Recruiter soapbox: John Lees’ reality check for recruitment agencies

Let’s begin positively. Recruitment consultants play an important role. They connect employers with the right people, short-listing effectively and quickly, and offer influence, leverage and reach that individual candidates can’t achieve.

I spent over 20 years training recruiters. Every one claimed to understand employer needs better than their competition. They also boasted of exceptional candidate care, knowing that today’s candidate may be tomorrow’s commissioning client.

Yet hundreds of job changers have told me that many of the recruitment agencies they approach treat them unprofessionally, with inadequate listening, false promises, or poor feedback.

Which picture is true?  Let’s check out the claims that recruitment agencies make about their strengths:-


Recruitment agencies open doors others can’t open.

Although less true than it was 6 years ago, this is a valid claim in many sectors. Some employers will only look at agency short-lists, giving recruiters unique access to decision makers, and the ability to move things forward towards a job offer.


Agencies have unique market knowledge.

This is true enough where agencies have sector or regional insights. However in a market where employers find it easy to attract skilled candidates informally, agencies are being by-passed and don’t always see hiring activity.


Agencies are skilled in candidate care.

Every agency prides itself on this facility, but there are huge contrasts in what candidates experience. All too often this is highly frustrating: employable new registrants are told “you’re perfect for us, we can place you” and then never hear anything again, even after follow-up calls.


Recruitment consultants get under the skin of the candidate.

Many wish this were so. Candidates complain that agencies pigeonhole them into the wrong kind of job even after a detailed discussion. In fairness, there are also candidates who offer vague CVs and are uncertain of their direction of travel, but recruiters’ market reputation for picking only safe bets has deepened.


Agencies help candidates with career change.

The jury is out on this one. There are some recruiters who provide insightful career advice, however the majority only take an interest in identikit candidates. This is a worrying trend. Recruiters are increasingly reluctant to encourage employers to consider candidates who can grow into the role. Often they want to place someone who is leaving a very similar job – a poor recipe for retention.

Recruitment specialists provide unique feedback. Candidates hear recruiter opinion, but little true feedback. Don’t tell a candidate what you like or dislike about their CV, tell them what it communicates on a cold read. You can’t give watertight feedback on an employer interview, but a good debrief will reveal areas where a candidate can improve.


External recruiters tell candidates home truths.

Again, often accurate. One executive recruiter I know frequently gives candidates she cannot place good, frank feedback on market positioning. However a great deal of recruiter feedback is merely positive noise that severely disappoints when it doesn’t lead to activity. Over-promising and under-delivery is a common experience. Recruitment consultants could be more honest about what they can actually do in a tight market.

What do you think? Are recruitment agencies out-dated in today’s world of online recruitment? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.



  1. Stephanie Fethney July 4, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I strongly agree with John Lee, as I have “suffered – still suffering” at the hands of many recruitment agencies and their consultants. I am registered with numerous ones based in the Greater Manchester area currently – 32 (Finance) who have satelitte offices in other parts of the UK, yet I very rarely hear from them (is it because I do not have an ACTUAL Quaification such as ACCA:CIMA:ACA, so they think my practical expertise and experience does not count for anything. Some say “but you have not done management accounts for a while”. I say but what part of Project Finance do you not understand where it clearly has monthly management accounting attached to it?
    Even worse when you apply online for a role, you never hear from them regarding your application (only in 1.5% overall of job applications have I received a reply), their excuse (as per the role when advertised but we receive so many – yet in today of IT can they not get a IT based person (designer) who could merge those rejected an email that will have only your name on, but really it is been sent to many?
    Try applying over the last 32 months for numerous roles all over the UK, some 2300 vacancies with little or no response…:(

  2. Jaci Leet September 6, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I absolutely agree, most recruitment agencies nowadays haven’t got an idea anymore from a good candidates perspective. As stated they over promise and definitely under deliver in most cases. They don’t listen, they don’t support and in most cases really don’t care. I’ve used recruitment agencies so many times over the years whenever I’ve been out of work and im currently working through one now. Back in the day when the job market was more secure and stable you stood a chance, now sadly recruitment agencies are just like employers, they have become greedy, they want pure blood, years of your hard earned experience but seriously they only want to pay pennies, it’s sole destroying at times. You can no longer rely on recruitment agencies to find you regular work, as well as registering with a few decent ones you need to be actively searching all resources yourself because agencies are now all about states and the money !!

    I’ve found at my own cost recently that a previous employer I was working for through an agency was allowed to slander my good name, insult me on both a personal level in terms of my ability in the work place and my dyslexia and them to top it all was allowed to accuse me of swearing at him !!! When I approached the agency and asked them to investigate this they practically laughed at me and said “well what is it you want us to do about it”…….. I feel this agency had a duty of care for me as their candidate but they jumped straight to the defence of the client !!!! I’ve never seen so much unprofessional behaviour from both the company and the agency.

    I think candidates need to take what most agencies say with a pinch of salt and concentrate on promoting yourself the best way you can. At the end of the day your the best placed person to highlight and show your good and bad points. You need to make sure you’d being totally honest with yourself and never lie on your CV either, it will do you no favours in the long run.

  3. Daniel Gennis November 22, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Jaci, I could not have put it better if I tried. And it is for those very reasons why I stopped working/temping for recruitment agencies altogether.

    You are working on a zero hours contract – a contract that can be terminated at anytime. You have no rights in the workplace. Liberties can and are taken against you and when you make a complaint to the agency, they do nothing – one agency stopped taking my calls and responding to my emails.

    Bottom line I know my worth and value so stick with what I am good at.

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