Candidates are not an online commodity

Candidates are not an online commodity

Technology is changing our industry, on all fronts. And of course, we are seeing the arrival of a myriad of online recruiting offerings, each claiming to be the beginning of the end for traditional recruitment.

But, lets get real.

Candidates are not an online commodity. Some people would have you believe they are. LinkedIn for one. Freelancer.com and their ilk too.

Oh yes, you can identify talent via digital. But actually recruiting someone you have ‘found’ is a whole different matter. It’s a romance. A seduction. And that is where the magic happens.

Technology will never replace recruitment. It will drastically change the talent identification and sourcing function, the screening and even the interviewing function. Technology changes the mode of service delivery for third party recruiters, that is for sure.

But!

Securing the best candidate is not the same as buying a movie ticket on the Internet. And so, in recruitment, we are not like Amazon or iTunes or any of the sales channels you find online.

You can buy a dress online because a dress does not say, “no I don’t want to go with this new buyer”. But a candidate does.

Candidates have opinions and options and alternatives. Candidates can be unpredictable and emotional, and unlike a book you bought on Amazon, will not want to discuss with its’ wife whether it should go to the new buyer.

Recruitment is always a human endeavor, and it relies on uniquely human skills. Well, the type of recruitment professional, consultative recruiters want anyway.

In fact, I believe that candidate search technologies will become so sophisticated, so pervasive and so cheap, that everyone will have them. Tracking and finding candidates on the web will become easier, not harder.

It’s happening right now. Companies like TalentBin, Dice OpenWeb and Entelo, and others, have been building very clever sourcing engines, to meet the sourcing demand for hard to get skills. Far more sophisticated tools than anything the average agency recruiter has access to.

So we actually have what looks like a paradox, but in fact it is just where the process breaks into two very separate functions

Candidate identification will get easier and easier. Candidate recruiting and hiring will get harder and harder.

So building relationships and managing the process via highly developed skills in the craft of recruitment, becomes the differentiator.

The very best technology is critical to recruiting success. But I also believe that the craft of recruitment will make the difference. Craft? Yes. I am talking about the nuanced skills. Persuading, prepping, negotiating, finessing, listening, negotiating, understanding, and managing both the client and the candidate. This will still have a value. Increasingly so, in fact. As much as the technology. More so, eventually.

Lets take ‘counter-offers’ just as an example. I predict that as the economy improves, and the inevitable skill-shortages really bite, top talent will know their value. So will their employers, and so every offer you get will be subject to a counter offer. That is my prediction. Every offer. Or at least 9 out of 10. Most recruiters I know have no idea how to predict, prevent, and manage a counter-offer situation. It’s a subtle skill that only a great recruiter can finesse.

That is where, for the agency recruiter, the sweet spot lies. Where you can give your clients something your clients cannot get themselves. And do you for one moment think LinkedIn or Seek or Freelancer.com or any other technology platform will provide these subtle human skills, wrapped up in the craft of recruitment?

I think not.

And so, the future of recruiting is where technology meets the craft of recruitment.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 8.29.49 PM

What has actually happened is that technology has disconnected the recruiter from the client and the candidate.

Often the recruiter hides behind technology. The recruiter has become more remote from where the recruiter can actually have an impact! We are being pushed aside, being made less relevant every day, and we are allowing it to happen by dumbing down the process. We use technology when we should use personal interaction.

Allowing clients to send us job specifications electronically, which we then start to work on. Emailing a shortlist to the client with no verbal commentary or insights added. Long emails to candidates about the job and why they should take it. Where is the ability to have an impact? To create outcomes?

The work many recruiters do amounts to little more than key word matching. They are not sophisticated in technology use, in social media, in talent acquisition or even in the old school skills of the craft of recruitment.

These recruiters are stuck in no-mans land. Not technologically strong, and not strong on true consulting skills. That is why so many recruiters are in so much pain.

It’s a commercial imperative to build a business model that uses technology and human skills to connect recruiters to both clients and candidate

So I would build my business model to operate in complete opposition to transactional recruiting. Leave that to the big scale, low margin players, or the online solutions that add zero value.

