I used to be a doctor, and whilst there were many reasons why I chose to no longer be one, there was one significant element of secondary gain that I still miss. Once you told a fellow traveller on the bus, someone in the pub or even a distant auntie that you were a doctor, a favourable response was virtually guaranteed. It was nice to be appreciated (irrespective of merit)!
Then I became a medical recruiter. I was delighted - I had reinvented myself. I had an office downtown, a smart new suit and a career that I personally found stimulating and rewarding. Yet when I told people that I was a recruiter... well the response was anywhere from neutral to downright hostile.
It was hard to adjust. It seemed to make sense that the person that finds you your dream job (or perfect candidate) should be held in high regard. So where did a profession, that could be highly respected rather than reviled, go so wrong?
The profession itself seems to be its own worst enemy in many ways. I have seen many medical recruiters at work in the marketplace - I know how they are generally hired, trained and incentivized and the whole system is a perfect storm for unhappy customers.
Let's pick apart some of the main issues:
Low barrier to entry - Unlike other professions (including medicine) there are no qualifications required to work in recruitment. There are no registration barriers to join the profession, and few to start a recruitment firm. That leaves the field wide open in terms of quality. When you lower the bar the whole profession runs the risk of being benchmarked against the standards set by the bottom dwellers. There is also no quick frame of reference that a customer can use to identify who is worth working with versus those that are best avoided.
Selling products, not solutions – Recruitment is largely about sales but there is a distinction between pushing your product versus a tailored solution based on your client's needs. Recruiters are usually measured by their sales calls and financial results rather than process or customer satisfaction. They are incentivised to deliver for themselves and their employer rather than their customer.
Transactional rather than strategic - Recruiters can fall into the trap of lurching from one job to the next rather than thinking about the client's broader strategic HR needs. There is little impetus on either side to view the relationship as long-term. Clients see recruiters as a short-term means to an ends and vice versa. It is hard for a recruiter to demonstrate the expertise and value that they can bring to the relationship in this context. Where value is not demonstrated fees look expensive and resentment creeps in when bills are to be paid.
Loss of trust for one tarnishes all - Recruiters are often hired for their pugnacious and competitive nature with scant regard to customer focus or integrity. Trust is one of the few bankable qualities that recruiters can carry into the marketplace and when they breach this by acting unethically, trust that can take months or years to build up is lost in an instant - often irretrievably. Sadly, their behaviour tends to cast doubt in the client's mind over the trustworthiness of all in the industry.
Faced with all the above, medical recruitment does have some reputational challenges that will take a huge effort to overcome. When Claire and I started Wavelength we were acutely aware of the standard model for the industry and we resolved to build a company that conformed to some higher standards and ideals.
We set about building a workforce who demonstrated integrity, trustworthiness, respect and a genuine passion for helping others. In doing so we have built a team of people focused on providing a quality service rather than 'winning deals'. Our company benefits because the majority of the work we do is repeat business rather than new business that has to be hard-won - 90% of the clients that worked with us in 2001 still worked with us in 2011.
So how do you, as a customer, sort out the wheat from the chaff?
Ask around your colleagues to find out who has a good reputation and who does not. When you are talking to a recruiter spend a bit more time trying to establish whether they are on your side or theirs. Why not turn the tables - interview them first and ask for references.
Use your instincts and if you detect even a smidgen of blarney – excuse yourself from the conversation and don’t look back.
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Dr John Bethell graduated from Aberdeen Medical School in 1990 and worked as a doctor in both the UK and Australia, launching Wavelength with co-founder Claire Ponsford in 1999. As a pioneer and market leader of medical recruitment in Australia Dr Bethell has seen the industry grow and mature. After two decades of helping doctors find work and healthcare employers find doctors, he sees the medical workforce world from a unique perspective.