Big Four: Inept and corrupt? Or thoroughly very nice people?

Which of the Big4 would you most like to work for?

“All 4 are equally inept and corrupt” said one.
“I object to have someone from Big 4 report to me” said another.
“None of the above” – most complained.

This LinkedIn poll, supposedly a bit of fun, was originally made to establish whom has the best employer brand. After all, the one that you want to work for the most, has the best employer brand in your opinion, right?

This seemingly harmless question has actually sparked off some cutting feedback. Disgruntled (ex)employees and ex-interviewees, also those failed applicants to big4 companies have directly given me more insight into what can be a pretty poor recruitment process, particularly in relation to interview time-scales, quality of feedback, and even the softer side of the process.
This just compels me back into a sweaty room with some world-class hackers to build the next release CV Channel which will allow you to apply to and negotiate with, the big4 (and many others) in a more human and engaging way – but that’s another story.

In most cases of people applying to the big4, the majority of applicants don’t get an interview, less a job, and the recruitment industry, and employers aren’t doing enough to protect employer brands though the recruitment process. It’s not always the recruiters fault. Much is to do with the process they are forced to work within. The very size of these organizations means their current processes are bureaucratically highly centralized, controlled and regulated, and often outsourced. And that can make you feel like just another number. I was once told by HR that if the candidate can’t hack it, then she shouldn’t bother, since she’ll probably be frustrated working for such a big company anyway. Yes, really.

Needless to say, this sort of attitude doesn’t do their Employer Brand any good, and by association their Consumer Brand suffers. Many of the people who don’t get jobs and have a hard time in the process, often go on to become customers – or more likely, a competitors’ customer.

When we are looking at the Employer Brands for these four businesses it’s important to remember that together they employ well over half a million people. So inevitably, cultures and personalities vary within different practices and divisions, and in different countries. In fact, it’s easier to find similarities in culture between some teams in competing businesses, than in the next team at the same employer. I guess that’s why a lot of people end up working for more than one in their career.

For what it’s worth, my advice to any applicants is to focus more on the individual people you will be working with; who, what, and where they are, and not be persuaded by the fancy marketing bumf (of which there is plenty).

So it’s surprising how many people have very strong opinions about the big4, particularly in the IT world. But there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence of consistency across the board for the disrespect held; less the sometimes (irrational?) hatred for these businesses.
Everyone I speak to wouldn’t work for this or that company for one reason or another. That’s just human nature. I’m much more surprised by some of the brands that find and retain the most engaged employees in spite of their Consumer Brand.

ps. the results of who had the strongest employer brand?

1st = Deloitte, 355 votes and 47% of the votes
2nd = EY, 155 votes and 21%
3rd = PWC, 141 votes and 19%
4th = KPMG, 101 votes and 13%

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Candidate or Client?

Labels have always been embedded in recruitment – until now. I have to ask, why do we use them? I don’t have a problem with the words themselves, more so the contrast between the two in terms of perception.

Candidate and client stand side by side like monuments in the landscape of modern day recruitment – but will this landscape change over the next decade? And these long-forgotten monuments will be nothing but a reminder of an industry that failed to really engage people as people – not just another prospect or piece of paper.

When someone says candidate, I immediately think of a pile of CVs – a list of names without faces – and the candidate, recruiter, client structure which seems so archaic in this world of social media. And we can’t forget that using the term can be derogatory. So what’s the answer? Job seeker conjures up images of the unemployed queuing at the job centre. And this jars with the idea that candidates are commercially driven people – not simply a way for businesses and recruiters to make money.  Consider, as well, that clients can become candidates and vice versa at some point – so making the distinction only holds weight for certain periods of time.

Clients are often treated differently to candidates – aside from paying the recruiter’s fees – it boils down to treating human beings differently. And it’s this human element that so often gets lost in recruitment.

As businesses evolve through shifting cultures and technologies, they also become more transparent, more accessible and more human. And this makes traditional labels seem old-fashioned. Whereas changing – or banishing – these labels might change the way we define relationships. It might change our behaviours and make the recruitment process much more human. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, do you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Recruiting to the end of the long tail

Applying the long tail concept to recruitment isn’t as far-fetched as some might think: that’s to say the idea of selling smaller volumes of hard-to-find products over large quantities of popular items. And here we explore how this can be applied to the jobs market.

As a starting point we take the success of online retailer Amazon – as used by Chris Anderson who coined the term ‘long tail’ in 2004. This is a clear example of how technology can lower the cost base of almost any business.

Amazon can supply an unlimited selection of books without being restricted by the physical shelf space of a traditional bookshop. It can offer the consumer a much wider choice at a fraction of the cost-of-sale faced by high street retailers – as they often cannot justify the cost of selling smaller numbers of specialist books. Amazon – alongside competitors Rhapsody and Play – is able to incorporate these niche products into its broader product base at little cost. Using technology it can turn smaller sales figures into a profit and the more available that obscure products become, the more the demand for those products grows. And hard-to-find books are now one of Amazon’s fastest growing revenue streams.

So, is Amazon merely tapping into an unmet demand? Or has the market been missing out on important sales because of the physical constraints of the traditional bookshop? And in asking this, the long tail example becomes relevant to the recruitment market. In the same way that a bookshelf operates within the boundaries of available space, a recruitment business is limited by its distribution channels.

An effective recruitment business relies on frequent fee generation (found in the red section of the diagram above). These fees must be sufficient to cover staffing costs and office overheads. And this undoubtedly restricts the business to recruitment markets where regular high value fees generate profit – cancelling out niche markets where demand remains untapped. Until now.

Rapid changes in technology and the unlimited capacity of the internet mean that businesses no longer need to concentrate on the few high value fees. Instead, the smaller niche transactions can generate profit right to the end of the long tail. There is a place for everyone online, and there is certainly a place for recruitment websites that offer better, quicker and more specialist job matches at lower cost.

With sophisticated technology-led filters in place, recruiters need not sort through CVs – and recruitment websites can learn something from Amazon’s ‘users who bought this also bought’ approach. This may not be good news for large generalist recruiters who rely on high volume, low margin business since they cannot compete with the quality and cost of smaller niche online products. And this is especially true in markets that were previously too small to justify setting up a consultancy or business.

What’s more, niche groups are popping up all over LinkedIn – such as Retail Data Architects and Information Management for Solvency II – which give people a voice and add value to job searches. And these searches will continue to splinter as online recruitment evolves. This may not be a new industry trend, yet it’s certainly something that hasn’t yet been used to its full potential. Niche online products may not replace specialist search and select services – or headhunting – in larger agencies, but they will open up smaller, more selective markets for the first time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments