5 Things Not to Believe About Recruiters

“Where’s the money coming from? Am I doing the right thing? Why are people saying stay where you are?” Recently escaped Big 4 Accountant Brendan gives an honest, thoughtful insight to some experiences gained from dealing with Recruitment Consultants (“RC”) when looking to do something different.

Over the last few months, I have been on the mother of all brainstorms to try and work out what it is that I actually want to do. Whilst, the answer for my destination is not quite clear yet, I have learnt a few things along the way which I thought I would share in relation to a recurring element…. namely the Recruitment Consultant (“RC”).

As you grow up and your career begins to take shape, you are continually lead to believe that in order to get a new job you must employ the services of a RC. It fast becomes apparent that your life can be dictated by people who know nothing about you, but have a hugely significant impact on your life. These are, the RC and the Estate Agent (a whole other topic and one I don’t have time for now!)

Now, there are certainly times when you need the help of a good RC, but pulling on experience over the last year, a number of recurring themes have emerged.

The following are the top 5 things not to believe about RC’s:

1. Everything they say

Yes, I appreciate this is quite a damning first statement but hear me out. When you decide it’s time to make a change and get in touch with an RC, you can positively see their eyes light up with dollar signs… you are their bonus, their monthly sales target, their next placed statistic.

Sadly, the motivations of the RC and you or I, are somewhat misaligned. We want to further our careers / make a change / do something different, whereas they want to make some money. I recently went to visit an RC from a respectable company in London, who ‘loved’ my CV. The role he was pushing sounded great, but I wasn’t sure I had all experience they were looking for, so I was a touch skeptical.

My initial impressions were compounded when I was talked at for an age, told that my extensive Corporate Finance experience (I don’t have any) and background were a perfect fit for the role. I was interested to see where this was going, as he gave me the inside track on the recruitment process, including questions asked, scenarios used in assessment centre and what to ask the company. So let him get in touch with the company, and wait to hear back. He made a used car salesman, look like a schoolboy.

Obviously, everything he said had huge dollops of fiction and I have yet to hear back from him (even after phoning and contacting the firm).

Now, I must point out that I am not bitter about this experience, more bemused.  It confirmed my opinion that we get too sucked in to the spiel the RC comes out with, especially if they are talking to you. How can they know what it is you want to do, if you don’t speak?

Next time you meet one, just sit back and see what they say. Are you driving the conversation or are you being talked at…?

2. “It’s not possible…”

These words have been uttered a number of times when meeting an RC. As the question of career direction has been raised more frequently of late, I’ve wanted to make a change. From an accounting background, making a move into something non-numbers based always gets the ‘plumber effect’…this is a sharp intake of breath through the teeth (& if you are actually meeting a plumber, followed by “It’ll cost you”).

I believe that anything is possible should you put your mind to it, and there is no reason why a job or career is any different. Yes, there are stumbling blocks and hurdles to overcome, but why should a RC prevent you from following your dream because it’s difficult for them to find you the job?!?

I would encourage anyone who wants to do achieve your dream, to grasp the opportunity with both hands. If you want to get a graduate position, apply, network and keep trying. Just because you are not Oxbridge, doesn’t mean the top firms won’t take you. Conversely, should a change of career be the desire we have one of the best resources available on the web…. Escape The City, use it!

3. The past prevents the future.

Half the fun of getting older, means you are able to try new things. This certainly applies to the working career although RC’s will quite happily tell you that changing direction / industry / job is difficult (or at least it is without their help).

If you want to do something different, then do it. If you wish to make a change, go for it. Just because you have been pigeon-holed to date, don’t let it stop you from being what you want to be. There is no reason why, by putting in some thought you can’t make a new move.

4. Expect them to keep in touch.

Within a service company, the service given to clients is the key driver behind a positive or negative experience. I’m sure we can all think of examples whereby you feel you have been let down by the service you have received or been impressed by the simple things being done well.

RC’s are no different. You will find some are far better than others. Sadly a common theme, especially in the current economic climate, is that you have to chase them. This strikes me as being skewed in emphasis. When you approach a RC, the reason you chose them is, I’m sure, due to a number of factors… recommendations, areas of focus, breadth of experience etc. However, the RC seems to have forgotten that we are their clients, thereby deserving a focus of service. Too many times a good initial meeting has been held, only to go weeks without hearing from them. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

It is up to us to continually ask for an update, find out if there has been any news, or further opportunities. I fully appreciate that times are hard and movement between jobs is easier when the economy is booming and people are happily spending HR budgets, but the fact remains that manners (more than anything) are important. To sit on the other side of the fence, it may not feel like it has been that long since you spoke to a client, but if the other person is expectantly waiting for some news, it can feel like an age.

