Working with Recruitment Agencies

What you should expect and accept

Anyone who has ever worked with recruitment agencies is likely to have some horror stories, like estate agency it is an industry sadly notorious for its cowboys and sharks. So what should you expect when you engage a recruitment agency? What standards should you hold your suppliers to and feel upset if they don’t meet?

Opinions vary, not least from the agencies themselves, but the voluntary code of conduct of the REC aside, there is no standard recognised benchmark of service. In many cases the forces of the free market dictate that the standard is the minimum that can be got away with for the maximum return. This may seem depressing, especially if you’re a hiring manager who’s receiving their fifth, or tenth, or twentieth unsolicited CV of the day, but think of it another way; the power is in your hands! You have the power to say no, to refuse to accept the CV or the supplier, and you should. You would not expect your customers and clients to accept second, or even third rate service from you, why are you accepting it yourself?

So what should you expect and accept?

Qualified candidates

All candidates should have been spoken to specifically about your company and possible roles and about their own motivations, concerns and aspirations, including accurate information on their current salary package and what they want. Anything less is ‘spray and pray’ and should be unacceptable.

Candidates for roles

Most submitted candidates should be against actual requirements, not against the fact that you might have hired someone like it once. In rare cases recruiters who know you well may be permitted to submit an occasional unsolicited CV. This is okay, in fact it’s good to see who’s in the market and, often for someone exceptional, you might want to create a role. But this should always be by prior agreement, by invitation and the candidate should be truly exceptional.

Agreed process

Suppliers should agree, and stick to, a process to submit candidates. Be this to the hiring manager, the recruitment team or via a portal, and should never, ever ‘go around’ the system. If they can’t do something that basic they can’t be trusted to do something more complex or delicate, such as accurately and effectively representing your company to the market.

Agreed terms

Terms should be agreed in advance. Sending CVs with small-print saying ‘acceptance of a CV is acceptance of our terms’ is unethical and arguably unenforceable. Agreed terms should cover how much they will charge, what extras there may be, such as expenses, when they will invoice you, when they will expect payment and what the rebate terms are. These should be agreed in writing by both parties. How much you pay is up to you and your negotiating skills, but ask what you get for your fee and ensure that you’re happy before you accept a CV.

Agreed SLA

Tied to the terms should be a Service Level Agreement, detailing what the agency will do, ideally covering all the elements in this document. It should also cover what happens if they don’t do it… including punitive measures such as reductions in fees etc. But this SLA should, to be fair, cut both ways and cover what you will do as well, this includes paying on time! Most recruitment agencies are small businesses, you not paying their fee in a timely manner can have a crippling or even fatal effect on their cash flow. If you don’t pay the bills within the agreed term don’t expect a rebate if the candidate doesn’t work out…

Effective candidate management

Throughout the interview process you should expect the agency to maintain close contact with the candidate, and to keep you informed of their thoughts, feelings, expectations and concerns. It is not acceptable to submit a CV and then wait to follow it up with an invoice. Make them work for their fee. You need to know about how the candidate feels about the job, the interview, any issues they have, other opportunities and influencing factors which might affect their decision, such as the feelings of their family or the potential for a counter offer. If the agency can’t tell you this you should point to the SLA and if necessary invoke its terms. But be aware this cuts both ways, you need to provide feedback too; was the CV on target, where are the gaps, how did the interview go, where were they strong and where weak.


As part of managing the candidate you should expect the recruitment consultant to be able to provide you with open and honest feedback from the candidate regarding their impressions of the role, the company and the recruitment process. This should be forthcoming at every stage without asking or having to chase for it.


In addition to verbal feedback a recruitment consultant should supply a regular report detailing all the candidates submitted who have not been rejected. It should detail who they were submitted to, on what date, against which role, what stage they are at and have further notes covering concerns, feedback and competitive information. If they are submitting candidates infrequently this might be only once a month, but for regular suppliers, who might have multiple candidates in play at any one time, this should be weekly.


A good relationship between a recruiter and a client should feel like a partnership with a shared goal: making the placement. The final motivation may be different; you want the new hire, they want the fee, but the route to get there is the same. In finding a recruiter who can work to these standards you will find a partner to be a fellow traveller on that journey, not a mugger by the side of the road.