People tell me that my journey into recruitment is an interesting one. Back in the late nineties I cut my teeth working on one of the first UK Google accounts. For almost 20 years since then I’ve worked as a client-side digital practitioner for some amazing start-ups and SMEs, as well as mature multi-channel businesses including Lloyds TSB, Yell.com, John Lewis, Electrocomponents and Expedia.
It was all going great. And then with little warning I went through redundancy. Less than 18-months later, just before I turned 40, it happened again. Instead of racing out to buy a motorcycle to mark my mid-life crisis (something I’d actually done almost a decade earlier – on the basis that if you’re going to have one, have it whilst you’re young enough to fully enjoy it), my work-life turned upside down as even the most established companies went through periods of uncertainty.
As you’d expect, I was on the phone to recruiters a lot. Whilst I’d been used to under-whelming experiences with recruitment agencies as a hiring manager, as a job hunter, the mis-sold roles and empty promises of “we’ll get back to you” gave me a candidate experience that left me feeling cold, disappointed and extremely frustrated.
Driven by the belief that things could, and should be done better, I decided to take a leap and launched specialist digital recruitment agency Digital People, in 2015.
We set out to be radically different from the outset, and placed the cultural match between a candidate and a client at the heart of everything we do. What really sets us apart is that we’ve either worked in, managed or hired most of the roles that we now recruit for.
Our real-world experience gives us a deep understanding and a unique, holistic perspective of the industry, but crucially it gives us the ability to truly understand candidates’ aspirations, and the nuances of a client’s brief. Our first-hand experience enables us to match candidates with the right kind of business, and culture – often the most critical aspect for our clients, over and above ‘skills and experience’.
We’ve seen the impact a wrong match can have. In the grand scheme of things, our interaction with a candidate is brief but if we do our job properly we can change the course of their life, but a poor move can delay everything from career progression through to fulfilling life-long aspirations and dreams.
For a business, placing the wrong person in a key role could be disastrous, disruptive and costly. I believe recruiters have a huge responsibility to get it right, and this is something I refuse to compromise on, because clients place their success, and candidates their careers, in our hands.
Tarred with the same brush
At Digital People we get lots of calls from businesses who are finding it increasingly difficult to find quality digital talent through agencies. Many tell me the same embarrassing story of costly experiences, bad customer service and best-of-a-bad-bunch candidates. I read the litany of articles posted on LinkedIn and various industry magazines every week, where hiring managers and business owners, who are clearly fed-up and frustrated by the status quo, echo the same sentiments.
As a recruiter I’m up against it. Almost everyone hates (or at least has a fairly strong dislike of) recruiters – they’re even worse than estate agents. Having spent almost 20 years client-side, I know that recruitment agencies are often held in contempt by hiring managers, and considered little more than a necessary evil by HR, to be engaged with only when they have a hard to fill or highly specialist role, that they haven’t been able to fill themselves.
No one can say that I didn’t know what I was getting myself in to. Nonetheless, it’s been hard. But, like the tired father-of-two that I am (and no-one told me how hard that was going to be either), I wouldn’t change it for the world, because the satisfaction I get from making the right match is beyond words. But, there are downsides to working in this industry.
A huge part of my role is to help clients understand what they actually need, versus what they sometimes ‘think they need’, and to help job seekers find the perfect opportunity. But an even bigger part of my role is battling against the tide of distain caused by the sheer number of lazy recruiters out there who just don’t want to put in the work. Rather than working through a brief to really get under the skin of a business’s requirements, they rely on their out-of-date database and under-hand tactics to source talent, which gives the rest of us in the industry a bad name.
They push candidates towards roles that aren’t right for their skills and experience, they send CVs out without permission, and then they don’t provide any client feedback. And don’t even get me started on some of the ‘lead generation’ techniques I’ve heard about. Whilst I know some excellent recruiters, the wide-brush of general sentiment that the industry is tarred with, is that we are all lazy, and offer little insight or value. People naturally expect my business to offer more of the same soulless numbers game approach to recruitment.
Competition is fierce and these days many businesses engage with several agencies at the same time, in the belief that it will give their recruitment process a greater degree of diligence, or that they’ll get to ‘see more good candidates’. This practice actually makes it harder because the moment a business engages multiple agencies, they water down and cheapen the process. The search for that key hire becomes nothing more than a scramble to reach candidates en mass before the competition – a classic numbers game. And the result will always the same; low investment equals high staff turnover.
As a hiring manager previously looking to fill roles in my own teams, or under pressure to build a new team from scratch, it didn’t really bother me that the role was going out to two or three agencies at the same time. Why should it?! The truth is, I never even gave it a second thought. I don’t think many people do, and that’s part of the problem.
Our ‘Best Newcomer’ win at the Marketing & Digital Recruitment Awards 2016 is proof that we’re on the right track. We’ve had an amazing year, which has seen us run searches for clients in the UK and Europe, and as far afield as Moscow and New York. We’ve successfully placed key hires from Digital Marketing Manager to Head of E-commerce and Chief Executive Officer, and have helped clients to recruit brand new teams from the ground up. But that’s not why we won.
The judging panel favoured Digital People over some pretty stiff competition because we “displayed sound evidence of an agency entirely in touch with its market”. They also highlighted the fact that we have “created a philosophy based around the candidate experience” and, our “fantastic service base”.
While this is a massive win for our agency, it’s also a huge win for our industry. We believe in doing things differently, and this win shows that true industry knowledge and a passion do doing recruitment the way it should be done, is still of value in an industry where high volume / low cost ‘sausage factory’ recruitment is often the preference.
My hope is that we see a shift in the next few years, and that candidates and hiring companies alike start to demand quality over quantity. I’d like to see hiring companies work with the recruitment industry to put an end to lazy recruitment. I’d like to see hiring companies plan better, and engage with specialists early on rather than through distress when all else has failed, and stop pitching multiple non-specialist agencies against each other for the same business – which so often results in bad practice.
In the meantime we’ll continue to work hard to change the status quo, whether it’s through our commitment to doing things differently, or through our performance-based commercials (which are unique in the industry). And we’ll continue to beat the drum that talent acquisition should be an investment, just as with any other area of business, rather than something quick and dirty that needs to be obtained at the lowest possible cost of hire, because any business is only as good as it’s people.