How to choose a recruitment agency

How should IT employers choose a recruitment agency? With the John Davy affair not far behind us, here's a few tips for anyone looking to take on staff.

How should IT employers choose a recruitment agency? With the John Davy affair not far behind us, here's a few tips for anyone looking to take on staff.

SolNet sales and marketing director John Hanna says “track record” is what matters. The agency would have to be known to him or his peers, and if the agency was new he would ask his peers what they were like. Hanna says he would also spend time with its bosses, to understand where they came from, their history and their knowledge of his business.

But while agencies are responsible for vetting people and taking pressure off employers in the recruiting process, Hanna says “the buck stops with the employer” as it is they who makes the final appointment.

Paul Osborne, general manager of Auckland software company RPK New Zealand, says when he set up the business he sought recommendations from contacts in the IT sector. He "vetted" recruiters by telephone and invited five or 10 to send CVs for the positions he had to fill. The agency that sent the best CVs succeeded in placing jobs for its candidates, as well as gaining the work from RPK.

Linda Harper, operations manager of telecomms equipment supplier Rocom Wireless, says her company has "closely aligned" itself with Cooper & Osborne (which was recently taken over by IT@Manpower). Harper says Rocom asked other IT companies which agencies they used and how good they were. Rocom also spoke with people who had been employed through those agencies.

Rocom says Cooper & Osborne is very professional in understanding its business and the importance of getting the right staff. The recruiter, for instance, made follow-up enquiries to appointments to avoid teething troubles. Harper says employers "must do their homework" and be explicit in seeking feedback from other companies and agencies. They must also realise it is as important to have a good relationship with an individual consultant as with the agency overall, she says.

Computer Associates finance director Paul Wallace says when his firm uses agencies it usually uses a couple rather than one. That way companies can get more coverage for their vacancy, he says. They must also set clear requirements as to what they want from an agency, he says.

Phil Holliday, director of mobile products specialists iTouch, says it is essential to create a "close relationship" with agencies, with them understanding your needs. However, iTouch prefers not to use agencies, claiming job boards and press advertising offer better value.

For their part, recruiters say selecting an agency should be even more thorough than choosing a staffer.

“You should do due diligence on an agency to assess their suitability as you would any key supplier," says Barry O’Brien of Enterprise. "History, structure, ownership, financial viability and soundness, qualifications of staff, experience of the people who will be servicing your account." Reference-check the agency’s key clients in the same field, he says.

Candle’s Auckland manager Christine Fitchew says a formal selection process should be used, perhaps in the form of a tender. Tender requirements should include things like the organisation’s quality processes, the tenure and experience of staff looking after the account and the recruitment methodology of the agency.

Pinnacle recruitment’s Ross Turner says “relationships” are what matters. The recruiter must understand your needs, your industry and where to find staff, otherwise clients are wasting their time.

Sally Breed of IT@Work touts boutique agencies, saying they tend to have lower staff turnover. This means employers can develop a rapport with a consultant who remains with the firm a long time and is often a working director. These agencies also tend to attract experienced recruiters who, after working for one of the big firms, decide that small is best.

Hugh Lloyd of Recruitment Solutions says a major agency may have a large and global database, with strong branding and advertising power and have many candidates coming through their doors. But their payment plans may be less flexible and service levels are lower than at the boutiques because staff tend not to stay so long.

Specialist agencies are best for finding specialist skills, Lloyd says, as those agencies “know the industry back-to-front and can offer sound advice on the market". They have a profile in the industry and their databases are exclusive to the industry. But a specialist cannot be used as a “one-stop shop” for all your recruiting needs, he says.

Greenwood is Computerworld's HR and employment reporter.

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