Scroll Top

Future of Recruitment Agencies along the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach

In this essay I address a future scenario for recruitment agencies in developed countries and I will lean on elements of the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, in order to suggest future business scenarios for recruitment agencies and head hunters.

In order to assess whether my assumptions and scenarios have validity and are valuable to the industry, I would like to invite recruitment agencies to do so.

-audience: headhunters, recruiters, human resources, business schools-


In this essay I address a future scenario for recruitment agencies in developed countries and I will lean on elements of the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, in order to suggest future business scenarios for recruitment agencies and head hunters.

While head hunters are responsible for locating qualified candidates, recruiters are responsible for filling positions. Recruiters are people who are generally employed by the company that is advertising the open positions, although they can also be third-party individuals with no affiliation to the company in question.

I will use the term recruitment agencies to cover both head hunters and third-party recruiters.

In order to assess whether my assumptions and scenarios have validity and are valuable to the industry, I would like to invite head hunters, recruiters, and HR personnel to do so.

Oxford Scenario Planning Approach

Before I dive into the recruitment industry and the relationship between job providers and job seekers, I would like to discuss the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach. Scenario planning is an instrument that is often used and based on macro-economic, industry, market and internal data collection and analysis. This is the starting point for the development and assessment of scenarios to base a business model upon. The typical approach to scenario planning, forecasting and business modelling, is taking a probabilistic stance and make predictions in percentage terms or as best-case/worst-case scenarios, or a normative stance and envision what a future should look like.

The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach however is based on plausibility. By recognizing the part of uncertainty that is unpredictable and by actively exploring the sources of the turbulence and uncertainty, the goal is to iteratively and interactively generate new knowledge and insights to help organizations re-perceive their circumstances.

A core feature in the Oxford approach is making a distinction between:

  1. the immediate business environment an organization inhabits (where business transactions take place) which suppliers, customers, competitors, partners, and other stakeholders, and
  2. the broader environment, or context, in which it operates, which is made up of all the factors that are beyond the organisation’s direct influence. Scenario planning is about exploring how the second layer might transform the first layer.

Successful scenario planning processes are committed to examining and understanding plausible futures as opposed to probable futures. In turbulent and uncertain conditions, it is impossible to assign precise probabilities to possible scenarios.

As a result, the Oxford scenario planning approach eschews assigning probabilities to scenarios and instead focuses on identifying and developing scenarios that are perceived as plausible, challenging, and useful.

Each scenario consists of a story that relates to possible changes in the larger contextual system in which an organisation operates.

Changes in the contextual environment of recruitment agencies

The changes that I have assumed to cause turbulence and uncertainty, and are novel and could be ambiguous, are the following six:

> This is a very short summary, scroll down for downloading the full essay in PDF format and read the full argumentation <

  1. Firstly, technological changes such as the increasing importance of social media in recruitment creating the opportunity for job providers to connect directly and more cost-effective with active and passive job-seekers.
  2. Secondly, changes in social values such as an increasing level of entitlement leading to conflict, job frustration and low job satisfaction levels.
  3. Thirdly, changes in labour markets, also driven by the 4th industrial revolution, impacting how automation substitutes for and how the net displacement of workers by machines might worsen the gap between returns to capital and returns to labour.
  4. Fourthly, the rise of the gig economy changing the traditional role of employers.
  5. Fifthly, changes in society with respect to how people learn and educate themselves, driven by the 4th industrial revolution.
  6. And lastly, demographic changes in terms of an ageing population.
Future scenarios for recruitment agencies

The four scenarios as a result of the impact of these changes that I have developed, are:

> This is a very short summary, scroll down for downloading the full essay in PDF format and read the scenarios in full <


Recruitment agencies as labour quality and performance consultants for employers


Recruitment agencies as professional life time agents for job seekers


Recruitment agencies act as gig worker employers


Recruitment agencies as skills and competencies development gatekeepers integrated with education providers


In order to assess whether my assumptions and scenarios have validity and are valuable to the industry, I would like to invite recruitment agencies to do so. In order to make this assessment, the Oxford Scenario Planning approach recommends them to use Sir Geoffrey Vickers’ ideas on judgement in decision making (Ramirez & Wilkinson, 2016) ideas. Sir Geoffrey Vickers was remarkable in many ways. Among the positions he held was secretary to Churchill’s War Cabinet and head of the National Coal Board of the United Kingdom when coal was the number one fuel for the country’s economy.

