Scumbags & Sleazeballs – Recruiters under the Tech Hammer

So, the online Tech Journalism hub The Kernel, have ripped to shreds the portion of the recruitment industry that hurts them the most; the Technical Digital recruitment sphere. And it’s 3 names who come most under fire. Big boys SThree (incorporating Computer Futures, Huxley Associates and many others), James Caan’s much-maligned-in-the-industry Gemini Search and Aston Carter.



For some context, who reads the Kernel? Well I do, but I’m not 100% representative of their market. To grasp an idea of who is – look at the Kernel 50 – a clique of the `in-crowd` in the Tech-Hub centred world of technology start-ups, CEO’s, journalists and venture capitalists with money to gamble on investment of cutting edge ideas, promises and …oh yes, data.  Lots of it. A clique they may be, but I have friends and peers in that 50 whom I admire. Is it an audience worth caring about? Damn right it is, particularlty if you are a Tech Recruiter. Founded by the maverick, former Telegraph journalist, Milo Yiannopolous; otherwise known at @Nero, in Twitter surrounds; the The Kernel content is sharp, interesting, on the pulse, fun and sometimes harsh. It doesn’t pull its punches, but we’re all entitled an opinion.



So – as per my recent post – the Kernel recognised that there was a market to investigate; namely our beloved industry; Recruitment.

How dare they? OHow dare thHow very dare they? 

To be fair, they had that case-study with Consol to go off. They smelled blood. They clearly had ammunition, and their own Louis Theroux; Mic Wright; was tasked with the investigative report into the Tech recruitment industry. Readers were already lead to believe this was a grubby little industry from the comments and buzz from the Consol story, and sure enough muck was found. 

Read the article to find out how and why they targeted primarily these 3 companies – and when you look at the case studies; often anonymous; we sit here as recruiters and think “Meh… really? Just that?”. They even produced a report labelling the `10 Sleaziest Tech Recruiter Scams` – and although it is uncomfortable for a recruiter to read – still we look and say, well we knew that. Heck, most of us were even trained to half those things. It’s the usual list. The stuff we do, we hear about, or did once and then grew up and learnt the word `consultancy` and `ethics`… and applied them.


So why worry? Because of perception. That’s why. 


A person can tell me I’m a rubbish recruiter – and that’s fine – it’s an opinion, and whoever said it was probably right. I never found them the job they wanted, or I couldn’t fill that role. Someone else maybe did. My bad.

But being targeted for sleaze, scamming, and misplaced ethics, now that’s a different thing. The common areas of hoodwinkery maybe blasé stuff for the average recruiter desperate to hit their corporate KPIs – but for the world out there – it is rotten and hideous in the extreme.

Recruiters charge whacking great fees for the pleasure of their work; so long as we find that person. So, it helps if we do it with an element of decorum, because – as I write in this blog many, many times – it’s about people, and their careers. It’s about businesses and their most prized assets – their employees. For the start-up represented in the Kernel’s work, even more so. 


On the flip side – in part III of the report, we see the acclaimed Tech recruiters – who got the GOOD rep. Namely; The Forsyth Group, The Up Group and Orchard; standing out as the beacons of quality recruiting within a infested crowd. And again, we look at the stories of why they were so good – and we say as recruiters… “well of course” – but we need to learn and listen right there. These things mattered to the people who contributed to this journalism. These things need to be part of our service personality and mix.


My concerns initially about this piece of journalism, was that it was going to paint an unfair picture on those concerned. And it probably does. However in truth, isolated and anonymous `case studies` don’t rattle too many cages. I also wondered how biased it would be. It was hugely biased towards the anti-agency brigade, and no amount of flannel from Kevin Green of the REC in part 2 was going to change that. Yes the 3 stand-outs were given their dues – but it was still sandwiched in some vitriol at the industry. Is the customer always right? Is the person who had their baggage lost always paint the fairest overall picture of the airline? I think we needed more proof. Isolated cases in huge companies like SThree, are hardly damaging the foundations of their business – and a company of that size is; despite their very `corporate communications-speak` response in the comments; going to completely ignore this. Frankly, big corporate recruiters couldn’t give a monkeys – hence why the REC were hardly the best-placed respresentation of recrutiment standards – when the largest part of their wealth comes from big corporate recruiters; with their revolving doors packed full of disgruntled jobseekers and indeed, the turnover of their own recruitment consultants.


