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And This Time We Mean It!

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Jan 23, 2008 12:06:00 PM

Amitai Givertz blogged this ZDNet post by David Berlind on Recruiting.com today predicting how social networks will put an end to the third-party recruiter once and for all. Berlind says,
If you're a professional recruiter (particularly one that works for a recruiting/headhunting firm), then it's probably time to start thinking about a career change. The reason? Once money starts talking, the mob of Internet users-cum-recruiters will be impossible to compete against.
His story is based on a single email from a recruiter-turned-CTO who blasted his contact list with an offer of $6000 if you found him someone to take a job and keep it for 90 days. Berlind follows this with a story of how he successfully disintermediated his recruiting department by successfully hiring one person off a Craigslist post and, "So successful was my first ad that I have another one up there right now."

As the old saying goes, "the plural of anecdote is not 'data.'" It's an easy pot shot to take, but anyone pressed to constantly come up with new material is going to occasionally commit the sin of extrapolating a couple of stories into a trend.

This isn't to say markets never experience dramatic change. Most of us can remember when the normal way to buy airline tickets was through a travel agent. The end of commissions forced agencies to find new revenue streams from other services like cruises and more detailed vacation planning. Zillow, an HRMDirectclient, is providing consumers with access to data about real estate that was only available to brokers until just a few years ago. Houses aren't the same as cars, but until the past 5-10 years, invoice prices on cars were closely-guarded secrets; knowing the price the dealer paid could save you thousands. Now they're given away on dozens of sites to lure buyers to provide contact info.

Recruiting is partially an information business and companies like ZoomInfo (also an HRMDirect client) are making it easier than ever to find people whose resumes aren't in Monster's database. This space is very hot and between search engines like ZoomInfo and opt-in networks like LinkedIn, my sense is that the simple act of finding a name is going to become just as much of a commodity as buying an airline ticket or finding the dealer price of a Chevrolet is today. But even this will take time--name sourcers can make good money now because too many recruiters can't do their own research, and that problem will actually get worse before it goes away.

What Berlind is really railing against are recruiters who don't recruit. Whether in the HR department or at a large staffing firm, there seems to be no shortage of folks who seem to get paid to carry job descriptions from the managers to the job boards, and then carry the resultant resumes back over. My sense is that this is nothing more remarkable than a cyclical trend we've seen many times before that has little or nothing to do with new technologies. 

In the late 90s, a sizable chunk of the economy (here in Boston, anyway) seemed to be made up of IT recruiters who knew nothing about IT or recruiting placing software engineers who knew just as little about engineering or software. By 2002, the only folks left standing in either space were those who went in knowing what they were doing or learned really fast. So in the end you can really restate Berlind's lede as "people who don't do their jobs will probably get canned sooner or later."