In fact, the smarter direction is to build a model that works on exclusivity, retainers, commitment and partnership.

This is not new. In fact it’s as old as recruitment itself. But we have lost the ability to sell it. We have been taken in by the fact that what I am suggesting is difficult. But the reality is the ‘easy road” of multi-listed, contingent, resume racing, ambulance-chasing, transactional, dog-eat-dog, trench warfare recruitment, is in fact going to be more than ‘difficult’. It’s going to be terminal.

I repeat. The future of recruitment is where highly sophisticated technology meets highly tailored and influential human interaction.

Where art marries science, if you like

That is where we turn work into money.

What do you think? Leave me a comment on this blog please

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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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36 Responses to Candidates are not an online commodity

  1. Craig Watson June 3, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Could not agree more Greg!!!
    The likes of Kevin Wheeler ‘Futurist’ et al… that believe recruitment is as simple as identifying experience, skills & behaviours and… voila!!!
    We deal with people, not robots, pets or even screws. The ‘craft of recruitment’ as you so eloquently put it is key and will be what enables our industry to prosper & grow!!! Bravo Sir!

  2. Darren Saul June 3, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    I agree with you totally Greg.

    This is also extremely apparent and holds true for the Job Seeker. Another example of how technology has changed recruitment behaviour in the negative sense.

    In the old days candidates used to call a consultant to sell themselves a little before applying for a job. Instead, today, with smart devices and technology, the tendancy is to email as many resumes as possible in the shortest amount of time from the ferry/train – iphone in one hand and cappuccino in the other..

    Yes it is imperative that all partners in the recruitment process (candidates, recruiters and clients) think more about influence and consultation rather than commodity-driven activity.

  3. Louise June 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Spot on Greg :)

  4. Emily Morgan June 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I agree that building relationships will always be important. We want to feel like someone is looking after us. Not just sending us an email or a text message. Hearing a voice, feeling their smile through the phone, there is nothing like it!
    Technology has made it easier for us as a job in the sense that you no longer need to drive around all day just to meet 5-6 people! However it has also given us an “out” for those not wanting to pick up the phone.

    Very good read! Thank-you

  5. Clarke June 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks goodness not another entirely self serving comment about how someones new product / idea being an industry game changer / disrupter. Ive seen so many of these in my 15 years in recruitment and as I will keep telling anyone who will listen you CANNOT replace the human aspect of recruitment…at least not in the next 100+ years

  6. Julie Honore June 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    How refreshing to see in words what professional recruiters know and and are proud of. How interesting that the enlightened clients also “get it”. I will ensure every one of our recruitment and search team read this to reinforce that what they are doing makes them a professional and stands them apart. Thanks for the reinforcement Greg.

  7. Brian Cartwright June 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Totally agree, and in addition avoid just flicking standard terms to clients by email and instead get in front of them (in person / video conference) sell your services based on the clients needs, ask questions to understand where the client is failing to find people themselves (after all if they are talking to you they obviously can’t find the right people directly) and find out how much time they have already taken interviewing ad-hoc candidates or screening the ticked and flicked cvs that the contingent recruiters are firing into them on a fastest finger first basis.
    If you ask the right questions the client will realise for themselves that they have already cost themselves a lot of time (and in turn Money!) and still haven’t found the right person, basically by not having a structured and deadline driven approach to their search. Once you know their issues and challenges (and the client has realised themselves the cost of their activity so far) that’s when you can provide a solution in the form of an exclusive retained search yes they will need to pay you through the process (but why would you work for free anyway?) and once you have already “helped” them to see how much time/money they have cost themselves so far then a retainer fee will no longer seem the expensive option. Working with you exclusively on a retained basis where you develop a detailed assignment specification (signed by the client) with a pre agreed deadline will enable you to put full resources to researching the potential candidates in the market, properly screening a vast pool of prospective targetted candidates before making comparisons and properly interviewing, before shortlisting the final 3-5 closest fit candidates. If you take the quick approach (contingent) you are simply trying to present cvs as fast as possible rather than actually knowing and being able to justify that you have found the best people in the market. What is the value in that for the client? Not to mention the fact that when you take these contingent assignments you are not only in competition with other recruiters but also the client themselves who are also trying to be fastest to the post. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for you or the client. Get back to needs based solution selling, work exclusive retained assignments and guarantee the results! Let the contingent guys chase their quick wins, let them hire and pay for an office (basically a call centre) full of cv flickers. While you play the long game…focus on quality not quantity, and real relationships not virtual. And above all and be prepared to say no to those clients who are just happy with a no win no fee approach. If they can’t see that taking a structured timely approach to completing a thorough search is just perfect common sense then there is no sense in working with them as they will never see you as a value add to their business, you will just remain another of the many cv factories out there! If that’s what you want to be then just set up an online jobs board instead ; )

