Businessman offering handshake
There aren't as many jobs out there as you think

If you’ve applied for a job in the last 15-20 years, the process has been pretty much the same. A company wants to recruit someone, say a programmer, analyst, support person etc. They put the job up on their website or email a few agencies and tell them. Some agencies take a chance and pay for an advert on one or more recruitment websites. The usual suspects – Monster, Indeed, JobSite, Reed etc.

Bolton’s First rule of Recruitment. The actual number of real jobs on offer is 1/4 of the jobs advertised.

You spot the job, send a CV with covering letter and then you wait and wait. If you are lucky, the agency will contact you, put you forward and you get an interview. If that went well then you’re invited to a 2nd interview and you get a job offer.

That’s the ideal situation and when it works well, it’s good. There are variations on that. You might get a telephone interview first, or need to pass an online test. Tests are another goat elevation issue but I’ll save that for another day.

But often the process doesn’t go well. It’s believed that some jobs aren’t real, just a way for an agency to harvest CVs. I’m guessing there is some kind of market for CVs as I often get phone calls out of the blue from agencies I’ve never heard of.

In a couple of cases I’ve had feedback from the agent but only after interviews, never when my CV is sent in. Often it’s just a deafening silence and that really sucks.  Days pass, and you want to phone the agent. It’s like dating. How long do you wait to phone the girl after you get her number?

The problem is a human one, lack of communication and it’s really unacceptable in this age of CRM systems etc. Or even just plain old-fashioned courtesy but that seems to be typical these days. (Old fogey rant ends). At least the days of printing CVs and cover letters then posting them out are long gone.

It’s the Money, stupid

Recruitment is a lucrative business. I’ve heard figures of 15% commission quoted. That’s 15% of the candidate’s first year salary and in IT salaries of £45-50K outside London are not uncommon. That’s a juicy £7,500 commission and in the Square Mile, probably closer to £10K and up.

Job applications fail for a variety of reasons but often you’ll never know why. I’ve submitted applications online and heard nothing despite thinking that my skill set is a perfect match for this job and that’s rare. Nobody expects you to have everything they want.

Emails or phone calls to agents get ignored. Sometimes the problem happens with the company recruiting, especially the smaller ones that have a one-tenth of a person HR department (Only on Friday mornings). That person leaves, goes off sick or on holiday and the whole process stops, sometimes never restarting.

I’ve been on the other side of the process, recruiting a programmer. For my sins I was the one reading CVs, doing interviews and making recommendations. I actually read all 120 CVs, talk about a Sisyphean task! Out of those I pulled in nine for interviews and they divided neatly into three very good ones, three average and three whose CV writing ability rivals Jeffrey Archer. He was almost certainly a better programmer than they were.

So if there’s an area ripe for disruption, it’s recruitment. It’s happening with Estate Agents (Purple Bricks etc.) so where is it in recruitment?

Support Continental Telegraph Donate


  1. In the US, social media has specialized into repositories for your CV. Now I hear radio ads for websites the business uses (and pays, but not 15%) to do electronic recruiting via database. As always, there will be some amount of insincere offers, but this is a step toward what eBay did for swap meets with global interchange of information.

    Now we need an Uber for it. Say I have six spare hours this Sunday, and expertise with the unpublished interfaces of a processor from 1990 that no one uses anymore, but you do. Will work from home, come highly rated by previous transactors. Can we find out about one another, in exchange for a cut of the eventual business deal?

    The biggest obstacle, as it is for Uber, will be government, which wants us all in countable “jobs” for which it can guarantee a living wage, pet bereavement holidays, premium pay for overtime, and free insurance for alcoholism counseling.

  2. It won’t yield to science. The dating companies have tried it (matching your interests etc) and all but the naive know it doesn’t work like that. I can see a great CV and get the person in for interview only to wonder whose CV I had been looking at. Then you get one foistered on you by an agent and they turn out to be so good you invent a position for them. Until the scientific analysis is done it’s just a case of chucking mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Which is what the agencies do. And the dating sites. And Purple Bricks.

