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Is there any point applying for jobs through recruitment firms now?

More Singaporeans needed in top front-office jobs

More Singaporeans needed in top front-office jobs

The sands have been shifting with regards to financial services ‘recruitment channels’. Once upon a time, banks did a lot of their hiring through financial services recruitment firms. Now they don’t.

UBS is a case in point. When the Swiss bank presented its first quarter results last month, it said recruiters were used to fill no more than 10% of its jobs in 2012, down from 16% in 2011. Even William Vereker, the big-name M&A banker whom UBS has reportedly hired from Nomura, is said to have been brought on board without the intervention of headhunting firms. UBS declined to comment as to whether this was the case, but it is not the only bank to hire directly – at our recent round tables for banks’ heads of recruitment, recruiters said they do 70-75% of their hiring themselves.

Where does this leave recruitment companies and headhunters? In a difficult place is the predictable answer. When the PageGroup, owner of recruitment firm Michael Page, published its first quarter results this week, its share price fell by almost 7%. Gross profits were down 13% year-on-year in Europe, the Middle East and Africa profits from finance and accounting searches globally were down by 7% – more than any other sector except marketing, sales and retail. Meanwhile, recruitment firm Robert Walters has diversified away from its banking roots and now generates 85% of its profits outside of the financial services sector.

Top headhunters are struggling too. Global revenues at Heidrick & Struggles fell 18% in the fourth quarter of 2012 versus the same period of 2011. Kevin Kelly, Heidrick’s chief executive officer, cited “challenging economic conditions and lower confirmations,” as the source of the disappointment. More generally, banks’ in-house recruiters say headhunting firms are being stretched by banks’ unwillingness to pay so-called retainers, in which headhunters receive an upfront fee while they set about identifying suitable candidates. “We still offer retainers, but we’re only paying one for every three-or-so candidates,” the head of recruitment at one international bank told us at a recent round table event.  In the past, banks paid retainers for every candidate, he added. Retainers were typically equivalent to a third of the overall fee, said the head of one recruitment firm – and that fee was calculated on the basis of a third of a candidate’s total first year pay.

Why recruiters say candidates should apply through them

Recruitment firms are fighting back, however. Senior recruiters at Selby Jennings – a financial services recruitment firm, and at Michael Page, said there are several very good reasons for candidates to apply for jobs through recruiters. These include the facts that:

1. Left on their own, candidates can go astray

“We often find that candidates develop a distorted view of the market based on hearsay, misdirected advice or limited personal experience,” Steve Yendell, managing director at financial services recruiter Selby Jennings, told us. “Engaging with a specialist recruiter provides candidates with an impartial overview of the market, as well as an objective analysis of particular career moves in relation to desired career aspirations.”

2. Some banks only hire through recruiters

David Leithead, managing director of Michael Page Financial Services, said that whilst some banks do a “fair amount of direct recruitment,” others do “almost none.”

This being the case, Leithead warned that, “a jobseeker who decides not to use a recruitment firm is seriously limiting their options.” He did not say which banks prefer to use recruiters, however.

3. If you don’t use a recruiter, you’ll have to negotiate your salary all on your own

Most candidates have a “strong aversion” to negotiating their own pay, said Leithead. If you use a recruiter, you won’t need to confront this issue.

Recruiters provide candidates with, “critical support in negotiating fair compensation models,” said Yendell.

4. Recruitment firms will allow you to access lots of jobs at once 

If you make yourself known to a recruitment firm instead of applying directly for a job at a single bank, you will be able to access a broader array of potential employers.

“Recruiters provide candidates with a far wider spectrum of opportunity,” pointed out Yendell. “Once someone decides to look at opportunities, they almost always want to consider more than one option, and recruitment companies give them that access,” said Leithead.

Comments (21)

  1. The current junior recruiters, replacing the last generation, are a total waste of time. Some of them are nice, but most of them lack any business experience or recruitment qualifications.

    Those with a few years experience recruit at MD level – a joke! They have no clue what a business does, or how a candidate fits into the picture. Most of them just scan your CV for specific titles and words and push it forward. A total waste of money.

    Without recommendations in this market, you might as well start your own bank.

