A year In technical recruitment - on the other side of the fence, in HR


After my first anniversary of employment at DisplayLink as their Technical Recruitment Manager, I felt it was a good time to reflect on what I had learnt since moving from a recruitment agency to “the other side of the fence”, working as a customer of recruitment agencies, in the HR department of DisplayLink, writes Lewis Turner.

By Lewis Turner, Technical Recruitment Manager, DisplayLink (UK) Ltd


My first discovery was that I had led a sheltered life.  I have ten years recruitment agency experience, shared almost equally between two high technology agencies, working as a consultant in niche sectors.  Both agencies strived to have strong moral ethics and worked naturally to good practices.  Most of my colleagues had similar backgrounds to me, having an engineering degree and a previous life as an engineer in industry before going into recruitment.  I had heard very negative comments and sensed very negative feelings to me as a recruiter at times, and been surprised at some of the actions of other recruiters in competing agencies. However I really was not prepared for the onslaught of bad practice I was to experience as a customer, much to the amusement of my new colleagues in HR.


As my starting point I created my first PSL (preferred supplier list) after wading through the current agency list and looking at the relevant performance and reputation of the various companies.  It was only after a few months that I really started to understand the realities of working with agencies.  Those big agencies with multiple recruiters supplying you, although in theory ‘sector specialists’, do not, it seems take the time to actually understand your individual requirements (for example culture, skills, character, timescales), and just send CVs of candidates generally in the rough area, often without really briefing the candidate or even mentioning they are being put forward.  Needless to say these agencies have not made any placements and are now removed from our PSL. 


I had hoped that agencies with recruiters with a similar background to me would be a great asset and excel.  Well, here I have been wrong; much to my surprise. Although I can communicate with them well and they do send technically good CVs, I have found a slight arrogance, of ‘I know what you are looking for’.  The reality is that as a very rapidly growing company, our goal posts move all the time, the required combination of skills for a role change rapidly, as does the priority of vacancies. We also have some very specific skills required, both technically and personality wise, which you really have to try hard to understand. 

Working within the Human Resources department is a real eye opener.  As well as getting a far better understanding of the reasons behind the continuous changes, I have been stunned by the sheer amount of work and complexity involved in building a company, the impact of a hire, or not hiring, the importance of timescales, head count issues, cost of hiring - the list is endless.  It also seems that any problems that cannot be attributed to a technical issue belong in HR. I’ll stick to recruitment thank you! 


Sadly I have found that the ‘technical recruiters’ usually take a written job spec and run off trying to recruit to it, without ever taking a proper brief. 


This is the one area I am most amazed by.  To try and recruit a role where I have not interviewed the hiring manager is something I could not do.  Basic, but very important questions are never asked. A few examples are:


What is this person going to do?

What is the purpose of this role, what are you looking to achieve?

Can you give an example of the first project that they will be doing?


Simple stuff, but questions that will help communicate what we are really looking for.  Almost nobody in the recruiter world seems to take the time or has the training to do this, why?  I do know a couple of independent recruiters who work this way. They are independent because they are so good at their job, they can make an excellent living by working on their own, on a few vacancies, which they always fill.


On a similar note, many of the recruiters have never visited us, they’ve never asked!  How can they describe the DisplayLink culture and working environment to a candidate if they have never experienced it themselves?


Relationships are also very important.  Only those who are pleasant, build trust, and interact well really stay up to date on requirements and don’t waste time on looking at filled vacancies or vacancies where the requirements have changed.  I am only human, and have only so many hours in the day.  It is impossible to tell every recruiter in every company every slight nuance and change in requirements.  A good recruiter picks it up.  If you have a great relationship with a recruiter, you do not mind being ‘Skyped’ or frequent but short calls, as you know it’s worthwhile as you then get less unsuitable CVs. 

The recruiters who have taken the time to keep in touch and regularly check what we are after, are the ones making the placements and the ones I am happy to give time to.  If you have a great recruiter in an agency, if he or she moves to another company, it is very hard for a company not to follow that recruiter.  The service is from the person, not the agency.  So, agencies, value your good employees!


I mentioned bad practice earlier.  Sadly, I have received many candidates’ CVs without the candidates knowing they are being put forward.  I have never understood this practice, to me it shows the recruiter has not gained the trust of the candidate and taken any time to discuss DisplayLink with them.  Its part of our terms with agencies, so should not happen, but does.  I could write a few pages on duplication of CVs and disputes over candidate ownership.


Lack of basic screening - if you receive a CV from an agency, you expect them to at least do the basics; such as does the candidate require a work permit?  What did they do in the missing year on the CV?  Will they really relocate?  Bad screening indicates recruiters who do not take the time to understand a candidate properly, and are therefore unable to communicate the candidate’s skills and selling points to you.  They probably have no idea if the candidate has the right character for us.  They are adding very little value and in my eyes, not earning the recruitment fee if they get lucky.  It also slows everything down as you have to ask them to ask all these basic questions before proceeding.  This is still very common, and the bane of my life.


So, in summary, what have I learnt in a year?

Agencies have their place, but it is more the individual recruiter that makes the difference, not the company they work for.  Good recruiters are honest, work hard, keep in touch, and take a good job specification by interviewing you.  The bad press that recruitment agencies have is justified more often than I imagined, but there are the odd gems out there.


My question is, how do I find those gems?

Information on Lewis Turner can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lewisturner 

Information on DisplayLink can be found at http://www.displaylink.com

To read more information, click here.

DisplayLink is a fabless network graphics semiconductor and software company, formed in 2003 to develop and exploit methods of delivering content to multiple flat panel displays from a single computer with the view that this technology could lower the costs of computing and thus make information technology much more widely available in developing countries.