Do you leave it to a recruitment consultant or is it your job to find yourself another job? Simon Howard thinks you should do both

It might not be a particularly palatable fact but it’s easier to get a job if you already have a job. That’s because most employers and consultants still believe the best candidate is the one not looking for a job.
On the one hand this accounts for the dogged belief of most employers that top jobs can only be filled by a head-hunter who out of the blue calls up the perfect candidate with the perfect job. Not only is that flawed as a concept, but it rarely happens in practice. On the other hand, if this mythical best candidate genuinely isn’t looking for a job, then it should beg the question - how come you’re looking at their CV? After all, only someone who is in ‘candidate mode’ starts distributing their CV.
This belief ignores two very practical realities: first, in today’s job market there is nothing wrong with being unemployed; and second, if anyone is going to conduct an effective job search, it can be a pretty full-time occupation anyway.
Being between assignments, taking a break or plain unemployed is something that happens to most people at least once in their (salaried) working lives. Jobs are not for life, and just because you’re living proof of flexibility in the workforce, no recruiter or employer should hold that against you. In fact I’d go further and suggest that a period of enforced personal unemployment would make all employers and recruiters much better at their jobs.
However, most people looking for a job still have a job, but finding a new one takes a lot of time - you have to cover all the avenues, which means looking at websites, reading advertisements and contacting consultancies (who often placed the advertisement anyway).
If there is one subject that has dominated my Sunday Times postbag over the years, it is the stories of how candidates are appallingly treated by recruitment consultants. Now, I know this is true and could write a book on the subject, but there is one thing we have to get straight: recruitment consultancies are not careers services and recruitment consultants are not careers advisers.
Their job is to fill a position for their client, so don’t expect too much personal attention from them. The more astute among them may well invest some time in you, but for many, their primary focus is winning more assignments rather than being nice to candidates.
A few years ago a group HR director friend found himself ousted from his job when the new CEO decided to abolish group roles. However, my mate wasn’t that concerned about his prospects of finding a new job since one of the group HR director perks was that he recruited for the top jobs and so was a valuable client of all the headhunters. But it didn’t work out like that. Whereas he had been in a headhunter’s swish St James’s offices one week as their client - and had been treated as an honoured guest - the following week he was there as a candidate. Not only was he kept waiting, he was also sent away and asked to come back an hour later - and when he did it was to rearrange the appointment.
However, the story has a happy ending. He did land another group HR job and subsequently wreaked revenge on the headhunters who had treated him badly - in particular asking them to pitch for assignments that he had no intention of using them on.
Of course, not all consultants are so short-sighted, but it is worth remembering that although you might indeed be the fodder that feeds them, don’t expect any fancy treatment from them until they can see a real prospect of them earning a fee from placing you in a job. Which means don’t expect too much, and never leave your career search solely in their hands.
It’s a question of maths as much as anything: how many assignments will a consultant handle at any one time? Five? Ten? It doesn’t really matter. Because even if you were qualified for one in 10 of their assignments, you couldn’t count on them producing that many opportunities for you.
So put yourself about, be loyal to the consultants who are loyal to you, follow up ads that are genuinely of interest and drive your career search yourself.
n Simon Howard is a founder of Work Communications and writes the Jobfile column for the Sunday Times.