Lillie Ubeid
by Lillie Ubeid

A panel discussion: How do you secure business advantage in today’s recruitment market?

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On November 21st 2019, Team Volcanic had the pleasure of joining The Access Group in welcoming over 100 Access customers and prospects from the recruitment sector to Access World, their biggest event of the year.

A particular highlight for us was this panel discussion, moderated by Ann Swain, Global CEO of APSCo. Sat on the panel alongside Ann included Ken Brotherston, Managing Director of TALiNT Partners, Sarah Roebuck, Head of Marketing at Eames Consulting (and a client of Volcanic!), Ricky Martin, Founder and CEO of Hyper Recruitment Solutions, and Stuart Elliott, CEO and Owner of Elliott Scott HR

The discussion covered a range of topics affecting the industry, but had a particular focus on the modern day recruitment business growth strategy, and how recruiters attract and retain their own talent and build a strong employer brand.

We’ve picked out some key points made in response to each question asked by Ann Swain, to give you some insight into some of the expert views shared in this discussion. 

What do you feel is the difference between recruiters these days and in your early days, Ken, in the recruitment market? 

Ken: When I started in the 80s, you worked with a small candidate base and you knew that candidate base inside out, and you were a subject matter expert so you knew your market inside out. You surrounded that candidate with service. 

I think that level of service now, is more important than ever, if you don’t have deep market knowledge and the ability to engage with your candidate community in the way that they know, trust and respect you, you’re going to really struggle. But how you do that nowadays is very different and technology plays a huge part in that.

So looking at the individuals that we are trying to recruit into our business, we look for deep knowledge and service capability. What are you, Ricky, looking for when you’re trying to expand your business? 

Ricky: When I’m looking [for talent] I can show anyone the skills they need to operate in my business, but what I can’t show them is the will and the reason they want to be in recruitment, they need to show that.

I hire mainly from a trainee level upwards, because I want to bring the standard that I operate at into my business and not re-engineer a different recruiter. I look for people who believe and understand what I’m trying to achieve, and because they believe in that purpose, all the hard bits of the job then become really easy. 

APSCo do benchmarking surveys every year, and the latest one has found that the number one concern from recruitment companies across the UK is about how do we find and keep and develop the best talent out there for ourselves. 

Stuart, what are you doing to get people that can recruit on an international basis and who can grow your business? 

Stuart: It’s important for me that my employees are globally astute, I think this is absolutely crucial. This means looking at key locations that your candidates and clients are based in and the experiences they have. 

It means having an understanding of different cultures, and I always say, wherever I go in the world, 70% of recruitment is exactly the same, 30% is culture. A lot of it comes back to the mindset and the attitude of the individual. That is really important for me in terms of what I look for when I’m recruiting. 

Sarah, do you find it difficult finding mindset? If we get the right people with the right marketing behind them, can they be successful in the market? 

Sarah: I think they can, but I think too many businesses focus on trying to find that skillset and that sales attitude, which don’t often go hand in hand. 

I think if you’ve got the resource internally, your candidates don’t need to be experts, you can support people on that. I think you do need to have an attitude and a will to want to develop the personal branding side, and I don’t think you can hide from things like social media, but do they have to have that skillset right from the beginning? I don’t think so.

Ken, do we need sales people still or do we need service people? Or is there something that we’re looking for that has both? Do they exist?

Ken: One of the biggest failings of this industry is that it’s KPIs do not line up with the customers’ KPIs. Your customers don’t care how much you bill, they care how much you complete, they care about your business, and they care about your reputation in the market. 

If you’re hiring people on their sales capability, I suggest you re-think that. 

There is also a lot of evidence that suggests that hiring for academic achievement and previous experience has zero correlation with career success. So what you find is that employers are increasingly hiring based on aptitudes, empathy, flexibility, adaptability, and resilience. This whole industry, by and large, is geared to hiring based on where you went to university and what’s your previous experience. 

So you can hire whoever you want, but it’s what you’re hiring them for that is the fundamental question you need to be asking yourself when looking at the talent that you’re bringing into your organisation. 

So if we are looking to recruit a different type of person, what culture are we going to create that makes new people feel at home and succeed within our business?

Stuart: Culture is a really interesting topic, and I think it’s a real challenge. I was always taught about the importance of culture-fit, but was recently introduced to the idea of culture-add. 

I think there is a real danger when you’re looking for culture-fit that you will be looking for the exact same people every single time. Be what the world is. I don’t necessarily want to hire loads of people who are like me, I want to hire people that mirror what is out there in the world. 