    • Cheryl June 4, 2014 at 11:07 am #

      I identify with what you are saying Brian and we only work with exclusive listings and have done so for a number of years. Our clients often commend our service remarking on how accurately we place people within their organisations across both temporary and permanent. I am still finding that our business is shrinking with what appears to be major cost constraints within client organisations causing them to do more and more of the recruitment processes themselves – including even advertising for temporary vacancies of late. We have strong value propositions, recently updated our technology to the Cloud – electronic time sheets etc and still finding it incredibly difficult to secure new business. How do you get around these challenges?

  8. Sandra Anderson June 3, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    I can’t agree more. Clients can get the same technology and search sites but our value lies in the interaction and seduction of clients and applicants. Our clients don’t have the time to try on 50 dresses before they buy. We have to do the selection according to fit, form and application and give them the best 3 dresses …..I always say to my clients, we deal with the most unreliable commodity on earth. You can’t pick a key staff member like you pick a dress from an online catalogue.

  9. Andrew Welsh June 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    great article as ever – one for the “keyboard clicker” generation which seems to have evolved in recruitment in recent times !

  10. Rudi June 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    100% Spot On. Awesome Article!!!

  11. Jenny Lloyd June 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Completely agree!

  12. JohnB June 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Greg,

    Absolutely SPOT ON as always. I have been banging on about this for more than 5 years, that technology can help in-house recruiters source talent but they will still struggle to make the hires because they dont have the impartiallty and soft skills.

    This is a process that is being rolled out globally having been started in the USA. More transactional based, Low Human Interaction (LHI) equals more profit for shareholders.
    BUT…..
    When the computer says NO these people are stumped!
    This is not just a recruitment problem, it is global business now-days, but the people in the Sweet Spot (Where the fun & the money are) will still do great things.

    Maybe this is a great thing for our industry so we can get rid people who dont understand OUR business?

  13. Christine June 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Could not agree more! Lots of stakeholders forget that HR and recruitment is about human beings not pieces of code. The human factor is crucial and CANNOT be replaced by an algorithm.
    Thanks for this thought leadership

  14. Alconcalcia June 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I’ve been saying for a long while now that technology is destroying creativity – and that’s where, to me, the problem lies. So many recruiters it seems, are under the impression that as long as you cut & paste a job description onto broadbean and fire it out to 100 job boards that success is guaranteed. They then scratch their heads when the response they get in terms of quality is poor.

    It also annoys me when I hear people saying that Facebook is the place to find people – after all it has over a billion members. Either that or Linkedin for similar reasons. It’s not about numbers. Never has been. It’s about targeting and attraction. Back in my days working at recruitment advertising agencies we worried about two things. First, getting the message right i.e. putting out advertising with some kind of allure that not only got seen by the right people, but also those who maybe even weren’t actively looking for a job but were sufficiently intrigued by what the advertiser had to say that they felt compelled to apply (in fact those were the people we most wanted to reach). Second, and this was just as important, if not more so than the first – identifying the right media i.e. targeting very carefully where we advertised rather tha firing it off scattergun style into several random publications.

