Once on a lunchtime walk in Leeds city center whilst on a consulting engagement I saw a shuttered recruitment business whose tagline was "Recruitment with Ethics". It kind of amused me, as certain recruitment organizations sure seemed to struggle applying any ethical standards to their business model. Maybe that's why this one folded.

There's a few ways you could look at recruiter services; Introduction to candidates, screening out the wrong skills, placement of the best fit, trusted intermediary and of course such services should be paid for. Let's take a look at those;

Placing the best fit

While I was arranging that particular engagement there was a bit of an economic downturn and the market was tough. I had the chance of a gig at a digital marketing agency for normal rates by Recruiter Y or a bargain basement Healthcare role elsewhere with Recruiter X.

Seasoned freelancers will tell you not to share too much information with contract recruiters but this time I was suckered into giving up too much. I'd initially refused to tell Recruiter X where I was interviewing but had mentioned it was Digital Marketing. She calls me a little later with a line about how there is another role with a Digital Marketer but she needs the name of my opportunity to make sure she's not putting me forward as a duplicate. Living in a world of truth I told her the name.

After a successful interview with the Digital place the interviewer took me aside. "Do you know Recruiter X ?" he asks. Yeah I say, she's helping me with another possible assignment.

"She keeps calling me on my private mobile" he tells me. "Saying please don't place Jamie at your company, he's perfect for my Healthcare role. Please consider one of my other candidates instead". Wow!

I successfully place at the Digital place, the client and I are happy. If Recruiter X had successfully bounced me out of it then she has a chance at double commission and may be the only happy participant. I gasped, but it was a great learning experience.

She called me later to garner details about my current roles. "Sorry, my company policy is to not divulge any such information" I say. "But we have a whiteboard where we place all the jobs" she pleads. "Sorry, company policy" I say finally and forever (to every agency).

It does make you question what service the client is paying for sometimes, introduction sure, screening of candidates, placement of best fit? In my experience commission rules the roost.

In terms of screening

One of my freelancer colleagues was turned down for a role which required knowledge of .NET 2.0

He'd said he was currently using .NET 3.5 which was .NET 2.0 plus Windows Workflow Foundation et al. But no, his recruiter said she wouldn't put him forward as it wasn't a match. Saved that poor client organization from a consultant who might know too much! Great value again.

Introducing Candidate A

One recent development in recruiting in automatic candidate screening. I'm no expert in this but the account I heard was it can be as simple as doing a word count of specific terms on a CV and only putting forward those that mention the words enough.

Needless to say if you are foolish enough to write a real CV highlighting achievements, experience, potential and aspirations which might appeal to a human being you might not make the standards that the robot wants. Failure to introduce good candidate ensues.

This is pitched as an aid to efficiency but is just another way to increase margins. If this results in a better result for anyone on the client end I'll eat my hat. (Which will be uncomfortable as it's made of polyester).

My CV is a labor of love with years of painstaking skills and experience garnered in a range of industries. Now I have to screw with it to please an algorithm.

Trusted intermediary

A bunch of years ago I decided to freak out and apply for a role in Bangkok. The face to face interview was in London and seemed to go OK.

Anxiously I awaited the results. You don't apply for roles overseas every day. I waited and waited. Finally after an obscene number of days I rang the recruiter.

"No, you didn't get it, I told you" he laughed. Huh? I think I'd remember being called with news either way. "No, I did call you, the feedback was blah blah blah".

Feeling somewhat outraged at this point I couldn't believe he would insist on his lie about having spoken to me, just to save face. I couldn't possibly work with somebody who could lie so easily.

A couple of weeks later I miss a call from the Bangkok guy. Hopefully calling him back he tells me he'd dialed a wrong number. Meaning the agency guy had shared all my details with him, rather than keeping things separated. Another ethical blooper.

It's been over five years since I last secured a role via an agency, and I am not missing that rat race.

Payment for Services

When you get placed in a permanent role the agency gets a commission. I've no idea how much but let's assume it's 2k or something like that. Service provided, person in role, that seems fair.

In the UK contract market the agency that places you gets some of the day rate for the duration of the contract. The client might have said they'll pay 600 a day for a contractor. If the agency places you and beats your day rate down to 350 then they are pocketing  250 a day for six months or whatever.

It gets better though as I once knew a technical writer who was placed at a major software company in Reading for 150 a day. When he found out his agency was getting 250 a day for placing him, he made sure to end the contract as soon as it was legal and found a new agent.

I can't resist sharing at this point how a former colleague in contracting used to refer to agents as Pimps. Sounds like a low self esteem problem to me. ;)

Anyhow if a simple bit of screening and introduction can earn you 250 a day for half a year, and you might place ten folks on those terms at any one time it's clear to see that having an honest job writing software is not the most lucrative place to be in the IT realm. Damn my work ethic and honest nature!

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.