So what about loyalty? Well, free-market capitalism doesn’t assign much value to loyalty. Deliberately choosing to stay with you for sentimental reasons when there’s a better job elsewhere is irrational and therefore unquantifiable. Now, an employee who flits from company to company, always in search of a higher salary, is going to raise eyebrows; employers naturally want to hire somebody they can count on for a while. But employee loyalty is a privilege, not a right. It has to be earned by giving respect and good treatment. Any manager who expects an employee to feel loyal right from her first day on the job is a fool.
Furthermore, loyalty has to go both ways, and frankly, it seldom does. Companies want loyal employees who will stay with them through thick and thin, but those same companies want the freedom to lay people off on a moment’s notice when times get tough. Some of this is covered by labor legislation, of course: California, where I have spent most of my career, is a so-called “right-to-work” state in which either side can terminate an employment relationship without notice and for any reason or no reason at all. Other states have different rules, and Europe is another matter entirely, as many nations there have strongly pro-employee laws on the books. But the bottom line is that you don’t get employee loyalty by hoping for it or demanding it; you get it by building it, just as you do with customer loyalty.
Now let’s talk about recruiters. Recruiters are like lawyers – people say they hate them, right up until they need one. But when you need one, you want the best one you can get. Complaining about recruiters is hypocritical, unless you’re prepared to swear that you’ll never, ever use one – and any development company that makes that assertion must not expect to grow much. Big development teams always need recruiters at times. A team can rarely afford to take their time over hiring new staff, because when the project gets the green light, they usually need bodies on it ASAP. I’ve never yet seen a game job ad that said, “starting in three months’ time.” Unlike HR departments – whose primary role is managing the company’s relationship with existing personnel, not hiring – recruiters have the connections to supply those candidates quickly.
There are, of course, exceptions. A few large companies manage to get along without recruiters, if they’re farsighted enough to plan their growth well in advance. Some even have recruiters on staff. But most development houses don’t have that luxury; they literally don’t know until the deal is signed whether they need people or not, and they simply don’t have the network of contacts that a recruiter does.
It’s true that some recruiters use underhand tactics. Bad recruiters misrepresent potential candidates to their clients, saying the candidate is more qualified than he really is; they misrepresent the employer to the candidate, saying the job is perfect for him when it isn’t. A few recruiters also try to get hold of internal company phone lists, or cold-call people trolling for names while claiming to be employees inside the company. At one place I worked, a recruiter called around saying that he was in HR, and giving a 3-digit extension when asked for one. My company only had 4-digit extensions. In another case, a recruiter told me an employer was “very anxious” to meet me while at the same time telling them that I was “very anxious” to meet them. Neither was true; I went to the interview, the hiring manager and I had a nice chat about the early days of RPGs, and off I went.
There’s no question that this kind of behavior is sleazy… but it’s also a mark of desperation, and I’m convinced that it’s atypical. If a recruiter is to stay in business, she has to make placements, and she doesn’t see a dime until the candidate has been through the employer’s interview process. In the long run there’s no upside to sending inappropriate candidates along; it’s a waste of time, and pretty soon the employer won’t be hiring that recruiter any longer. Also, the industry is small enough that word will get around. Even companies that are in competition will warn each other off a bad recruiter.
The bottom line is that if there were no need for recruiters, they wouldn’t exist. They exist for a very good reason: finding qualified candidates is a long, tedious process and one that many HR departments aren’t equipped to handle when there’s a sudden demand for 35 highly-skilled, highly-specialized people in a wide variety of job roles.