Everything you wanted to know about recruitment agencies, but were afraid to ask.

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

An industry insider spills the beans. Seriously. Tomato sauce everywhere.

Agents are often a necessary, unwanted evil. Estate Agents have long been the butt of some very scathing humour, and I would suggest that Recruitment Agents aren’t far behind nowadays. As someone who stumbled into the recruitment industry twenty-five years ago (and trust me, most people stumble into it – how many times have you heard a ten-year-old have ambitions of being a recruitment consultant?), I think I understand why this

might be the case.

To start with, Recruitment Agencies are buffers between job seekers and employers. This can mean that they are

often the bearers of bad news, whether its along the lines of you interviewed badly and you have terrible BO (this happens more often than you might think), or they wouldn’t work for you if you were the last employer on earth (I have heard some unbelievable tales of appalling interviews). A little disingenuity/diplomacy (take your pick) comes with the territory.

And many consultants end up taking the path of least resistance when dealing with clients and candidates alike. They end up lying. A lot. It can become second nature, and actually, those who are good at it can be very successful within the field.

After a while, the job can take a toll on a person. I used to deal with temps, and the transient nature of the employment means that workers often won’t take the work very seriously, will be unreliable and not as industrious as they might be. It’s a difficult equation because temps are often treated as disposable, dispensed with at the drop of a hat. It kind of comes with the territory. Despite this, employers will have high expectations – temps are an expensive commodity – and who gets caught in the middle of this peculiar dynamic?

The recruitment consultant.

I don’t deal with temps any more.

Another problem with Recruitment Agencies is that the consultants are often a certain type. I was one of these types, so I should know. Early twenties, just graduated, high disposable income, flashy clothes and confident. Too confident, much of the time. People with little real-life experience, hungry to hit targets and earn commission. It is easy to forget that you are dealing with people trying to make decisions that will have a profound effect on their lives. I say it’s easy to forget – many consultants I have worked with never appeared to consider this at all.

In fact, when I first came to Ireland – six years ago – I returned to the industry after a few years out, working directly with the proprietor of a successful, established business. And it was horrendous. A culture of fear was pervasive, the “intern” system was ridiculously abused, data-protection laws were staggeringly flaunted, and those looking for work were merely income fodder to swell the owner’s obvious wealth and ego. It was everything recruitment should not be, and the company was thriving.

I did not last long. It was a toxic environment, full of unhappy, perpetually wary people, neutered and frustrated in equal measure.

I have been having an internal debate for some time about returning to recruitment. It is about the only job I have ever been good at, but it can be an unforgiving beast too. My good times and my bad times within the sector are pretty much 50/50.

And then my wife started looking for a new job. I put her CV together, and as she is not the most organised human being on the planet, I started emailing her CV out to various agencies on her behalf.

The first response was immediate. I was impressed – for about ten minutes. We have a position that we think would be perfect for you, it said, please call ASAP. So she did, to be offered the opportunity for a sales rep role. My wife has never worked in sales in her life. She does have very specific, niche experience, and the sales rep role was vaguely close to the sector that she works in. But she was an appalling candidate for a sales rep role. It was embarrassing and inept, disrespectful to my wife, and disrespectful to the client that they are working on behalf of.

Trust me, this little tale of woe will be all too familiar to employers and job seekers alike.

It got me thinking. Does it really have to be like this?

Five weeks after sending the CVs out, we got a response from one. Five weeks is a ridiculously long time, but hey, at least they replied. Half did not bother. They even started with an apology:

Sorry for the late response. We don’t have any positions that are suitable for you at the moment. Please keep an eye on our website and call us if a suitable position comes up. We will not be retaining your details, as it can give job seekers a false impression.

his was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I did a little digging, and this recruitment agency was established and had been trading for years. They are obviously busy – five weeks to respond to an email – and their website was slick and looked professional.

Looked professional.

Consider what they said to my wife – without engaging with her at all, they had decided that they couldn’t help her, and made no interest to find out anything about her, or what she was looking for. Not only that, they weren’t going to keep her info, and would therefore not consider her for anything that might come their way. No, they wanted her to do the work here. The false impression thing was about the only useful part of their reply.

And should she accede to their suggestion, and, after carefully monitoring their website for a suitable position, let them know that one has come up, they would then presumably put her forward for it. And should she find employment by walking this path, they would demand a multi-thousand euro fee!

It would be funny if it wasn’t so insulting. Old rope vendors.

So, I am back in the game.

There are good recruitment people out there, and they stand out. You’ll know when you are dealing with one.

You’ll just know.