When Headhunters get Headhunted

27 Jul

Having been freelance for four months now, I’m getting the hang of recruitment companies. Initially, the sheer number of them was overwhelming. Along with the supergiant Talent Businesses and Major Players are a plethora of other agencies who, I guess, are as good as the work I get from them. And this is not in any way an attack on recruiters, far from it. For the most part, they do a great job, and the smaller ones are often far (far) better at keeping in touch, answering emails and generally busying themselves with keeping us freelancers employed

It is not just that there now seem to be a hundred recruiters where once there were two or three; there has been a far more significant sea change in the world of headhunters. Agencies have wised up to the fact that they pay small fortunes to successful recruitment companies when they hire talent. Agencies hate spending money on things that they think they can do very well themselves, which is why so many agencies that previously only created sales promotion material are now having a go at TV, and why so many ATL agencies now have digital, social, UX and other strings to their bow. We live in an age where we all believe that, if we hire the right people, we can do everything.

If only this were true with headhunting. More and more agencies have brought their headhunters in house, clearly to save a massive buck. They loved these headhunters because they had their ear to the ground. They were good at sniffing out talent. They scattered their nets far and wide and formed excellent relationships with people who they might one day be able to place in agencies. But now, at least to those of us on the outside, it feels like these headhunters have been trapped. They are no longer on the radar.

How do I know this? I don’t know for sure, but it’s just a hunch. Since going freelance, I have been bombarded with headhunters linking in with me. Hello all of you! Thanks for making the effort, I do appreciate it. It suggests that these people are looking for talent to fill gaps in agencies, ie, doing their jobs. In four months, not one in-house recruiter, head of talent, creative producer (or whatever title has been given them) at an agency has made contact. The few that I have unearthed have not accepted my request to link in. It could be that they have looked at my work and thought ‘nah’, but no, LinkedIn logs every visitor, and they haven’t even got this far.

So now we seem to be in a situation where recruitment has been taken in house, but in-house recruiters are either impossible to get hold of, or reluctant to look outside of their existing circle of connections. Why do in-house recruiters not want to expand their network while other headhunters spend every waking hour doing just that? And can you really have your ear to the ground once you are out of an environment where you have access to every agency and every creative, and are now attached to the HR department of a multinational? I’m not sure how this new world order helps agencies do anything other than save money. If saving money is more of a priority than getting in the kind of talent that will win business and make money, then the system is fine. I just can’t help feeling that the system it replaced wasn’t broken.

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