to walk away from silly low offers, which happen all the time right now I hear, and also taking a job in London which pays well but is long hours and offer no support for your relocation or social well being.

End Game

There must be an end game if the offer is not "take the large breif case full of used notes and leave the room calmly" which I have had on a couple of occaisions. However the end game is as much with your own enthusiasm and maybe desperation for a job as it is with the consultant.

The fact is that you NEED to be able to live and commute to your new job in that area. If they help with that NEED by putting  you up in a hotel, or finding a room within their network to a resonable price, then grab the chance to show you are good. Living costs will be your biggest outlay and avoiding full relocation costs is pruident. Otherwise, with so much job insecurity as there is now, DO NOT go into many thousand of pounds debt to relocate yourself.

 Companies can write relocation off against tax: they do so for their top executives, putting them up in luxury serviced appartments: they just want to avoid the up front costs and the admin or cultural demand this would place on them as a "social provider" for the hoi polloi like you and me.

My point being in winning over yourself that this job offer needs to be looked in the mouth to over come your enthusiasm and emotional response

Will it really get you up the career ladder ? WIll it just frustrate you? How many hours a week do they slave drive you? What are they prepared to do to help you? Do they care about more than paying your salary at the month end and asking how your hunt for flats is going?

Many people take unpaid internships in the USA and in law firms and ad' or news agencies in the UK just to get into the game. So for a real opportunity, given you can keep costs down by say renting a room from a well meaning coworker at a reasonable price, then be prepared to take a lower wage than you might expect.

I have actually just finished 8 months of placement in a new career direction, and yes it has been financially painful for me and the family, with many sacrifices, but it has been a great insight to my new direction and gives me fresh shelf wares on the CV which are getting me better interviews than I had imagined!!!!

It can be wise for both parties to enter a short trial period where they pay your full hotel costs and arrange commuting travel with a hire car or coworker. Anywhere from two weeks to two months or more to see if it is a good "fit" for both sides.

 I have had this once, and it was totally win win, and I got my usual wage on top of a B&B with a nice rural english pub up the hill!!! ( Chruch Inn, Uppermill to be precise!!) In fact I wish I had done this on at least two other occaisions because I could have said no to the boring work or aggressive management style.

Do Not Miss A Trick by Not Asking the Employer

  Many companies are only too willing to help you out big time, just take it up DIRECT in an interview with them because it may be percieved as a trip wire by the consultant, or a way of locking you into the need for the salary by the high cost of relocation, which is pretty nasty and I have come upon this. Usually it is benign neglect on both the employers and the consultants part, so put it there on the agenda direct with the employer, even if you will be in the intiial stage legally employed by the consultant acting as a bemmaning bureaux..

At the end of the day there is the final offer and the final end game. You should ALWAYS say you would like to see a written offer in the post and then you should then say you need time to think about it and talk it through with your significant other(s). If it is a good offer with good side benefits, don't hesitate and just talk about start date and relocation ( which is likely why you get the job- willingness to relocate is a biggie !)

For a mediocre or outright rubbish offer,  you have actually a lever and don't get all depressed. The difference between 15 and 25 grand a year is about 900 pounds a month with social costs included. But the difference between a rented flat which is el cheapo found by the employer, and a normal market price could well be higher so you save that difference !  Don't forget that your costs are post income tax, so they are all in fact 1/3 higher to your gross income than they appear on paper (unless like here, you can write relocation off against personal tax)

Your Leverage in the End Game ?

The lever is that you are now the only car on the track. Now you can put the foot down a bit with an open goal, rather than just roll in over the finish line.  Now you can take a few days thinking about it, and then let them call you, not the other way around.

Stall them off again, up to a week is quite okay from original verbal offer. Stall them on relocation, talking direct to the personnel department on what can be offered or what is normal or special needs for you. Say you are waiting to hear back from the personal department.

Buying time puts more pressure on them, not you, to change the stakes. Other candidates lose interest ( the offer round is why you hear nothing back for several weeks when you have had even second interview) or get other jobs, or will not like the package which is now on the table and budgeted for. Time drags on a bit, the employer wants to avoid going through the whole 3 to 4 week process again, and the consultant wants their fee or the start date for their reward to come after 6 months. Each thousand sponbdoolics a year, is only a hundred or so per calendar month for them to cough up including social taxations.

Having pushed it near to the wire of how long you agreed to reply to the consultant,  cut out the recruiter: go direct to the boss who will employ you and discuss any possibility for relocation expenses or a higher wage: if they say no, then say out right, sorry it is too low a wage I have other options I would like to take up then instead: is that your final offer or can you better it?

Sometimes the manager may have a biudget to use, an idea of the market rate, but  not actually know what the recruiter has  actually offered. Rather the reverse the recrtuiter presents a cheap fait acomplis on a plate to the manager without ever raising with them  that your nose is well out of joint on the low offer. Presented with "we offered x and they have said yes!!" no manager in the private sector at least, is going to then say, "oh let's be nice and pay them more anyway". 

Be prepared to just say no for a low offer on a job which will just cost you money and time. "Is that your final offer? No thanks, it is too low. Goodbye...." hangs up telephone. It can be worth doing this on e-mail to keep a cool head and see if they ring you with a counter upped offer.

At the end of the day you may be able to say to other job interviews that you are under offer and would like a decision for second interview later on that day or not to count that new opportunity in or out. There is the pressure thing again: use them or lose them. Simple human reaction: something is suddenly salient and worth more than its actual value by nature of this limited availability.

Conclusion : The Reach Around

The Key to managing rectruitment consultants as a job seeker is to ignore completely their desire to be the interface between you and the client. See right round them,  from when  you get the clients business cards and present your own business card at every opportunity for "come back" out of contract. 

Even before that, make direct contact and then act suprised when they say they actually use Recruiter X and okay, now I will go through them but perhaps you could point my name out to them ( in a follow up  mail for example)

Establish direct contact outside the interview, and take control of the flow of information. You need to know all you can about the job, and match you abilities against it in communication and extra evidence which will be diluted by the consultant. Also raise any doubts early in your own mind on your motivation and perhaps short falls relative to the job.

Lastly,. when it comes to an offer, go direct for the conditions and support benefits around this and preempt it with some time buying and more excuses and decline the offer directly if the worst comes to the worst.

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