This not a case of soar grapes towards RC’s, I just feel that the human values inherent within business are perhaps being lost. It certainly makes me more aware of what I will do well when starting my business, as I don’t want to fall into the same traps!

5. Stay Positive

Ok, so the last point is less around the RC and more around you, but it remains key. I have been on a journey over the last 6 months as the realisation that it may (& is) possible to make a change. Change is always viewed sceptically but often brings around efficiencies. In my case, the chance to make a complete change and work towards being happy is the biggest driver.

That said, it’s not always easy to stay positive. As the big day (not wedding but ‘Escape Day’) comes closer you begin to worry about what happens next: where’s the money coming from? Am I doing the right thing? Why are people saying stay where you are? The reason you are making the big leap is because you want to do something different. Please remember that. I have had wobbles about the questions above, but I am committed to giving it a go. I would rather try and fail, than not try at all. And what’s the worst that can happen, you leave, find what you enjoy, it becomes your career and you are happy.

That doesn’t sound so bad…..does it?

  • James Rai


    Good assessment – I’ve had similar experiences with RC’s.

    What has been your escape?

    • Brendan


      Thank you for your comments, I hoped that this would resonate with someone else and not make me feel like a bitter person against the world.

      The escape has been a long time in coming, with many conversations held with those close to me. I’ve decided to tackle the recruitment problem head on…starting a recruitment boutique focusing on small businesses with the absolutely intregal key being finding the right person for the right fit. More than anything I believe in people, and making things happen. Therefore, I am passionate about helping people make a move, so if I can help one person move to an environment in which they are happy, I will have done my job.

      Whilst it may look like a flash in the pan, leave the job and look for something different, the need to have a plan is key. Yes, I don’t have a job to go to, but I have been networking and understanding the options available (even if part-time work to fund the escape).

      So if you are looking for something different, and want to be involved with a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment, I think we should connect.

      Otherwise, all I can say is have faith, back yourself and don’t let anyone say you can’t do it…

  • Shelley

    Thanks Brendan for shedding light on what really needs to be heard about conventional recruiters. Since returning home from my year-long escape attempt in Bali, i have had difficulty securing jobs due to my gap year. You can’t imagine how it is so easily reduced to a “long holiday” with the significance of my travel experiences left unheard. But I learnt to never let RCs make you feel small. And if they do, find another one.
    Respect your choices and respect your career moves, and there will be people who respect your uniqueness. Thanks Brendan for your encouragement! Your post speaks volumes.

    • Brendan


      Thank you for your kind words – I can sympathise with your frustrations, as the person and experiences are often neglected in place of words on a CV.

      It has taken a while, and sadly the above is not an uncommon experience, but I believe it can change. The reason for this is me. I have decided to tackle the problem head on….by starting a recruitment business dealing with what individuals are looking for and finding the right fit within a smaller entrepreneurial environment.

      I was so frustrated and thought if I treat others as I would like to be treated, then I can do good things. That is how ‘Think Smaller’ was born.

      Call me a philanthropist, call me idealistic, but I would like to help people. Therefore, if I can help one person find a job which they like and enjoy (even if changing direction), then I will have achieved success.

      Shelley, it would be great to connect and share some experiences, and if I can help you be happy, then mission accomplished. It’s not a shameless plug, it’s about making a change, going against the tide and above all remembering:

      “If there is no path, create your own….!”

      • shelley

        Could i have the link to your website please? I am keen to explore what options could be available for me.

  • VJ

    I have had many similar experiences with the RCs I’ve signed up to (now numbering 11 in a 3 month period!) and I have to say – despite each one claiming to be “different” – they are all much of a muchness. If you don’t tick the conventional boxes, look and sound like the majority, then they are just not interested. Clearly this is an industry ripe for REAL change, someone needs to turn it on its head.
    My advice is to hedge your bets when it comes to the job hunting, contact companies – preferably individuals at those companies – directly. Remove the reliance on the RCs. I have had a much better ‘hit rate’ writing directly to CEOs than to RCs!

