The other week I received a call from a recruitment consultant which most of you will know is a euphemism for a 21-year-old Essex girl with the gift of the gab, almost certainly blonde and probably straight out of college if indeed she went to college. I imagine she had many attributes, most of which would not be necessary or relevant in supplying first-class potential employees for Hargreaves Lansdown.
I do tend to take most of my calls and I always announce myself as “Peter Hargreaves”. This seems to indicate that anyone who has never met me, never likely to meet me and is less than half my age can immediately address me as Peter. Now I have no problem with first-name terms, everybody in Hargreaves Lansdown from the cleaning lady up calls me Peter but it is just not British or good manners or businesslike to call somebody by their first name when you have never met them and not been invited to do so. I might be old fashioned but we call our clients Mr, Mrs, Miss, Sir or Madam.
Well, things deteriorated from there. “I have an applicant with FPC3, G60 etc who has expressed his desire to me that he would like to work for Hargreaves Lansdown” was her opening gambit.
I went silent for a few seconds, allowing her to continue with various other details and attributes of the potential candidate.
“What do you think?” she demanded “what should I tell him?” she continued in an attempt to keep the conversation going obviously concerned at the lack of comment from me.
“Well,” I eventually said, “I think you should tell him he is a complete idiot.”
“But you haven't met him. You don't know him, he's excellent” my friendly Essex girl ventured.
“Well,” (I must always start my most devout utterances in that way) “anyone who wants to work for Hargreaves Lansdown shouldn't start by landing me with a huge recruitment fee that I would have to pay to a firm with unqualified, albeit very friendly and no doubt very attractive, staff,” I suggested. “If he had any nous at all, he would have phoned us directly, saved us the recruitment fee and shown that he was not just plain lazy by putting his name on several agencies' books,” I concluded. The phone went dead. I cannot remember which of us hung up first.
I reflected was it that candidate's laziness that caused this situation or was it the laziness of most firms to use such inept and unprofessional recruitment agencies?
I suspect that even we are not totally guiltless. Surely, we all should be training up our own people where they will not gain the bad habits of our competitors.
In-house training is something that Chase de Vere has done brilliantly for 22 years. I suspect it has never recruited a fully qualified IFA in its history but that has not stopped it from growing to be one of the biggest IFAs in the UK.
I also suspect there are one or two excellent recruitment agents but ones that merely act as a postbox should just not be patronised on either side of the equation, much less by good candidates. They could quite simply have picked up the phone or, if letter-writing is not dead, send a brief letter and CV to the firms where they have established that they would like to work.
I am not surprised that fund managers such as Peter Webb have their portfolios stuffed full of recruitment agencies – it is money for old rope.
I suppose it all came about with firms many years ago when personnel departments (now known as HR) decided that they could not recruit. Originally, recruitment was specialist, for example, engineers did not know what to look for in a finance director, but any IFA firm must know what to look for in an IFA.
We now have the chicken and the egg situation – potential employees do not look for advertisements because employers do not place them.
I suggest that it is rather easier to examine applicants' letters and CVs briefly and draw up your own short list rather than be offered one after another totally uninterviewed unvetted drongos that have been selected by recruitment professionals. It hurts much less when the employee leaves after six months or turns out to be unsuitable if you have not paid a £10,000 recruitment fee.
Peter Hargreaves is managing director of Hargreaves Lansdown