If you’ve been following my blog, you will know that a few months ago I made the decision to go back to work and in the process realised that it weren’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. One of the things that helped me to move forward faster was receiving valuable input from a recruiter (aka “recruitment consultant”) over my CV.
This recruiter pointed out things that I probably never would have figured out on my own and it made me realise just how valuable recruitment agencies can be to jobseekers. So for this week and next, I’ve invited two recruitment experts to shed some light on the recruitment business and answer the most common questions jobseekers have about recruitment agencies (as submitted by you).
Neil Wilkie is Group Marketing and Communications Manager for Fusion People Group, a consultancy offering specialist expertise in Construction, Property, Engineering, Industrial, Financial Services and IT and Training. Neil joined Fusion People as a founding staff member in 2004 and has worked in a variety of roles since then. In 2009 Neil was the architect of Fusion’s Welfare to Work programme to provide job search support to the newly unemployed, in partnership with the Department of Work & Pensions.
Sanjay Aggarwal is the founder of Taylor Lloyd Mason, a leading provider of ethical recruitment solutions, specialising in finance and accountancy, insurance and graduate recruitment. Taylor Lloyd Mason also funds its own developing social enterprise which aims to help more young people into work through the provision of employability skills and by creating opportunities through graduate placement.
The questions (part 1)
So, what exactly is the advantage of signing up to a recruitment agency?
NW: Agencies are generally independent so we are able to offer a view of the whole of the job market, and as a specialist we will be aware of jobs that you may never otherwise have known about. Our experience of each employer means that we are always aware of their criteria, and how best to present an application, reducing the likelihood of being declined or delayed. Our relationship with employers also helps to ensure a seamless process and enables us to negotiate on your behalf when required.
SA: A recruitment agency can be a great tool to reach the right employers as part of your job search – they save you time and money when looking for a job; they can provide career advice or coaching; they can give up to date advice on the job market; they can provide advice on salary expectations; they can discuss opportunities that you may have not thought of before; and they can add value to your job search by selling you in to a role, managing client expectations, and getting you an interview that you may have been rejected for directly.
Do recruitment consultants look at CVs differently from employers? If so, how…?
“The recruiter is trying to save time and make money so by making your CV as easy to navigate as possible, you will increase your chances of being selected.”
NW: Yes and no – much of the same type of scrutiny is applied but recruiters will focus on content rather than presentation. As an intermediary, recruiters can apply their expertise to make sure your CV is presented in the best possible light and add additional information you might have missed off. In fact, it is in the agency’s interest to make sure you are presented to your full potential as your details represent the agency’s judgement and credibility. SA: It has been said that recruiters take less time to look a CV than even an employer and I would agree. Recruiters are experts in their field and are looking out for elements that will help them to match candidates with the employer. The recruiter is also trying to save time and make money so by making your CV as easy to navigate as possible, you will increase your chances of being selected.
Is it true that six seconds is now the average time it takes for you to make a judgment on a candidate based on their CV?
SA: As the research highlights, recruiters in general spend little time looking at CVs. The solution put forward was that candidates should create a CV with a ‘clear visual hierarchy’, something which I would strongly agree with. I am also a strong believer in a profile section, but as a candidate you have to have thought about this clearly and also followed the rules when creating it (one line about yourself, one about what you are looking for, and then up to two lines about your key skills). Personally I spend longer than the six-second average looking at a CV as I believe this gives every candidate the opportunity to be screened into the process, and also helps prevent the pigeon-holing of candidates.
NW: It will depend on the role but in many cases I’d say this is about right. Just this week we have placed roles that within 36 hours have received over 100 or 200 applications. Recruiters may be working on as many as 20 roles concurrently so the logistics of sifting through CVs pressurise the amount of time spent assessing each application.
What is the worst mistake you’ve ever seen on a CV?
“…spelling and grammar mistakes will kill your credibility stone dead.”
NW: Wow, we see a lot of common errors – the obvious mistakes relate to use of spelling and grammar which will kill your credibility stone dead. As an agency we worry less about the layout of a CV as we’ll usually standardise it but you should consider this for direct applications – we’ve seen some pretty odd layouts. My own bug-bear relates to the format of CVs and won’t necessarily be something most people would consider. It sounds really obvious but make sure you use a format that the recipient can open – as a rule go for doc, docx, rtf, or pdf format.
As an example, sometimes we get CVs in an odt format (from OpenOffice or similar); with our setup these need to be forwarded to the IT team and then converted – in the context of one application of maybe 100 for the role, this puts that applicant at an immediate disadvantage. Something else to consider is that many agencies now use so-called “parsing” technology, software that extracts data from CVs automatically and places it onto the agency system. This only works with some file formats, typically the standard doc, rtf etcetera. Complex jpegs or design-heavy pdfs cannot be read by this technology, again potentially placing you at a disadvantage.
SA: I recently coached a Russian student who was studying in the UK. I met her before seeing her CV and she came across confident, intelligent and articulate. When I then saw her CV I was shocked – half of the first page was a completely inappropriate picture of herself (and as we all know you do not put your picture on your CV, in the UK anyway!), and the CV was littered with spelling and grammar mistakes! She did not stand a chance of being selected, however after some career coaching and creating a new CV she was up and running.
How do you go about deciding which candidates to put forward for a particular role?
“…we often place people that aren’t an obvious match for their employers, but once they meet are a great fit for the role.”
NW: The employer will provide us with a specification to work to which is our start point. But we get to know our clients, visit their premises and place other employees so we get to understand their culture and their environment. Recruitment is not a paper exercise matching skills against criteria; it is about people. In our case that means we often place people that aren’t an obvious match for their employers, but once they meet are a great fit for the role.
SA: Generally there are many elements to selection within a process: firstly I have to meet or interview the client to find out exactly what they are after, taking essential and desirable skills (and always challenging them) and then also finding out the traits that they are specifically trying to find within the person or from their team. Personally I use a different methodology to most commercial recruiters whereby I never select based on the CV in the first instance, but instead I work with the client to send out a short application form with filtering questions for each applicant. Candidates are selected on these for the first screening which reduces bias in the process, saves time and money for all involved, and means that potential applicants do not slip through the net.
In part 2 next week, our recruiters answer the golden question of how important social media really is when it comes to helping or hindering your chances of getting a job.
Plus, we discuss how to find the right recruitment agency for you, how to make yourself more attractive to a recruiter as a jobseeker, and how to maintain the recruiter/candidate relationship once you’re in it. Don’t miss it – subscribe for an update here!