    If the modern day adage that the more people the reach the more likely you are to find the right person is (and it’s skewed logic by the way) we would simply have put every job advertisement in the newspaper with the largest circulation. That would mean we’d have advertised in the UK in The Sun and the Daily Mirror and nowhere else. But, guess what? Those two newspapers spent years trying to build up successful recruitment sections but by and large failed because the make up of their readership was such that it just didn’t reach the right people. It was fine if you wanted a security guard or maybe seasonal sales staff, but anything else, forget it.

    Going back to Greg’s original point, I agree wholeheartedly – technology will never replace recruitment. However, there is a danger, a trend even, in current thinking amongst many in recruitment, that it already has. How many job ads do you see lamely put together, grammatical errors and all, and fired out onto as many job boards as £100 will buy you? How many of the ‘authors’ of those ads sit down and think to themselves “would really apply to this ad or am I just going through the motions? How many take the time to consider what would inspire them to respond to someone else’s ad? People are human beings with emotions. Every buying decision in life is an emotive one. A house, a car, a holiday. Even which brand of beer or ice cream you favour has probably been influenced by advertising. So why not jobs? Why did so many people kill the allure and the targeting and suddenly rely on a warped numbers game, a quick cut & paste and a few clicks of a button? Technology wn;t replace recruitment, but it is slowly destroying its creativity of thought.

  15. Lee Young June 3, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    I agree wholeheartedly Greg, the biggest frustration for me is clients offering limited commitment because they are sticking up their own recruitment sections (many of which are bamboozling to say the least) and essentially, like a fishing trawler, drawing in candidates which they rarely interview or screen correctly but the whole process elongates the timescales. The end result is a watered down, non-specific and frustrating process where clarity is replaced with a ‘hit and hope’ mentality where the recruiter finds it increasingly difficult to really guide and shape the process.

    The greatest irony is very few of these companies uses JUST their own website/screening process, they use recruiters too which pretty much sums up their effectiveness and but sadly underpins a general desire of companies to go cheap whenever possible and we all know what that means long term.

    Regards

    Lee

  16. Chris Sorce June 3, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    As usual right on target !!

  17. Anndeep Sandhu June 4, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    Well said :) i agree with the notion that technology has changed how recruiters source talent but it can never replace the soft skills and personalities the job requires. I wrote a similar article recently on this ‘Why technology can never build recruitment robots’ which mirrors your sentiment in this blog:

    http://enigmapeople.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/why-technology-can-never-build-recruitment-robots/

  18. Shane Torr June 4, 2014 at 4:09 am #

    Great article Greg. Thank you for putting so clearly into words what so many of us feel in our hearts and minds.

    Can you see a world in the not too distant future where candidate databases / ATS will no longer be de rigueur for agencies?

  19. Freyja June 4, 2014 at 4:18 am #

    Your thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for at least a couple of years – but I haven’t been able to put them together so coherently – thank you!

    This blog article is SOLID GOLD!!

  20. Michelle Snyman June 4, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    I am new to your blog Greg but I am very keen on your insights on the recruitment industry. This is so true. There are so many CV senders and e-mails going around and not enough human interaction. It is an art to influence our candidates and clients and one that should be taught to all rookie recruiters starting out in the business.

  21. Cheryl June 4, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Greg, I agree wholeheartedly and am working through a rigorous re-engineering process in my recruitment business after 20 years of working the old way! Much of what I am changing has been influenced by your message and seminars combined with wider research and reading around global trends in recruitment. Our technology is now up-to-date, in the Cloud and working really well but it is only an instrument enabling me to work faster and in more depth re sourcing – all essential if my business is to be relevant moving forward. My question to you though is around the huge challenge now in getting the message across to client organisations who have largely been moving their recruitment processes internally due to cost constraints combined with the accessibility of technology for sourcing. We have clear value propositions, are using social media sites to spread that message but still finding it very challenging – any thoughts?

  22. Alan Allebone June 4, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    At long ruddy last!

    Us golden oldies could be getting through to the smart youngsters at long last who think that everything is geared and revolved round technology.

