The objective of this post is to highlight the importance of personal branding or good old reputation improvement in layman’s terms.

I hope to show that the opportunity to build your reputation or personal brand is not only being missed by the majority of recruiters, but the way in which business is being conducted is detrimental to brand building.

Rightly or wrongly, Real Estate Agents and Lawyers are some of the least likeable white-collar professionals with a real image problem, but having picked on lawyers previously:

  1. Why do Law Firms have a serious misunderstanding of what branding is and how to do it
  2. Judging Australian law firm marketing – Guilty on all
  3. Simplicity – Your competitive advantage in raising the marketing bar of the legal profession!

and trying to alleviate marketing mistakes and problems in the small business arena on a daily basis; from manufacturers to management consultants, it’s high time we pick on someone new.

It’s not only fun, but also a great way of exercising one’s grey matter, stepping outside the daily routine and looking at a particular industry segment through the eyes of a Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. What would they do? One thing we can be certain of is that they would take away the features client have little interest in and improve on the benefits that are valued; they would turn the market on its head! Sir Branson, if you are reading this, please feel free to invite me to lunch on one of your private islands to discuss the opportunity further.

Most recruitment agencies like most professional services firms have not developed powerful brands that connect them to their prospects and customers.

Most do not have a unique offering in the marketplace that is delivered in a memorable and campaignable way both in terms of marketing communication and user experience. Other than specialising in a particular industry segment there is little else that differentiates them or provides a unique experience to their clients or candidates.

Before going further, allow me to note that this is not an attempt to provoke or put down the recruitment industry.

Firstly, when referring to the “majority” we mean transactional recruitment. These firms could learn much from Executive Search firms who are very good at targeting and engaging in a conversation with relevant prospective applicants. They are more strategic and have the vision to see that today’s candidates may be tomorrow’s clients; they see the relationship as a journey, not a short trip.

Secondly, most firms do want to treat candidates well and have good intentions. However they often fail for the following reasons:

a. Their business model is 100% client driven and hence they act only in the clients’ best interests. This means that there’s no time allowed to maintain candidate relationships.

b. They don’t realize the importance of maintaining their candidate data or doing so is difficult an unproductive. If this information was kept up to date, it would be much easier to contact candidates with the relevant roles and show that they understand the person they are calling. Lack of good candidate management software (CRM) means that companies can’t be as process driven, as they would like to be.

Thirdly, there are many talented, professional, hard-working and passionate members of the recruitment industry who are great at their jobs, but unfortunately they are not the majority. Those that do this properly really differentiate themselves in a positive way. Smaart Recruitment, The Neil Williams Company, Briggs Communications, Chikara Capital all share passion, experience, knowledge and excellent client service that makes both the applicants’ and clients’ experience truly remarkable.

Finally, recruitment agencies are probably one of the few professional services firms that have the ability to very quickly build a great services brand. Why you ask?

Recruitment, especially the search, selection and applicant communication part of the recruitment process is a “high contact sport.”

Let’s start by listing the different target audiences of a recruitment firm:

  1. Client – The one that signs the fat commission cheque.
  2. Prospective Candidates
  3. Referrers – Those who may not be interested themselves but know people who may be.

Let’s take an average job and count the number of personal and recruitment firm brand touch-points:

  • The number of applicants to have applied in response to the advertisement
  • Prospective applicants that were proactively approached by recruitment consultant to see whether they would be interested
  • Shortlisted applicants that would have been communicated with multiple times.

Our research shows that on average each recruitment consultant may communicate with anywhere between 40 and 300 different people for any one position.

So all these contacts made by recruiters in what I have called a ‘high contact sport’ is a great opportunity to generate positive brand perceptions for:

  • The recruitment consultant personally
  • The recruitment firm
  • And in many cases for the company brand of the client

So what’s the problem and hence the opportunity?

The prospecting effort by most recruiters or headhunters ends up being perceived as similar to that of a pushy second-hand car salesman.

A recent Seek survey showed that 40% of applicants were disappointed by the lack of feedback* however if you speak to most people looking for work you will find that the percentage is actually much higher.

Over the last 24 months I have spoken to dozens of jobseekers in the I.T., Marketing and Administration industries who in the majority have had a negative experience with the recruitment consultant who contacted them.

The negative brand perceptions quickly add up as a result of:

  • The number of prospective applicants who were contacted to see whether they would be interested in a certain position or to see whether they would refer to someone who may be interested
  • The number of applicants who have been rejected with a standard and delayed ‘templated’ e-mail response or worse received no response at all
  • The number of cold calls and emails being made to prospective clients by recruitment business development people.

In all these cases the way in which the recruiter communicates with these audiences, via phone, email and LinkedIn has been detrimental to their brand instead of contributing to brand building.

