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Rec-2-rec: the staffing industrys necessary evil?

By Jeff Blakemore, sales director at Optionis Group, home of Parasol & ClearSky Contractor Accounting

If you work in recruitment, the chances are youll have a view on rec-2-rec firms. This will naturally be based on your personal experience of them. If one such company brought your top biller to your door, or helped to advance your own career, youll no doubt be firmly in the pro camp. If, however, your star consultant was lured away to a rival via a rec-2-rec, you may well be less enthusiastic.

As someone who founded, built up and ran a niche staffing firm in a previous life, I have been helped and hindered by the rec-2-rec world. Ive had some stars brought my way, Ive had my fair share of duds, and I have had staff targeted by them. I can therefore see both sides of the debate.

What strikes me and this isnt something I appreciated during my time in recruitment is that rec-2-recs have an incredibly difficult job to do. Help a recruiter find a new role and youll be hailed as a lifesaver by them and their new employer, but cursed by the company theyve left behind. 

Rarely has this old adage been more relevant: 

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you cant please all of the people all of the time.

To those outside the world of recruitment, the very existence of rec-2-rec must appear to be something of an oddity. Why cant recruitment firms find and hire their own consultants? After all, thats what theyre good at.

The rec-2-rec worlds most effective response to such criticism is to let its billings do the talking. Quite simply, if there was no demand for their services then such firms wouldnt exist. Far from simply surviving, many rec-2-recs are enjoying solid year-on-year growth. A good example is Manchester-based Peritus Consultants, which was founded in 2010 by Gary Cox.

Gary, who gained more than 20 years experience in rec-2-rec before launching Peritus, accepts that the sector has something of an image problem. However, he strongly believes as you would expect that the best firms provide a vital service to recruiters, agencies and the staffing industry in general. 

He told me: I think recruiters have a tendency to tar all rec-2-recs with the same brush. They think were only interested in stealing their best people.

However, the reputable providers work hard to earn the trust of staffing firms. A professional rec-2-rec consultant knows a clients business inside out and has a comprehensive understanding of the key sectors and industries they operate in.

Our consultants have regular face-to-face meetings with clients, and are honest and transparent in their approach. Like recruitment itself, rec-2-rec is a relationships business, so the element of trust is absolutely key.

The best rec-2-recs also pride themselves on the ability to advise their clients on which sectors, industries and candidate skill sets are hot, and which are cooling off. Indeed, this should be a key part of any reputable rec-2-rec firms added-value offering.

In addition to this market intelligence, Gary outlined the following ways in which rec-2-recs can add value:

  • Salary and commission guidance and comparisons, for both clients and candidates
  • Advice on how to attract and interview high-calibre recruiters, as well as interview guidance for candidates
  • Confidential referencing
I currently work for one of the UKs largest contractor services providers, and there are several similarities between the rec-2-rec sector and my own. We are both well placed to genuinely add value to staffing firms by reducing exposure to risk whether thats the risk of a bad hire or falling foul of the latest legislation. 

In both cases all providers from professional, reputable outfits through to the cowboys out to make a quick buck are often viewed as one homogenous group by the recruiters we serve. This can obscure or detract from the positive contribution made by companies at the reputable end of the market, with the result that all providers are viewed with disdain.

It could be argued that, somewhat ironically, the average recruiters view of rec-2-rec is mirrored by some parts of UK PLCs perception of recruiters. Common complaints, for example that clever pre-interview coaching makes it impossible to distinguish the good candidates from the bad, can be levelled at, as well as by, recruiters.    

Just as many clients view the staffing industry as a necessary evil, perhaps its time for recruiters to accept that rec-2-recs are a vital cog in our industry. 
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