One of Vickers’ main ideas was to define what in his experience contributed to making a “good” decision. He suggested that a good decision is one based on good judgment in three distinct but interrelated areas:

  1. Firstly, a sense or appreciation to judge or even reappraise where the decision is taking place, that is, a “reality check: what is going on” in its context.
  2. Secondly, a set of values to assess or judge if the decision is being made according to relevant appropriate (or good) metrics, and which will help the learner’s mind to determine if the decision is effective or not in terms of “values: what it means to us”, where “us” is specific to the decision maker’s situation.
  3. And thirdly, judging whether the strategy (what Vickers called the direction of travel) that the decision directs or supports is right; this is the “instrumental: what can we do” judgment.

In everyday life you work towards the future. In scenario planning you work with the future.

DOWNLOAD my Full essay in PDF

If you have 20 minutes to spend on reading and can live without powerpoint bullet points:

download the essay


Armstrong, M. (2006). A handbook of human resource management practice (10th ed.). London: Kogan Page.

Arthur, M. B., & Rousseau, D. M. (Eds.). (1996). The boundaryless career: A new employment principle for a new organizational era. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Boenzi, Digiesi, Mossa, Mummolo, & Romano. (2015). Modelling Workforce Aging in Job Rotation Problems. IFAC PapersOnLine, 48(3), 604-609.

Briscoe, Hall, & Frautschy Demuth. (2006). Protean and boundaryless careers: An empirical exploration. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 30-47.

Brynjolfsson, Erik, McAfee, Andrew, & Spence, Michael. (2014). New world order: Labor, capital, and ideas in the power law economy. Foreign Affairs, 93(4), 44-53.

Caers, R., & Castelyns, V. (2011). LinkedIn and Facebook in Belgium: The influences and biases of social network sites in recruitment and selection procedures. Social Science Computer Review, 29(4), 437–448.

Campbell, W., Bonacci, A., Shelton, J., Exline, J., & Bushman, B. (2004). Psychological Entitlement: Interpersonal Consequences and Validation of a Self-Report Measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(1), 29-45.

Carless, & Arnup. (2011). A longitudinal study of the determinants and outcomes of career change. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 78(1), 80-91.

Chaudhary, M. (2017). LinkedIn by the numbers: 2017 Statistics. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

De Meuse, Kenneth P., & Tornow, Walter W. (1990). The tie that binds — has become very, very frayed! (employer-employee relations). Human Resource Planning, 13(3), 203.

Doherty, R. (2010). Getting social with recruitment. Strategic HR Review, 9(6), 11–15.

Dutta, D. (2014). Tweet your tune – Social media, the new pied piper in talent acquisition. The Journal of Decision

Feldman, D., & Ng, T. (2007). Careers: Mobility, Embeddedness, and Success. Journal of Management, 33(3), 350-377.

Finlay, W. & Coverdill, J.E. (1999). The Search Game: Organizational Conflicts and the Use of Headhunters, The Sociological Quarterly, 40:1, 11-30

Harvey, P., & Martinko, M. (2009). An empirical examination of the role of attributions in psychological entitlement and its outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(4), 459-476.

Harvey, P., & Harris, K. (2010). Frustration-based outcomes of entitlement and the influence of supervisor communication. Human Relations, 63(11), 1639-1660.

Healy, J., Nicholson, D., & Pekarek, A. (2017). Should we take the gig economy seriously? Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work, 27(3), 232-248.

Hiltrop, J. (1995). The changing psychological contract: The human resource challenge of the 1990s. European Management Journal, 13(3), 286-294.

Hodkinson, P., & Sparkes, A. C. (1997). Careership: A sociological theory of career decision making. British Journal of Sociological Education, 18, 29–44.

Holt, S., Marques, J. and Way, A. (2012), Bracing for the millennial workforce: looking for ways to inspire generation Y, Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, Vol. 9 No. 6, pp. 81-93.

Howes, Loene M., & Goodman-Delahunty, Jane. (2014). Life course research design: Exploring career change experiences of former school teachers and police officers. Journal of Career Development, 41(1), 62.

Jeske, Debora. (2016). Using social media content for screening in recruitment and selection: Pros and cons. Work, Employment & Society, 30(3), 535.

Kanter, Donald L. & Mirvis, Philip H. (1989). The Cynical Americans: Living and Working in an Age of Discontent and Disillusion. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. 329 pages. ISBN: 1-55542-150-4. $NA. (1991). Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 11(3), 181.