    PerfectCandidate Reply
  2. In the current environment, recruitment firms in Singapore, and probably elsewhere, are acting very badly towards potential candidates and there is very little value to a candidate in using them. But the one firm that takes the cake in terms of poor attitude to candidates (yes, we all understand the current demand and supply dynamic, but even then…) is Selby Jennings in Singapore. Emails are never acknowledged, phones are constantly set on voicemail and recruitment professionals, often 25-27 and with less experience than the candidates (and with poor knowledge of sub-sectors or skills needed), take a curt and dismissive attitude towards experienced candidates. In my mid 30s and after working at 3 leading institutions in Singapore and London, I have yet to come across a worse attitude amongst recruitment professionals. It seems these young lasses dont realise that times will turn at some point in their careers, and elephants have memories, especially when Michael Page, Robert Walters and others manage to answer phones and be civil even in the slow times.

    Selby Jennings Singapore are a nightmare for candidates Reply
  3. Recruitment agencies / condescending consultants are a complete waste of time. Apply directly on company websites and only use them as a LAST RESORT.

  4. 1) what the eff does that even mean…? / the candidate’s own fault
    2) calling bull
    3) fine, i get paid daily to negotiate, i can definitely do it for myself
    4) thank god for head hunters, i’m terrible at talking to more than one person per week…..

  5. .,they are a waste of time I totally agree.they just look for the same title that matches their client and just push through. They totally do not understand nor bother to understand what you have been doing in your previous role. They are looking for exact match and does not know how to match what u had been doing to the prospective role.

    I have tried looking for a job through them and none is able to find one for me. My current job, my boss directly advertise. I wrote in , got the interview and ultimately got the job.

  6. There was a time when a recruiter would ‘fight’ for you, meaning he/she would take your CV and pass it around some contacts in the hope of getting something back. Now they just get your CV and if nothing comes out of the word-search, it gets binned.

    Many know nothing about the fields for which they recruit. If you check them out on the likes of LinkedIn, you’ll notice they list various subject areas under ‘Skills & Expertise’. If they had those skills then they would be working in them! Same goes for them listing ‘Groups and Associations’.

    Many seem to be graduate types or younger people who want a ‘proper’ job but doing recruitment until things get better.

    Many jobs boards list lots of recruiter jobs.

    If lazy and incompetant Human Resources staff would pull their fingers out, then maybe more interviews could be arranged via the direct route!

  7. All our hiring is direct.

  8. Waste of time engaging them!

  9. Bunch of monkeys acting up is what these recruitment firms are…c’mon..mostly they are kids..25-29 year olds….who probably know jack about the industry…you can even say a lot of bull in front of them and coz they don’t understand..they just nod their heads as if whatever you said is stuff they do everyday..

  10. These recruitment firms are jokers who fit you into roles based on a prescription where the prescription is the employer’s job spec..so therefore they act like pharmacists in medical shops..
    They don’t understand the industry, they don’t understand the candidate’s learning curve (if I am an investment management industry accountant, why can’t I be pitched for banking roles in accounting??)..they only look at key words..coz if they don’t..they fear they will get a spanking from their mother…more than often these guys are kids…just see their profiles on linkedin!!

  11. In last 12 months I would have had tlked to about 50-60 recruiters in the city. This translated to 2 interviews finally. Seperately, I had 20 interviews directly with companies/banks. Recruiters are soo useless !! Infact I had been so many roles where recruiters said they could not help as I did not have “relevant” background, but I managed to secure interviews directly for the same position with hiring manager!

  12. I am not against reucriters but this 100% true based on my experience.

  13. They are generally useless, and previous comments are correct.
    What’s more scary is that the people employed by HR don’t know a thing about the business either.
    One wonders how many times business misses out on a better candidate due to the dual layer of ignorance/incompetence.

  14. It’s a shame to read some of these comments. Like any customer service industry you will always have good and bad experiences, however i think the candidates themselves should remember that they pay nothing to the recruiter for their consultation, the recruiter is not a charity or government service and will only get paid on a success basis. If i spent my day speaking to the 1000s of applicants that i am unable to help then i would go out of business. My advice would be to just use a recruiter that you have been recommended to or who seems prominent in your area of expertise, then if they are unable to help why not apply directly to the organisations that interest you?. Finally if a recruiter is unable to help you then don’t take it personally, they make a commission on all deals so if they could then they would.
    Alternatively, perhaps the recruitment industry should have a higher entrance barrier for consultants.

  15. #1. partially true. If the candidate is astray, it means he doesn’t do much networking; so it is more like his own problem. However, it is always good to gather more information about the market. Talking to a recruiter is one “extra” way.

