Julian Fletcher MBCS, a consulting technical architect for the Government Digital Service, presents his finds from a IT recruitment survey he ran independently.

Back in 2015 I wrote an article describing my own experience of the UK IT recruitment industry1 and decided to follow this up to see what others’ experiences were. So, in order to get an insight and tease out some common themes arising from BCS members’ experience of using the services of IT recruitment agencies, I conducted an online survey. The invitation to complete it was sent out to all United Kingdom BCS branches to forward to their members.

Based on the feedback I have received, I would like to propose that the BCS consider establishing a working group to engage directly in this area. The BCS would be well placed to audit and implicitly exert a degree of quality control on the service provided by recruiters. This might be in the form of a kite mark system, rating agencies on five behaviours:

  1. Professionalism and respect
    Recruitment agencies will ensure their agents are properly trained in customer care and undertake to have their service annually audited. Should the agency feel they can no longer provide support for a candidate, and feel unable to place them in roles, they will explain their reasons for this rather than merely ostracising the candidate (through suddenly becoming ‘uncontactable’ by telephone or email).
  2. Knowledge of IT skills and industry sectors
    Recruitment agencies will ensure their agents receive sufficient training (and where necessary gain accreditation) to understand, at least, in broad conceptual terms those technologies for which they will be sourcing talent for. (Whilst it might be unreasonable to expect an agent to be a programmer themselves they should certainly be able to understand what terms such as say client-server and relational database mean). Likewise agencies will also ensure their agents acquire sufficient domain knowledge of the industry sectors they are recruiting, for example, how MoD’s IT needs differ from those of hedge funds!
  3. Understanding needs of candidates and clients
    Agents take the time to properly get to know both the talents and limitations of their candidates. This means they will make the effort to personally read and understand the candidate’s CV thoroughly themselves, before discussing the candidate’s aspirations with them, to properly understand the type of role that candidate is looking for. The agent will not place a candidate into a role which they are not competent to tackle, but, in the same vein, they will not cease all relations with a candidate who fails to secure an offer on the first interview the agent has identified for them. Agents need to see themselves more as ‘account managers and relationship builders’ and less as estate agents or car salesmen! 
  4. Clear and timely communications and feedback
    Recruitment agents will acknowledge all reasonable candidate enquiries at all stages in the recruitment process. In particular, candidates will receive interview  feedback regardless of whether or not they were successful in securing the role and not  kept in the dark (in the case of unsuccessful interviews!)
  5. Honesty
    Recruitment agents will present roles honestly to candidates, and present candidates honestly to clients. Agents will communicate transparently to both parties the margins they are making for securing any placement of candidates in new roles including the placement of freelance contractors. Where they are using automated techniques to preselect CVs e.g, A.I. and web harvesting, they will make this explicit to candidates. The agent will represent what they can do accurately to candidates and clients and will not miss-sell a candidate as being skilled in something they patently aren’t to a client.

Results of the survey: 

The survey was launched in December 2016, with the last response being received in August 2017. The survey received 188 unique visits, from which there were 87 responses, a completion rate of 46 per cent. The industry sectors in which these respondents worked in are shown in Fig 1:

Recruitment Industry Sectors Pie Chart

Fig 1

Those respondents who had used agencies were then asked to describe both any good experiences and any bad experiences in these encounters. An example of a good experience was:

‘Good recruitment agencies put you forward for jobs with a good match and help with final negotiations on T and Cs.They understand your skills and the needs of companies recruiting.’

and an example of a bad experience: 

‘If agencies are interested in you, they will be very keen, chasing you all over the place until suddenly it goes quiet. If you manage to make contact and ask why, you will discover that the role has been put 'on hold' or your CV has been rejected by the client (but they won't bother to tell you unless you chase them). Even if you do get and attend an interview, they may not let you know the outcome if you have not got the role.’

The respondents were each asked to describe five behaviours they would like IT recruitment agencies to exhibit. The top twenty themes to emerge are shown in the word cloud in Fig 2 and it can be seen that the terms skills, understanding, candidate and knowledge are the most prominent of the 20 to emerge.

Recruitment Agency Behaviours Word Cloud

Fig 2

Now, looking at explicit behaviour, the six behaviours, respondents most commonly mentioned that they would like IT recruitment agencies to exhibit are shown in the graph of Fig 3:

Recruitment Agency Behaviours Graph

Fig 3

The following word tree (Fig 4) shows a graphical overview of how IT recruiters might exhibit good practice based on the behaviours deemed important by survey respondents.

Recruitment Agency Behaviours Word Tree

Fig 4

Based on these further comments, the following word tree (Fig 5) shows  a graphical overview of how recruitment is currently perceived.

Recruitment Agency Behaviour Word Tree (2)

Fig 5 

Conclusions from the survey research

I hope this article will inspire the BCS to take a more visible and hands-on role with regards to engaging and influencing the UK IT recruitment sector - it’s certainly an opportunity for it to demonstrate how it can add further value for its members like you and me!

1 ‘If Carlsberg ran an IT Recruitment Agency’ - IT Now Summer 2015

About the author

Julian Fletcher has worked in permanent and contract roles in the areas of business analysis and e-learning.