How to Hack the Recruitment Industry (to shreds)!

Plenty of people have knifed the recruitment industry and Recruitment Consultants. So I figured I would upgrade to a machete. I’ll criticise but I’ll also help you get by on your own.

The recruitment industry can be a horrible thing. Ruthless with its own and its careless mistakes can damage careers and sometimes its best clients.

Before I stick the boot in lets establish some ground rules. This article is not aimed at the real specialists and retained head-hunters who provide a crucial service. This is about the vast Contingency Recruitment sector (no placement, no fee) and its very serious problems.

If you are (understandably) looking forward to AI bringing about the demise of this loathed industry I would say this: Don’t expect the UK’s £30Bn+ recruitment industry to die off or even change significantly any time soon.

The what?

Listing what Job Hunters dislike about the Contingency Recruitment industry and Recruitment Consultants… like shooting ducks in a barrel:

  • RC’s don’t call you back when you actually need a job, if they do they hassle you for where you are interviewing.
  • RC’s hassle you for leads.
  • RC’s don’t really know about your industry.
  • RC’s don’t really understand what you do.
  • Job-searchers deal with RC’s at a stressful time of life – job hunting can be tough.
  • RC’s offer little in the way of useful advice
  • Job-searchers know they are at the bottom of the pile. The client and the RC’s own Interests (commission!) come 1st and 2nd. The candidate is 3rd and last.

Hiring managers (Clients and potential clients) hate RC’s because:

  • They get bombarded with bad CV’s, phone calls and emails.
  • Low success rates
  • RC’s don’t really know their sector
  • Don’t have time to deal with RC’s.
  • High staff turnover in recruitment industry means you don’t get the continuity you’d like.
  • Perceived as expensive
  • RC’s don’t tell you they have stopped working your vacancy.


The why?

Also pretty easy to list:

  • It’s a commission based industry with low barriers to entry that promises to make people wealthy. It doesn’t attract people who are actually interested in a niche. It attracts people who want to make money from a niche. Any niche!
  • RC’s are constantly looking for easier assignments (easier money).
  • Recruiting is hard! There is so many things that can go wrong even for the best consultants.
  • Training is generally geared up to produce adequate consultants and little more.
  • A level of staff turnover that no other industry would tolerate.
  • Often staffed with young people being told (shouted at) to behave like business people but in reality they lack the skills and maturity to do so.
  • Clients have very little skin in the game so RC’s don’t feel that bad about being so promiscuous.

The ‘why’ list goes on and on… but these factors have led to increasingly desperate recruitment professionals pissing more and more people off. Before we move on, a few more words on RC’s promiscuity…

The great American Recruiter Jon Bartos did some research a few years back on how many vacancies Recruiters actually filled. The results were shocking. For all the open vacancies RC’s work on a Non-Exclusive Contingency basis they only filled around 10% of them. 90% of their time is wasted. The majority of the time they are not successful because something out of the control of the recruiter changes e.g a hiring Freeze or an internal candidate takes the role or the hiring manager gets fired etc.

Is it any wonder that the Contingency Recruitment industry’s culture is riddled with ADHD?

You may be interested to know that the research also revealed that Exclusive Contingency went to around a 50% Success rate and Shared Risk and Retained Assignments went to well over 90%.

 The solution for Job Hunters?

Like it or not, Job Hunters are the victims of the Recruitment World. They are pawns. For every 500 CV’s that drop into an RC’s inbox only one or two elicit a squeal of delight. RC’s dream about getting more clients not CV’s.

So what can be done? Simple – Rely on recruiters less! I am a head-hunter and I don’t directly advertise at all for candidates. However, my reputation also brings candidates to me. On rare occasions these ‘inbound’ candidates are exactly what I am looking for at exactly the right time. The other 95% of the time I talk to them about how I can’t help anyone who hasn’t done the basic steps to help themselves. BTW it’s usually a pleasant conversation with someone who is brilliant and motivated so, no complaints! 🙂 I don’t care if you are earning £70k or achieved over £400k last year I am only an occasional magician, most of the time we need a plan.

Get serious about your job search. Formulate a plan. Read the respected books on the subject and get on with it. Don’t get annoyed because a recruiter won’t help you for free. Take responsibility. Most parts of the job hunting process can be done better by the job hunter, than an RC who doesn’t know you. However, it is crucial you break the steps down and get methodical.