    #2. Maybe. But most do direct hiring. Let’s look at couple big ones: Goldman, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, etc. all have posted on efinancialcareers.com themselves and their own websites.

    #3. True if you aren’t good at negotiating. But one thing I learn is that although recruiters *usually* get a percentage of the candidate’s base pay as their commission, they don’t have a very strong interest to help the candidate get a great package because after all, the candidate probably changes job at most once a year, but the recruiters probably get 10 or 20 positions from the same institution, so they have to be on their real clients’ sides — institutions’.

    #4. True. However, most jobs (especially banks) are posted on the companies’ websites. I did encounter the case that the jobs are not available anywhere but through headhunters — some positions at hedge funds and prop shops. But rare as all recruiters I worked with told me that 80+% of their clients are banks.

  16. Recruiter – you are absolutely correct that there should be higher entrance barriers for consultants. As things stand, in the last decade, any jockey with an internet connection and a computer has been able to become a “headhunter”. Good recruiters are like gold dust, bad recruiters are two a penny.

    Like many on here I have had extremely bad experiences with recruitment firms including, in two or three instances, quite blatent discrimination. I always apply direct to companies now, if I can, and have had substantially more success this way. However I also echo the comments of @Been there: some HR recruiters don’t understand the difference between postgrad and postdoc.

    Ultimately, the forces of economics will come into play and the lazy recruiters will go out of business. I know of another large investment bank (aside from UBS) who are also limiting their use recruitment agencies. Most of their recruitment happens through referrals or using social networking sites to do the “headhunt” themselves.

  17. these monkeys are a giving us candidates a different perspective of the industry when that may not be necessarily true…why am I being put forward for contract roles when I can be pitched for perm roles based on my work exp…reason I am told is “because I do not have local experience”…what??
    I have worked in the most dynamic economies (Aus and GCC) and if I was to move to a country like Singapore…what does ‘lack of local experience’ exactly mean when fundamentally the nature of my role is the same in any country?
    These guys are becoming directors,managing directors, founder of recruitment firms (Managing Director/Founder) at tender ages of 31/32/33….its a fish market!
    And as someone righty said…barriers to entry are a must!!
    To add on to that…these recruitment firms need to employ ‘consultants’ who have had a career curve and not just a straight forward line..like someone straight out of Big 4 after 2-3 years, becomes Senior Consultant for accounting/finance roles with Hays,Rob Walters,Talent 2 and other fancy names and is so plastic in his/her approach…can tell you this from personal experience.

  18. Financial recruiters employ sales people who, only a few years ago, might be selling double glazing. Any reputable employer would not wish to be associated with these firms.

    No longer fit for purpose, an added distortion in an already distorted marketplace.

    Good riddance!

    However, I do have some sympathy for some of the poor so and so’s who’s only way to make a living is to work in recruitment. A horrible job..

  19. I totally agree to the comments made above.
    1) Usually recruiter is a diploma holder from some no name uni in “garbage cleaning”
    2) It will usually take 3 recruiters to get a 3 digit IQ.
    3) There most imp job is to do a word matching from JD to a resume. For them Investment banking and ” M&A /IPO and capital raising” are two different words.
    4) They are more arrogant than billion dollar P&L holding trader.
    4) SELBY JENNINGS in Singapore takes the CAKE (Sorry for caps, just there to make the point).
    ake the point).

  20. Dear All, I appreciate all of the comments registered, and would welcome the opportunity to speak directly to any individuals who do not feel they have had the experience they expected with Selby Jennings. I would like to counter some of the points raised by saying that, as an organisation both in Singapore and globally, we have an extremely successful track record in finding the best solution for clients on specialist roles. We do not purport to be a generalist supplier, we screen and present the most suitable candidates, and ultimately it is our clients that make the hiring decisions. This does not however allow any unprofessional or discourteous behaviour, and so I would repeat by invitation to any who feels they have experienced this to contact me directly. I will then be able to review your specific case, and ensure that you feel you have been communicated with in a respectful manner.

  21. Simple equation.

    If you have contact many recruiters and have not heard back, you are not a good profile.
    Many recruiters cannot all be wrong.

    If you are putting negative comments on here, you are not a good profile either. Those who have had good experiences with recruiters are busy making loads of money in their new jobs, not spreading their sour grapes around on the internet.

    If you are not a good profile, please don’t waste recruiters time any more.

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