Various recent estimates of the values of the UK and global recruitment industry are put at a whopping £30 billion and $400 billion respectively.

Yet there is virtually no regulation and anyone can set up a recruitment practice from their bedroom. There are few barriers to entry and recruiters are not required to have any particular qualifications or pass any recruitment specific professional exams or gain any industry certification.

There are not many areas left in business life which are so unregulated and yet which allow such scope for influencing the path of people’s careers at every stage both positively and negatively.

Without regulation, industry standards, professional body status or kite marks it can be difficult to know what you are getting when you retain the services of a recruiter. How does HR get value for money and maintain the quality of candidate shortlists? Here is my checklist for HR and in-house recruiters.

  1. Do not use multiple recruiters willy-nilly – make clear decisions about who your preferred suppliers are for each area of your business. Keeping this group relatively tight will allow you to negotiate better terms and also allow the recruiters to get to know and understand your business, which is likely to deliver better performance.
  2. Interview recruiters against your set criteria and evaluate them using quantitative and qualitative metrics. References from other clients and candidates can also be useful.
  3. Test them on their understanding of your business sector.
  4. Establish their understanding of equal opportunities legislation and any proposed legislation that will impact on the recruitment process.
  5. Ensure there is a proper contract for services between yourselves and the recruiter. Handshake agreements just don’t cut it when it comes to enforcing its obligations.
  6. If possible, get details about the size of the recruiters business, its past experience and the career backgrounds of the individuals who will handle your account.
  7. If a recruiter claims to be a specialist or expert then this needs to be tested. Push it on what gives it the right to describe itself in those terms.
  8. Big isn’t necessarily best. Some of the more boutique recruiters are very capable of providing excellent candidate shortlists and service quality in specialist fields. A mix of suppliers will give you access to suitable boutiques when required.
  9. Where possible choose a recruiter based physically within a sensible radius of your business so that it is easy to hold face-to face meetings. Updates and discussions using technology only can reduce the accountability of the recruiter and put unnecessary distance and formality into the relationship.
  10. Trying to get the recruiter to offer a substantial discount on fees is potentially a false economy. If the agreed fee is perceived by the recruiter as being too low there is likely to be a limit to how much effort and focus the recruiter is willing to apply to the assignment. There may be an element of resentment if “value-addeds” are sought for a knock-down fee rate. If you believe the recruiter is credible, better to pay the fee to ensure a good short list and the best service levels. However, this can depend very much on whether are seeking volume or one-off senior placements. If you are yourself a prestigious business name, allowing the recruiter to mention you in its own publicity material can also have a branding benefit which it may be willing to reflect in a reduced rate for your business.

The recruitment industry is a multi-billion dollar business and good recruiters provide a key service to companies and their HR departments. However, such a vast unregulated industry will inevitably contain recruiters of varying degrees of performance and quality.

Until the industry is regulated it is for HR practitioners to sift the wheat from the chaff and to partner effectively with those recruiters who can genuinely complement the work of HR in your business.

The number of recruiters to choose from is considerable both in the UK and internationally. Picking the right ones will both enhance the integrity of the HR department and create a positive candidate experience.