Friday, November 02, 2007


Headhunters must be one of the biggest cons going.

Of all the futile, worthless so-called profession, this one must rank right at the top. My experiences of headhunters and other recruitment agencies this year have been so bad, I wonder how they even turn a penny.

For instance, over the Summer, I noticed one big recruitment agency had placed a full-page advertisement in a trade magazine - costing it more than five grand, according to the rate card - to promote a seminar in central London for people who wanted to relocate to the North of England.

I duly booked time off my day-job and caught the train to London, had a glass of tepid white wine and listened to various characters that the agency had presumably hired for the evening, yakking on about how fabulous their Northern companies were, how many great jobs there in the North, how hugely people were paid, how superb the restuarants were et cetera, ad nauseum.

At the end, I introduced myself to the young woman who was heading up the northern office for the recruitment agency, and followed up with emails and phone calls.

It rapidly became apparent that far from there being a flourishing jobs scene up t'north, the agency had very few jobs on its books, and hardly any good ones. I did not particularly mind this. Although clearly the presentation had been misleading, it was not the agency's fault the market was dead.

However, I did object when the Northern Office's manager phoned to suggest I apply through her for two jobs the descriptions of which sounded terribly familiar. I checked that week's Media Guardian and found both posts advertised with lines saying, 'No agencies, please'. I phoned the companies' HR Departments who were furious that the agency girl was falsely giving the impression that they were her clients.

Meanwhile, the agency woman emailed me the job specs, which she had clearly cut and pasted from Guardian Jobs website. I emailed back thanking her and adding: 'Please just confirm that these companies are your clients.'

I have never heard from her since, and could never trust her or that agency again.

Another dirty trick that these so-called selection people do is place huge advertisements in the industry trade magazines, giving the impression they are looking for candidates. Surprisingly, nothing could be further from the case.

Most of the time the jobs are already filled or about to be - if indeed they exist at all - and the recruitment agency could not give two shites about job-seekers.

What is really happening - and this has been confirmed to me by one careless headhunter - is that their dodgy little firms are indulging in what I call reverse marketing. By advertising for job seekers using grand and expensive advertisements, they are trying to create the perception that they are doing well and, through that, attract new clients.

You have to remember they only makes money from employers.

The few clients that really exist tend to be hire-and-fire agencies who can't be arsed to do their own recruiting and actually may not take on anybody anyway most of the time.

Amazingly, there are still large numbers of headhunters and recruitment agencies chasing a small number of briefs and treating job-seekers atrociously.

I had an inkling of this some time ago when I got chatting to a young headhunter on the train and was stunned by how utterly indiscreet she was about clients and candidates alike.

But what has really angered me about headhunters was what happened last Friday, when I was invited into a Westminster headhunter's offices, after being referred to them by an old friend.

I was shown into a large and very grand room with a small glass table in the centre and an antique grandfather clock ticking away, indicating, strangely, the state of the tides in Bristol.

Presently, a very large, youngish woman entered and sat down next to me and placed my CV in front of her.

She said I had been referred to them by my old friend and asked how I knew him. I told her. Then she proceeded to ask if I had experience as a political lobbyist or political journalist.

It was obvious from my CV that I had not, but I duly explained the limited experience I had had of these fields (such as interviewing Gordon Brown, Iain Duncan Smith, The Speaker etc.) while saying that most of experience was in other areas of journalism.

To my dismay, the headhunter started to have a go at me, saying I was completely unsuited to what they did and she was only seeing me because I was a friend of a client.

'Well, this has been a complete waste of my time and yours,' I said presently, but she continued to pour scorn on my career thusfar, until I just upped and left, walking into chill Westminster evening feeling abused and crushed.

What is wrong with these people? Having read my CV, why did she even invite me in? And how can she hold down a job in a people-business while displaying such a total lack of tack and diplomacy?

That night I was so upset and furious about what had happened, I could not sleep. I ended up sitting in the kitchen of the Lewes Garret and writing a poem called The Headhunter.

The next day I decided to stop dealing with recruitment agencies. The whole industry seems morally bankrupt to me and desperately needs regulation.

My friend The Poet Laura-eate had some apposite thoughts on the headhunting industry.

She described them as a 'parasitical lifeform of the lowest order' and adds: 'It is a scientifically established fact that cannibalism addles the brains, so . . . our British missionaries might also need to be alerted to these soulless heathens who lurk in our midst ready to asset-strip the unwary.'

The Laura-eate also suggests headhunters only behave in this way because they are jealous of people more creative and interesting that they are.

What would Byron have made of headhunters? He would have been shocked they even exist.

For thing is for sure, the headhunters won't be getting my scalp.

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Blogger The Poet Laura-eate said...

Blimey Oliver, that's an article and a half! I had no idea of the depth and breadth of deceit involved, tho' I knew these agencies probably exaggerated a lot and laid on the glitter gloss with a trowel.

I thought I was being a little tongue-in-cheek about them being the lowest order of life however, but maybe they really are!

And the detail about the grandfather clock showing Bristol tides in Westminster was sheer 'Alan Bennett!' Someone needs to write the sitcom I fear!

Friday, 09 November, 2007  

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