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Creating differentiation in your recruitment business, is Agile Recruitment the answer?

John Nelligan


The recruitment industry has become highly commoditised except for a handful of very niche areas. The three largest recruitment companies in the world have combined global sales larger than the next 30 competitors. The recruitment industry has very low barriers to entry and limited means of differentiation. Individual recruiter performance has traditionally been measured by a first across the post approach by beating the competition to the candidate. This speed of response mentality has led to CV mining using key word searches and submitting candidates that broadly fit the job criteria sometimes without interviewing candidates to verify availability and suitability.

Those recruiters that do spend the time and effort to find and present good quality candidates will frequently find that their candidates have already been submitted by a competitor using this scatter gun approach. This approach is frustrating for both the candidates and hiring managers as candidates are continuously spammed with vacancies that aren’t relevant and hiring managers become inundated with CV’s that aren’t suitable.

This has led to two responsive behaviours by hiring managers;

  • Distancing themselves from the noise by putting intermediaries in place between themselves and the recruiter
  • Putting more subjective criteria in the job specification in an attempt to better define requirements in the hope of returning better results

Rather than improving recruitment company performance this tends to further imbed the behaviour as recruiters find themselves unable to meet with hiring managers to better define job requirements and differentiate on quality. To make matters worse the industry has encouraged automation over relationships and personal interaction through the introduction of vendor neutral ‘Managed Service Providers’ acting on behalf of the client and managing the recruitment process, using ‘Vendor Management Systems’ software to automate the process and measure recruitment company performance. MSP’s and VMS’ are the fastest growing segments of the contingent market. The role of the recruiter as a specialist in acquiring talent is changing as technology penetration and adoption take hold.

Against this backdrop of commoditisation recruitment companies are turning to ‘Agile Recruitment’ as the next best thing to achieve differentiation. To achieve similar results that Agile processes have achieved in the world of software development recruiters will need direct access to hiring managers to define job roles and ideal candidate matching, this can now only be achieved in very niche sectors with low volume hard to fill vacancies where hiring managers are open to these close relationships. A lot has been written about how recruitment companies can apply agile processes to recruitment but the rhetoric is based on the traditional method of recruitment where recruiters had access to hiring managers and when candidates where less cynical about the motives of recruiters. Agile recruiting will benefit client ‘in-house’ recruitment teams who have direct access to the vacancy owner and can therefore directly influence the recruitment process.

Technology is playing a key role in the application of Agile processes. Cloud driven services are now becoming prevalent through Crowdsourcing, Online Staffing and Online Services, we are heading towards a Directly Connected environment as most of the information for sourcing suitable candidates is online. Recruitment companies used to use the size of their data base as a differentiator, now no one owns the data base because in resides online. So what is Agile recruitment and are recruitment companies simply looking at applying the Agile Manifesto as a temporary means of differentiation?

The Agile Manifesto is based on twelve principles:

1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
3. Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
4. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
5. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
7. Working software is the principal measure of progress
8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
11. Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

The key principle in the application of the Agile Manifesto to the talent acquisition process is the potential to remove noise and simplify the process by the following;

  • Simplify the vacancy job specification around a handful of key measurable metrics such as qualifications. Simplicity over complexity
  • Results are delivered frequently. Using Directly Connecting technology a simplified search criteria will automatically match viable candidates. Searches are then further refined based on the quality of results.
  • Use technology to directly connect with viable candidates with a high degree of matching to job specification
  • Continuously communicate between the vacancy originator, the hiring manager and viable candidates in real time to ensure that the process evolves considering candidate availability, experience, job requirement, solve problems and identify areas of potential compromise
  • Narrow the search in real time to 3 key candidates and invite to interview
  • Apply the SCRUM variant of AGILE methodology to recruitment using highly effective sprints such as real time response, minimise the external recruitment function and focus on what creates value to the process. Review at the end, information enters the system and improves future cycles
  • Face to face conversations are rarely possible in recruitment until a short list is established, using directly connected software allows the hiring manager to communicate in real time with candidates that match the initial search criteria who are interested in the vacancy and are available. This takes a large amount of waste out of the recruitment process
  • Directly Connected software has the capability todevelop a transparent and collaborative process between vacancy originator, hiring manager and viable candidates

The application of the Agile Manifesto to recruitment is best suited to improving the client in-house recruitment process and in fact further alienates recruitment companies from the talent acquisition process. The information is available on line for in-house recruiters to find talent, they simply need the right software to further automate the process. This leaves the role of external recruiters being defined as niche expert or employer of record.

The UK government continues to make funds available to tech start-ups, one such start-up is ‘Profile Europe Ltd’ who have developed an App based software platform that directly connects hiring managers, candidates and training providers in real time at point of need. The technology exists to dramatically simplify the talent acquisition process and grab and deliver the candidate and hiring company information efficiently in real time and at point of need. Software platforms that provide direct connectivity is the future of agility in recruitment.