For me, the mindset of the leader dictates the culture. If you get that right, you have a really good recipe for success. 

So from an attitudinal point of view, do you think the leadership within Eames has that mindset and that it flows down within the business? 

Sarah: It does, but I think culture is driven by the people that are already within the business rather than created by leaders and filtered down. Whilst the leader can dictate the environment that we want, when you’re hiring particularly from the younger generations, they're dictating what they want their workplace culture to look like, and so I think culture is driven by those people. 

Stuart, on Ken’s point that we don’t really understand the needs of our customers or the things that they’re prioritising, do you feel that there is a disconnect between some recruitment companies and the needs of their end user customer base?

Stuart: Yes, I think there is a disconnect. I think one of the reasons I set up on my own was around service and understanding my clients in greater depth.

What could I do for my clients? How could I give them more? And how do they value that? 

I’m not naive enough to ignore the fact that I also need to earn some cash, so there is that point where I have to bring myself back. But the fundamental part that I look for in my people is always going to be that service level. 

So are there any tips from our panel on how you find and keep great people in your business?

Ken: Marketing. You’ve got to be better at marketing and better at communicating your employer brand. 

I think the biggest challenge that recruiters face is, how do you utilise marketing more effectively to communicate your employer brand and use sophisticated marketing techniques to access the market is hugely important? 

Ricky: Sometimes companies just lean on their marketing teams to solve all the answers, but if you’re trying to hire the right people, you need to make sure that the brand that you’re portraying externally matches up with the brand that exists internally. 

The best way to do that is through the people in your business. Are they acting as brand ambassadors? We’re trying to get our guys talking about us more than we’re talking about ourselves, so that we can talk about the top level stuff, but the guys that live and breathe it are talking about it in an authentic way. If they’re doing it well enough, and enough people hear about it, your brand is going to spread across the marketplace. 

So what about smaller companies? They may not have a marketing team or have all of that to attract people to their business. What do they do? 

Ricky: I actually think that small companies right now have a huge advantage in both recruitment and in the way we market because we haven’t got the red tape at the top restricting all the things you can and can’t say. I actually think as a small company, embracing the tech that’s out there can really help with marketing. 

Sarah: Fundamentally, social media is free. And the knowledge already exists in the business. The role that marketing plays is, how do you extract that from your consultants? How do you get that onto paper and onto blogs and your website? If you’re a small team, it’s about mobilising those guys and how do you engage them into wanting to play that kind of role. 

So what about how we attract candidates for our customers? What are we doing about attracting those candidates and looking after those candidates? 

Sarah: To your first question, I think people worry about trying to be on every platform because they think they have to be. From a social media point of view, there are channels that we’re not on because fundamentally that’s not where our audience is. 

Don’t try and be everywhere and spread the love to everyone. If there is one channel that really works for you, focus on that! 

And that fits into the candidate attraction piece because if you’re trying to control as much of the process as possible, being spread across every job board and every platform can make that very difficult. 

Ken, do end user clients feel that recruitment companies are adding enough in our relationship with candidates?

Ken: Yes. So we [TALiNT] just did a Benchmark Report for Employers, and recently we also launched the first one for Recruitment Agencies. In the Employer Benchmark Report, they think that agencies are better at candidate experience than they are. 

The best agencies have always balanced the relationship they have with their candidates and clients. This is something that I think going forward, recruiters need to put more resources and effort into, because the candidate experience is an incredibly important component and will only become more important as time goes on.

What are the biggest mistakes you have made which have slowed down your growth?

Stuart: Trying to grow too quick. We had great success in Hong Kong, Singapore and Brazil, so we thought we could do exactly the same in Dubai, but this was not the case. We got caught up in the wave that we were on, and what we didn’t do was just stop, breathe, and properly think about the next steps. This was a drain on the business, and took my focus away from what we were really good at. So be prepared that you might fail! 

Ricky: Hiring the wrong people. Early on in the business, I’ve hired on at least a handful of occasions purely because the CV made sense. It made sense to my story, to the experience, and for the gap I was trying to plug. This was the worst mistake as it slowed me down and restricted growth.

Sarah: This is more advice, but I’d say research your tech carefully. A lot of people jump into decisions to think that it’s going to advance them really quickly, but actually they can be really big projects. There is an important factor in working with suppliers that you can really trust and that understand your business, but you’ve got to do your research. 

Ken: Not making tough decisions quick enough. To scale your business, you’re going to have to make bigger bets, and I think this issue about how you assess and deploy technology is incredibly important, because people have to do it in a myriad of different ways, and this is why the Access guys are amazing! 

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