The recruitment industry is broken

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As I settle down at my hotel desk to write this, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the chaos of the past 24 hours that got me to this point. You see, a while back when I first thought of ‘penning’ this article, I decided the best place to seek inspiration would be under the shadow of Table Mountain, the sound of waves lofting through the window (the sound, not the waves) interrupted only by the shriek of an opportunistic seagull.


The morning started off with a search as to which airline would carry me south. Commitment issues aside, I booked a flight with Kulula, Mango and Safair (enough of my taxes already go to SAA, so I gave them a skip). No payment was made because why pay now; I mean, I hadn’t even flown yet! Upon arrival at the airport, two Boeings and an Airbus awaited me; basically a smorgasbord of metal engineering, each with its own unique features (thankfully no MAX-8s on offer). Mango tickled my fancy, and was leaving 5 minutes ahead of the others, so I hopped onboard, seat 2B (or not 2B, that was my question), and made my way to the Cape. Uneventful flight really, barring the insistence by the air-hostess that I pay for my sandwich before I ate it. The cheek.


Time to head to the hotel. Car booked with Avis, First, Europecar and Hertz; I like to travel in style, so you see, I needed options. Problem was, none of those had a 1963 Jaguar E-Type! What the hell Cape Town, up your game. Reneging on the rentals, I headed back to the terminal and hailed a number of cabs. Uber, Taxify (Boost), heck, even a local taxi operator named Cape Cabs (got a ring to it, no really, you have to phone them), all dispatched; the race was on to see who could pick me up first. It was tight, but a nice gent named Shane outsmarted the others in finding me; “To the Waterfront my loyal steed!”, the disappoint of the other drivers evident in his review mirror.


This is where the fun really started! Now the night before had seen me basically peddling my wares as a UX consultant to the likes of Trivago, and Airbnb. “Hotel, Trivago!” Oh to have that level of marketing spend. I digress; 10 rooms booked, each offering a different experience. Some sea-facing, others mountain-facing, a few on the prom, some even offered to pay me back if I didn’t like the room; for real! Let’s just say Shane and I became pals that day. Two hours later I’d checked each option and finally settled on this cozy boutique hotel that matched my requirements. The best part, I of course didn’t pay the other nine, and only had to pay this one 30 days after my stay. Win.


Not one to conjure up an article on an empty stomach, I decided to order in. I knew I wanted seafood (because, by the sea) but needed some options. I got swiping and settled on a calamari via Uber Eats, a rainbow reloaded via Mr. Delivery and a hake and chips via OrderIn. Each promised delivery within 30 minutes and that they did; I was impressed. But I couldn’t possibly eat all three, so after a bite of each, I settled on the calamari. But here’s the rub; after expecting to slip the delivery guy a hundy (*triple checks spelling*), Uber Eats hit me with a R300 charge! A few DMs later and it turns out that mine was the 10th order of the night, but only the 3rd that had actually been selected for consumption; they had to recover the costs on the other 7 meals somehow. Well played Uber, well played; slowly plugging that $5.2bn Q2 hole.


If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. The above is obviously fictional (I’m on a plane), but it aims to highlight how absurd it would be if other industries tolerated the sort of behaviour the recruitment industry has allowed to manifest over the years. In so doing, the industry has created a race to the bottom fraught with inefficiencies such that one successful hire is at the expense of (or rather to make up for) 10 unsuccessful ones. This in turn then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the justification of placement fees north of 15%.


When you conduct business for free (read on risk), you drive a certain apathetic approach toward your offering, with both sides devoid of commitment. This then leads to the following noticeable problems all inherent in the recruitment industry (yes, I’m generalising somewhat here; ‘not all clients’):

1.    Uncommitted hiring process, i.e. “If someone good comes along, we’ll talk to them, but let’s keep our options open.”

2.    Candidates interviewed under false pretences, assuming the employer is ready to hire

3.    A spray and pray approach, mandating 5+ recruiters to source the same talent, leading to a candidate being approached by 5+ different parties re the same role

4.    Scope changes over time as more and more candidates are interviewed on risk, affording the employer the opportunity to go back to the drawing board on a whim

5.    For every role worked on risk, there’s a minimum of 10 man-hours (lady-hours too) that has gone into the sourcing, screening and interviewing of candidates (not to mention potential marketing spend); this cost is only recouped on the successful hire, necessitating a fee of 15%+

6.    Zero transparency as to the progress of the hire, such that four recruiters may be continuing with the process, each with 10 candidates, while recruiter #5 is in final discussions with a potential candidate (that’s 40 individuals let down by the process with a tarnished view on both the recruiter and the industry)

7.    Apathy works both ways, in that the recruiter is afforded the option to ‘give up’ on the search because “heck, we aren’t being paid for this”

8.    Much like dating, if you allow yourself to be viewed as an option, then you’ll in all likelihood be treated as one (preach Pitbull)


As is the case with most other industries, when you do business for a price, it creates a dual-sided expectation and a firm obligation on both parties to uphold their end of the deal. This in turn establishes a tacit partnership whereby you hold each other to account, and if the service rendered falls short, you as a client or consumer is fully entitled to rate that service and elect to look elsewhere if not satisfied.


So what is the fix you may ask? Some may argue, "But this is how it's always been done, just deal with it!" I don’t have the answer, merely an approach that is instilled in everything we are trying to do with Crayon: Do better business, and do it at the right price. And upfront non-refundable deposits. Hang on, say what?! Yes, a mere R950 (or USD95 for our friends abroad) down-payment (equating to c. 5% of the already low, 5% fee) at the outset of the hiring journey to a) ensure commitment towards the hiring process, b) establish a formal business arrangement with expectations and obligations agreed at the outset, c) to protect our brand and the candidates we represent and d) to cover a portion of the targeted marketing spend used towards that role. If you don’t wish to pay, no problem. The quid pro quo is a sole mandate for a period of 30 days or up to the point of presentation of the first 10 candidates (which typically occurs within 5 days). If the process leaves you feeling giddy, great, if not, you’ll then naturally consider a different option next time. This creates accountability, accountability creates efficiency, efficiency leads to the right price, and the right price is how the recruitment industry will once again regain its viability as a value-added offering that makes sense, and in turn saves cents (and time).


Thank you for attending my Ted Talk.


Note: No recruiters were harmed in the making of this article.