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Backpacking Executive Recruiters - Not a Small Problem

Imagine you’ve just been given the task of creating the perfect Executive Recruitment firm. What sort of consultants would you want to put in front of your clients, the employers – what would be their dream team?

You would probably want your new team to be able to positively answer the 9 Tough Questions for Recruiters – see The recruiters would need some work and life experience, so be at least late 20s or older. Then you would want them to understand the needs of Australian employers, particularly in the industry sector they work in. And you would want them with a couple of years recruiting experience in this market so they have good local contacts and local knowledge.No. Let’s not do that! Let’s fill over half the team with hard selling young Pommie travellers! So what that most will wander home or off around Asia in the next year or two?Nightmare team? No – the reality in most large recruitment firms, not a bad dream.Now I’ve known for a while there are many young English, Irish and Scottish recruiters in Oz. But until one foggy morning 2 years ago when the Rose Bay ferry was cancelled I didn’t understand the extent of the problem. I cadged a lift from a charming young lady who was heading back to her car. She asked what I did – “I’m a recruiter and an author, and I’ve just written a book about the recruitment industry and all its problems”. And what do you do? “I’m an internal HR manager for Mega Recruitment Ltd.”So I asked what challenges she was working on. “My biggest is working on how to reduce our reliance on ‘backpackers’. It causes big staff turnover which disrupts our clients. The problem is they are great at sales: if they can survive in London where employers literally hang-up on recruiters, they can do it here where they at least listen. So a lot of our revenue is dependent on them.”Wow! Now before I bag these young travellers, I must say many are lovely guys - it’s not their fault that big firms lure them over for a few years of well paid foreign sunshine.One young Pom is a mate who works in the same mega firm as my indiscreet HR lady. Last week he estimated the Pommies number 60% to 70% of his firm – which concurs with other estimates. It is certainly over 50%. Just ask any group of HR or Line managers where all the cold sales calls come from.So after two years we can say the young HR lady failed in her challenge!What’s the real problem of the backpackers from the employer’s perspective? Well they lack life and work experience and don’t know much about our culture or local ways of working. They learn at the expense of their clients and add to the woeful reputation of our industry.But there is a bigger problem – the mayhem they cause in the 6 to 12 months before they leave.There are many who believe that the transaction recruitment model, where you brief multiple recruiters for the same job is not all bad. Their argument is a touch naive, as they believe that recruiters will still do a good job in this ‘dog eat dog’ world of no loyalty, given they want future work from employers (see for why this argument is flawed).Clearly they have never been to conferences with a bunch of recruiters who’ve had a drink or 2 - how they discuss their clients would make your hair curl. They of course see their behaviour as justified – they are just reacting to how their clients treat them.Whatever, as my daughter would say. For the sake of getting on with the argument, let’s join Alice’s Wonderland and assume they are right, that contingent recruiters do care about the long term relationship. Then, what is the Care factor of the young backpacker when they are going to be on the other side of the world in 6 months? When they are paid big commissions which are due when the new employee starts work?They have got their commission and somebody else has to find any replacements where they have stuffed up – rememberFree Reprint Articles, it’s the only industry where the salesman has control over the perceived quality of the product. Would you have acted any differently when you were 26 and working in London or New York?

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Toby is an active speaker on the international conference circuit. His mission: To give all companies, no matter how few employees they have, the information and expert help they need to do their own recruitment and selection and find great new staff. If you like what you have read so far, you can get more information and resources at

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