No-one thinks life sciences jobseekers have it easy. You spend seven years studying for an undergraduate degree, a Masters’ and a PhD in microbial genetics before, finally, you’re ready to face the world of work.
Only at that stage do you learn that the entire premise of your doctorate has been undermined by a new discovery that renders your entire academic career worthless.
You then spend the next five years working for a pittance on other people’s research projects to make yourself vaguely marketable.
When, finally, you’ve convinced yourself that you have something relevant to contribute to the jobs market, there is a global financial crash, closely followed by a new pandemic and the country elects a populist prime minister who outlaws test tubes.
When society recovers, you nuance your CV and draft the perfect covering letter, that includes the right combination of self-promotion and humility.
You give up your weekends to research the company and endure tortuous hours of grilling before a panel of stone-faced stiffs only to be beaten for the job by a wunderkind who had solved Fermat’s last theorem by the age of three.
But spare a thought for us poor recruitment consultants whose lives can be equally tough as we strive to fill some of the world’s most esoteric positions with equally esoteric candidates.
We spend our working lives trying to find the only person on the planet who has mapped the genome of the Borneo fruit fly only to discover that they have all the interpersonal skills of a drunk Jeremy Clarkson.
We spend weeks smoothing out their rough edges, encouraging them to pay more attention to their personal hygiene and not to call everyone they meet ‘buddy’.
We prep them for interview; help them to bone-up on the company, to sell themselves and to talk about the contribution they can make and then they turn down the job because the nearest Pret is more than a mile away.
Now, one American recruitment agency has taken matters into its own hands by asking candidates to sign a contract in which they agree to pay the recruiter $10,000 if they refuse an offer of employment, for the inconvenience of assisting them throughout the process.
The clause states: “In the event that if I breach the provisions of this agreement, I agree to pay the company as liquidated damages and not as a penalty a further sum of US Dollars Ten Thousand.”
The contract also obliges candidates to remain “exclusively available” to the company for three working days, from the date of the interview.
While this may seem excessive, it has prompted discussion about circumstances in which recruitment agencies may be entitled to claim back money from candidates, if at all.
Although the UK passed an Employment Agencies Act fifty years ago (remarkably introduced as a Private Member’s Bill) – and one of the key clauses was no registration fees for workers – the debate over the practice still re-emerges on a regular basis.
One jobseeker was interviewed for two roles through different agencies and landed both jobs. After considering the offers and negotiating terms, the candidate emailed one of the agencies to say they wouldn’t be taking the job.
“A month later, I received an invoice from the accounting team of the recruitment team – no other communication – just an invoice made out to me for £38 for a background check they had completed.
“I responded to the accounts team, saying that I believed this cost was for their client, and as I had no relationship with them, it wasn’t an invoice for me personally (assuming it had been mistakenly sent to me as the subject of the background check).”
Are there any circumstances in which recruiters are justified in charging candidates? What about if the candidate has included false information on their CV and it only comes to light after they have been offered a job?
While it’s true that the recruiter has wasted their time, it’s also the case that recruiters have a duty of care to both clients and candidates.
Since 1973, UK recruiters have not been allowed to charge candidates for representation (there are some minor exceptions such as modelling and au pairing) and there are very strong ethical reasons why this remains a good idea.
Even if we could charge fees, would a recruiter charge the same rate to a senior level candidate as they would to a junior or mid-level candidate?
One of the recruitment industry’s secrets is that the more senior the role and potential candidates, the easier it is to match job to individual and the lower the chances are of things going horribly wrong. The time and risk factors are higher when placing site labour than CEOs.
There is also equality and fairness to consider. People with money and connections already do quite well in the job market. Charging people and making shortlists even more exclusive would skew the search for talent away from the best and towards those with the deepest pockets.
Of course, none of this is remotely relevant if the candidates are always successful in landing the job. So perhaps the first thing we recruiters should do is to find out where the nearest Pret is, well in advance, before putting their names forward.