Can The Candidate be King Again?


When I first started working as an agency recruiter the candidate was most definitely king. Or queen. Without the best talent at your fingertips, and in your rolodex, you wouldn’t be able to get in front of clients on a regular basis. This helped to create a candidate driven mindset with importance placed on getting to know who was best, who had good training, who was open to something new and who was adaptable, and then the candidates that you helped would always recommend other friends and colleagues to you – they even invited recruiters to their leaving drinks (not always advisable if their bosses were there, as I found out on one occasion).

Clients would speak to you as an adviser, someone who knew what was going on in the market and would often confide future plans so that you could keep an eye open for specific skills. Some of your successful placements would invariably become clients too. The right candidate was often your value proposition. The only metric that seemed to matter was getting the right person.

Times changed and email, hiring boom, graduates needing to earn commission, LinkedIn, RPO, recession, direct sourcing models and now social have all helped to shape the service and change client, candidate and recruiter expectations. Many agencies that have prospered over the last fifteen years have followed a low cost blueprint involving (amongst other things) a transactional sales model, PSLs and volume job orders at a discounted rate.

The candidate has too often gone from king to cannon fodder, usually the last person to know what’s going on and considered needy or too demanding if they expect any more than a basic level of communication – effectively an email grunt of recognition. The individual candidate now seems of low value provided that time to hire and cost of hire metrics are met.

When I first started this blog over four years ago many posts were over the future of recruitment and what needed to change. The comment threads on posts about the transactional sales model, the telephone and relationship building indicate that as the recession began to really bite in the industry there was little consensus over how to move forward.

We’re now three years on from those posts and times have changed.

Last week I saw Kevin Green (CEO of the REC) present on the Future of Recruitment at the UK Recruiter Conference. You can see his slides here.

Starting with an overview of the market, we could see an improvement in vacancy and activity levels, even though they are still some way below the pre recession peak. However there was one rather concerning statistic that must have chilled perm recruiters – over the last year there has been a 12% increase in the volume of permanent placements, but only a 2.2% increase in fees. A lot more work for comparatively a lot less money. Average annual billings for perm recruiters are also running 13% below early 2008 levels.

The culprit was fingered as ‘procurement‘ but I think it goes a lot deeper than that. Attitudes have changed, budgets have changed and for many smaller businesses, agencies are becoming the talent supplier of last resort.

Kevin talked through what he sees as the three models of recruitment success now. Two interested me greatly as I have encountered them both already during my short time job hunting.



For me the focus on specialist knowledge, access to talent, strong relationships, consultancy and candidate centric behaviours kinda makes this The One Where We Go Back To Recruiting Principles As They Used To Be. The candidate, and market knowledge, is clearly part of the value proposition. To profitably operate this model you need to look after candidates and put them back on their throne! And, coincidentally, the type of agency mentioned in this post from Julia Briggs looking at recruitment from the HR angle.

Low Cost

Low Cost

Here I see the focus as being more operational, centred around process, scale and workforce management. The candidates are probably quite interchangeable and of similar skills, with the business value being in meeting cost/time metrics and managing budgets. I already have some experience of this approach and as the candidate you’re pretty much left to do the work. Light on detail, you fit in with set timeframes and do the chasing if you want any kind of feedback or perspective.

The third model was for smaller, multi-branch or regional generalists. Here the business focus was on SMEs and avoiding intermediaries, PSLs and public sector.

So, can the candidate be king again? Well, it will largely depend on which model you’re dealing with.

Certainly if you’re applying through a low cost operator, or multi branch group, then my personal experience combined with recruiter sixth sense tells me that canon fodder may well be the name of the game still.

However if you can get on the radar of a specialist recruiter who’s doing it right then maybe there’s a seat on the throne again.

Am I dreaming? Let me know what you think…

(Image via @godfather_90 and #IndiaHRChat)

8 thoughts on “Can The Candidate be King Again?