Pressure from management, lack of planning and doing it the way it always has been done, are all contributing factors.

As pressure to win retained jobs increases, recruiters are feeling the strain. A few years ago it was acceptable to place a candidate over a few months, now results are being demanded in two weeks. Often these timeframes are promised to ensure retained work, but it then becomes almost impossible to adhere to them and build a good candidate list without something being compromised. Often the first area to suffer is ‘candidate management’, followed by poorer quality candidates being sourced.

Young or inexperienced recruiters with high or almost impossible KPIs are under pressure from day one and the turnover in some of the larger transactional firms is very high. Under this sort of pressure and lack of maturity or understanding of business etiquette, recruitment consultants send off mass and untargeted emails to candidates, call inappropriate people and fail to screen and qualify candidates in a uniform and process driven manner.

Here are just 4 examples to illustrate my point:

Case 1:

We recently advertised for a senior role in our consultancy on LinkedIn. The role was a business opportunity to build your own business under our banner and was not in any way a typical job, the opportunity description was very specific, e.g.: it had no salary, no set hours of work.

We received 2 calls from recruitment consultants who cleverly managed to conceal their identity until they spoke to me. When told that we were not interested in their services and that I was very happy using LinkedIn, there was no polite offer of sending me some information that would convince me to change my mind, such as ‘Pitfalls of DIY Recruitment’, or any other attempt to show their expertise through thought leadership and experience, there was no attempt to highlight the benefits of using their recruitment services. There was however ‘begging’ to keep in touch with me to see whether our needs would change. When contacted in approximately 6 weeks, one of the consultants couldn’t even remember why they were calling me and their CRM system was under the impression we were looking for an employee!

Case 2:

This is an email I received from a senior recruiter wanting to connect with me on LinkedIn and ask for a referral:

“We currently have a role for a <Job Title> Expert with a leading <industry> brand. Looking for someone with at least two years <area of expertise> experience. If you know of anybody please send me your number for a chat.

Thank you,


Case 3:

<Recruitment Consultant’s Name> has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at <Recruitment Firm Name>·

Hi <Name of Prospective Candidate / Referrer>, I came across your profile and wanted to drop a quick line to see if you are exploring other job opportunities. I have a <Name of Position> opportunity – 12 months fixed term contract in <Name of Geographical Region>. If interested please call me on <Phone Number> to discuss further.

Case 4:

<Name> has indicated you are a person they’ve done business with at <Recruitment Firm Name>

Hi <Name of Prospective Candidate / Referrer>, I’m recruiting a role which I think may be if interest to you – are you open to career opportunities at present? If so please contact me on <Phone Number> for a confidential chat, thanks, <Name of Recruitment Consultant>.

My reply to Case 2 went something like this:

Hi <Name>, thank you for the invitation to connect.

It took me a while to respond due to the fact that I didn’t know who you were and you didn’t provide a reason for wanting to connect. You indicated that we have worked together at <Name of Recruitment Firm> which is not true, and indicates to me that you can not be bothered finding my email address or paying for an InMail or learning the many other ways of connecting on LinkedIn.

In saying this, I’m always happy to assist fellow professionals if they just ask – nicely! And this raises the question of networking NOT just social media utilization.

You probably wouldn’t call me or meet me at a networking function, and ask for what you are asking below. LinkedIn is NOT Twitter, it is a much more personal medium. Most people, myself included hate receiving “broadcasts”.

I realize how busy and stressful business is today, especially in recruitment and especially at your level of top management, but your below request for a favor is missing 2 critical elements for getting the favor:

  1. We have never met and do not have a relationship you can ‘leverage’
  2. You have not illustrated at all, how I will benefit by helping you! Why should I call you?

If you do this 20 times a day and even if a fraction of the people think like me, you are not creating the optimal perceptions about you or the company you work for. This is something a lot of recruiters don’t think about, but those that do can really stand out from the crowd.

Although I later found that the LinkedIn message was written by a junior with access to the senior’s LinkedIn profile, and the person has since been dismissed, the above highlights the problem which is happening on a mass scale and the crime is being perpetuated by the very people who should most be aware of social media etiquette in general and LinkedIn specifically as they spend so much time in this environment.

What will the future bring? Will it see talent agencies arise to represent the interests of the employee rather than those of the employer? It already happens in Professional Sports, Modeling and Acting. Can this happen in I.T., Marketing, Engineering, etc.?

Will your typical recruitment agency survive or will it morph into a new animal? Will the agency model be increasingly catering to executive search and selection and any thing below executive level be done by employers dealing directly with the talent pool through even more advanced online technologies? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, the industry deserves a shake up Mr. Branson!

* Your Career, Marketing Magazine June 2012