But for us independent recruiters, there’s a lot to learn from this study. Those recruiters that took care to comment, read and listen to the subject matter, were predominantly small independents. We take pride in every component of our work, and have an ear to what the perception of out market place is. We hope to be the ones standing at the end of all this. Interesting to see that the acclaimed recruiters were established but niche, modest sized recruiters.


So for the Kernel readers who happen to pick up this blog; or anyone else for that matterl here’s the practical clues in quality recruiter identification.


1.       The larger the recruitment agency, likely the less capable the average recruiter. Too many heads means greater diversity in quality and consistency in service, and also less respect for brand, and greater desperacy for a `deal` – because their job depends on it.

2.       Niche means niche. Genuinely niche recruiters are predominantly the best bet. Not recruiters who list 15 different things  that they do on their website, and then call each one of them a `niche` – no, I mean recruiters who are genuine participants within your industry. You see them, they are connected, knowledgable, sharing thoughts and probably came from within the industry in the first place. Well connected niche recruiters have the ears of the talent pool you want to recruit from.

3.       Look at individuals, not agencies. Great service comes from great individuals. THEY are the market experts, moreso than the company.

4.       Don’t be sold to. When you think you need to use a recruitment agency – ask your industry peers who you should use, or look into who is active there. Ignore sales calls. Recommendation is more convincing than a sales patter – and slightly less impartial. Good recruiters don’t need to sell.

5.       Eyeballs. Where possible, please don’t make your final decision on a recruiter until you have met them, or at least had a decent conversation with them. Don’t trust internet recruiting – hiring staff is NOT like ordering an Xbox game from Amazon. Consultancy matters. Good recruiters will take the time to see you – wherever possible.

So well done to The Kernel. It’s a niche study, but it was worth it. Will it change anything on any grand scale? – maybe not – but for those who care – it is a learning experience. For those named or otherwise, clearly there are suggestions they have taken it rather badly. Many recruiters are proud and spikey – and not good at taken critique on the chin. Permanently paranoid, often desperate, extremely self-centred and badly directed. One bad display of ethics is enough to get negative press, and a scumbag label. 

The Kernel has delighted in finding some of those. It sadly wasn’t difficult. 

4 thoughts on “Scumbags & Sleazeballs – Recruiters under the Tech Hammer

  1. “Good recruiters don’t need to sell”


    I’m pretty sure everyone needs to sell, regardless of their ability. It’s just that the ones with real ability and knowledge are selling something different to the rest.

  2. I think that there are so may points that come from The Kernel’s 3 part study and your response.

    I train across the recruitment sector, often with technology recruiters. Those who will take note of this stuff are the ones who are also least likely to behave in this way. Those who should read and take note will read and make the right noises externally but are unlikely to do anything internally about it. For all of the attempts by various membership bodies, trade associations and institutes the increase in delivery standards will be driven by masses of individuals making commitment to change. Some of the “Big Biller” (parody?) Twitter accounts that glorify the trader/spiv/shark nature of the industry demonstrates how willing some members of the industry are to satirise rather than change the perceptions people (clients and candidates) have externally.

    Good recruiters will pick up business thorough referral and recommendation – the need to proactively sell will not disappear though, particularly for those business owners who are seeking to scale up their business. How they sell (and what they sell as per @mitch) is different. The “big player” agency conglomerates focus their induction training on sell, sell, sell with delivery taking a backseat. Instead of robust (read as weak) objection handling training, they should develop them to become capable at delivering solutions that fit a clients need and therefore reduce (and prevent) objections when “selling”.

  3. Great points both, thanks.
    Point made well, yes the nature of what we present, or moreso how we present ourself to the market is the differentiator. Whether we call it sales or not, is often semantics.

    My observations to the client end there in the piece, was emphasising a point that they shouldn’t judge their next recruitment partner on the basis of a series of sales calls. There must be proof, and that comes best from market intelligence and recommendation from likeminded businesses.

    Jeremy, the likes of ‘objection handling’, I hope, has moved on in the way it is trained to smart thinking recruiters. Objection AVOIDANCE is the key, as it saves time and irritation, and improves perception. Research and relevance mean that communications aren’t sales so much; rather more business information. We’re not selling something, we’re delivering knowledge.

    Sales often looks desperate. It’s time change emphasis. I believe.

  4. Still reading this one so excuse the half way through comment, but it’s a nice post Steve. Is it a coincidence though that the “recruiters worth using” also just so happen to be in the Kernel 50 Club too……

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