Agencies get thumbs down in job hunting stakes

IT professionals' strong distrust of and dissatisfaction with recruitment agencies is at crisis point with an overwhelming number more than happy to bypass them, preferring a direct approach.

But there are few options.

With the largest number of IT&T professionals unemployed since the industry started, and the current pool of available jobs more akin to a small puddle, job seekers have little choice but to put up with the slack service they believe agencies provide, according to a report by Australian IT job marketplace Resource Exchange.

In the survey of 600 IT professionals, who had been in the job market over the last six months, 85 per cent said they would be happy to negotiate directly with a prospective employer, but 44 per cent of respondents found recruitment agencies the most successful way of finding a jobMike Ansell, IT manager for Wonderland Sydney, said his impression of recruitment agencies is that they are only interested in "getting names on their books" and building up their database.

"Agencies just string you along. You still see [recruitment] companies advertise for network administrators, for example, but they are just getting names on their books; they don't have any jobs.

"The frustrating thing about agency jobs is that they never say who the job is with … there is a hidden element to the process which puts you off and leads to distrust."

The proof of the dissatisfaction is stark. According to the report, a quarter of respondents ranked recruiters as 'poor' in understanding their needs (26 per cent), getting back to them (23 per cent), obtaining interviews for them (23 per cent) and looking after them once they were placed (23 per cent).

Only 3 to 6 per cent of respondents ranked recruiters as 'very good' in these areas. The only criteria agencies scored well on was providing prompt payment to contractors (91 per cent ranked agencies 'very good', 'good' or 'acceptable').

Bob Olivier, director of Olivier e-cruitment Advisors, said the results of the report were "very disturbing" for his industry, but he did not believe the results would be as "damning" in other areas of recruitment.

"Employment is an emotive issue, particularly in a poor market, and we can't please everyone.

"There are some very good recruiters out there and some poor ones. The IT sector has had a disproportionate share of the latter."

Olivier said demand for IT staff (before the downturn) and technology had impacted on the "personal" aspect of their job, that is, not spending enough time matching soft skills and cultural fit.

"I believe recruiters play an essential role in negotiation between parties and doubt … many contractors would be able to negotiate a 'better deal'. We know our markets … if the candidate has other opportunities … if the client has other options, and can help both parties understand their respective bargaining position."

Jason Gerrard, business development executive for Seek Communications, declined to comment on the topic due to "some sensitivities around the issue".

If you think dealing with a company directly is a better option, only 15 per cent of IT job hunters surveyed said this was the most successful method of securing a new position. "The role of the internal HR department in sourcing suitable IT&T professionals doesn't appear to be having the right impact," the report said.

Tony Cox, IT projects manager for Melbourne Water, said if he was looking for a job he would prefer to deal with a company directly as "I am not always convinced that a third party can represent my interests as effectively as I can".

"But then again, third parties have a place as many companies prefer to hire this way, so I would have to deal with an agency to stand a better chance [of securing a job]."

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