Recruitment agencies

Welcome, dear reader, to the wonderful world of recruitment; the world of headhunters, agencies, CVs and interviews. I was plunged headlong into this world when I returned to the UK after working at ViaGold in Hong Kong and decided to let the agencies take the strain instead of writing innumerable cover letters and printing out several trees worth of my CV.

For those naïve in the ways of these agencies, as I was, a brief resumé is perhaps in order.

Recruitment consultants earn their living by providing companies (their clients) with candidates for interview. If a client decides to hire the candidate, the recruiter earns a commission from the client. Recruiters may actively seek out candidates or they may post details of a position they are working on to a job listings site or newspaper. In a way they are kind of like dating agencies for companies with the subtle distinction that they only charge one of the lovelorn parties.

But wait! Let's analyse this situation for just one moment. Clients pay consultants and consultants pay ... no one ... while candidates pay ... no one. Doesn't take too much reflection to see whom the recruiters want to keep happy.

Whilst agencies' web sites are all geared up to allow candidates to search their database of positions and they boast about how hard they work on their candidates' behalf, the money is to be made from clients and once they realise that you aren't going to get them their bonus, the recruiters will happily forget all about you. All it takes is three minutes on the phone or a few lines in an email to say "sorry you didn't get the job" but of all the jobs I applied for or was contacted about, only TWO consultants ever let me know I'd missed out on a particular position and both of these were before I ever reached the interview stage.

While you're in with a shout of making money for them, they'll treat you like royalty. I've had emails with interview tips sent to me, been told how great I would be for a particular role and had morale-boosting telephone pep-talks telling me to go into the interview with my head held high. One consultant told me that the job I was interviewing for was a great job at a prestigious company (which in fairness it was) and that he had "people phoning [him] up asking to get placed" in that company but that they "didn't have the skills [I] have" and that I was better suited.

People phoning a recruitment agency asking to find a job? Who'd have thought it?

All this attention quickly dries up once it becomes clear that you'd been unsuccessful. I don't know if, after spending all that time telling you how great you are, they simply can't face breaking the bad news and hope you'll just slink away, or if they are just too busy to "waste their time" talking to someone with no earning potential. Whatever the reason, the unwillingness to perform a basic courtesy leaves the recruiters I've dealt with looking like, to quote my old buddy Gavin Hamill, "a pack of bloodsucking cunts."

Case studies

Names changed to protect the slimey.

Take Recruiter A for instance. I called Recruiter A after seeing a PHP/MySQL position advertised on the internet. Recruiter A chatted to me for several minutes, asking about my prior experience and talking about the role. Eventually Recruiter A decided that I would be a suitable candidate and forwarded my CV to the client.

The client asked to interview me and so I went along to the interview, which I thought was largely successful. I liked the people I spoke to and I thought I would enjoy working with them. Most importantly I thought I gave a good account of myself. I relayed all this information to Recruiter A, who had asked me to call him immediately after I left the interview.

A week later I hadn't heard from Recruiter A and so I naturally assumed that no news was bad news. I called Recruiter A and asked what the situation was. Recruiter A apologised for not getting in contact with me. He told me he was "off sick all week" and that "no one in the office had remembered" to call me, as he had asked.

I didn't get the job.

Recruiter B found my CV on a job portal and called me to ask if I would be interested in a systems administration/development role. The job was in Milton Keynes but I told him I'd send a CV along anyway. I did, he forwarded it to his client and they asked me to attend for interview.

Recruiter B was kind enough to email me a Word document comprising several helpful interview tips, and phoned me several times before the interview to make sure I was fully prepared. When the big day came, I had mixed emotions. On one hand I thought the two guys who interviewed me were great people and that I'd certainly get along with them but on the other hand it wasn't really the job I was looking for. They said there would be a second interview for shortlisted candidates and I decided that if I was invited that I would go and make a decision based on the outcome of that but if they didn't want me I wouldn't lose any sleep.

I assume I didn't get the job; I didn't hear from Recruiter B again.

It was a while after my trip to Milton Keynes - during which time I had brief dalliances with Recruiters C though, I dunno, F - that I saw a tech support position advertised by Recruiter G. I really wasn't looking for a pure support role but I felt I ought to be pragmatic and look at different opportunities. Recruiter G looked over my CV and decided I would make a suitable candidate. Soon, Recruiter G then furnished me with a very brief job spec and told me I had an interview lined up.

The interview went about as horribly wrong as humanly possible. Very early on in the piece they started to talk about the job spec I'd been given. Only problem was I hadn't been given that spec. Thanks to some badly crossed wires somewhere, they thought I was interviewing for a completely different position! Not what I expected and definitely not what I wanted after a four hour drive just to get there.

By the time I got home, Recruiter G had left the office. The next day I called him and told him what had happened. Recruiter G promised to investigate and get back to me.

I never heard from Recruiter G again.

Finally, Recruiter H. Recruiter H contacted me and told me a position had come up which I was suitable for. We talked and I sent off my CV.

Over three weeks later, Recruiter H called again. He apologised for the delay, saying that his client had had to put recruitment on the backburner but were now ready to start interviewing people. The good news was that my CV had impressed them.

Recruiter H phoned and emailed half a dozen times in the next week, reminding me to swot up on the company history and psyching me up by telling me how confident he was that I'd do well. He even called three times on one particular Wednesday, the day before the interview.

The interview went very well indeed. It was purely technical, since the HR team were busy (obviously HR have got better things to do than interview people) so I was told a second interview would be needed for shortlisted candidates. The technical chap told me he would be happy to recommend me for the second interview. I told Recruiter H this and he was very pleased by the news.

On Friday morning Recruiter H called to say that I had indeed been selected for a second interview, to be held the following Tuesday. That left only one working day for Recruiter H to fill his quota of calls to my phone but he managed it admirably, reminding me (again) to research the company and telling me what to expect from my encounter with the HR team.

The interview was a funny one. It was over in less than an hour and I felt as though they couldn't wait to get me out the door. I told Recruiter H that I thought it perhaps didn't go so well. Recruiter H assured me I was the greatest living human being, that this was the UK's finest company and that I had a great chance of being hired.

The phone rang again on Wednesday. It was Recruiter H (yes way!) with good news. Apparently the company were really impressed with me and were hoping to make a decision the following day.

The following day came. And went. I didn't hear from Recruiter H. Friday came. And was buttoning its coat and adjusting its top hat when I called Recruiter H and asked him if he had any news. He apologised profusely and explained that HR were busy and would make their decision soon. Silly me, like HR are going to waste their time considering candidates.. Recruiter H assured me that the vibes coming from the company were "very positive."

Monday came. I called Recruiter H in the afternoon. He told me that the news was still "very positive." HR wanted to make an offer but needed to finalise the terms of the contract with upper management. Unfortunately the relevant people had "flown out" and wouldn't be available until Tuesday.

Tuesday's news was "very positive." The upper management dude had flown back and had a brief scan of the contract. He hadn't signed it yet! But he was happy with it! And would sign on Wednesday! Recruiter H told me there would "definitely, 100%" be an offer made on Wednesday. In other words, I got the job. Just waiting for confirmation.

Wednesday came. And went.

Thursday came. And went.

Friday came. And went.

I didn't call Recruiter H. Recruiter H didn't call me. They never do.