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Retained Search – Why Pay in Advance?bigstock Future Expectations 3181101

Given that we’ve just been through a year of pandemic, lockdowns and many recruitment businesses are struggling as a result, why would you opt for retained search? When you are recruiting, why on earth wouldn’t you just call as many recruiters as you can, negotiate the lowest possible fee rate and wait for the candidates to roll in?

Human nature, that’s why. You’re quite likely not to get the best candidates, but rather more likely, the candidates the recruiters happened to know about. And if they have another client working at a higher fee rate on a no win, no fee basis you’re not even going to get those candidates first. If you manage recruitment like this you are only really getting the candidates your suppliers have available and that have been easy for them to contact. These recruiters then may work against you, taking a candidate elsewhere if they have another client that will benefit them more.

For certain candidate requirements, at certain times, this approach might work. If the supply of candidates is high and the demands of the role are low then it would make sense to get a decent enough candidate at the lowest possible rate. But in order to get a recruiter to really work for you then you need ensure that their risk is managed. If they feel they are one of ten recruiters, or even just one of a few but working at a low fee rate, then the potential reward for the work they put in is minimal, or at best only a small chance they will receive any award at all. However, if you ensure that the reward is more likely, more lucrative, or both, they will be much more inclined to proactively look for solutions. This doesn’t necessarily mean retained search, of course. There’s a halfway house of exclusivity arrangements or accepting higher fee rates that can go part way to managing these risks. Nevertheless, recruiters will still prioritise roles that are easier to fill, as there’s a greater chance they will get paid for the work they put in.

It is a fundamental issue with the prevailing model for the recruitment sector that much of the work we do, we are not remunerated for. We have to play the odds, increase our chances of invoicing by being carefully selective as to where we spend our time. However, on a retained search many of these difficulties drift away as the recruiter has a guarantee of compensation as well as the added desire not to let the client down by taking money and then not fulfilling their end of the agreement.

There are a few varieties of models for a search campaign. Some recruiters charge a third of an anticipated fee at the start of the project, a third on providing a shortlist of candidates and a final fee once a candidate has accepted an offer. Others offer a two-stage charging process – one fee in advance (generally at a rate of 45-50% of the anticipated total fee) then the rest once an offer has been accepted. Both have their benefits and disadvantages, we work with the second model, largely because we believe that a delay in finding a final candidate(s) for a shortlist can have an impact on the project unnecessarily and if the first candidate we find is perfect for the role, we don’t wish to risk losing that candidate whilst looking for alternatives.

What are you paying for when you engage a consultancy on a retained basis? Primarily it is focus and proactivity. We dedicate our time to the project, spending hours following leads and speaking to contacts that might refer someone. Not only do we hunt through social media, but we search for and find other information online that can lead to potential avenues. We find candidates that are exclusively yours, that were not looking for another job but have their interest piqued by us on behalf of you. We don’t neglect candidates that are looking for a job either and we can run a targeted cross-media campaign entirely focused on your project (instead of a generic job advertisement that could describe lots of different positions). A retained recruiter is the equivalent of using a Private Detective on the case to find your lost thoroughbred dog, instead of just putting posters up around the neighbourhood. Both have a chance of success and failure but we would massively increase the odds.

Retained doesn’t mean more expensive, it simply changes the way you are charged. In fact, it can be less expensive and much easier to manage than dealing with multiple suppliers all at once. It can also reduce the noise. If you are finding that recruiters are approaching you on spec with candidates that you don’t want then telling them that all unsolicited candidates will be sent to your retained consultant for review can reduce the volume of calls very quickly.

Retained search has a shroud of intrigue to it, ‘I was headhunted for the job’ can be a flattering thing to say but at its heart, it’s just about faith. And having faith that a search will be successful rewards you with a much more dedicated approach and a greater chance of success. Any good consultant should give you a sense of the risks and pitfalls of any project, so you can have an understanding of the chances of a positive solution. But you are paying for the work, not the result so an advance fee would be forfeit if the project failed or you withdrew the search. But this is why it an effective model - you are paying a fair price for the work being done.