    The 3 parties involved in the recruiting process, Recruiter/candidate/client should all realise I think that the face to face, personal touch is still the way to go.
    Love to convert some of the youngsters to the real way of recruiting WITHOUT TECHNOLOGY.

    I love these articles there are so lively and full of good stuff to debate!

    Thanks once again Greg!

    One of the old golden oldies in this unique profession

    Alan

  23. Alexis Siermans June 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    I sound like the rest of your fanclub Greg – but totally agree with you!
    In a nutshell – putting the “human” back into “resourcing”!!!

  24. Andy Kerney June 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Another great article Greg, absolutely spot on. I’m not a recruiter but I have been a candidate and Hiring Manager over the last 20 years and this article echoes what I have believed throughout my career, recruiting is ultimately about human interaction.

    Personally I also like the car analogy; companies always put the great looking, polished cars in the showroom window; they don’t just stick a poster up with a list of “bullet point” specs for the car. That’s reserved for the brochure or small sign next to the car. Once seduced by the imagery, you go in to find out more and that’s where the salesperson comes into their element. Chances are you have already done your homework on the internet, read the reviews, watched the videos. I see many similarities for candidates and recruiters today. To get the end result, buying the car or getting the job, you have always got to talk to someone. Attract, engage and convert

    Technology is great, it makes it easier to do certain tasks, faster to complete even automate them and we know that it allows us to reach further than we could have ever anticipated before. Yet it’s only as good as and delivers what we as Humans put into it! Write a shoddy job advert, post it (thanks to technology) to a gazillion job boards and don’t be surprised with the quality or volume of responses. Don’t understand your target audience, or where they live and breathe then don’t be surprised if you can’t attract and engage with quality candidates.

    Recruitment as I see it is actually a set of different skills and processes at different times in the hiring cycle, Attract, Engage and Convert. Recruitment technologies have merged these into one solution that is process driven and computerized. It’s moved the previous interaction between humans to now be an interaction between mouse and screen.

    It’s lost recognition of the fact that candidates are consumers every single day of their lives, they’re not always candidates. The successful recruiter today is one who can take some of the consumer experiences and apply them to the candidate job search.

    Companies that will succeed in the fun and money space, eloquently described by Greg, will be those that can see the potential in all of the technology that’s out there and instead of being driven by it, actually start to drive it and be creative and innovative with it. For example, candidates always want to talk to somebody, they want to qualify what they see, they want to feel engaged and that someone’s got their back, so why would a recruitment company not have a live chat opportunity on their website; it’s not expensive to implement and suddenly, you have a modern communication channel that allows you to engage and move the conversation to a new level. Forget the Contact Us, it’s another “black-hole” as far as candidates are concerned.

    Recruitment companies that can get creative have a real opportunity because the one thing in their favour is that for candidates, despite some companies moving their resourcing model in-house, they’re not doing it any better in reality, they still don’t talk to anyone!

    How I long for the olden days in Broadgate Circle, London, when as a candidate my recruiter would be buying me a pint, talking about the football and how this job had my name on it (I know he probably went to the next pub and told another candidate the same thing) but for a little while I had hope!

    Great article Greg, thanks for indulging me.

  25. Richard Frodin June 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    Spot on Greg.

    For what it’s worth when I bang on about this stuff (and I’ve met enough over-confident internal recruiters for that to be quite a lot…) I call it the paradox of choice. Disintermediation through technology has been enabling more people to find more candidates, more easily, and at the same time more candidates to find more opportunities directly, more easily – year on year.

    But that just means open roles can get more candidates than they otherwise would, and over time (more importantly) candidates will get approached about roles more often. With more perceived choice at each end of the process, in reality each party actually has less choice – as they’ve less ability to control or influence the process and outcomes, and stand out from the crowd. That makes our roles as recruiters more important in the future, not less – navigating this noise and complexity as their trusted advisor. Or at least some of us will – the CV and account farmers I’m not so sure about eh… they might well get Amazoned, if they haven’t already.

