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December 2, 2009 / Mervyn Dinnen

Recruiters need to get smart to win the Generation Game

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the future recruitment landscape, and how current events and technological advances will transform the way companies recruit. I took part in at least 2 separate discussions about this at London Unconference.

Certainly we 3rd party recruiters have many challenges ahead, and one the biggest, I believe, will come from the generational shift in decision makers from Baby Boomers to Generation X.

Over the last 20 years or so agencies have mainly been briefed by Baby Boomers. They’re the generation that have been the key decision makers, and in the main they like external recruiters. We have been their friends; helped them to build careers, kept them in mind for the big jobs, also helped them to build their teams. They have trusted us with exclusives and retainers, and we have entertained them…lunches, networking drinks, sporting events. We have been their eyes and ears in the market and they have valued this, putting little pressure on the traditional recruitment sales model and fee structure.

Inevitably, the decision-making baton is being passed on and nowadays we are more likely to be briefed by Gen X. They are stepping in to key roles as hirers and decision makers. And there’s a difference…I’m not sure they see 3rd parties the same way.

Whilst I do subscribe to the view that Generational classifications can often be no more than a state of mind, I do think that with Gen X there are certain effects of cultural, social and economic changes that define their experiences. In career terms they certainly seem to have things a bit tougher…largely entering the job market in (or at the end of) a major recession they now find that at just the time they should be making the big career step up the ladder…there’s another recession.

They have also built their careers during the rise of a different recruitment ethos. Whereas the Baby Boomers were comfortable in the knowledge that they had a trusting business relationship with recruiters, Gen X have rarely had the same luxury. During the growth years they have found a lot of recruiters to be focusing on the deal not the detail, instead of building deep relationships they have been  more concerned with speed, CV, size of fee, and swiftly moving on to the next deal. There has been no continuity, no engagement, little post-placement care, and when Gen X have started briefing 3rd parties, they have too often received just a CV shifting service, with no proper matching, value add or consulting.

Any wonder they’ve gone for multiple briefings, with reduced fees and a winner takes all approach?

And any wonder that if you ask them about their resourcing plans for the future they talk about direct resourcing and reducing agency spend?

They usually ‘get’ social media, are big users of LinkedIn and Facebook (with a growing awareness of Twitter) and can see the business benefit of going down this route.

It will be a long haul to win them back, and I’m not sure that they will ever see us the way that Baby Boomers did…the challenge won’t be to turn the clock back, but to work with them collaboratively to map out the future.

On Talent Street the 3rd parties used to lay the paving stones, and often also  had a hand in filling the cracks too…moving forward, could we just be filling in the cracks?

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3 Comments

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  1. garethmjones / Dec 2 2009 5:54 PM

    Hi Mervyn, great post, thought provoking. Love the analogy about filling in the cracks although i suspect many in the industry would hate to think they have been reduced to filling cracks!

    I think you are right although i would say that there is a significant portion of gen x, including me, that also enjoyed a good relationship with recruiters and also worked in partnership with some good ones. Up until the millenium my experience was, mostly very good both as a recruiter and client.

    Unfortunately, the groundwork done by the shoddy types mentioned in your post was well underway and when the market turned in 2001 on the back of web 1.0 clients saw the opportunity to start the process of moving away. And despite what many will claim, it is mainly, IMHO, the direct result of the poor industry standards, not just cost.

    The recruitment industry is a victim of its own success – it has managed to start the process of eating itself and, from where I’m sitting it is unlikely to find a way back.

  2. braescotland / Dec 3 2009 2:16 PM

    Very good post – and I agree that the recruitment industry has been a victim of it’s own success.
    However the days of huge profits for permanent placements are surely numbered through the sheer volume of recruiters and options for businesses out there.
    We work to fixed fees and are proud of that (even though we have received abusive emails from other agencies!) but we are prouder of the service that we give and that we do not employ the best sales people, but the best consultants (there IS a world of difference!).
    We like to think that we are ethical company too – we do not ring other agenices pretending to be applicants to find out who the end client is and we do not post false jobs. I am not saying we are perfect, we make mistakes as much as anyone else.. but we are trying to give a good service for a good price – after all our advertising costs are so much lower and the response so much greater. Recruitment needs to move with the times after all we are a SERVICE industry – we seem to have forgotten that!

  3. tammy colson / Dec 3 2009 9:32 PM

    One of the trends I see as well is that the Gen X recruiters are the ones providing the deals to the Gen X decision makers. (and I’m Gen X – been on both sides of this) Bad service and distrust on both sides. Recruiters wanting minimal effort with maximal fees, and Decision Makers wanting maximum effort for as little as they can manage to pay. (and free would be better)

    So the recruiters have to move back to consultancy, and the decision makers have to be convinced its worth the fee. Its happening here in the US, but like many business trends, it takes time to be adopted. We are becoming a consultant economy, because the days of white collar permanent jobs are all but over.

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