How to Evaluate Recruitment Consultants

Many years ago I sat in a client’s board room taking a job order for a Management Accountant. This was the first order I’d received from this particular client and after getting a thorough understanding of their brief I said, “I only have to show you one candidate for this role. She’s the best one in the market at the moment with the skill set and culture fit you’re looking for.” They told me, much to my dismay, that the candidate had been previously submitted to them by another recruiter. Did I back peddle and assure them that I’d find better, or at least more so that they could bench mark? No, I stuck to my guns and proclaimed that indeed she was the best in the market and that I had done references that would prove my point. The client hired this candidate. I did not get a fee for that placement. Was I disappointed? At the time, sure, a little. But over the next 5 years I filled all but 1 of the companies 24 subsequent vacancies.

I tell this story to illustrate the value of taking a long term view, something typically only seasoned recruitment consultants will do. But how many seasoned consultants are on the phones now? Not many. The boom of the last 3 – 6 years and the progressively tight labour market made it almost impossible not to make money as a recruiter and as a result many people entered our profession, some of whom are quickly exiting.

Unfortunately you are probably getting multiple calls per day from some who probably should be exiting but have not yet done so. Frustrating? To be sure. But there is an opportunity here because you may also be fielding phone calls from some really excellent recruiters who have not had time to breathe, much less pick up the phone to do business development in the last 5 years. This might just be your opportunity to flick the consultant that you were barely putting up with because they could eventually come up with some decent quality candidates and align yourself with someone who will truly get to know your business, be able to represent your company well and accurately and will save you time and money by only presenting a select few candidates (no more than 3 – 5 for any job) all of whom would fit the bill or come very close.

So, what questions should you ask your current or potential recruitment consultants when evaluating if you should use them going forward?

• How long have you been in the business? If they’ve worked through a downturn before they won’t be as desperate. They will know how to work smart and hard and they will be sensitive to your needs and your time constraints. They’ll understand that you have the unique opportunity to up skill your staff right now and that you can afford to be picky.

• Give me an example of when you’ve told a client to hire a candidate that you didn’t represent or told a candidate to take a job that you aren’t working. Ask for that client’s or candidate’s name and phone number. Any recruiter worth their salt will be happy and able to provide references.

• List your top 5 clients and tell me how many placements you’ve made with them in the time you’ve been working with them. Are they one hit wonders or do they take the time to develop deep relationships within their clients’ organisations.

• How many candidates do you feel is appropriate to present on any given job (3 – 5 is the only answer here...any more and the consultant got the job spec wrong or the client is unsure of what they actually want).

• How do your source your candidates? Do you have statistics on how many come from Seek? From referrals? From networking? Anyone can use Seek if they have time and patience. You’re interested in their networking skills and how often good candidates refer their friends.

• And finally, how many fall offs have you had to replace or refund in the last 2 years? Industry average is between 5 and 10%. Sad isn’t it? You want to work with a consultant who has a 2% or less fall off ratio, because this is the only true measure of the amount of due diligence they do on a placement and their ability to match people to jobs.

So, yes...dealing with those pesky recruiters can be time consuming and frustrating in this market. But it can also be rewarding, time saving and very cost beneficial in the long run if you take 5 minutes to ask these simple questions.

Good Luck



Louise has accumulated over 15 years of recruitment experience in the UK and Australia. After successfully managing teams for one of the world's largest finance recruiters, Louise transferred to the Sydney office in April 1999 to launch the Australian operations. Leading the Accounting and Finance divisions Louise launched new offices, and new product lines, managing the group through significant growth. After 10 years with this global listed recruitment company, in 2004 Louise founded Aequalis ...

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