At the very least think seriously about where you want to work and/or what sort of company you would like to work for. An even better question to explore is; ‘what companies would benefit from my experience and skills’? At the very least make sure you have written a list of target companies. If you take only one thing away from this article remember that business people respect a direct approach and many would rather deal directly with you. Putting together an enthusiastic cover letter for the CEO or MD of a company that excites you should be an easy undertaking – get to it!

What about hiring managers?

A large number of hiring managers – perhaps even a majority – could incorporate a talent acquisition plan into their current job description that would make the rec industry redundant (a future article perhaps). However, let’s assume that the majority can not do that, what else can be done?

Firstly, stop expecting the right CV’s to just appear, especially when you aren’t even sure what the right CV is. So, take some time out with your team (not just HR) and figure out what you are trying to achieve, talk openly about what you are bad at and document what your company actually offers talented people. Write it all down. Discuss it again a week later and build on this valuable information – if you are 5 people and growing or 5000 and dominating this is valuable information. (You might be amazed how your company culture changes for the better when you do this. People often tell me it feels reborn).

Most importantly, stop expecting this for free. Stop expecting to pay an RC a 20% (or less) fee with a long rebate period and only investing 20 minutes of your time explaining what you want! Help me out but I can’t think of another industry that is expected to do all of the project for free with zero commitment – financial or otherwise – from the client.

Still want this for ‘free’? Of course you do! Here is what you can do:

  1. Offer to meet with the RC but remember you aren’t paying for their time.
  2. Offer to let the RC talk to someone currently doing the job.
  3. Work on an Exclusive basis with one RC.
  4. Offer the RC actual dates for interviewing candidates.
  5. Introduce the RC to the other people involved in the hiring process.
  6. Reply to the RC quickly when he/she contacts you.

All of these things show the RC you are serious and invested in the process and will MASSIVELY increase the commitment and investment from the RC. However, it’s still contingency recruitment.

Most hiring managers don’t leverage these 6 things because they have never had the value of them explained. Most recruitment professionals don’t request these commitments because they are just desperate for more vacancies to work on and don’t want to scare clients away.


If you view the recruitment industry as all rats in a barrel then it is a race to the bottom. In this scenario the lowest fees and the longest rebate periods are the goal and I wish you luck with that and ask that you never contact me – plenty of others who will promise you the world.

Alternatively, you could view this as an opportunity…

In fact, it’s a glaringly obvious opportunity. For every bit of extra investment (steps 1-5 above) you are willing to make in recruitment you will benefit exponentially. Take that up a gear and retain someone or share some of the risk with a relatively modest up-front payment and you stand to transform your business and slash (and I really do man SLASH) the amount of time wasted on recruitment activities.

I know you are unlikely to do this but that means your competition will be unlikely to do it as well. This means that any competitive advantage gained will be long term and lasting.

One game changing move would be to invest more (steps 1-6) and insist the RC interviews candidates face to face. Candidates being screened for contingency assignments seldom get interviewed face to face because there isn’t time. Interviewing face to face is crucial to hiring right but it’s time consuming and expensive. Don’t expect it for 20% and a 6 month rebate period. Who am I kidding though, you will just continue to want the smallest no win no fee, a long rebate period and a 20 minute phone call. Hopefully your competition does too.

Finally, the bit you want to hear….. think carefully about what the individual parts of any successful recruitment campaign are and you will see that many of the steps are better handled by the Hiring Manager or Job Hunter personally.



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About the author

Bruce Wright is the founder and Managing Director of Pathfinder Executive Search Ltd and has over 14 years Recruiting, Staffing and Executive Search experience. Over 12 years of this has been spent in Executive Search. He has been helping top Enterprise Software companies find senior level executives and helping build world class teams across Europe and North America since 2003. Unlike many Executive Search Professionals who claim to work across borders, he really has placed Senior Professionals with Enterprise Software companies in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, UK and North America. Often working across borders simultaneously for the same client – this generates a synergy that makes for truly outstanding results. He is also a committed endurance athlete who has competed in challenges around the world, including the infamous Marathon des Sables, Zurich Ironman and the magical Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. In addition to UTMB he has twice run 100 miles non-stop.