  1. Mervyn, as an agency we have always focussed on our candidates and understood that they are “king”. We recognise that if we work with our candidates in a personal & professional way – taking time to understand what they want & what motivates them and build a real relationship with them – this will help us to be successful as an agency and build a strong reputation in the recruitment marketplace. By building specialisms this allows our Consultants to become true advisors to candidates and truly help to manage their careers. I can’t see that there is any alternative way in today’s recruitment world?

  2. Re your comment ‘the talent supplier of last resort’ I see this increasingly as the way the market will go, with some exceptions. Certainly this is my personal mode of operation – we try ourselves first, and then only when we have exhausted this do we go externally.

    I see a hole developing in the recruitment market in between the roles you outline above. High volume, routine roles with similar skills sets – it might be easier / quicker / cheaper to outsource this or agree a standard low fee approach. For the senior roles, the specialist roles then you may well need to engage to get that access to the candidate network and the specialist industry knowledge.

    This leaves a gap in the middle. If you are currently an agency recruiter operating in between these two extremes I would be concerend for the future.

    I’ve blogged myself on candidate experience. If I was to sum it up, it is something lots of people talk about but few really do well. When I was job seeking, my own experiences were fairly poor – these experiences certainly shaped my view on which agencies I will engage with going forward!

  3. Excellent piece, Mervyn. Things have changed a great deal in the last three/five years for recruiters and candidates and this is not in doubt. Agencies and their staff plus some of the ex-agency in-house recruiters around today are simply not doing their job properly when it comes to handling candidates and their day of reckoning is fast approaching. The basic principles of courtesy and common sense, plus demonstration of a basic understanding of how relationships work best, is what wins out if you are hiring candidates and trying to win new business. Maybe I’m being naive and a little old-fashioned but the standards of recruiters have got so low that those who do the basics right will get the repeat business and still be there in the years to come.

  4. Nice post Mervyn.
    Apart from a very very few direct employers and/or agents (of which single digit percentages) and looking at the wider world history when have we ever seen a serious change unless through legislation, market developments and/or competition? From banking/finance industry through to women in FTSE 100 companies through to people speaking on their phones whilst driving, n o t h I n g changes unless someone/something forcing it.
    The candidate will become King/Queen when companies/organisations and agents see that it will impact their bottom line unless taking this seriously, not a second before!
    A very minute few have understood that without people and the best of these neither their products/services existing and or being being much why they do take the subject seriously, most do not and are in fact most indifferent why sadly your caption not far from the truth.
    It is a sad result of the last 5 years and a worse and more broken and unprofessional agency world than ever seen before as well as talent acquisition leaders and HRD/HRBP’s that have little understanding of what truly matters.

  5. Nice post 🙂 Its very useful.

    There are many HRMS Solutions in which one among them is HAPA (Human resources And People Appreciation), it does all the end-end activities like calculation of payroll, attendance, leaves, stores details of the employees along with the scanned copies of the employee etc. and is very cost effective specially for SMEs. In this there is a feature called as Candidate Bank Management. In which you can store the resumes of all the employees. If any candidate will be rejected due to some reason then the reason of rejection can be given. In future during hiring of an employee the resumes can be checked and then the candidates can be called over for re-interview.

    I think automating the HR process is a good idea. Companies have this misconception that its a cost to the business. But in reality it leads to a greater ROI and makes the major chunk of the business hassle free and error free.

  6. No.

    Candidates used to be treated with more respect because they were harder to find, which meant that companies and recruiters had to be more adept at attracting and assessing people with transferable skills.

    Today, the easy access to candidate data has led to an obsession with candidates that have same job/same sector experience, which I think has massively contributed to the way recruitment has become so transactional over recent years.

    What this has led to are people under 25 with less than 2 years experience who are now calling themselves “headhunters”, “executive search consultants” and “talent acquisition managers” simply because they’re now able to access this massive amount of candidate data. Most of them are just traders in keywords.

    These days the only candidates who are treated well are those who are doing the same job as the role the recruiter is trying to fill and who are prepared to make a sideways move to do the same job somewhere else, usually because they’re not really all that good and are starting to get found out where they’re currently working.

    Most of the real talent is getting ignored because they’re currently working one level below the target job, or in some cases, are unemployed.

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