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Ask Lawrence: The truth about 'floating' that recruiters don't want you to know

24 Jan 11:00 by Lawrence Akers

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When you go to a recruitment agency, you’re often doing that in the hope that your details are going to be shared with interested clients who may wish to either engage you on a freelance or permanent basis. This is at the very heart of recruitment; you go in and meet with the consultant who then translates why you’re so awesome and presents you out to those clients that they know who believe they’re going to be interested in you.

This is a process often referred to within the industry as ‘floating’, or ‘presenting’, and it is at the very heart of what recruitment actually is.

This is the thing; your recruitment consultant is going to be working with a series of clients who may not understand the recruitment process or, even if they do, just may not have the time to invest into it properly. If they have a last minute requirement that comes in and sends their studio into a spin, they may not have the time to sit down and call a list of potential freelancers let alone find them, interview them, and reference check them. On the permanent side, if they’re looking for a role that is pretty much a needle in a haystack, again, they may not have the time or energy to invest in searching and trying to find, approach, convince and negotiate with that unique candidate.

Those clients are approaching the recruitment consultant to make finding those exceptional candidates easier for them.

On the flip side of that, creatives will come in to meet with us to tap into that list of clients and to be able to utilise those relationships that we have to find them work, or at least an additional revenue stream along with their own direct relationships.

Ultimately, it is those relationships that form the basis of a recruitment agencies service and, therefore, there needs to be boundaries around them in terms of how it all works.

The most common arrangement you’ll see is that if a recruitment agency asks for your permission to represent you to one of their clients and you agree, then the recruitment agency will retain that relationship for a period of 12 months - either from the date of presenting you across or from the last day that you work there. This will prevent anyone who may lack business ethics from directly approaching the other party and cutting the recruitment agency out from the work that they’ve done.

What does this actually mean though? It means that if a client wants to engage a particular freelancer, then it has to go through the agency for a period of 12 months from that date of introduction or from the last day worked. This is for all potential engagements; freelance, contract and permanent.  

There are some additional rules around this though; the recruitment agency should have a signed document from the creative giving them permission to represent them to the client. If the recruitment agency discovers that the creative has approached the client directly or another recruitment agency has been given permission in the 12 month period prior, then they will be unable to represent that creative to that particular client.

This is where it gets a bit tricky

Consider this; what if you went to a recruitment agency and they got you to sign an agreement for 15, 20, 25 companies. You would think ‘awesome’, right?  

What if that recruitment agency actually doesn’t have a strong relationship (or a relationship at all) with that client?  

Perhaps they haven’t worked with that client for months, or even years. Perhaps that client has had a change of contact who no longer wants to work with that recruitment agency, or recruiters at all. What happens then?  

You’ve effectively given permission to one agency who has then made it very difficult for you to work with anyone else.  

You’ve essentially fallen victim to a recruiter who is hoping that a ‘flick and stick’ approach will work for them.

As you can imagine, this is not good for you. It prevents agencies who might really be working with the client from being able to present you across for consideration, or from being offered the best deal / rate.  

Nor is it good for the client, as they’ll be tired of receiving countless presentations when they don’t need anything.  

In fact, it’s not even good for the consultant because it is a small industry ultimately and reputations are made and broken by how they ethically work. They might believe they’re being awesome by saying that they’ll get you out to 25 people but the proof is going to be in the pudding, right?  Do you get to meet people? Does work come from it?

The reality is that no recruiter can promise anything - that’s just not how it works. However, if they say they’re going to present you to half of Melbourne, you had better hope that they actually do.

How to best handle your floats

Some places have their system set up to get you to agree to their permission request while you’re there sitting in front of them. Now, if you feel like they’re going to do a great job for you, by all means sign it. Alternatively, if you’re meeting a handful of recruiters, you may want to politely let them know that you wish to research the clients and ensure that they’re the kinds of companies you would like to be presented to before giving permission. Keep in mind, you do not have to give permission for EVERY company and it is likely to be in your best interests to do a little research on companies before agreeing to them and not just blindly trusting the consultant in front of you.

I’d suggest asking plenty of questions around the client’s they have offered to you as you’ll be able to determine from their responses if the relationship is there or not.

Questions like what kind of relationship do you have with the client, when was the last time you placed a position with them, how often do you speak with the point of contact, what kinds of roles have you placed with them recently, or even asking them to describe the work environment or what clients they work with will give you a far greater insight into if the consultant knows the client or if they’ve just come up with a list after Googling ‘top design studios’.

Ask them what their presentation process actually is? Will the consultant call the client and talk with them about you first? Do they just shoot off an email? How do they follow up? How soon afterwards?

Ask them how they will get feedback back to you as well? If you really want to keep them on their toes, you can ask them to provide you with details about when you were presented and to whom. You’ve agreed to their terms and to not approach their clients directly so they should have no objection to letting you know this detail.

Note that it is going to be YOUR responsibility to keep a track of who you’ve been presented to, by whom, and when. Regardless of if you’ve approached someone yourself or through a handful of recruitment agencies, an error with this could cost you work or, at worst, a permanent position. Yes, it is that serious.

What if you’re not happy

If you discover that you have not been presented to a client after giving permission to a recruitment agency, you should be entitled to withdraw your permission to that agency to no longer present you and to give that permission to another agency.

Some recruitment agencies will also have a KPI around the number of presentations they make each week. The last thing you want to discover is that you’re a casualty of a recruiter meeting a KPI over having a strategic vision about where you can go and how they can best help your career.   

You may want to test the water with each recruiter, given them permission for up to five of their best companies and seeing how they respond. This may give you some insight into how they will handle you moving forward.

You should expect to hear back from your consultant regarding each client you’ve given permission for them to send you to. It might not be positive news, or even any response, but you should expect to be kept up to date and not have this be something that just collects dust on their data base in the hope that their client decides they need a creative again. I’m sure you would agree, your career is more important than that.