Pete Fellows

It's not all bad, is it?

Following the recent introduction of further restrictions across parts of the UK and with ‘Tier 3’ potentially looming over our heads in the North it’s very easy to focus on what we’re missing about life B.C. (before Corona). Along with the lack of contact and ability to spend time with family and friends, a quick pop to the shop sans mask for those all-important 3pm biscuits (working from home necessity) is no longer on the cards, along with being able to pass people in the street without one of you awkwardly waiting in the road holding up traffic or loitering on someone’s driveway. Whilst we hope we do return somewhat to normality, we thought we’d take a look at some of the positives that have come out of the ‘new normal’ over recent months.Smiley coffeeWEB

1. Family time. The closure of offices and schools have meant that families were (and are) spending a lot more time together than before. Yes, we agree that for some this is most definitely not a positive (we’re looking at you full time workers trying to home school) but it has brought a closeness to many, helped create new shared memories and has meant that parents have been able to witness milestones that they may have otherwise missed.  

2. Slowing down. The huge reduction in scheduled plans, work deadlines and extra-curricular activities has allowed (or maybe forced) us to just stop and take a moment. Even if it’s simply appreciating the view whilst on a walk or finishing a cup of tea without having to rush to complete three other tasks in between.

3. No commute. Again, this will be a negative for some as it can be used as a refuge away from home and working life but for others the stress of sitting in traffic, having to rush to catch public transport or be back in time to pick up the kids is a definite win.

4. Connecting more openly. Mental health has become a huge factor during the pandemic. The removal of face to face contact has encouraged people to reach out to those around them more often and on a deeper level than before, either via text, video call or the infamous Zoom pub quiz.

5. Getting crafty. Turns out not being unable to do a whole lot else has allowed people to take up new hobbies, finish books they started in 2017 or finally paint their bedroom that snazzy shade of mustard yellow.

6. Yay for the environment. The air is cleaner (thanks in part to no. 3), rivers, lakes and the sea are clearer and less footfall resulted in wildlife flourishing across the UK. Cue one of our favourite stories of Lockdown 2020 – Goats take over deserted Llandudno.

7. Appreciating the little things. Once Lockdown had ended and we were allowed to go back out to play again (for a little while), a simple coffee with a friend or having dinner in a restaurant seemed just that little bit more enjoyable. We’d like to think that these things will continue to be a bit more precious once restrictions begin to lift further.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or will you be glad to see the back of it all (along with the Zoom quiz)? Let us know at

Should we scrap GCSEs entirely?

bigstock Teenage Students In Uniform Si 217487401

The recent omnishambles in relation to A-Level results has driven me to consider the broader education picture, particularly GCSEs. I don’t believe they’re necessary anymore, assuming they were ever necessary. In fact, there are, in my opinion, considerable advantages that could be gained by ridding ourselves of formal examinations at 16 entirely.

I am primarily focused on the system as it is in England as I appreciate that there are some differences between England, Wales and Northern Ireland and obviously even more so with Scotland.

What’s the point of GCSEs anymore?

As far as I’m aware England’s system of major high stakes public examinations at both 16 and 18 is an anachronism. It’s not done in the rest of the EU, or the USA, or any other country I could find researching this yesterday. Depending on the country there are some assessments of children’s abilities and understanding when they reach around 15/16 but only as a means of moving them to the next stage. They do not have any long-term implications nor are they standardised/formalised. GCSEs narrow the curriculum unnecessarily, force pupils into an arbitrary choice a few years prior and then waste at least a few months foregoing teaching (other than examination technique) on the run up to the examinations, in favour of preparation for examinations.

