Don’t Pay the Ferryman… A Recruitment Industry Parable…

Who would have thought? Back in ’82 when Chris De Burgh penned the classic tune Don’t Pay the Ferryman he was actually… consciously or otherwise… responsible for the most concise… yet overreaching… thought process clients run through when dealing with the recruitment industry in history!

Don’t pay the Ferryman (substitute Recruiter)

Don’t even fix a price

Don’t pay the Ferryman

Until he gets you to the other side…


Sound familiar? It should. Figures show that less than 3% of recruitment assignments globally are retained. That means that over 97% of us aren’t getting paid until after the job is done and that my friends is just bulls&*t!

Some of you may be nodding your head in agreement… some shaking your head in frustrated resignation… and the rest? Well you’re probably still humming along to CDB rocking it in his oversized overcoat and white lace cravat and fighting the temptation to watch the above music video for the 3rd time.

You want to know who I blame? Us. Quite simply the recruitment industry was set up to fail and too few have committed to the internal change we need to become a true profession.

Sticking with the Ferryman analogy. We are an industry that is not trusted. We are often accused of shoddy quality work… poor treatment of candidates… and more annoying than a zika virus carrying mosquito on a tropical holiday. Clients follow the mantra of not paying until we get them to the other side… and as such we are set up in constant competition and measured on speed to market… surely this is a direct attack on our ability to provide a quality service?

The way I see it we have 3 choices.

  1. Keep doing what we’re doing. Sure some of you are making money… but the model is broken. Clients aren’t engaged – in fact most of them see you as a necessary evil. They resent the fact that you charge them an exorbitant fee at the end of a process, because they can’t see the value in your service.
  2. Increase your retained assignments. By getting a commitment up front from clients and shutting out competitors you have the ability to provide a real quality service. You won’t cut corners. You will work closer with your clients, because they have invested in you… and you establish a partnership. *Disclaimer. Don’t for a moment think that retainers come easy. You need to re-educate your client base and commit fully to the value of the model.
  3. Payment for Service – Right now the recruitment industry is pay for outcome. Imagine if you put your annual tax return out to 4 Accountants and only paid the fastest and best. Same with Doctors…. Lawyers… even Mechanics. Isn’t it time we were paid for service? It may be per segment of the recruitment process. It maybe per hour. If we can guarantee the quality of the work we do… and the honesty of the time committed… it is possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How would you improve the quality of our service? What do you think the future holds for our industry? Are we always going to be nothing more than Ferrymen (or Ferrywomen)? I hope not.

Craig Watson

PS… Recstra is coming…


2 thoughts on “Don’t Pay the Ferryman… A Recruitment Industry Parable…

  1. James on Reply

    I have to agree with this. We were talking about in the offices and I posted something similar online the other day. It doesn’t make sense whatsoever the way that we do things in the industry. You take the assignment along with several other agencies; and who’s fortunate enough to get exclusive or retained, and is it really exclusive if the company advertises the role themselves and then it’s only momentary until your competitors start doing ad-chases, and the client then opens it for other agencies. The client releases the job, they thought it was a great idea at the time and then at the final hour they cancel the job. Back to the original though, about the other agencies, so every agency involved in the process reduces a favourable outcome to your good self, and the company actively trying to hire for the role greatly reduces a favourable outcome even more. Being able to charge companies for your time or the unit of work that you have completed for the client would at the least make sure you are not being led down the garden path, and reflect that your tiume is valued, and that the companies/ agencies time and resources are valued. It would also quickly turn a hodge-podge industry into something marginally professional.

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