I have had a couple of interesting experiences in the last several weeks that, put together, make me propose a possibly controversial conjecture: that the outsourcing of hiring, whether intentional by the use of retained recruiters to augment a shrunken HR staff, or unintentional by the proliferation of contingency recruiters, is actually slowing hiring down.
I’ll highlight a couple of recent experiences from my job search, put up some evidence, outline some thoughts-as-I-go, then pull it all together with some possible implications at the end.
Over the course of the last 4-5 weeks I have been approached by no less than six different recruiters about one position. Since some of them sent me the company’s as-written job description, I easily identified unique elements to it – and had the fact that it was the same company confirmed by five of the six recruiters (the last one, when I asked him to confirm it was this company, never replied).
I don’t know if these are retained or contingency recruiters; my suspicion is the latter. Let’s go with that assumption first – that these recruiters are out there “trolling” company and other websites looking for open requisitions, and then attempting to place people into them (they might also have been contacted by the company directly on a contingent basis). The fact that I’ve been contacted by six of them implies there are an awful lot of recruiting agencies out there rooting around to fill what is, relative to the recruiter population, a paucity of positions.
A datum that supports this fierce-competition-to-fill-slots hypothesis is the fact that the towns were different depending on which recruiter it was. In another instance, perhaps 3-4 months ago, I was contacted by a recruiter for a different position in a specifically-named town; during the discussion the company’s product and industry sounded familiar, so I inquired – and had my suspicion confirmed about the company’s identity… a company whose actual locationwas the next town over than the one named. I informed him that, sorry, I’d already applied to the company directly, but then I asked why the town was wrong. He said that was to throw off other recruiters who might poach his business.
Thought one: There are far more recruiters trying to fill positions than there are positions to fill.
The other possibility is that these are retained recruiters. If so, it means the company is scouring the recruiting industry hoping that in those recruiters’ stables of candidates, there are people who could be perfect fits the role.
Thought two: Companies are not getting the volumes of “qualified” applicants they thought they would, and are going through multiple agencies to increase their odds.
In a similar situation, I was contacted by three separate recruiters over two days for a different position; this time a contract job. Without proof, I believe that this position was posted by the company to whatever requisition networks it is on, and these recruiters leapt at it like famished wolves trying to put someone in before another recruiter did.
Job Search Agents
I get a lot of job openings emailed to me through different websites on which I’ve filled out search agent requests. In a non-rigorous survey, the vast majority of these positions posted are through recruiters, not posted by the company directly. As with the above, when I click on jobs I see many that appear to be duplicate positions posted by different recruiters, again with many listing the locations differently even though – to my eyes at least – the positions seem similar enough that they’re likely the same one. There are too many similarities in the details of the listed requirements, with the locations in close proximity, to conclude otherwise. Again, this supports the contention that recruiters – especially contingency recruiters – are swarming around too few openings trying to eke out a living.
Conventional Wisdom on Recruiters
It is common knowledge that job seekers should be careful about using recruiters. One caution is that if two recruiters submit a person to the same company, the company typically disallows the candidate for fear of legal complications with respect to which recruiter gets paid.
(Side note: A recruiter, with whom I have a good relationship and even something of a friendship, said that he has seen how one recruiter known to him, upon learning a person was already in through another recruiter, would submit the person as a duplicate submission – knowing this would then knock that candidate out of the running and then open the possibility for their own submission of another person. This is, of course, incredibly unethical and by no means am I attempting to paint all recruiters with such a brush. But it does indicate that there are “bad apples” out there. It also is another data point supporting the idea that recruiters are desperate to place people to earn a living. And, sometimes, desperate people will do desperate – and unethical – things.)
Completing the Puzzle
So if we accept several premises:
- There are far more recruiters trying to make a living from placing people into positions than there are positions into which to place people.
- Companies are relying on outside agency recruiters (both types) more and more.
- Recruiters are intent on protecting their postings through misdirection on location and possibly the specifics of the job itself.
- Candidates are rightly worried about duplicate submissions eliminating them from the running.
We can then make a stunning inference – one that I don’t think is unreasonable: the oversupply of recruiters combined with the increasing reliance on them to fill positions is actually hampering the placement of candidates from their tactics combined with candidates’ concern about short-circuiting their application through duplication of submissions. This hampering happens in two ways:
First, large numbers of duplicate submissions are being made by different recruiters. It is pretty much axiomatic that companies want no part of a turf battle having to choose which recruiter to pay – so they dump the candidate from consideration. Even a really good candidate can be washed out of the running because no company wants a lawsuit over which recruiter should be paid.
Second, savvy candidates observe these multiple postings by different recruiters, dope out that these are possibly the same position, and decide to not take the risk and don’t apply at all.
What the Future Holds
- If there are this many recruiters scrounging to place people, I suspect over the next year – unless the job market really changes dramatically – there will be a vast fallout of recruiters as they fail to place enough people to make a living.
- Companies will enact strict and legally-binding agreements with any recruiter with whom they deal governing what happens with duplicate submissions – and recruiters that just throw people at openings will find themselves cut out entirely.
- Corporate decision-makers, faced with falling recruitment successes, will turn to re-staff HR departments again in an effort to regain control of the process.
- Candidates will become ever-more reluctant to engage with recruiters, even for promising positions, as they become increasingly skittish at having their resume double-submitted.
- This skittishness will contribute to the industry fallout in #1 in a potentially vicious cycle.
Some further thoughts here.
© 2014, David Hunt, PE