Knight F. H. (1921). Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Hart, Schaffner & Marx; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge. 1921

Koch, T., Gerber, C., & De Klerk, J. (2018). The impact of social media on recruitment: Are you LinkedIn? South African Journal of Human Resource Management, 16(2), E1-e14.

Laird, M., Harvey, P., & Lancaster, J. (2015). Accountability, entitlement, tenure, and satisfaction in Generation Y. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 30(1), 87-100.

Mercado, E. (2019). Executive Search Part 1: AN EDUCATION ON A WIDELY USED BUT MISINTERPRETED TOPIC. Airport Business, 33(5), 36-39.

McKinsey Global Institute (2013). Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy.

Ng, Eddy S. W., Schweitzer, Linda, & Lyons, Sean T. (2010). New generation, great expectations : A field study of the millennial generation. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(2), 281.

Nikolaou, I. (2014). Social networking web sites in job search and employee recruitment. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 22(2), 179–189.

Orrange, R. (2003). The Emerging Mutable Self: Gender Dynamics and Creative Adaptations in Defining Work, Family, and the Future. Social Forces, 82(1), 1-34.

Parez, M., Silva, K., Harvey, D., & Bosco, S. (2013). Linked into a job? The ethical considerations of recruiting through LinkedIn. In Proceedings for the Northeast Region Decision Sciences Institute (NEDSI). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Ramirez, R., Churchhouse, S., Palermo, A., & Hoffmann, J. (2017). Using scenario planning to reshape strategy. MIT Sloan Management Review, 58(4), 31-37.

Ramirez, R., Wilkinson, A. (2016). Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach. University Press Scholarship Online. ISBN-13: 9780198745693

Rice, J. (2012). The future of recruitment. Humanresources (Auckland, N.Z.), 17(5), 4-6.

Roennevig, M. (n.d.). Employment Agency Duties. Work – Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Rousseau, D. (1989). Psychological and implied contracts in organizations. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2(2), 121-139.

Schigt, B. (2019). The increasing narcissistic behaviour and sense of entitlement of millennials. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from

Sims, R. (1994). Human resource management’s role in clarifying the new psychological contract. Human Resource Management, 33(3), 373-382.

Singh, K., & Sharma, S. (2014). Effective use of social media for talent acquisition and recruitment. International Journal of Intercultural Information Management, 4(4), 228–237. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Sinha, V., & Thaly, P. (2013). A review on changing trend of recruitment practice to enhance the quality of hiring in global organizations. Management, 18(2), 141–156. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Spindler, G. (1994). Psychological contracts in the workplace—a lawyer’s view. Human Resource Management, 33(3), 325-333.

Stone, Katherine V.W. (2002). Knowledge at Work: Disputes Over the Ownership of Human Capital in the Changing Workplace. Connecticut Law Review, 34, 721-1353.

Sullivan & Arthur (2006). The evolution of the boundaryless career concept: Examining physical and psychological mobility. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 19-29.

Sundheim, K. (2011). Headhunters: The business of  finding people jobs. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Talwar R., Wells S., Koury A., Rizzoli A. (Eds) (2015). The Future of Business. UK: Fast Future Publishing

Trzesniewski, K., Donnellan, M., & Robins, R. (2008). Do Today’s Young People Really Think They Are So Extraordinary?: An Examination of Secular Trends in Narcissism and Self-Enhancement. Psychological Science, 19(2), 181-188.

UN (2013). World Population Ageing. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from 2013

US Department of Labor Statistics (2013), Tenure of American workers. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Vestberg, H. (2018). Why we need both science and humanities for a Fourth Industrial Revolution education. Pakistan & Gulf Economist, 37(39), 73-75.

Waxler, Robert, & Higginson, Thomas. (1993). Discovering methods to reduce workplace stress. (Management). Industrial Engineering, 25(6), 19.

Wells, S., Whittington, A., & Talwar, R. (2017). THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. Training Journal, 30-32.

World Economic Forum. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from

Xing, W., Chen, X., Stein, J., & Marcinkowski, M. (2016). Temporal predication of dropouts in MOOCs: Reaching the low hanging fruit through stacking generalization. Computers in Human Behavior, 58, 119.

Xing, B., & Marwala, T. (2017). Implications of the Fourth Industrial Age on Higher Education. Retrieved August 18, 2019, from