The Truth About UK Recruitment Agencies

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We all know that recruiter to recruiter collaboration in the US can be tenuous at best. Is the UK any different? We asked a UK Recruiter:

Collaboration.  A word that causes most UK agency workers to spit out their coffee, especially when it comes to working with other agencies on fee split arrangements.  As we all know, the global recruitment industry has suffered an unprecedented fall in income in the last three years. The agencies that survived are leaner and a whole lot meaner.  Survival of the fittest has meant seeking alternative ways of doing business to survive.

UK unemployment remains at a 17 year high. Margins for temporary workers are tight, fees for permanent placements are down. Meanwhile, recently introduced Agency Worker Regulations mean a rise in admin costs for temporary workers that somehow have to be passed on to clients before margins are devoured.

The good news is that job vacancies are rising but finding qualified candidates isn’t as easy as you might think. Numerous agency vacancies remain unfilled.

Easy, you say. Pool your resources and agree working arrangements with other recruiters.  After all, half of something is better than half of nothing, isn’t it? If adverts fail to attract that top talent, surely a fee split with a competitor is worth a try?

Think again. Most agency workers would rather chew off their own fingers than pick up the ‘phone to call a rival for help.

Let’s look at the reasons behind this disconcerting attitude.

  • Perception of Recruitment Agencies: Perception of recruitment agencies in the UK is generally poor. You submit a CV or application and nine times out of ten you might as well throw it into a bottomless pit. As an employer, you’re hounded by your 25th desperate recruiter making his 25th sales call of the day.  Concern over the advertisement of vacancies that don’t exist remains high.  Would you work with someone like that?
  • Mistrust: Mistrust of other recruiters is rife.  The second you reveal your client’s identity to the enemy you can all but guarantee they’ll use every trick up their sleeve to poach the business you’ve worked so hard to protect.   Without an exclusive agreement, the unwitting recruiter can find themselves the recipient of a client call advising them that their vacancy has been mysteriously filled.  Multi-office national agencies are the worst culprits.  Trained to chase the money, often to the detriment of ethics and personal relationships, they pounce on the slightest hint of a lead.  These businesses are loathe to so much as share a role with another company office. If working with so-called colleagues is out of the question, well, you get the picture.
  • Compensation: Overcome the hurdle of mistrust and we still have the issue of fee splits. Base salaries for agency consultants are low. Job hopping between agencies for a minimal increase on salary and the lure of better career prospects is the norm.  Splitting a fee on just one job can make that elusive bonus so much harder to achieve.

But it’s not all gloom and doom over the pond. There are glimmers of hope.

  • Working Together: Genuine, ethical recruitment agencies do exist but you have to dig deep to find them.  As always, it’s relationships with individual consultants that make the difference. Generally, the single office owner-managed businesses are more open to partnering with competitors. The national brand has nothing to lose working with a stand alone office – and could poach a client or decent candidate. For the small business owner, the advantages of partnering with a national agency can outweigh the risks when managed carefully.
  • Websites: Some websites encourage agencies to partner together on fee splits by allowing agency recruiters to anonymously collaborate to fill vacancies. No names are revealed until an agreement is in place.  It doesn’t completely eradicate the unscrupulous recruiter but it’s a start. Unethical members are named and shamed.
  • Networking: After all that, it will be no surprise that most agency recruiters wouldn’t be seen dead mixing with the competition. Networking is limited strictly to hobnobbing with potential clients and candidates. Annual recruiter awards exist but the emphasis is on, you guessed it, beating your rivals into submission.
  • Encouraging Better Standards: In addition to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation – the recognized industry body – various groups on social media sites like LinkedIn seek to improve standards and encourage co-operation between agencies. There’s still a long way to go but early signs are positive. We live in expectation of the triumph of hope over experience.

Read more in Recruitment Agencies

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.