  26. Cornelia June 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    “Candidates are not an online commodity”.Outstanding message for all genuine recruiters ,clients and candidates.

    Thank you for being our voice!

  27. Bob Sharpe June 17, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Greg, thanks as always for your insight. Spot on, as usual!

  28. Andrew Kable June 19, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I don’t think anyone can disagree with your conclusions Greg, but the challenge for the existing industry is that the overlapping space in your Venn diagram is very small! The industry is going to shrink dramatically.

    There is another major secular trend working against the recruitment industry beyond the use of technology for candidate search and candidate-job matching.

    The first is that talent is actually becoming less important for companies. The percentage of corporate profit accruing to labour has shrunk in the last 10 years. Big companies can make a lot of money from a small pool of talent and plenty of capital and automation.

    For most roles, particularly in back-office, large corporates just don’t care that much about the quality of the person in the position, they are planning to replace them with an algorithm soon anyway.

    The reality is that recruitment craftspeople are expensive and if companies don’t care that much about who they end up with, and don’t expect them to stay, they will not want to pay the bill.

    Recruiters really have to narrow-in on the mission critical roles in organisations if they want to survive, and be able to offer a healthy dose of consulting with their recruitment service.

    They have to demonstrate that they can impact their client’s top line.

    In the meantime there will be wholesale carnage of anyone who can’t find a value proposition. Like in the management consulting world, most of the mid-tier will be wiped out, big recruitment firms will either replace 70% of their staff with technology or be kicked out of the market by IBM or Google.

    Mid-tier firms that can’t keep up with the pace of technological evolution will die.

    Small firms that already succeed by being half-management consultant, half-headhunter will continue to survive or even thrive.

    Fun for some, miserable for most.

  29. Sally-Jane Kruger June 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    Excellent insight Greg you are preaching to the converted! I really enjoy reading your blogs, good mental protein!

  30. Judith Eller June 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Agree with you Greg on this one.
    I have always said we are in the relationship business.

  31. Keeley McKay July 8, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Great blog again Greg! I am also so pleased to see so many recruiters on the same wave length!

  32. Warren Young July 21, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    Great post Greg. Candidates are not a commodity any more than they are a consumable resource.

    Technology helps us connect faster but it doesn’t necessarily build relationships. We need solutions that can.

    We need to continually find ways to engage candidates in employer brands mindful that candidate expectations and understanding of an opportunity is partial and open to change. We bring value to our clients, managers and candidates by finding ways to align brand values, job opportunities and candidate expectations and fit. This requires relationship and understanding. It represents way more than simply identifying talent.

    Please keep up these thought provoking posts. Love ’em!

  33. @peoplenurture January 23, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    Excellent article. Top notch. Spot on!

  34. Naomi October 29, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Absolutely agree… particularly with reference to technology enabling easier identification of candidates.

    Have never been a fan of template bulk emails to source interest… wherever possible, with time permitting, I believe a personalised message which demonstrates a genuine interest in that specific individual will always have a more positive outcome.

    #Andrew Kable# – some thought provoking and interesting comments!

  35. Travis Bueche February 3, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    Great article!!! I’ve commented on these same types of articles before and the message that I try to get across is the same in as this article. It is very important to brand yourself which in return brands your company. Building long-lasting trusting relationships with your candidate separates yourself from other recruiters, especially now with highly skilled craftsmen are in high demand and there is not enough to go around. Keeping in touch with potential candidates is a great networking tool and it spreads the word that you and your company actually care about them and there interest. By doing this you may get referrals and new connections. My personal opinion is that the best recruiters build these relationships which creates a following of strong candidates that are loyal to you, not necessarily the company. Make yourself versatile and build a yourself a career out of it. As for as technology goes, it is important, but in my opinion not as important as the human element. So like the article says, let the low margin high volume companies deal with that. I have seen it to many times where start-up companies focus to much on revenue and instead of profit. Revenue is up but profit is down……how does that happen? SIMPLE

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