Imagine if GCSEs simply weren’t there at all – what would be the scope of teaching opportunities that could present? There would be more time for developing skills such as coding or touch typing (I have no idea why schools have stopped teaching kids to type), more time on foreign languages, more time for experiments, music, drama, politics or philosophy. If deemed necessary there could still be an aptitude test for English and Mathematics but this could be school assessed and certificated - judged via continued assessment or a test that didn’t require revision. It would not be a grade that is measured against others but a certificate that says ‘yes this person meets a required level of English and Mathematics’.

By law, students have to remain in some form of education in England until they’re 18. GCSEs and O-Levels made some sort of sense when it was an option to leave education entirely at 16 but this is no longer true. No examinations at 16 is also a leveller, students can’t be tutored to do well in the examinations giving a potentially false account of their capabilities.

If we abandon GCSE how will this impact A-Level?

One of the issues that I think many missed in the percentage difference between the Centre Assessed Grades that students were (eventually) awarded this year for A-Level and the grades they would get in typical year is the difference between capability and examination performance. The difference is not because teachers are artificially inflating grades it is because teachers can’t account for unexpected circumstances on the day of an examination.
The CAG’s awarded the grades students were arguably capable of. However, in a typical examination year, some students might oversleep and consequently be classified with a ‘U’, they might have an argument with a family member that impacts their mood and miss a grade or they might simply be unlucky with the questions that arise in the examination versus the questions they revised (that can work in their favour as well). Examinations have a margin of error in respect to measuring capabilities of students which, perhaps is represented by the percentage difference between the CAG results for this year and the examined grades from 2019. A system of measuring student performance throughout their academic career instead of their performance on one day has significant benefits. I’m not suggesting revising A-Levels at least for now, although reinstating AS-Levels after a year counting towards a final A-Level grade makes sense as is the case in Wales. I believe scrapping GCSEs is a more achievable goal and the recent fiasco may make the idea more politically viable.

If students don’t go through an examination period at 16 the limiting factors of bad luck or circumstance don’t impact their choice of A-Levels. In addition to that, the last year or so of schooling at 16 could be, where possible, geared towards the A-Levels they are going to take instead of preparing for examinations they don’t need. It would allow a combination of a narrower and broader curriculum at the same time (they could have more focus on a chosen A-Level subject, say physics but also have themed courses i.e. how to manage personal finances). A more accurate assessment than grades would necessarily be passed on to colleges, sixth form departments, etc. than simply a grade and a presumption of capability based on that grade. This shouldn’t immediately equate to more work for teachers, as (potentially) beyond English and Mathematics, standardisation would not be necessary and possibly an elevated end of year report will suffice. Teachers may well gain time not having to organise mocks and prepare for examinations. These benefits would apply irrespective of the route for further education a student picked, A-Level, BTEC or apprenticeship.

What do employers think about GCSEs?

I mostly recruit people who have a degree and at least a few years’ experience. A degree grade remains relevant throughout your career to an extent (but it does depreciate), A-Level results are rarely asked for and GCSEs almost never. They are really only a factor when there is a high volume of applicants with very little between them although to me it has always seemed ill-advised to judge someone’s potential for a job in their 20s by examinations they took when they were 16. In most cases, and for most applications, if you have a degree and left GCSE grades off your CV no one would follow up or care.

For employers who are recruiting candidates who are younger, at say, 18, I would still argue that their grades at A-Level or BTEC or any other qualifications they received are a much better indicator than GCSE other than assessing that they have an appropriate level of English and Mathematics which would still be provided under my proposal.

In summary

Whilst almost no idea is perfect, I think the benefits of scrapping GCSEs massively outweigh the disadvantages. It would give students a wider curriculum, more preparation for the more crucial A-Level examinations and ultimately make teaching more fulfilling and less bureaucratic. 2020 is an opportunity to really think about how we treat our kids through our current education system and develop something that is fairer and better. We should not be tinkering around the edges as governments have done for decades but strive for a radical change. GCSEs are a good place to start.

Pete Fellows.




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