  • JN

    Great article. I was thinking of writing something similar about recruitment consultants in the legal sector. As more and more companies start recruiting through the likes of LinkedIn and/or recruiting directly through their own websites, consultants have to realise that they will only survive by cultivating proper relationships with their clients (by which I mean candidates just as much as companies). The smart few realise this. The rest just dont seem to get it. The standard response is to look at their website – they cant be bothered to contact clients on their books about opportunities they are trying to fill. Really? If thats the case what value are they adding? Surely they are meant be actively finding candidates to ensure that the client gets the best shortlist possible.

    The market is fragmenting and if the big names dont change their act they will no longer be the big names.

    • Brendan


      I completely agree – the absolute reluctance to not move with the times is staggering. In a world of client facing businesses, the fact the recruitment business doesn’t listen or want to know the needs of a client dumbfounds me.

      From a financial services perspective, if we did this (I say we, as in my previous role), we would have had the FSA come down on us like a tonne of bricks. So why should recruiters be any different?

      This has lead me to breaking the mould and starting the change. I was so fed-up and frustrated thinking I can do this better, so I am.

      I’ve founded ‘Think Smaller’ which is a recruitment firm for smaller business who listen to the individuals and helps them get what they want (not shoe-horning someone in for a fee). Call me philthanthropic, but I believe in helping people, and ultimately, I am good at listening and believe in the cause.

      This will hopefully set me aside from the rest….

  • Pete

    Completely ties with my own experience. Many have very limited experience of work and life so they just think in straight lines of progression because they think that’s what their career will be like. They’re on commission and have targets so it becomes a numbers game. They don’t really understand the roles so they rely on qualifications and job titles to select candidates on the basis so they send ‘safe’ candidates to the client. All experience has to be in that industry yesterday because it’s impossible for anyone to be able to do a job they did a few years ago and God help you if you haven’t worked for a bit, your brain must have turned to mush.
    Brendan – good luck. Fully support you in this – how do we find you?

    • Brendan


      I did wonder when writing this if I would be a lone wolf in a world which the large recruitment firms run the show by mob rule. It’s so refreshing to hear that others, like yourself, can relate to my experiences.

      If I can ask you to get in touch via my email: bmellis@mac.com I will respond personally and we should catch up / connect. I’m sorry the website, just needs some final tweaks but I can assure you, just because the website isn’t up and running doesn’t mean I won’t help you escape.

      Have faith, and I will help you move…

  • Hayley

    I hear you loud and clear Brendan! Being closer to 40 than 30 I found it exasperating being told what to say in interviews etc, and what would and wouldn’t be possible (huuuuuge no to working from home apparently). I found it extremely satisfying therefore to get offered a job where I was extremely honest during the interviews, and given that I don’t live in London and wanted to work from home two days a week, where they would happily accommodate me. For personal reasons (poorly husband) I’ve not been able to take that job, but am fortunate enough to have been offered a similar one closer to home, again with the option of home working a few days a week, and in a collegiate environment where things are done well but differently. I learned to take what the consultant’s said with a pinch of salt, and to be honest would play them at their own game if I had to look for work in the future and not bother telling them what I wanted – leave that for the interviews once they’ve fallen in love with you!

  • http://londoniknow.wordpress.com Lola

    i discovered that recruitment agencies as industry are pretty much dead if you want a fun and interesting job. they just recycle people in boring, sorry, established industries. if you want a true escape, linkedin and twitter are your tools. will take more time and won’t be easy but a lot more fun. also there are more creative ways like recent stories of people using Google Ads, youtube, Facebook Ads to land the job of their dream. so goodbye RC for me!

  • Guy

    I completely agree with what you say – except one thing: remember the candidates are not the RC’s clients, the company doing the hiring is.

  • Gail Fletcher

    Points well taken, and more to consider:
    While it’s good to have one or two RCs amongst your contacts, they account for placement percentages in the low single digits of the strategies yielding higher success rates. That doesn’t mean don’t use them; rather, devote significantly less time in your search to cultivating them.
    RCs are prone to recycling proven winners before new applicants, and have a limited number of engagements per year. If you don’t fit the criteria for the job order in hand it’s your tough luck – or the saga of attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole, as related in this post.
    Assessment, targeting, direct contact: you are your own best salesperson!