Opinion: Why I hate IT recruitment agencies

IT recruiters can sometimes rely on matching keywords on a candidate's resume to an employer's requirements, without engaging with either party's needs

The main purpose of recruitment agencies is to match the right potential employer with the right potential employee. In the ideal scenario, all parties emerge as winners. But with some recruiters, the attempt to get the right outcome for candidates and employers is cursory at best.

With recruitment, there is no such thing as a 'perfect' match. Hence the aim should be to come up with criteria that allow the best match possible. The attributes of both employers and employees can be categorised, based on importance, into three levels: Mandatory, complementary, and unimportant.

An example of a potential employer's attributes from an employee perspective:
1. Mandatory: legal, capable financially, vacant professional position
2. Complementary: local, casual office environment, reputable, environment friendly
3. Unimportant: office carpet colour

An example of a potential employee's attributes from an employer perspective:
1. Mandatory: legal, professionally qualified
2. Complementary: easy-going, can-do attitude
3. Unimportant: race, religion, gender, political views, sexual orientation

In the ideal world, the recruitment agent effort would first focus on understanding the mandatory and complementary attributes of the potential employer and the potential employee, and then match up the mandatory attributes as much as possible. They should also endeavour to match up the complementary attributes as much as possible. The unimportant attributes should not influence the matching process at all.

In the real world, in my experience, most recruitment agents are not that different from sales agents: Their main focus is finalising the sales deal and getting the commission as soon as possible. They look smart, they impress the commission-giver, but do they understand an employer’s business needs? Can they understand an employer’s technical needs? Do they care about a candidate's professional goals? Do they foster the development of the industry by guiding and encouraging the unqualified candidates to a qualification pathway? Unfortunately, the answer is no in the case of many recruitment agents.

Some requirement agents simply copy and paste the job descriptions from the employer into a job seeking website — it's quite common to see the same job description for the same role advertised by multiple recruitment agencies. They wait for the candidates to send their resumes through, and often filter the resumes based on keywords (so don't be surprised if a JavaScript programmer has been shortlisted for a Java programmer role!)

They then call the shortlisted candidates to ask for an authorisation for representation. They may interview the candidate in person or may not. They will send the resume to the employer, and schedule an interview between the candidates and the employer. Eventually, the employer will select a candidate and they will negotiate a salary.

This process is not transparent to either the potential employer or the potential employee. Employers can hire marketing and communications undergraduate students to run this recruitment process on a casual basis. There’s no significant expertise and skills involved apart from basic communications skills. The marketing effort is marginal with the emergence of job search websites.

In the worst cases recruiters merely relay information between potential employers and potential employees without necessarily understanding what they are relaying, and do not provide insightful information and guidance to either party.

Such recruitment agents are effectively parasites: Neither the employers, nor the candidates truly need them. They are unnecessary an overhead. Eliminate them and invest in a lasting employment relationship by establishing a transparent relationship built on understanding and trust from the start.

Abraham Alawi is a solutions architect and DevOps engineer who has worked across a number of prominent Australian enterprises.

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