    • A guarantee that all information is good is surely not Mr. Bolton’s goal in calling for a “disruption” of the recruiting racket. Surely some institutional disinformation will be replaced by individual lying. No amount of “scientific analysis” will save you from hiring someone who is not as billed.

  3. The problem is doing science on recruitment is impossible, many people may think they are good or have good processes but there is no way of objectively knowing. You can tell if you are really really bad at it and recruiting people who turn out to be idiots. What you can’t typically tell is whether you did actually pick the best candidate for the job. They may be good enough, or even take on the role really well, but did your screening process reject another candidate who would have been even better? Without being able to analyse that there is no way to objectively measure alternative approaches.

  4. I’m going through the process at the moment as a candidate. I have to say most of the agents aren’t bad. If like me you’ve been in the same company for many years the biggest change is the online coding test. You can’t just fake it with one of those. I’ve had to spend weeks revising my C++ to stand a chance with these. You can argue how about how relevant these tests are to the day to day work you’ll be doing, but if you don’t know your big O you can forget it. At the most basic level the agents are just CV farmers who do a minimal amount of screening on keywords. The value they add I guess is as a candidate you don’t have to go to individual companies, they have the ear of the recruiters in the company, who might otherwise not speak to you to give you any feedback, and vice versa from the company’s perspective they do some level of screening for you.

  5. Nice article. How about more in the series – what recruiters really look for in CVs, cover letters etc. There’s lots of content on the net about this, but it mostly seems to be very USA orientated &/or click-bait crap :-/

  6. Much of the, frankly, utterly piss-poor behaviour of the pimps isn’t restricted to the IT field by a long shot. We hear of it from people on the tools or office admin stuff. The worthless fuckers have been at for a very long time indeed…

    A few war-stories that stick in the memory; the pimp that completely re-wrote my CV and sent it in to a firm. The interview was odd from the start, and frankly went rapidly downhill, until I asked the interviewer for his copy of my CV, and produced my copy for his perusal. The resemblance between the two was really quite remarkable, with the added bonus of spelling and grammatical errors casually strewn around.
    The recruiter engaged to find a candidate with the explicit instruction, verbally, face to face, and in writing, not to advertise the position in the trade papers. You can guess what we saw in the very next issue of Computer Weekly. Even worse, the issue after that saw the exact same wording used by a different agency, that we had never previously heard of, with, for extra protection and pleasure, the firm name prominently added.
    And finally, to rewind all the way back to 1989, the only recruiter I came across who was actually very professional and highly competent. Who rang me (and many others that day) to explain that she was leaving the industry as she could no longer put up with the behaviour of her colleagues.

  7. I was with a IT training recruitment agency for three years. The sole communication I received during that time was two Christmas cards. When the third one arrived, I wrote back and told them as as much as I valued their Yuletide greetings, I doubted that we were going to be of any use to each other.

    My other recruitment horror story concerns the firm who booked me to do twelve days of training over the course of three months, then systematically cancelled each booking a few days before it was supposed to go ahead. No payment, of course. They were clearly offering these courses on spec., at no cost to themselves, in the hope they might get a client for them now and again. I don’t know how many trainers were sucked in by the same process.

  8. Agencies were up to those tricks in the mobile industry in the ‘90s when I was recruiting and it used to drive me mad. I would get the same CVs from several agencies and mostly they weren’t relevant, despite spending a couple of hours with them explaining what I was looking for.

    This is well and good but the next time I was recruiting I’d find myself rejecting candidates in my first quick filter on name or something else I recognised, because I’d rejected them before. The problem was it might well have been a different position they were suitable for but I was working 12 hour days and time wasn’t something I had a great deal of.

  9. It’s not just harvesting cvs, it’s training for junior staff and pulling leads from existing contractors for mangers to follow up on new projects.

    I work as the financial director for a mid market IT recruiter in London and this is just the tip of the iceberg on the shennanigans.