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New Year Reflections on the Recruitment Industry: How Much Has Really Changed?

At the beginning of a new year, we have a natural tendency to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going.

30 Years in the Recruiting Business

I’ve been in the recruitment business for 30 years now; I started out in 1992.

My first recruiting job was in the UK. I was assigned to work the IT sector. It was a run-of-the-mill agency that focused on permanent job recruitment. I went in with absolutely no experience. Those were the days before email, before the internet, when recruitment was done entirely over the phone and in-person. every person for themselves

It was an aggressive, sales-driven office culture. We had stand-up desks, and it was a noisy, hectic, wide-open environment. It was every person for themselves, standing up all day shouting into the phone, except when you went to a private room to interview candidates.

Success was based on your ability to forge and maintain strong relationships with clients and candidates. That remains the case today, despite all the changes we’ve experienced in technology and the global economy.

The Telephone Era 

Back then we were on the phone all day (and night) because there was no other way to find stuff out. We spent all day talking to people – that was how we conducted research. You couldn’t log on to a computer and google the top 15 companies in a particular industry.

The only way to get accurate information from reliable sources was by consulting with a small handful of people who had a unique industry perspective and inside information. Everything was analog. We’d sort through big files of CVs, page by page. It was a raw industry. There were no digital tools, no guidelines; you’d just do whatever you could with the resources at hand to close a deal.

The Internet Disrupts Search and Research

The advent of the internet changed the search part of a recruiter’s job. The evolution of job boards and social media networks means we can now identify and profile candidates easily. Today, instead of barking on the phone, pacing back and forth, I see recruiters spending a lot of time seated at their desks, using their laptops electronic devices to look at databases and scroll through social media tools like Linkedin and job boards like

Digital technology makes mass communication easy. With email and social network apps, it is no longer necessary to make 100 phone calls each day. The internet allows headhunters to recruit by remote. I spent six years of my career recruiting for jobs in Tokyo; all that time I was based in Bangkok.

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

There is no denying the massive benefits of internet technology. But strong relationship-building skills are still the hallmark of a successful recruiter.

For example, if I do not understand my clients’ business and office culture intimately, I won’t be able to find a candidate who is the perfect fit.

We’ve got to know our job candidates closely as well. When people change jobs, the decision generally has something to do with changes in their life situation: a child on the way, a move to another city, a divorce.

A recruiter needs to understand this as well: sometimes it’s about more than just matching skillsets with a resume. Without a profound understanding of the people you are dealing with, it is very difficult to do a good job as a recruiter. It is not enough to just find somebody a job, or fill a position for your client. We need to find people the right jobs, so they can settle in and be happy long-term.

Specialisation is a Prerequisite

Nowadays, recruiters need to specialise in a particular industry sector. Because if you’re going to have a comprehensive understanding of your clients and candidates, you must understand their business – the trends, the technology, the jargon.

For example, I need to know what companies across the logistics sector are doing, in order to help the companies I am working for in the most effective way. Likewise, I won’t have the gravitas required to earn a candidate’s trust if I am not also an expert in the field who can speak their language.

The best candidates get approached form all directions now. There are so many recruiters buzzing in their ears, the only way I can stand out and get their attention is if I have real industry expertise.

ESG: More Important Than Ever

The competition to hire the most qualified, capable candidates is tight in today’s market. Elite candidates know this, and they are more discerning about what company’s they will consider working for.

Take interviews, for example. Before, an interview was essentially one-way traffic: a company representative looks at a candidate’s resume, asks a series of questions. If the candidate gives satisfactory answers and is technically qualified, they’ll probably be offered the job.

The balance of power has shifted recently. Now, interviews are just as much about the candidate asking questions of the employer as vice-versa.

ESG issues have become important to job seekers, especially those who are in demand. If a recruiter wants to attract the best candidates in today’s market, they need to understand shape and flavour of the company they are recruiting for. To close a deal with mediocre talent, it often doesn’t take more than a modest salary raise. But if your client demands top talent, the office culture and company values must be a strong match: elite talent cares as much or more about ethics, diversity, and environmental standards, as the job description and salary.

Reputation is King

As a recruiter I need to be careful with the clients I represent: if I work for a company that has a reputation as a polluter, or as has a poor track record in terms of labour disputes, it reflects poorly on me. Reputation is king in this business.

The reputation of a recruiter is important not only in terms of expert knowledge and industry specialization. We also need to know enough about the industry and the major players in the sector to know which companies are the best brands to work for.

If I have a shoe store, I need to stock the best shoes, the most popular brands that people want to wear, the ones that represent a certain status, or lifestyle, or values.  Similarly, as a recruiter, I need to partner with and represent great companies, if I want to succeed.

Even with advanced technology, the reputation and character of the recruiter is often the most important element for closing a placement. The best candidates are only going to listen to an approach from a recruiter who is knowledgeable; who will take the time to understand and get to know them personally; who will talk sincerely, and help them find the best opportunities.

The internet is a phenomenal resource. The benefits for doing business are undeniable. But it also generates a lot of noise that we struggle to cut through. Like any other business or shop with a presence on the internet, a recruiter needs to be perceived as having a unique brand. He or she must have excellent reviews and high ratings. When a candidate lands on your LinkedIn profile, they want to see that you are connected to the right people. Like everyone else in the information age, recruiters are under a microscope in a way they never used to be.

In the old days, I simply needed to be as good a salesman as possible, and to get the best information available from industry sources. Now I need to be a marketeer, with a social media presence that builds my own unique brand.

The Future of Recruitment

If I can make one prediction about the future of the business, it is this: The days of contingency recruitment are numbered.

Contingency recruitment does not suit the nature of the industry. It is unfairly priced for all parties involved. The average success rate for contingency recruiting is 20 percent. This makes contingency recruiting a free-for-all: the client ends up paying a big fee, because agencies price their commissions at high levels to make up for the majority of work done on placements that they ultimately do not get paid for.

The contingency model at JacksonGrant is gradually being replaced by Recruitment as a Service (RaaS). RaaS is a subscription model that gives a company greater flexibility. For a monthly fee, clients can access the full breadth of an agency’s resources as they see fit. RaaS allows for a true partnership between recruiter and client, because the interests of both parties are more closely aligned.

I see lots of recruitment companies around the globe shifting to RaaS. It is undoubtedly the future of recruitment. It benefits candidates, our clients pay less, and it encourages recruiters to develop expertise and specialisation to work more intimately with clients. This in turn leads to greater credibility with candidates. It is a win-win for everybody.

If you’d like to learn more about how JacksonGrant’s RaaS subscription model can help your company attract the best talent, I’m happy to have that conversation: please reach out to me here